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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mission Together (Matthew 28.5-10,16-20)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 22, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Solemn Processional" (Colin Mawby)
Song of Praise: "Come Now Almighty King" (Bob Kauflin)
Hymn of Praise: "The King of Love" (Henry Baker)

The Word in Music: "Festive Praise" (Allen Pote)
 Offering of Music: "Sending" (Hall, Townend, Nockles)
Hymn of Sending: "Lift High the Cross" (CRUCIFER)
Postlude: "Lift High the Cross" (Charles W. Ore)

Mission Together
Text: Matthew 28:5-10,16-20

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today is the anniversary celebration of the founding of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church 32 years ago. I can’t think of a more appropriate day to look at the Great Commission. This church was planted here to be a witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ in this neighborhood and community and Jesus’ words in Matthew 28 are central to what we are to be about as God’s people – past, present, and future.

I want to set this text between two significant biblical events: the covenant with Abraham and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We’ve spent quite a bit of time with Abraham in the last six months, in the time leading up to Christmas and in the time leading up to Easter. The covenant with Abraham was God’s coming to Abraham to establish a relationship in which God would be glorified on earth for the blessing of all the nations of the world. God would do this through giving Abraham children, land, and God’s direct blessing of Abraham and his descendants for the sake of the world. The New Testament Church and this Great Commission from Jesus are an extension of those same promises, with God’s intent still to be glorified on earth for the blessing of the nations.

The other book-end is the promise of God’s Holy Spirit, which would come only weeks from the events in this text. We’ll hear some of that promise in the text – a kind of “I’ll meet you where you are going and give you what you need for the mission.” We’ll also keep reflecting on the promise of the Holy Spirit for several weeks until we celebrate the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost on May 27.

So recognizing the importance of today’s text in the Biblical context and for our own context, let’s turn now to Matthew 28. 

Going Ahead of You (v. 7)

I included some of the early verses in the chapter from Easter morning because I wanted to highlight a particular phrase in verse seven: “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him…”

This particular message from an angel was specific and literal – Jesus would meet the disciples in Galilee. But I also want you to hear an aspect of that message that gets expanded and amplified later on. Jesus goes ahead of us. Our mission has never been our own, whether that is huddled in fear in the Upper Room or gathered quietly in church classrooms. Our mission has always been located wherever God is leading and a significant part of Jesus’ mission message for us is that he is out ahead of us and wants us to meet him there!

That’s not just a New Testament idea. I think of the past weeks of looking at Abraham’s story. To Abraham God said, “Go to the land I will show you” and even “go and sacrifice your only son on the mountain I will show you.” God is not a bring-along with us god; God goes before us and invites us along with Him. 

Gathering to Worship (v. 17)

Jump down to verse 16. The eleven disciples (remember, Judas is gone) proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain Jesus had designated. Listen to what comes next: “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him…” I want to note two things there. First as much as you may hear me talk about mission and neighbors and the world; it can’t happen without gathering for worship. In order to share Christ, we must know Christ; and in order to know him, we must recognize him for who he is and worship God the Father through Jesus the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. So just before the most famous mission passage in the Bible, we see the disciples gathered around Jesus to worship him.

But also note this: they went to where Jesus had directed them and worshiped him there! That is not to say that we cannot worship God right here in this room; it is also not to say that we must go find Jesus out in the woods somewhere. It is to say that we must always have before us the question, “What is God doing and where is He doing it?” In our case, I believe God is doing much right here in our neighborhood and there is every reason in the world to expect and hope to meet God as we gather here as well as to expect and hope God to lead us out of here as we go. Let me also note that this is the more positive gathering-where-Jesus-is story in the Bible. Apparently the disciples were, at first, hiding out in a room because they feared those who had killed Jesus. And so in the Gospel of John you also can read of Jesus coming to them where they were. That is a huge part of the Good News story of Jesus. He does come to us where we are. But he also goes before us and invites us to meet him there. The danger is in not looking and listening for what God is doing and demanding that Jesus always meet us on our own terms.

And those of you who are observant and read ahead will have noticed one other fascinating thing in this verse. Yes, when they saw Him, they worshiped Him. But keep reading in verse 17: “…but some were doubtful.” There, on a mountain with the no-longer-dead Jesus right with them, some were doubtful! And Matthew doesn’t linger there or go into any other detail. Maybe that’s his nod to the story of Thomas, which is described more in the Gospel of John. Or maybe he is just being honest that it took a while for some to be convinced. But I appreciate Matthew including that detail. It is okay to be gathered for worship among followers of Jesus and still have doubts. It doesn’t say that they didn’t worship or that they didn’t hear or follow the Great Commission; it’s just an acknowledgement that some struggled in the midst of it all. I find that comforting and hope you do as well. 

Sent to Make Disciples (v. 19)

There are whole sermons waiting to be preached just on the Great Commission itself, which technically is contained in verses 19-20. I’ve even preached a few of those before. But I’ll just focus on one particular thing today and that is making disciples. All of what is there is super-important. We must go; we must make disciples; baptizing stands in for a number of things including training, repentance, incorporation into the faith community; and teaching obedience is also key and relates to teaching God’s Word. But here’s something you may not know: the only command in the Great Commission is to make disciples. I don’t want to get lost in Greek with you, but the only imperative verb is the word for “make disciples” – everything else, in Greek, relates to that. Literally, it’s something like this: “As you are going, MAKE DISCIPLES, by baptizing and teaching. Going is assumed and the methods are outlined. But the mission is to make disciples, and to make disciples of the nations.

What’s a disciple? Simply put, it is a student. But we have such a modern definition for that. A better description might be a life-long learner who follows a teacher. There are elements of learning, obedience, and commitment which all focus on the master-teacher, Jesus. In other words, you aren’t ever done being a disciple and following Jesus isn’t a one-time thing; it’s a life-long commitment. And those kinds of disciples are what we are to replicate, with God’s help.

I add that last part, especially, because it seems like such a daunting challenge. How can I make a disciple when I don’t have my own act together? Part one of that answer is that we don’t have to become the master-teacher, just invite folks to join us as fellow disciples! Part two of that answer is where Jesus ends the Commission… 

“I am with you always” (v. 20)

Jesus’ last statement after giving this mission to his followers is, “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We don’t have to do it alone. In fact, taken in context, the whole point is that we are following Jesus in what He is doing. And when the promised Holy Spirit comes, we will be following God’s leading through the Spirit. We will have success making disciples because Jesus is with us. That’s why this isn’t called the “Great Mission,” but the “Great Commission.” Because co- means ‘with.’ Jesus is charging us with following, meeting up with, and joining with him in his mission. We are co-workers; it’s a co-mission.

His promise, “I am with you always” is kept at Pentecost through the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus ascends to be with God the Father, but he leaves the Spirit, also called Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, and Helper. In the coming weeks we will see that Jesus left us everything we need to join him in the work that God has been doing since the beginning of creation. Just as God blessed Abraham for the sake of the world He loved, through Jesus God has acted on behalf of the world He loves. God gathers and sends us in the power of the Holy Spirit for this work.

We rightly gather each week to worship God in Spirit and Truth. But the Word we hear and the Spirit of God that we encounter calls us outward to where God is at work – making disciples among the nations. Just as we were begun here in mission 32 years ago, let us continue as those whose eyes and hearts are fixed on God in worship and mission. Amen.

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