This is a familiar passage for us. Many of us might be able to recite these words, especially Matthew 28:19, from heart.
It is a “go to” passage for us Methodists. This is a passage we frequently turn to as one of our favorite passages. We Methodists like it so much we made it our mission statement. At the 2008 General Conference, delegates approved making a version of this passage the definitive statement about our mission and ministry. Look at the front of your bulletin and you will see this. Our desire is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
These words, this mission, are to define our work. Everything about us as a church is to be centered on our hope of making disciples of Jesus Christ who are sent out to make a difference in our world by how they love others. We are called to make disciples of Jesus.
By making these words from Matthew 28:16-20 our mission statement we are making an important statement about these words from Jesus. We say that making disciples is among the most important responses to our love of Christ. There might be nothing more important for a church in living out its love of Christ than to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
This isn’t true for just Methodists. I think it is true for all denominations and traditions. There is nothing more important for the Church, especially in this day we live in, than to be about the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ. This is our important work and mission we are called to be about in response to Jesus’ resurrection and our love of the Lord.
It isn’t just our calling as the Church. It is our commission from Jesus. He gives us this commission following his resurrection. Jesus invites us to continue the work of sharing the love and good news of God’s kingdom. But, the question for us is what does making disciples mean for us? What is Jesus asking of us in making disciples today?
Matthew 28:16-20 has been identified as “The Great Commission.” It comes to us as a summarization of all that has been said about Jesus in Matthew. This gospel announces that Jesus has authority to teach and do the miraculous, because he is the true Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. Matthew’s gospel builds to this moment where the resurrected Jesus gives these words of commissioning to his disciples. We receive Jesus’ commission as part of the first interaction between him and the disciples after the resurrection. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t seen the disciples until this moment where they gather at a mountaintop in Galilee, which is where Jesus’ three-year ministry and journey with his disciples began.
The 11 remaining disciples are waiting for Jesus when they eventually see him coming towards them. When they saw Jesus many of the disciples had a mixed reaction. We are told that some worshiped him and some doubted. Hold onto that thought. It is an important part of the commissioning, but we need to understand the commission, itself, before we can address this.
For now, let’s turn to what Jesus says when he is meets with the disciples. We are told Jesus says that “all authority in heaven and earth” has been given to him. Jesus is confirming all that has been said about his authority, but also makes an important point. Because of the cross and his resurrection, Jesus has power and authority over all things. He is the true Lord of all. Jesus isn’t just a teacher, but he is our Savior Lord who has is worthy of our worship.
Jesus desires for all people to come and to know his loving grace. Because he has all authority, he could chose any way he desired to get the message about the kingdom of God and his love out. He chose the disciples. He chose us. Jesus turns to the disciples, looks at them and us, and says, “Now, it is your turn.” Jesus desires for the Church, each of us, to tell the entire world, all nations, about the love, grace, and hope of Jesus Christ. We are called to continue the work of Jesus by telling the entire world, every person, about his love and grace.
Note how Jesus tells us to be about this work. The word “go” is very significant in our commissioning to being about the work of Jesus Christ. With this word, Jesus is sending us out to do this work. The disciples, then, cannot stay on the mountaintop to do this work. They have to go across the countryside, travel into difficult places, and go from town-to-town telling others, through words and actions, about Jesus. We are sent out to do share the good news of Jesus.
This is important for us today. We cannot do the work Jesus calls us to if we stay confined within the walls of our churches. Many of us, I believe, still have the expectation that if we open the door on Sunday mornings that people will rush to hear about Jesus. That doesn’t happen, today, no matter the size of the congregation. I’m not sure if this was ever an effective model of outreach. We must take seriously what Jesus says by this word “go.” We are called to get out of our pews and go into our communities to share the love of Jesus with all.
To do this we have to build relationships with those who need to hear Jesus’ love. We live in a time where there are more unchurched people than ever before. However, many of our friends, myself included, are only those who primarily identify themselves as regular church attenders. Jesus calls us to build connections with people that gives us chances to share Jesus with them.
For us to make disciples we have to identify with the people Jesus identified with this. One of my favorite movies helps to tell what this might look like. I love Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles.” One of the most humorous clips is when Hedley Lammar is trying to get a band of misfits together to overtake the town of Rock Ridge in order to build a railroad. As he is listing off a who’s who of groups of ill repute, Lammar finishes the list by saying he wanted some Methodists to come along for the ride.
It is a funny scene, but one I think speaks to this idea of going out and being about sharing Jesus with others. As followers of Jesus, we are called to build connections with people who we may not naturally associate ourselves with. This means finding places of connections with the people in our neighborhoods, whether it being sporting events, hanging out at the park, or at our schools. We do not build relationships with the intent of starting conversations with the words, “Do you know Jesus?” We cannot scare people to Jesus. We have to love them to Jesus through genuine relationships. We build relationships with all people in ways that shows our genuine love for them that allows them to see there is something different about us and about this Jesus that is unlike anything life could ever offer.
That is what it means to make disciples. We are called to offer to others the same invitation given to us. That is to come along and join the journey to see and experience what this Jesus is all about. We go out to love people and let them see Jesus through our love for them. That love, my friends, will inspire new disciples to join us in our journey.
Notice something else about making disciples. We are not interested in making disciples who agree with a set of beliefs at the start of their journey. The purpose of making disciples is not to make sure they have it all together, first, but it is to have them experience Jesus’ love. Once they accept Jesus’ love, the work of teaching about Jesus begins. This is the work of describing what it means to have faith and the depths of God’s word. Teaching is our role of equipping all to see Jesus’ truth and love at work in their lives and to encourage daily growth in us and everyone.
All of us, the entire church, is called to be about this work of making disciples. Now, remember how I said to hold onto to the idea of some worshiping and some doubting? This is where it comes into play. I think we all know how important it is for the church to get outside the walls, how important it is for us to be about making disciples, and the need to teach others about what it means to follow God. Where we struggle is recognizing our own role in this work. We often believe this work is only for those who are deeply connected to God or have their lives figured out.
This is not what Jesus says. He doesn’t commission only those who worshiped him. He commissioned to this work of making disciples both those who worshiped and those who doubted. He commissioned those who have a deep love of God and those who are still trying to figure all this out to the work of sharing God with others. All of us are to be out the work of going out, building relationships, and teaching others about Jesus.
As we conclude our time together, if you get anything out of my time with you I hope you will get an understanding that times our changing in our churches and our communities. The old ways of the church must no longer be our models of ministry and mission. We are all missionaries commissioned to being about the work of making disciples. This requires all of us to think about ways to share Jesus with our communities, to go out into our neighborhoods, and to be out this important work.
So, my friends, as I leave you today let me ask you this one last question: In response to your commissioning to make disciples, what are you willing to do to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?”