Scripture: Matthew 28:16-20
What is the purpose of the gathering of the church? This question is asked often as cultures shift and one era of history emerges into another. This is the question that many today are asking as well. Today several different expressions of the church are gaining more ground and followings. There is the missional church, which focuses on ministry outside of the church walls providing service to the community where you are and putting little emphasis on the meeting house. Then there is the emergent church that is seen as a blending of various spiritual and theological practices both ancient and contemporary. This emergent church is one that focuses mainly on providing spiritual experiences that will urge people into a deeper devotion to Christ. Then the last exciting concept emerging in the contemporary church is the new monasticism, communities are being built and orders are being formed that focus on continual and constant prayer.
What each of these movements show is that something has happened within the culture around us where what was once seen as being the primary method of ministry seems to be ineffective. The people of the world are closing themselves off from the gospel and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to reach out to those struggling in life with the hope we have in Jesus. Our culture has shifted from attending worship services weekly to something much deeper. Those outside the church no longer see value in attending church because the church seems to have become comfortable with itself and its place in society, no longer is it a force of hope and change but is often seen as an instrument of oppression and exclusion. Each of the contemporary movements have similarities, they notice that the church needs to address certain traditions that have become commonplace and revitalise them. The missional movement revitalizes the evangelistic mission of goo g to all the nations, which must first begin at home before we can become effective in the world. The emergent movement addresses worship practices and theologies and attempts to bring light back into the meeting for worship. And the new monastic movements encourage prayer, not just in the intercessory manner but deep contemplative and relational prayer. This is one of the most exciting times of the church because church and being a Christian is becoming something much different these movements require each person to become more active, no longer can one just be a spectator bit your faith must become a lifestyle.
I know that none of this is new. This is what church has always been but at times the meetings get lukewarm. Throughout history the church has gone through periods like these, and a new movement emerges to revitalize the church. But it goes deeper into history than just the 2000 odd years of our current era. The Jewish history also has cycles great devotion, complacency, and a reemergence. We can read about this throughout the old testament and in the oracles of the prophets. It is in one of these cycles where Christ comes and the church is built. The church as we know it has its roots going back to the beginning of time, yet in each age it has had to recalibrate to encourage each generation into a deeper relationship with God.
This is where we find the disciples in today’s passage. The church is in its infancy and is nearly getting its feet under them to begin to move without the assistance of a physical lord before them. This setting is just prior to the ascension, they meet together on a mountain which Jesus called them to, and they are in a state of awe and doubt. Jesus meets them when they see Him they begin to worship Him. They worshiped him, they provided Jesus with an honor only allowed to be performed in the temple, yet here they gave it to Jesus. In the midst of this honor, Jesus tells them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
All authority, do we understand what this implies? To most of us it means that Jesus, has been given authority to rule,, jurisdiction, and power, but it can also mean freedom to act. All freedom to act in heaven and on earth. That is an interesting concept, not only does he have the power and ability to rule but he has all freedom to act upon what is necessary. Jesus demonstrated this authority in many ways as he lived and ministered in Galilee and Judea. What is important is that by Jesus say the words, “Go therefore,” Jesus is transferring the authority he has to his followers, sending them out in His name. When someone with that type of authority sends someone out in their name they have the exact authority as the one that sends them.
So Jesus sends them out under his authority and says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” First off we need to look at what is meant by the term nations. A nation is a people or a large group based on various cultural, physical or geographic ties. It can also refer to heathens, pagan, or Gentiles. Jesus is sending them out to all people, including all the heathens, pagans, Gentiles, and Jews. All the nations that is pretty hard to imagine. The apostles were given this task with authority passed down to them by Jesus himself, and that authority and mission has been passed down to each one of us because all the nations have yet to be reached. This is a task that will last through ages and ages to come. With each new birth of a child it extends the mission of Jesus Christ. With each new cultural shift and change we as agents of Jesus are given the freedom to go therefore and minister among them. We often get caught in the trap of thinking that the mission is over and that the culture is in decay leaving us to just wait around until the day that Christ is to return, but that is not what we are called to do, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”
We are called to go to all the nations and among that call we are to make disciples. A disciple is a student of a master. It goes beyond just believing that something is true, like I was saying a couple of weeks ago there are different levels of belief. The first is knowledge, the second is trust and the third is to entrust. Disciples are people that have moved along that path past the knowledge stage and are in the process of moving from trust to entrust. I say this because to be a disciple you must walk along the path of the master, one cannot walk that path until they have moved into some form of trust. The term disciple is a committed student. In the first century a disciple of a particular rabbi would leave everything and begin to walk where their teacher walked, eat what their teacher ate, they would imitate everything their teacher did until they themselves were equal to their teacher and could lead their own students. To be a disciple requires one to leave their current direction in life and to become totally committed living for and with their master or teacher. Often we try to soften the cost of discipleship make it easier in some way so that there can be greater growth among the followers. At other times we make even more rules so that only the very best can enter into the ranks. These are the very things that have prompted every reform of faith within the people of God, this swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other. At one point there is a focus on strict adherence to the law at other times it is free grace for all. Both of these are not telling the whole truth these reforms are only looking at the outward expression but discipleship holistic. Discipleship deals with the mind, body, and spirit. The goal of discipleship is to change the entire person and form them into something better.
Jesus sends his closest friends out saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” leaving us with a logical question, how? This is where the various denominations make their splits. Most real differences are about how we train and encourage people along the path of faith. We use different tools, examples, and experiences to encourage a person to take the steps through the process of true belief. Jesus tells us how to make disciples when he continues to speak, “…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Makes total sense right? When we read these words every one of us had something go through our mind as to what this means. For many when the word baptize is mentioned we immediately begin to imagine a religious ceremony of either a baby having their head rinsed by a priest, or a repentant person being plunged beneath the water’s surface. We each have a theological stance on which if any are correct, but in those many years of tradition the meaning has somewhat lost the power. We can pull parallels from the ancient hebrew practices of ritualistic cleansings and show how those traditions are passed on to the church by Jesus, and we can even look back in to the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and see John the Baptist performing this ritual in the Jordan, but often we fail to recognize that these rituals were just a shadow or illustration to what Jesus and John for that matter were trying to express. The term Baptize is to immerse or saturate and it was not used in a religious context until John the Baptist used it, prior to that and even well beyond it was a term used for the dyeing for fabrics.
To baptize someone is to dye them so that they no longer look the same but have a permanent and beautiful stain. One that dyes must totally immerse the fabric into the solution and let it sit for a portion of time and then remove the fabric and rinse it. It is a time consuming process in conditions that are not exactly ideal, the dyes smell funny and at times can even cause harm to the ones doing the work, but the end product is a beautiful fabric with uniform color throughout. The fabric is transformed into something of greater value. When John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness to repent and be baptized he was not just saying be washed but be transformed, even he said that what he was doing was not complete but the one that was to come after him would come with the true baptism. This true baptism is to take on the color or essence of Christ, so that every aspect of our being is touched and shaded in the hues of Jesus. To be baptised is to be immersed in the very life of Jesus, letting it saturate and color every aspect of our being until we are totally reflecting that that is Jesus. Consider that for a moment. We are dyed with Christ. Washed in the blood of Jesus takes on a totally different meaning. Saturated and colored by the very blood shed for us.
Blood is a connective tissue that flows through every part of our bodies. It connects and nourishes every system and function we need to survive. Blood is a great illustration for what it means to be baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, because blood saturates and connects everything that makes us live. This is what discipleship is, it is allowing the spirit of God to saturate every facet of our being. If blood does not get to a certain part of our body that area almost immediately begins to die, the coloring of the tissue begins to change and then the systems around them begin to shut down. The result is numbness or pain, or even sever cases the loss of an organ or life. To be a disciple to be baptized is to have every aspect of our being totally saturated with the God.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” We baptize by the act or the participation in the teaching of Jesus. Jesus taught with more than mere words, and the light he showed us was for more than just the afterlife. Jesus’ teaching was a lifestyle. It was a rhythm of living. It a balance of worship, prayer, and service to others. It involved discussions and the passing on of knowledge, but most of what he taught was in action. He would often use the service he provided to others as a means to express a deeper meaning or understanding of life with God. But it was the life of Jesus that is important in disciple making. He lived among us. He ate among us, He worshiped with those around Him and he showed us how to deepen and maintain a relationship with God. He saturated every aspect of humanity with His divine presence. He demonstrated how to work and honor God in it. He showed us how to honor God in our celebrations, feasting, and interaction with other. He taught and he demonstrated with his life. That is what Jesus is calling us to do. To go to all nations, all people, races, genders, heathens, pagans, people that don’t believe and people that believe differently and live a life saturated by God among those people, teaching them in our words and deeds. Walking with them as we go and helping when we can. Jesus has given us the freedom to act with his authority in these areas.
This is why the contemporary emerging movements of the church are so important. They are challenging us all to reconsider various aspects of our lives and our activities to see if we are actually making disciples or if we are just trying to fill the meeting houses. The Missional movement is challenging us by asking us if we are actually Going. The emergent network is asking us if we are actually following his teachings by questioning and experimenting with different techniques. The new monastics are challenging us to actually look at our lives and see if we are devoted completely. We could sit back and complain that maybe they do not have sound theology or that they attempt ministries without being prepared. We may even consider them lazy, and wish they got real jobs. But they are attempting to advance the church, they are attempting to make disciples of people many would like to over look. They are challenging us to become the church again.
God is working among us, he is calling us into ministries that may be uncomfortable at this time, but how will we respond? Will we saturate those God brings us to with the essence of Christ, will they be able to see that we ourselves have been saturated in Him? Will we be willing to walk and do what Jesus calls us to do here in our community?
I want to revisit the illustration of dyed fabric. Not all fabric is suitable for all things. People are different as well. We are not called to make copies of ourselves in all nations, but disciples of Jesus. We do not control what the final outcome will be for anyone, some will be called to preaching, others to teaching, some to giving and others to hospitality, some to heal and others to organize. These things are called Gifts of the spirit, meaning God gives them these Gifts not us. God has sent us out to make disciples and to baptize or to saturate and dye the people in the name of the triune God, but God is still in control of what they become in Him. Today is Father’s day and I want to acknowledge those men that have been instrumental in discipleship of my life. Often our parents are the first and most important influences of our lives that will set us on the course to God, but our parents do not control our destiny. My father, both of my fathers, taught me through words and actions. I saw them pray and worship, I saw them help others in need, I learned from my father the importance of giving to God first. My grandfather would often encourage me to look at things from a different perspective. My great Uncle taught me to never judge before you hear the whole story. These men in my life were saturated in the love of God, they lived it in every aspect of their lives, and they encouraged me to do the same. Fathers are to train their children in the way they should go, or point them down the right path. These men did that, but I doubt any would have expected what God would fully do with the fabric of my life.
Our jobs are to make disciples not play God, our challenge is how do we direct people down the right path without crossing a line where we play god? This is where the rhythm of life that Jesus taught us is so important. This is where spiritual disciplines are key. It is through this disciplined life where we develop and build our relationship with God and where His spirit will lead and guide us in our words and deeds. It is in worship, prayer, and service that we see ourselves in the true light, and in that light we will be able to see others the way God see them.
We are in a pivotal point in history. In many cases the western church is in decline, but that only means God is beginning a new work in those of us who are already His disciples. Again we are called to Go Make and baptize nations here and to the ends of the earth. As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends, consider discipleship, and baptism and if in your understanding you are where you need to be. Then take a different look at those things and consider where you and our church should be in God.