Monday, September 10, 2012

Going with Jesus: The Encounter

 Preached on Sunday September 9, 2012

Scripture readings: 1 Peter 1:3-9; Matthew 28:16-20

The last five, or the last three, verses in the Gospel of Matthew are sometimes grouped together under a common title. They are called: The Great Commission.

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Even though this title isn’t in the Bible, there is a lot of wisdom in it. It tells us what Jesus wants to accomplish in this world of ours. It tells us his primary purpose. It tells us the part he wants us to play in his purpose, and how he wants us to go about it. We are going to look at this great commission over the next several weeks.

First of all, here is this thing called “The Great Commission”. I confess to having trouble holding a clear definition of “commission” in my mind. I do see it as a direction, a purpose, a mission that has been given to us. And by “us” I don’t mean “us” as individuals only. I mean “us” as the people of God, “us” as the Church, “us” as the Body of Christ in the world.

At the same time I see the great commission as a sort of authorization given to us by the authority of Jesus. We have been appointed; not delegated, but appointed. We have been given an authority to serve, under Jesus and responsible to him. It is almost like being given a rank, or made an officer; although, in the Church, the Body of Christ, the ranks we receive give each one of us a different role in the mission, but they never create an elite. They never create an upper echelon, or a high command.

I have relatives who are, or who have been, commissioned officers in the armed forces; in the Marines and the Coast Guard, and I am afraid of the thought of their seeing my uninformed attempts to understand this. The great commission means being given a rank of authority and responsibility in the purposes of Jesus. It means holding authority under an authority beyond your self. It makes us all, together, a unit serving “under orders”.

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The last verses in Matthew show us Jesus announcing his authority to his disciples, his followers, his friends; the people who have found their meaning in life through fellowship with Jesus, and in the growth that comes from living and learning with Jesus. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.”

Heaven and earth, in the language of the Bible, means everything. It means everything that has been created; everything physical and everything spiritual; everything visible and invisible. All reality belongs to Jesus. It is under his authority.

All authority is what Jesus has. Commissioned authority is what Jesus gives to us, his disciples. It is an authority under his authority, and always responsible to him.

Jesus spoke to the core group of his disciples. Since the disciple named Judas Iscariot betrayed him, and got him arrested and crucified, and then, in remorse, hung himself, there were only eleven disciples left, out of the original twelve.

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There were other disciples, besides the eleven. The core disciples were like the first impact of a wave set in motion by Jesus, and the other disciples were the extension of that impact. We, too, are the extension of that same wave. Jesus started it in the last verses of Matthew.

Everyone, no matter where they are in that wave across time and space, receives the same commission. The disciples (including you and me) are all disciples and disciple makers at the same time. The commission of Jesus allows for nothing else. We never become more that this. When any of us disciples helps another person to be a disciple, we aren’t helping them to become any more than a disciple and a disciple maker.

We are part of a wave, the wave of Jesus. Jesus created the wave when he made his high dive from heaven to earth. The dive behind the wave deepened when he died on the cross to take away the sin of the world. The wave became a tsunami, a tidal wave, when he rose from the dead. The wave destroyed the power of sin and death. The wave spreads life over the world as we ride that wave and follow him.

The wave of Jesus is also like the sound waves of a voice. Every voice has a unique wave pattern. Even if you were to record one voice, and make it sound different by speeding it up or slowing it down, the essential identifying pattern would remain. There is a technology for destroying the natural patterns of a voice, but that is another story.

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Every human voice is as unique as that person’s finger print, but the finger prints of our fingers are stuck in one place at a time. The waves of a voice can go on and on. We could capture one of your voices, and convert it into radio waves, and broadcast it out into the universe, and it would go on, and on, and on.

The wave of Jesus is like the waves of his voice. The wave carries the finger print of his identity. The wave carries who he is, and what he is like, and what he has done for us. The wave of Jesus takes each one of us up in its wake, and it carries the presence of Jesus through us, from disciple, to disciple, to disciple, to all people, to the end of the age and beyond.

And here we need to say that Jesus did not call those disciples (or us) one by one, to take part in that wave one by one. He called his core, as a group, as a body. He called them to come to him together, and he commissioned them together. He did not commission us to act as lone wolves.

We have been commissioned to become part of this wave. One of the great things about such a wave is that, although it may have no end, it must have a beginning, and it must have continuity. It must have a connection with its beginning.

We must have a connection with Jesus. We must have a connection with who he is, what he is like, and what he has done for us. We must have a connection with our master’s voice, in order to speak for him, or (even more importantly) to speak from him, and to pass him on to others.

So the story of Jesus giving his disciples (and giving us) his great commission, is about a meeting. The great wave began with a rendezvous with Jesus.

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At this rendezvous an amazing thing happened. We read that, at this meeting, some of the original disciples “worshiped” him, while others doubted. This is strange. It was a meeting with Peter, James, John, Matthew, and all the rest. Which were the one who doubted?

This was a meeting between Jesus and the people who knew him best. They were the closest to the events of what we might call Jesus’ greatest days. They were with him at the last supper. They were with him when he was arrested, and then most of them ran away. Peter and John followed, and they watched at least part of the trial going on, at the high priest’s house, for a while. Then they also ran away. John was there at the cross when Jesus died. I am sure that they had all gone to the empty tomb when they received the report that Jesus had risen from the dead. The gospels tell us that Jesus himself had come to them, and showed them the wounds in his hands and feet. These eleven friends had been most deeply involved in Jesus’ dying and rising from the dead. Their lives were wrapped up in Jesus and the powerful actions of his life.

When Matthew tells us that some “worshiped”, it doesn’t mean that they prayed and sang hymns. It means that they simply flattened themselves, face down, on the ground at the feet of Jesus, at the sight of Jesus. They prostrated themselves before him.

They had an immediate physical and spiritual reaction to the one who had all authority in heaven and earth. They didn’t need to be told about his authority. They just knew it and acted accordingly. How could they forget that this was only a few days after Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead?

We have to see that this is really all the same authority and power that Jesus was talking about. It wasn’t just the authority that Jesus said he had. It was the authority that knocked some of them off their feet. Falling flat on your face is a way of saying that here is someone in whose presence you don’t have a leg to stand on. Here is someone who has the right to do with you whatever he wants.

Some of the eleven doubted. They hesitated to let Jesus topple them, and overthrow them, and make them fall down. They didn’t know if they were able, or if they wanted, to give Jesus their unconditional surrender.

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The truth is that the one who has carried all the sins of a fallen world in order to rescue that world has great authority. The one who has carried all the world’s failings (including our own), and the pain, and the injustice, and the evil of this world (and yet who has been able to rise again out of the ruin of it all) has the authority to confront that world and say anything, and ask for anything.

Anything this world can dish out, Jesus can speak to. Any obstacle this world this world can raise to the invasion of the kingdom of God, Jesus, the King, can overcome.

If we doubt or hesitate in the presence of Jesus, if we see him as he is, we do so in the very face of hope. It is true that some people are afraid of hope. Sometimes hope seems too good to be true; or hope confronts us with such a huge change of heart that we don’t know how to deal with it.

Peter tells us what comes to us on that wave. “In God’s great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)

Jesus is the King who has created the wave we ride. He is the one who commissions us to ride that wave in order to pull others in.

Peter wrote about what it is like to be pulled into the wave that never loses its connection to the living Jesus. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

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Faith is not a virtue that we achieve by some mental process. It is not some kind of discipline of positive thinking. Faith, hope, and love are the gifts that come from being born again as children of God. Faith is a gift from God, working in Jesus, and it is a gift that carries, within itself, the giver of the gift.

I have an afghan crocheted by my Baci, my Polish grandma. I feel close to her when I see it or touch it. But faith brings an even stronger presence of the one who gives us faith. Peter tells us something about this living reality of faith that comes from its giver: “and even though you do not see him now you believe in him.” Peter’s choice of Greek words speaks of actually “believing into” Jesus. By faith Jesus is not something or someone “out there”. Jesus becomes the very world we live in, the very air we breathe.

Faith is not an idea or a determination that we develop. Faith is an entryway inward to God. It is a way of seeing the invisible and receiving it. It is not just about something you hope for, but it is something that comes to you, even as you hope. In the course of believing, Peter says that you “are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” It is something that is going on, and growing, even as we speak.

The work of Jesus that claims you for his own, and makes you like him, and pulls you into his wave in the world, is not only something you will receive at some point in the future. It is in the future. It is also something you are receiving now.

This is how you are being made into a disciple now. And this is how you are able to carry out your commission as a disciple maker now.

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The Greek word for authority, that Jesus uses, carries the idea of capability and competence. It means that Jesus is able to make us, even now, what he wants us to be, no matter how unqualified we may feel, no matter how inept we may seem to ourselves or to others.

This is what Jesus wants to pass on to the whole world. It is his capability and competence to rule through the hearts, and minds, and words, and lives of those who trust him. This is part of his coming kingdom. It is his capability and competence to create new people of faith through those, like us, who have been commissioned by him.

Jesus’ capability and competence are perfect, because he has it all. He has all authority. Through him we, working together, and working with him, have whatever we need to go forth. So, together, we really can come to Jesus, and go forth together with him.


  1. "Anything this world can dish out, Jesus can speak to".
    This is such a well written sermon, and one that I want to go back and read again. Thank you.

  2. hi pastor dennis,
    i agree with kay g.
    that was a totally inspiring sermon and beautifully written as well.
    you are the light at the end of the tunnel, pastor dennis.

    and thanks so much for your always wonderful comments, they really mean the absolute world!

    have a great day!
    p.s. i totally love your new template.

  3. Thanks Betty, I always look forward to your blogs and your gift of taking delight in things.