Year A Trinity Matthew 28:16-20
There was a man who was walking along the beach when he noticed that the high tide had washed hundreds of starfish upon the shore. He realised that they would soon die being out of their natural habitat. He began to pick up one at a time and throw it back into the ocean.
Two youths came up to him and began to taunt him. "Why are you doing this," they heckled, "there are hundreds, maybe thousands of them. Do you really think you can make a difference?"
The man picked up a starfish, threw it into the ocean and replied, "Made a difference to that one, didn't I?"
Before an important football match a manager will train his side, share tactics with them, the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. Having done this he will send them out on the day with a few, last, important words to motivate and inspire his team.
Jesus was talking to eleven men who would turn the world upside down in the power of God's Spirit. These were his last words recorded by Matthew, so they must be very important.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. The disciples obeyed Jesus by going to the mountain in Galilee to meet with him. This was after the death and resurrection of Jesus and He had appeared to them, and others, taught them, and eaten with them.
17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Some worshipped him, like Thomas on the Sunday after the first Easter. Yet others were hesitant, this is what 'doubted' means. Perhaps they did not fully understand the significance of the events of the last six weeks. And, of course, they had still to receive the Holy Spirit who would empower them to be witnesses, and turn people's hearts to Jesus.
Perhaps some of us feel hesitant when it comes to serving Jesus. We may feel weak. But we know more than the disciples did at that time. And we have the power of the Holy Spirit available to us.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
This authority has been given to Jesus and only to Jesus by God the Father. It is only through Jesus that we can be saved because he is the one who will return and judge the living and the dead, as we declare in the creed.
How much authority has been given to Jesus ? All.
Where does he exercise his authority ? In heaven and earth, i.e. everywhere.
This has two repercussions.
Firstly, because Jesus has this authority we must obey him without question.
Secondly, he has the power and authority for his representatives to carry out the tasks that he gives them.
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
Therefore, links the previous verse with this. Therefore, because Jesus has authority we are to obey him, and we have his power at our disposal to carry out his will.
What is this will ?
To go and make disciples of all nations.
The good news is for everyone and anyone without exception. From every nation, class, language, sex, occupation and so on. We cannot look at anyone and say, 'Jesus did not come to save that person.'
Look at Saul of Tarsus, persecuting the church but turned around by an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. I wonder if he was being prayed for ?
Jesus said go and make disciples, not go and make converts. He is referring to the need to make followers. Those who will continue to live their lives trusting and obeying Jesus in the power of his Spirit.
Jesus is not saying that all of his disciples will be evangelists, preaching to over three thousand like Peter on the day of Pentecost. On that day, and every day, it is God the Holy Spirit who turns people to Christ. This means that it is not our job to convert people. However, Jesus calls each one of his disciples to be witnesses to what he has done for us.
A man was called into the witness box during a court case, claiming to have witnessed a robbery. As he was called local people chuckled because, unbeknown to the police, he was known as the village idiot. This became apparent when he was questioned, for his testimony was inconsistent and it soon became obvious he could not have been there.
Our witness must be genuine, we must have had a genuine encounter with Jesus. It must be truthful, we must be honest, admitting that following Jesus isn't always easy. It must be borne out in our lives. We do not have to be perfect, but we have to show that we have come under the authority of Jesus.
Being a disciple involves discipline. Deliberately rejecting the temptations not to worship with other believers regularly, not to pray and study the Bible, not to stand up for Jesus. We are to become pupils to Jesus, our teacher. To come under his authority, accepting it as true, submitting to him.
20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Teaching is an important thing for the church to do and for Christians to receive, for it enables us to grow in our faith and become more like Jesus. True disciples hear, understand, and obey.
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Baptism is a sign of a faith that has been received. Either by an individual or a family. Baptism doesn't make someone a Christian. It is a public, visible, outward sign of something that has happened spiritually and inwardly. It is a sign of dying to self and submission to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When someone is baptised they are baptised into the world-wide church of believers. We had an illustration of this in June when Albert and Annette from Ghana had baby Megan baptised here. So, as well as baptism being a sign of faith, it is also a sign of joining the church. It is through the church that Jesus decided to spread the good news and to equip his disciples to live for him. Therefore, there is no support for the belief that Christianity is a private thing that you can do equally well by staying at home, or walking in the woods !
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Before he ascended Jesus told his disciples to 'wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about'. Acts 1:4. He was talking about the Holy Spirit who would be poured out upon the disciples. It is through God, the Holy Spirit that we know the presence of Jesus with us today. We are never alone ! Jesus is always with us by his Spirit.
His Spirit gives us fruit to become more like Jesus, gifts to minister in Jesus name, the strength, power and opportunities to witness to others.
So why should we make disciples ?
Because Jesus told us to.
Because we care, like the man throwing some starfish back.
Because people can only be saved through Jesus. There is no other way.
How should we make disciples ?
In a sense, we don't have to. God does.
But, we are called to pray for people to come to Jesus.
We are called to be witnesses, to know Jesus ourselves, to live life under his Lordship, and to be ready and able to tell others what he has done for us.
You may not be confident or prepared to do this. Can I suggest that you do something we did in our Church Youth Group when I lived in Peterborough about twenty years ago ? Spend a few moments thinking about what Jesus has done for you. How you came to know him for yourself, the way he has answered prayer, the blessings he has brought. It may be helpful to write these down in note form. Then imagine that you are going to share this with someone, and imagine how you might do this. Perhaps even go somewhere on your own and say this out loud. There may be a fellow Christian that you can try this out on and will give you some constructive feedback.
Then pray and ask for God to give you the opportunity and strength to share your story with someone. In a recent survey of the main factors in leading people to Christ, faith the top two were Christian friends, and a Christian family member(s).
Few of these people would be what we would call evangelists, but they were all witnesses, in some way.
This is an account by a friend of an American called Charles Murray.
"In 1967 Murray, was a fellow student at the University of Cincinnati and training for the summer Olympics of 1968 as a high diver. Charles was very patient with me as I would speak to him for hours about Jesus Christ and how He had saved me. Charles was not raised in a home that attended any kind of church, so all that I had to tell him was fascinating to him. He even began to ask questions about forgiveness of sin. Finally the day came that I put a question to him. I asked if he had realised his own need of a redeemer and if he was ready to trust Christ as his own Saviour. I saw his countenance fall and the guilt in his face. But his reply was a strong 'no'.
In the days that followed he was quiet and often I felt that he was avoiding me, until I got a phone call from him. He wanted to know where to look in the New Testament for some verses that I had given him about salvation. I gave him the references to several passages and asked if I could meet with him. He declined my offer and thanked me for the scripture. I could tell that he was greatly troubled, but I did not know where he was or how to help him.
Because he was training for the Olympic Games, Charles had special privileges at the University pool facilities. Between 1030 and 1100 that evening he decided to go to swim and practice a few dives. It was a clear night in October and the moon was big and bright. The University pool was housed under a ceiling of glass panes so the moon shone brightly across the top of the wall in the pool area. Charles climbed to the highest platform to take his first dive. At that moment the Spirit of God began to convict him of his sins. All the scriptures he had read, all the occasions of witnessing to him about Christ flooded his mind. He stood on the platform backwards to make his dive, spread his arms to gather his balance, looked up to the wall and saw his own shadow caused by the light of the moon. His shadow was in the shape of a cross. He could bear the burden of sin no longer. His heart broke and he sat down on the platform and asked God to forgive him and save him. He trusted Jesus Christ over twenty feet in the air.
Suddenly, the lights in the pool area came on. The attendant had come in to check the pool. As Charles looked down from his platform he saw an empty pool which had been drained for repairs. He had almost plummeted to his death, but the cross had stopped him from disaster."
As we consider the outcome of this story, think, "How many of my friends, co-workers, family are up on that diving board this very minute...
Turn on the light for them. Share the cross.
Invite them to church next Sunday. Allow the Lord to work through you. Will you make yourself available to Him?