“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
These words have been at the forefront of my brain for days. I read them last Friday, and shared them with Simon, because they were so mind-blowing and holy. Shared them with two young ladies outside a coffee shop on Saturday. Shared them with a friend from church on Sunday. Now, on Monday, for the forth day in a row, I am showing this treasure to you.
The book of Matthew closes out with these words, and if they weren’t Jesus’ final words on earth, they were at least some of His last. I love how He begins and ends this charge… He begins by reminding them that He, Jesus, has all authority on heaven and earth. He ends with a promise to never leave His followers alone. To me, this is like God eternal cupping our faces and saying, “Listen up! I am sending you on a mission and this is the most purposeful and significant thing you can imagine. But don’t worry, you don’t have to walk this out alone. The King Triumphant is with you!”
We can rewind history right now, and notice that Jesus is speaking to those who just watched Him get crucified, so that’s a pretty interesting twist in the story of authority. We ought also notice that these followers haven’t yet received the Holy Spirit.
This audience has the misfortune of familiarity. They are listening to one of their homies, the Guy they have been hanging with for the past few years, nonstop. And the only thing they know about God-with-us is the Emmanuel, who is just about to take off before their very eyes, after saying “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. Another bizarre twist. Hopefully, they are beginning to understand that Jesus doesn’t always answer things the way we expect.
But we can also fast-forward to our moment in history. The one where all of civilization has been divided and war is on the horizon. Cities are being burned to the ground, and folks are living in full-blown fear of every other person around. Let me remind each of us in this blazing generation, “All authority has been given to (Christ) in heaven and on earth” and to His followers, He says “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Exhale.
So, what are the contents of this verbal sandwich? Christ tells His disciples to do three things: Disciple, Baptize and teach. But that is far too simplified and truncated of an explanation, so let me break it down…
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Observation #1, “all nations”. He was speaking to some Jews, who had long believed the misconception that the Messiah was only for the Jewish race. He was sending them out to all lands and all people. For this age, it’s worth noting that Jesus was the most anti-racist Person ever. He smashed the racial/religious divide, during His few decades of time-interception.
But back to the story at hand, He tells His disciples to make disciples. Disciples are already followers. They just need mentors. We all need mentors. He is, in essence saying: Don’t just gather mass followers, walk alongside them. Show them the Way.
Then, He says, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. In saying this, He is introducing the concept of the Trinity. Again, these are guys who have no framework for understanding the Holy Spirit. And Jesus (the Son) just put Himself on equal status with the Father. As if telling them He had all authority on heaven and earth wasn’t enough!
Baptizing means evangelism. People get baptized as a confession of their desire to follow Christ. It is an act usually enacted by brand-new believers. So, Jesus is telling His followers to do the work of an evangelist. Tell people how amazing Christ is! And remember, this is a purposeful charge from a Sovereign God, who won’t leave us to do the work alone.
We mustn’t fear people’s responses. Our love for God and for our neighbor’s souls ought to outweigh our concern for whether or not we will be criticized or persecuted. If we remember our purpose and the urgency of things, and if we have a heart that is set on the highway to Zion (Psalm 84), this will help us be bold in the face of fear. Our lives on this planet, just like Jesus’, are very, very short compared to eternity. As Christ followers, our citizenship lies in heaven. We are just hear for a short while on an extremely important mission!
And finally, He tells them to teach them “to observe all that I commanded you.” In essence, He says, part of following Me is obeying Me. Somewhere else, it says “If you love Me, you will obey Me”. The thought of obedience puts a sour taste in our mouth. We identify as autonomous little creatures, who quickly forget that there is One who loves us, Who created us, and Who has all the authority to call the shots.
When we refuse to obey God, we are like angry toddlers, demanding the “freedom” to play in the highway, shouting that our Father doesn’t love us or He would give us our freedom! When God institutes laws and restrictions on us, it is not to diminish our freedom, but to give us greater freedom in our soul. Trust me, I learned this the hard way. I once ran with the wind, into every kind of “freedom” the world offered, and what I found was that all of my “freedom” caused incredible grief that nearly took my life. I cannot believe I survived. There was no way I would have without a Rescuer who was far kinder to me than I was to myself. I should have been dead 20 years ago. But Grace!
Again, God doesn’t leave us to our own devices, to work out our own obedience without His help. He promises to stay with us to the end of the age. And He promises to love us fully, no matter how many times we fail at obedience, so long as we put our hope in the atonement (or the substitute death) of the cross, rather than our own perfection.
The reason that all of this has meant so much to me, over the past many days, is because it is so purposeful. So missional. We are in desperate times, and all of us are looking around for some kind of hope to grab onto. Jesus lays it out, pretty clear, in this charge to His followers (even the ones on earth today), that our lives are designed for something higher than the comforts and pleasures of this world. Here is the most purposeful Man that ever was, who chose homelessness, a less than comfortable birth, the life of a seemingly bastard child (in a society that would have ostracized him for it), to live His one, short existence on planet earth spending nearly every second serving, healing and teaching others. He lived with such purpose. And He tells His followers to live with purpose.
I don’t know about you, but when I look at the state of the world right now, I wonder if Jesus is about to make His second appearance. Things are looking pretty bleak and out-of-control. But then I remember how He opened up this passage “All authority has been give to Me in heaven and on earth.” My soul rests easy in these words. Even in the world seems to be spinning off it’s axis, God has not lost control. And no matter what I may personally lose on earth, I have a palace in Heaven awaiting, and all sorts of treasures that moth and rust can’t destroy, and no one can burn to the ground!
I remember the final words “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Almighty is the Emmanuel, the God-with-me! He will never leave or forsake me. I am in safe territory, even when it feels as though I am in the enemy’s camp.
So, I live with purpose. My purpose is that I want to take as many folks with me as possible, when I head up into the Glory-beyond… because I deeply love my friends who are fumbling around in the dark trying to find the Hope that satisfies souls. And I love my brothers and sisters, and want to disciple those whose courage needs fortified. I want to live a life that is purposeful and not distracted by the temptations the world dangles before me. I don’t want to fall asleep beside the path, drunk with distraction, when the hour glass is running up and folks still don’t know Jesus.