SCRIPTURE – Matthew 28:16-20
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
“And Remember I Am With You Always”
June 5, 2011
When I visited Crestwood for the first time a few years ago, one of the first things I noticed was that this church has a lot of doors. It almost has more doors than it does coat hooks, and that’s saying something. For example, where’s the main entrance to Crestwood? If you’re taking your child to Sunday School, it might be the South entrance. But if you want to drop someone off, maybe it’s the breezeway out here. Or if your kid is in the Glendover basketball league, you might come in through the Mission Center doors. By my count, there are seven different entrances to this church, from the Mission Center to the breezeway outside of the Childcare Center. Where is the front door of Crestwood, anyway?
We need to know this, don’t we, if we’re going to invite someone to church. We could say, “I’ll meet you at the main doors” and end up clear on the other side of the building from them! And symbolically, this church has more than just front doors. While the main entrance to the church may be our Sunday worship, people come to the church through side doors like working on mission projects or attending the Easter Egg Hunt or participating in fellowship events. Crestwood has a lot of side doors. And, like any church, we also have a back door, which people will use when they feel like Crestwood is no longer the place for them. So many doors!
In our passage today, I believe Jesus is talking to the disciples about the doors of the church, but not the kind that swing on hinges. This passage comes at the very end of Matthew’s gospel, as Jesus calls together his disciples for one last charge to them. Other than the empty tomb, this is Jesus’ only resurrection appearance in Matthew’s gospel, his only words of guidance and direction for his faithful followers.
But this meeting is incomplete. The disciples are one short of their number. The absentee, of course, is Judas, who committed suicide after betraying Jesus. But to be fair, if Jesus held grudges, none of the disciples should be there. Not too long ago they were too busy fleeing for their lives to stand by him during his darkest hour, and yet here they are gathered once again in his presence. So it’s appropriate that their group is incomplete, because they are incomplete. The group that Jesus is about to send into the world to start the church is fallible, imperfect, “eleven-ish.” In case we might miss the incompleteness of this group, Matthew tells us, “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” Disciples pastor Fred Craddock says a more literal translation of this verse reads, “They worshipped him and some doubted.”
They worshipped and they doubted. Do those two things go together? Worship and doubt? You bet they do. Have you seen that bumper sticker that says, “God said it, I believe it, and that’s that”? Boy, it’d be nice if faith were that simple, that easy. But it’s not, is it? Unless Jesus is driving that car, the person behind the wheel can’t live up to the message on the bumper. No one has that kind of faith; even when the resurrected Jesus was standing right in front of them, they worshipped and they doubted. Don’t feel bad if you have experienced the same mixture. Worship is an important part of faith, but so is doubt.
Jesus surely must have sensed their doubt. So why doesn’t he withhold his command until this situation is remedied? Does he really want to send a group of doubters out to do this job? He knows their hearts like he knows ours, and yet he still gives them this charge. They’ve been with him since the beginning. “Come, follow me,” he said, and they did. Then he put up with their power struggles and their thoughtless questions and their greed and their lack of faith and their selfishness and finally, most painfully, their abandoning him…and now, despite all of that, despite their doubt at this mountaintop moment, he chooses them again. Is there any greater proof that there’s hope for us? Jesus looks in the face of those who worship and those who doubt, and says, “I need you to be the front doors of the gospel.”
The job description he gives is of the grandest scope. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Oh, well, is that all? The eleven had to be shocked. Those who were made disciples are now called to make disciples. This is one of the places in the Bible where we lose something in the translation. The phrase “to make disciples” is better rendered as “to disciplize.” What’s the difference? “To make disciples” sounds like something we would do to a passive object, like making cookies or making a necklace. But people aren’t passive objects to be manipulated like cookie dough or beads and a string. So another understanding of what it means to disciplize is needed.
Dallas Willard defines a disciple as a person who has decided to be with another person in order to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is. A person who wants to learn carpentry or plumbing would become the disciple of a carpenter or a plumber, in order to learn what that person knows and become what that person is. So Jesus is saying we are to make people disciples by showing to them who Jesus is so that they can become like him.
Richard Halverson, former chaplain to the U.S. Senate, translated Jesus’ saying to read, “As you go, make learners everywhere.” Make learners. Don’t try to drag people to Bible study, or to youth groups, or into the sanctuary. Don’t try to trick or entice them into coming to church. Instead, try to show them something of the power of Christ in your own life. Show them what you have personally experienced, the worship and the doubt. Help them learn about Christ through what you have learned. Then, as people around you are influenced by the way you live out your faith, they will find their way into a community of believers. We may never see the end result of opening the door for someone’s faith. But the seeds we plant with our lives will ultimately bear fruit in theirs.
A youth group and I were working one time at a local park in Columbus, Ind. This park was in a rundown part of the town and our job was the spruce it up – rake the mulch, clean off the shelter house, pick the rocks out of the sandbox. As we were leaving, a little boy from the neighborhood came over to me and asked, “What are you all doing?”
“We’re cleaning up this park for you and your friends.”
“Why are you doing that?”
“Well, we want it to look nice and clean for you.”
“Oh. Are you coming back again?”
“Yeah, we’ll be here next month.”
“Oh. I have a rake. Can I help?”
Can I help? From curious observer to co-worker for the kingdom. A door was opened.
That’s what we’re called to do, to take people who are curious, who are searching, who are yearning for God’s presence in their lives, and to show them God’s love in a tangible way, not through our words, but through our lives. The work of the church is not what we’re doing while we’re in church. We’re here to be equipped, to be fitted with the tools, in order to be sent out and fulfill this Great Commission. Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “Go therefore and preach to people.” I guess he’d rather see a sermon than hear one.
That’s a monumental task that Jesus places on our shoulders, especially when our shoulders are prone to slumping from doubt and discouragement. Maybe that’s why Jesus adds that final line: I am with you always,” echoing the beginning of the Gospel, where Jesus was called Emmanuel, meaning, “God with us.” I like the way the Bible translation The Message puts it: “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
Day after day after day. The disciples thought they were saying goodbye, but we never truly say goodbye. Those who were made disciples are now called to make disciples. In the beginning, Jesus said to them, “Come and follow me.” Now he says, “Go, disciplize, show people who I am, invite them into my church, and remember I am with you.” So there IS a front door to Crestwood after all! It’s you. Are you going to stay closed and keep people out or open up and let people in?
As we close our sermon series on “The Next Words of Jesus,” I want to end with this observation: Jesus’ last words to us are words of exhortation, words that call us and challenge us to go and do and be all that we have been created to be. You could say that his words ended there as each gospel concluded. But I believe his words live on in each of us. May we bring God glory in our attempts to be faithful to the Word made flesh.