Last week, we described what a disciple of Jesus is and what the life of a disciple looks like as she or he continues to receive the Word and the Sacraments as part of God’s people, the Church. Next Wednesday, we’ll start looking at the discipleship pathway of Reaching Up, Reaching In, and Reaching Out.
But tonight, I want to underscore what our mission of being and making disciples IS and, maybe more importantly, what it IS NOT.
It’s especially important to emphasize what this mission is not.
That’s because we fallen human beings have an inborn and sinful penchant for wanting to capture, constrain, systematize, routinize, and make programmatic the things of God that aren’t meant to be captured, systematized, routinized, or turned into programs.
There’s a wonderful insight into God’s character in the first book of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. Four children from our world enter an alternative universe and are told about Aslan, the character who is the Christ-figure of those books. When told that Aslan is a lion, one of the children asks, “Is he tame?” “Of course he’s not tame,” they’re told, “but he’s good.”
That’s what Jesus is like. The Bible describes Him as “the Lion of Judah.” How dare we try to domesticate Jesus and make Him over in our image. Our call is to submit to Him so that He can make us over in His image!
We try to scale Jesus down so that we can manage Him.
On the mount of Transfiguration when Jesus’ deity was revealed to Peter, James, and John, Peter famously wanted to erect booths to honor Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, as though they were equals.
Peter envisioned a well-organized set of shrines that people could visit whenever they felt the need for goosebumps.
God the Father then said of Jesus, “This is My Son…Listen to Him.”
Peter’s impulse was to capture, organize, and tame God the Son to his preferences and his specifications. This echoes the incident that occurred not long before the Transfiguration in which Jesus asked the disciples who people said He was and Peter gave the right answer, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. But when Jesus told Peter he’d given the right answer and that, as the Messiah, He was going to suffer and died on a cross before rising from the dead, Peter shook Jesus, rebuking the Lord as if to say, “You don’t know how to do this Messiah business, Jesus.”
Peter tried to whittle Jesus down to his specifications. That’s a way of keeping the One Who came to die for our sins and to make us righteous, fit for eternity with God, at arm’s length. That’s something we try to do often, I think.
A pastoral mentor of mine once said, “The Church is forever trying to organize things because it’s afraid of the Holy Spirit.”
It’s true, I think.
We confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord and that our lives are in His hands. But we would be frightened nearly to death if God told us, as He told Abraham back in Old Testament times, “Leave the place you’ve lived for the past seventy-five years and all this property you’ve acquired and go to a place–somewhere out there–I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)
We would want to plan everything out.
Do a cost/benefits analysis.
Demand that God answer all our questions.
Make certain our insurance would cover such a risky change of lifestyle.
Those kinds of things have their place in the lives of the Church and of individual Christians.
But in the forty-seven years since I came back to faith in Christ and in the nearly thirty-nine years since I was ordained, I have seen such so-called “practical considerations” prevent God’s people from doing what God was calling them to do.
Repeatedly, I have seen Christ’s Church opt for comfortable earthly certainties rather than stepping out by faith to where its God and Lord was calling it.
That’s because we’re afraid of where the Holy Spirit wants us to go, whether to the neighbor next door or the stranger we encounter in the store.
Even after we sinners are granted sainthood by grace through faith in Jesus, we are still recovering sinners, recovering control freaks, who want to be our own gods.
Tonight we focus on the most famous recounting of Jesus’ great commission in the New Testament.
A literal rendering of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19-20, might look like this: “Having gone therefore, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all the things I commanded you. And look, I am with you until the completion of the age.”
The word πορευθέντες, often translated simply as Go at the beginning of this passage, carries the idea of as you go through your life or as you live from day to day, disciple people.
Every Christian is, in Saint Paul’s phrase, an “ambassador for Christ.” But that doesn’t mean we’re all called to be foreign missionaries or pastors. Our call is to be and to disciple people right where we are: at work, at home, at stores and restaurants, ballgames and parties.
And by this word, πορευθέντες, Jesus seems to have no idea of the Church instituting evangelism campaigns, buying advertising, or creating programs to attract people to our churches–although churches may choose to do such things to augment their ministries of disciple-making. (Church advertising, based on how many people it attracts to our churches, by the way, is nearly worthless.)
What Jesus is saying in Matthew 28 though is, You Christian, worshiping regularly, reading God’s Word, receiving the Sacraments, wherever you go are disciples–My people–and wherever you go, you carry the good news that Jesus Christ has already died on a cross and already risen to save us from sin and death. You can assure the people in your life that they can trust Jesus Christ for life with God, now and forever. As you go about your day to day lives, you will be the Ones Who share Jesus with the world.
The apostle Peter writes to Christians elsewhere in the New Testament: “...in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)
As we follow Jesus, Who has saved us from sin and death, through lives of daily repentance and renewal, we are prepared to tell others about the eternal hope we have in Jesus.
This isn’t about programs.
It’s about the grace of God we receive as we gather with His people to worship together and receive His Word and His Sacraments.
It’s about being rooted in Christ, branches from the vine, Who makes us His own and shelters us with Christ’s righteousness by grace through faith in Christ alone!
So, being and making disciples then is about following Jesus and sharing Jesus. Let’s not complicate it!
Luke’s telling of the Great Commission in the book of Acts is instructive. There, Jesus tells the first Christians that after they’ve received the Holy Spirit, Who we receive at Holy Baptism, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Note again what Jesus is NOT saying. He doesn’t say that after we Christians have been trained in an evangelistic program, or after we’ve been called to foreign mission work, or after we’ve gotten funding from a recognized church body, then we can be His witnesses.
If the Holy Spirit has given us the faith to say Jesus is my Lord, we are His witnesses. We’re good to go, right now!
We have programs of pre-evangelism like Toddler Time, and of evangelism like our Kindness Outreaches, at Living Water, of course.
But they’re only meant to help us become more comfortable with making disciples in our everyday lives.
You, friends, already are Christ’s disciples.
You already carry Him wherever you are.
You already have the Holy Spirit.
Christ can make disciples through you tonight.
True story. A man, during the Great Depression, then in high school, told his dad, a working class immigrant, “Pop, I want to go to college.” He expected his dad to try to formulate some plan by which he could get the money for college. Instead, his father said, “So, go.”
“So, go” was his way of saying, “You have the capacity to do this and I won’t hold you back.”
I often hear Christians say, “I wish I could go and make disciples,” as though they were expressing an aspiration for some higher kind of life.
But Jesus is telling us today that we who know Him as Lord and Savior are already His witnesses.
We are the ones He has already empowered to be and to make disciples.
If we are justified, then we are qualified.
If we have been saved, then we have been sent out on the great rescue mission Christ has given His Church.
So, as you look at the troubles and craziness of the people around you and wish that someone would go to them to share the life, forgiveness, peace, and salvation God has secured for all the world through Jesus Christ, Jesus is telling you tonight in His great commission, “So, go. Live in My grace and let others in on what I have done for you and for them through My cross and My resurrection.”
The Great Commission is also your Great Commission.