Matthew 28: 18-20 – Mission Statements 3 – Go and tell others the good news.
In this group of sermons we are thinking about passages from the Bible that we consider should form a ‘Mission Statement’ for the church. So far we have looked at two important passages from the Old Testament. They were both in Genesis.
The first told us that humankind was created by God in his likeness, and was delegated by God to care for the rest of creation (Genesis 1: 26-31).
After this likeness to God was marred the second passage explained how God chose one man, Abraham, to make a new beginning. He was to set out on a journey guided by God, both to a new land and in a new relationship with God (Genesis 12:1-4).
God’s blessing on his newly created humankind given in the first passage (Gen. 1:28) would be restored and fulfilled through Abraham and his descendants – but the blessing was to be wider spread than for that one group of people alone. God’s promise to Abraham was that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen.12: 3).
So now we come to the New Testament to see how this came about, and its consequences for us.
There is a huge amount of the Bible between Genesis and Matthew’s gospel (and so today’s reading) – all those pages represent many years of preparation and training before the next step in the plan could be taken.
Roughly two thousand years ago the fulfilment of God’s promise to bless all people through Abraham eventually came about. More precisely, as Matthew explains at the beginning of his gospel, it was through one of his descendants, born to a girl called Mary in a town called Bethlehem (Matt. 1: 24- 2: 1).
Very soon after the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the man this baby became, we find one of his friends, Peter, reminding the crowds of what God had said to their ancestor Abraham – “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed” (Acts 3: 25). Peter and the other disciples understood without a shadow of doubt, because of what they had witnessed, that Jesus was the means of blessing to the whole world, promised by God to Abraham so long before.
The gospels, each in a slightly different way, describe what those disciples had witnessed, and the teaching that Jesus had given them. Now, at the very end of Matthew’s gospel, in these three verses we have the next step. This is the end of the earthly story of Jesus, the end of the disciples’ training – and now it is their turn to go and make disciples – to teach and train others, as Jesus had done with them.
Just as Abraham had set out on a journey, in faith because God had told him to go, so the disciples now had to do the same. Explaining the knowledge of God’s blessing to every nation was now their task. It would involve many long and difficult journeys, and it would not be easy.
They had already had a little ‘practice run’. In chapter 10 Jesus called the disciples, gave them his authority and sent them out to preach and heal among their own people – “Do not go among the Gentiles or… the Samaritans, but go to the house of Israel” (Matthew 10: 5-6).
Now, probably without realising it, the disciples have taken their first steps on their first journey away from Israel. In verse 10 Jesus told the women, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me”, and in verse 16 “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go”.
Of course Galilee was ‘home’ for many of the disciples and the area where Jesus had begun his ministry, but it was also known as ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ because of its mixed population. The disciples were now trained and ready to tell non-Jews of their experiences.
Having Jesus’ authority was vital to the success of their first preaching project, and indeed the authority of Jesus is a major theme running all through Matthew’s gospel. He was a teacher whose authority came across in what he said (7:29); the miracles showed his authority to do things; he had God’s authority to forgive people (9:6). And now, in these final verses of the gospel Jesus passes on all this authority to his disciples – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and because I will be there with you wherever you go, you too will always have this same authority that I have – it is now there for you to use too.
They will have Jesus’ authority, but they will also have his presence with them. Matthew begins his gospel with the promise of the baby who will be called ‘Immanuel’ – ‘God with us’ (Matt. 1: 23), and he ends with Immanuel promising the disciples… “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt.28: 20). Without Jesus’ authority and his presence any idea of making ‘disciples of all nations’ would have been utterly impossible.
It was not until the disciples had actually met with the risen Lord that they felt any wish to go and tell others about him. And did you notice their first reaction when they saw Jesus on that mountaintop? No questions about all that had happened; no wondering about ‘what now’ – they just wanted to worship him, and only in that relationship to Jesus could they feel inspired to go and do what he asked of them.
So, Jesus gave these men his authority, his presence with them always, and the closeness and love of the relationship engendered by worship – and then he told them, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”. This was no recommendation that it would be a nice idea if they were to tell others – this was Jesus’ final command. These men must go. And go they did – throughout the whole known world.
The book of Acts provides the bridge between what Jesus “began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1) and what he continued to do and teach through the disciples and apostles as the Church was established. It tells us the exciting story of Paul, of the vast part he played in making new disciples, and the opposition he met. And the letters – the Epistles – tell us about some of the problems and misunderstandings which occurred among the groups of new believers – their questions, the things they got wrong and fell out over, and the teaching and nurture they received.
The apostles were to baptise new believers – but that sign in itself was not enough – the intention was to make disciples, who in their turn would make more disciples. A decision to be baptized was in fact only the start of a lifetime of being made a disciple – of learning, of enjoying Jesus’ presence, of worshipping him, and having his authority in order to pass the baton on to others.
So, where does that leave us?
I wonder whether you feel truly ‘discipled’?
You have probably been baptized, but was it an event which happened when you were too small to remember, and has been of little consequence since? Do you feel you have really been taught what is in the Bible – or are there still huge chunks that you have never looked at?
One of the difficulties of the way our services are arranged is that the teaching time is short, and there is no opportunity to ask questions, to disagree or to ask for more detail to think through.
These are big challenges, but a church that does not teach and nurture believers will find itself as the last generation in that church.
However – we do have an answer – house groups! I really believe that house groups are vital to our growth as believers. There is lots of space in our groups – please ask and please come! Every one of us should be continuing to learn.
If a ‘mission statement’ reflects what we are trying to achieve, then what we do on the way to our goal is very important. This last command of Jesus’ – to go and tell others the good news is something we just cannot ignore. If we do a living church will cease to exist here, and there will just be an inward looking, cosy club of people who happen to meet on a Sunday. That would be so sad.