The Reason for the ‘Go…’: Reflections on Matt 28:16-20

Posted by on Oct 4, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Several people said they found the sermon notes from last week  Is Cross Carrying Passe helpful. So I thought I’d post this weeks notes as well. This is the message I preached at Carey Baptist Church, Perth, today. As always, feel free to use them any way you find helpful. If you pass them on, it is always nice if you credit the source as brianharrisauthor.com

In this series we have been asking the question, ‘Why Jesus?’ – but now we finish on a slightly different note. ‘If it is Jesus – so what? What difference should that make in my life, and how should it impact what I do.’

The last recorded words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel are found in Matt 28:16-20, and have come to be known as the Great Commission, sometimes tongue in cheek called, the Great Omission – given that in spite of much talk about it, ‘when all is said and done, more is said than done.’

For many it will be a very familiar passage, but I hope that does not mean you will justify a mental switch off (yup, I already know this, wonder what’s for lunch…)

There are 3 aspects of the passage that I’d like to highlight today…

  • First is the fascinating v 17: When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. But some doubted. Ever asked yourself why?
  • Second, Jesus’ bold claim: All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Wow, that’s big. What difference does it make?
  • Third: Go and make disciples of all nations. Awkward in an era when spreading your views is not seen as kosher. What does it mean for us today?

But some doubted… (Matt 28:17)

So what is verse 17 about. Is it there as a kind of ‘well, these resurrection appearances were a bit dodgy. Some were convinced, others thought perhaps it was something they had eaten. Not sure we can believe it’? Let me say straight off – no, it is not that at all.

While I don’t like to constantly cite the Greek word for every second term in the New Testament, (as I think it gives the false impression that you can only understand the New Testament if you know Greek), this is one of the times where we will miss a fair amount if we don’t.

The Greek word for doubted used here is distazo which is interesting as a more obvious choice for doubted would be diakrino. So why distazo and not diakrino?

Distazo is a word capable of much nuance. It can mean hesitation (and indeed, the New Jerusalem Bible translates this: But some hesitated…) It can also mean ‘unable to fully comprehend’ or ‘unable to take it in.’ It has been suggested that it refers to some of the disciples finding the experience a little surreal. It was a kind of ‘pinch me, can this really be true’ moment.

Perhaps we can see it as a little bit like the sense of unreality those of us in Australia felt when we changed Prime Minister recently. Or to be even more local, distazo was probably the experience of supporters of Perth’s local footie team who made it to yesterday’s grand final, but then lost it by an awkward margin. Pinch me, can this be true is the experience. And distazo can be positive or negative. It can be too good to be true, or too difficult to take it in – but it is always about the astonishing.

Now we can tut tut at the disciples for this, but I’d like to suggest that very few of us get beyond this stage. Most of us are at the ‘Jesus’resurrection. Amazing, fantastic but wow – it is beyond me’ stage. We encounter the resurrected Jesus but then go back to our everyday living with our hearts a little lightened but not really comprehending the depth of the news. We believe in the resurrection, but we are hesitant to fully explore all the implications.

And the implications are staggering. If we live in the light of Easter, in the light of Jesus’ resurrection, how can life ever be the same again?

Take our fear of death, for example. What happens if we allow the truth of the resurrection to deeply speak to that fear?

Or what about our tendency to always hold back a little.

Do you know what I mean? I remember an enthusiastic young man speaking to me many years ago about his strong sense of call to cross cultural mission. ‘I know God has called me’ he said. ‘And I am going to say yes. But first I need to get myself financially secure. It’s irresponsible not to have something set aside for a rainy day.’

The conversation took place over 30 year ago. When I last checked, he still had not gone…

They saw the risen Christ and hesitated… too much… too dramatic in its implications. Why, if we fully take this in, life really, really can never be the same again.

Before you cite the disciples as adequate grounds for your reason to be perpetually reluctant to fully trust Jesus note that while distazo – doubt or hesitation – was their first response, it was not their settled long term response. True, in the moment it was too much. But over time the reality of what they had seen penetrated more deeply. They abandoned doubt, and recklessly trusted Jesus – except that it wasn’t reckless… not in the light of what they had seen. For most of the disciples, it resulted in their premature death by martyrdom… but they changed the world… And I don’t doubt that they had no regrets.

It is OK to hesitate for a while – but challenge yourself. When is enough, enough? At what point will I simply say: ‘Jesus is risen. Let me live in the light of that!’ Or let me put it differently, if even the resurrection won’t get you to fully trust God, what will…

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matt 28:18)

Don’t miss the natural flow of logic in the passage. Jesus here makes a bold claim… indeed, could any claim be bolder than ‘all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me’. In his earthly ministry he had almost been stoned to death for claiming that he could forgive sin (Mark 2:7). This is claiming far more than that.

So how does he get away with it?

Simple. The resurrection establishes the validity of his claim.

You might not have attached much significance to an earlier statement in v 17, not the one about doubt, before that… ‘When they saw him, they worshiped him…’ This was a Jewish group. They knew to the very depth of their being that there was only one worthy of worship – God. When they worshipped they were actually saying, Jesus is God. Of course the statement of worship is immediately followed by – but some doubted (or some hesitated – or some said pinch me, I can’t take this in). We are worshipping – but you can only worship God. But if Jesus is God, then I am standing in front of God… how can anyone stand before God and live… (pinch me, I can’t take this in).

Consider the journey they had been on with Jesus. When they answered the call to follow him they did so in the belief that he would be a sound teacher or rabbi. As time went by they upgraded that to ‘actually, he can perform miracles’. Later that became, ‘he must be a prophet.’ They even entertained the idea that he might be the Messiah.

All that collapsed in a heap on the day of his crucifixion.

You hear it clearly in the sentiment of the travellers on the road to Emmaus: ‘but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel’ (Luke 24:21). But we had hoped… and then the crucifixion. Dream shattered. Go home to Emmaus. No different future for you.

Except… except that the one they are speaking to turns out to be the risen, death conquering Jesus.

In spite of their being steeped in the traditions of Judaism, the disciples act from their heart, and worship. And then Jesus confirms the validity of what they have done. Actually worship for him is appropriate, for all authority on heaven and earth has been given to Him. Yes, he is God. He had said it before, but they had been unable to take it in: ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:30) and ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John14:9). The resurrection establishes that Jesus was not suffering from delusions of grandeur. This was the simple reality. In Jesus, we see God.

Not that the claim would have made much sense, given the broader context. The Romans were still very much in charge, and Palestine remained a defeated nation. The disciples had seen that all too clearly just a few days before. Pilate had agreed to Jesus’ crucifixion – and that was that. No matter how much they didn’t want it, it had taken place.

Yet here was the new truth that they were slowly starting to take in. Pilate could order Jesus’ crucifixion – but he couldn’t order him to remain dead. When Jesus broke through the barriers of death he conclusively demonstrated that the real power, the real authority over all is the authority to determine the shape of eternity. At the time Rome might have seemed to have earthly power, but the resurrection shows Jesus as having eternal power. Now that is real power.

It is still the struggle we face today. Jesus holds ultimate power… yet day by day false imposters’ parade on the throne. We don’t see a world that readily bows the knee to Jesus. The resurrection calls out, see beyond this present moment. Grasp what is being announced. Where does the real authority lie? Yes – we may well hesitate to take it in… the implications are enormous.

Go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19)

The line of logic continues seamlessly. Because I am the resurrected one all power has been given to me, so go and announce this to all…

Note two sentiments in this verse… make disciples (not converts) and all nations (not some, and not just individual believers).

Why am I highlighting this?

We sometimes think that the most important thing that can happen to us is our decision to become a Christian. And because we see that as the most important thing, we place the emphasis on conversion. Jesus is a little less convinced. His parable of the sower makes it clear that often people have false starts in following him. Jesus is not looking for fans, but disciples.

I imagine many of you are on Facebook – in fact, many of you are my friends on Facebook. Being a friend on Facebook is the easiest thing in the world. It means quickly skimming over people’s posts every few days and quickly attaching a little ‘like’ thumbs up. It means paying attention to the list of people’s birthday’s that Facebook conveniently provides for you, and quickly dashing out a ‘HB – hope it’s a great day.’ It is wonderful. You don’t even have to pay the cost of card and stamp. I’ve never remembered to wish so many people Happy Birthday as I have since signing up for Facebook.

If it should be that any FB friend becomes annoying, or starts putting up posts you don’t feel comfortable with – not a worry – it is easy to unfriend people. You don’t have to tell them. After all, confrontation would be uncomfortable. You just quietly unfriend them, realising they are unlikely to notice. Most people have a few hundred facebook friends, why would they notice if you are no longer one of them?

So why all this talk about Facebook?

I think there is a danger that the kind of mentality behind the friendships of Facebook could easily shape the way we think. Saying yes to Jesus is a lot more than accepting a friendship request on Facebook – where you ultimately remain in control of all settings.

Jesus says we are to make disciples of all nations. The concept of being a disciple comes from Jesus’ Jewish setting, where if you wanted to learn and become wise, you would ask a rabbi if you could become their disciple. You would then follow closely… so closely that one of the sages in the Jewish Mishna says, ‘May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi…’ It is a lovely sentiment.

When Jesus says we are to make disciples of all nations he is saying, get people to follow me so closely that the dust of my activity covers them at all time. This is much more than a quick ‘like’. It is being present with Jesus in his ongoing activity in the world. It means we allow his journey to determine our own, and that is true even when his journey leads through terrain not of our choosing. It means that Jesus is in the driver’s seat.

You see it during the ministry of Jesus. The disciples had the greatest reservations about Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. They did their best to dissuade him from going. But when it became clear that he was making the journey, they went with him. Do you remember Thomas’s words at the time: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ (John 11:16). In other words, Thomas was saying, ‘I think this journey is reckless, irresponsible and hazardous. But he is the rabbi, we are the disciples, so let us go, that we may die with him…’

If it is disciples that we must make, notice also that it is the discipling of nations that is at stake. Jesus certainly didn’t think small. He knew that all authority in heaven and earth was his. His goal was not to have the occasional disciple from here or there. He wanted to see every nation become obedient to God.

You know what? His agenda has not changed. He longs that every person, in every nation would become his disciple. He longs that nations would be godly and God fearing. He knows that because all authority is his, the day will come when, to quote Paul in Phil 2:10-11 ‘at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ The great concern of his heart is that this would be done voluntarily – not in the face of judgement. And so he sends us – you and me – into all the world, to make disciples, who in turn will go and make disciples. And we do that even if a watching world says, ‘hmmm, not really proper to try and convert anyone.’ The world may well say that – but the world has not conquered death. We follow the resurrected one.

Too hard?

Of course it is. Except – except that the one who calls us, is most truly the One who holds ultimate authority over all.

So pinch me… yes, it is real. The resurrected Christ is calling me…

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