Welcome to Bethel! Today we have the privilege of taking part in the Lord’s Supper. For the message we will be looking at what Jesus has called us to do while we wait for his return. We will be reflecting on Matthew 28:16-20, While We Wait. This is a familiar passage and is often called the Great Commission. Yet in this passage, Matthew tells us that they worshipped Jesus when they saw him, but some doubted. This observation from Matthew has always puzzled me, how can they doubt Jesus after everything they had seen? We will explore that question, as well as how can we participate in the Great Commission.
While We Wait Matthew 28:16-20
December 26, 2021
All advent, the theme has been about waiting, how Israel was waiting for Jesus to come as their Messiah, and how we are waiting for Jesus to return after going back to heaven. Christmas, the highpoint of Advent has passed and now we switch the focus slightly from who are we waiting for to how do we wait for Jesus to return? We turn to Mathew for part of the answer to this question, to Jesus’ instruction to his followers. Matthew tells us that Jesus called his disciples to meet him on a mountain in Galilee. Mountains are important places in Jewish history, places where God often met and spoke with his people, giving them instructions on who he is calling them to be as his people. Jesus continues this tradition with his disciples by meeting them on a mountainside to give them some last instructions before he returned to his Father in heaven.
One of the things Matthews shares about this meeting of Jesus and his disciples has always puzzled me, it’s where Matthew writes, “When they saw him, Jesus, they worshipped him, but some doubted.” I get the worshipped part, they had seen Jesus die on the cross, they saw Jesus after his resurrection by appearing out of nowhere in the locked upper room, saw the scars on Jesus from the crucifixion, ate the breakfast Jesus cooked for them on the seashore, and yet Matthew tells us that some of them doubted.
I have always wondered who doubted and what they doubted; did they doubt Jesus’ death, or maybe some of his teachings about being the Son of God, or was there something else? Yet I have also found some hope in their doubt for my own times when faith has been hard, or Jesus’ presence seemed far away; the hope comes from knowing that in spite of their doubts, God used these same doubting disciples to spread the good news of Jesus across the known world and even into parts of the world not under Roman rule. My doubts are not strong enough to resist God’s grace!
Jesus reminds his disciples who he is, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” There is no authority, no person with more authority in heaven or on earth that Jesus, including Caesar or Satan. The rabbi they’ve been following for the past three years, the person who was crucified, who rose from the dead, and is now standing before them, has been given all authority over all creation by God, because, as we hear in John’s Gospel, “through him all things were made that has been made.” There is a sharp divide between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and every thing else. God is the creator and everything else is the created; this is why Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth in himself.
Now Jesus gives his disciples their marching orders while they wait for his return, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus commands his disciples to make disciples, a brief grammar lesson, the word ‘go’ is a participle and can easily be translated, “Therefore, as you are going…” going about your lives, “make disciples.” It’s a naturally expected part of who we are as Jesus’ disciples, that we make disciples as we walk through life. We can do this in confidence because they, as we also are, are all under the authority of Jesus, who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, to carry out his wishes and commands.
Leslie Newbigin, a British missionary wrote that, “this is the time given for the witness of the apostolic church, to the ends of the earth. “Missionary obedience” is at the core of Jesus’ return.” We look at wars and rumours of wars and physical disasters as signs of Jesus’ return, but “missionary obedience,” being faithful in sharing the good news of Jesus, is the true sign of Jesus’ return.” I keep hearing people say that Jesus’ return must be coming close because of all the trouble in the world, but I appreciate Newbigin’s approach to understanding Scripture better. Jesus told us that there would be all kinds of troubles and wars, but that they were not the sign of his coming back, not even Jesus knew when he was coming back, but focusing on Jesus’ last command and being faithful in making disciples, in being a blessing to all nations by bringing them the good news of Jesus and the transformation that Jesus brings, is a more biblical understanding of what we should be doing while we wait for Jesus’ return.
Rather than looking for troubles pointing to Jesus’ return, we should be looking at how the gospel is impacting the world and our neighbourhoods. This ties in much more biblically to God calling Abraham and his promise to bless Abraham and that all peoples on earth will be blessed through Abraham, which is especially fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, his death, and resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Spirit. This also fits with the images of being salt and light in the world, images of blessing and hope. Israel was called to be God’s people in the world, shaped by God to show the nations who God is and who he has created humanity to be.
A former professor of mine from Redeemer University, Michael Goheen writes, “the church is not about receiving salvation, but being a channel of that salvation to others. In other words, the church has a missional identity of being the new humanity for the sake of the nations to invite them into it. And now that we are in a new era between the coming of Christ and his return, it's a time for the gathering of the nations from all parts of the world, into that new humanity that will one day fill the earth…. this time between the resurrection and the return of Jesus is a time of gathering. Hendrick Kramer speaks of the walls of history remaining open until the church completes its mission of gathering in the nations into the new humanity.”
Part of it is how we view Jesus and God, do you see God as an abundant God who is generous with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, or a stingy God who is holding the Spirit back. Jesus reveals a God who is pouring out into the world, a generous God who throws lavish feasts and is generous with his invitations, a God filled with grace and mercy who calls us to confession and repentance, and who then gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us in our confession and new life, and who equips us to share the good news of Jesus and live out the good news.
A disciple is someone who follows Jesus, and to be a disciple, you make disciples, that’s really at the heart of Jesus is all about when he says to us, “Follow me.” This looks like sharing the gospel news of Jesus as we live out the good news in our own lives. Who are you speaking the gospel news to, who has Jesus placed in your life to share the gospel with? Making disciples is about going to people who don’t know that love of Jesus and leading them to experience the life and love of Jesus through you and with you. Baptizing people when they put their faith in Jesus shows them that they belong as they join us in learning about and exploring what it looks like in the day-to-day journey of following Jesus.
David Platt writes, “Making disciples is what happens when we walk through life together, showing one another how to pray, study the Bible, grow in Christ, and lead others to Christ.” “Therefore go and make disciples” looks like regularly getting out of our church circles and being a part of our larger community. It’s in the regular activities of life in our community that we find the opportunities to build relationships and friendships where making disciples becomes a natural and normal part of following Jesus, shining his light into the lives of others.
Jesus tells us “To teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This means knowing the Bible and filling our own words with God’s Word, teaching others everything that Jesus has taught us. Part of the teaching is doing good in order to bless the church family we are part of, after-all, how we live with and love each other is a powerful witness to our faith and to Jesus, and to serve our community to be a blessing to others so they can experience the love of Jesus through us. This is part of the teaching and living out God’s Word that shapes us and is often the first step in making disciples as they encounter Jesus through us. As church, we are working to become more like Jesus and nurturing others to become more like Jesus; this is the essence of what Jesus is talking about.