Sunday morning's message will summons us back to the Galilean mountainside at the moment of the Ascension for our second week. It sings out what has been called “The Great Commission.” It is the parallel passage to the passage we looked at last week in the first chapter of Acts. Part of what I appreciate about the New Testament is that we often hear the voices of different witnesses to the same event. This is true this morning. While the words attributed to Jesus will sound a bit different, the heart, power, and passion of the passages are the same. The passage we hear this morning is Matthew 28:16-20. Verse 16 brings us back to the mountainside. Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.
It is pretty apparent that Matthew was not on a public relations contract with the disciples. Throughout his gospel he reports their questions and their squabbles. He shows them as real people dealing with the raw emotions and faith discoveries born in their walk with Jesus. His take on this moment is no different. Verse 17 reports; When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. First the response we expect – “when they saw him, they worshiped him.” But, then he adds a haunting tagline “but some doubted.” What? Here on the mountainside in the shadows of the cross and the resurrection, in the wake of his post-resurrection appearances, doubt still lingers among the eleven who knew Jesus best. Our temptation is to meet those who doubt with questions or condemnation. In these last hours on earth you might imagine Jesus becoming outraged by their doubt, but he does not. He does not rebuke them, he reaches out to them. He responds to their deep seated questioning the same way he does ours, with grace. This grace response brings them together and sets the foundation for a gospel that will touch the four corners of the earth.
Jesus summons them to let them know that they could let go of their doubt, that the task they are about to be assigned is based on divine authority. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." Jesus comes to them, comforts them, and let’s them know that the commission that awaits them is founded in the very authority of God. Authority is a term that seems to make people nervous. Most of the time, it seems, we hear this term “authority” being leveraged by people exerting power over others – commanding, demanding their way. Most of us can quickly recall a boss, a coach, or a teacher who seem to relish in their use – and sometimes abuse – of their authority. In Baptist life many of us can remember some rather unholy demonstrations of religious authority.
Jesus turns the image of authority on its head. It is a power given by God that is demonstrated in humility and service. Rather than authority expressed in the symbols of power of soldiers and shields, Jesus instead expresses it through broken bread and a broken body – palaces given way to mangers – the trappings of royalty given way to a ministry to blind beggars and tax collectors. Jesus wants the disciples to know that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him, but his demonstration of authority would be radically different than the vulgar displays common by the Romans and the religious leadership of the day…..and some of the religious leaders of our days. The Great Commission is founded in a divine authority, but we must be careful which model of authority we claim. There is room for no masters, rulers, or powerbrokers – only servants.
While the face of missions is changing, the heart of the Great Commission remains the same. 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. On the morning I was installed as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. I offered a vision of our congregation with missions as the centerpiece. I can not tell you how exciting is has been to see this vision become reality. This church has a great history in missions support but we have witnessed an unparalleled shift to broad based congregational missions engagement. Our website proclaims that missions is a central part of our congregational DNA, and it is no exaggeration. While other congregations struggle to discover how to become a missional church – or to find their way in the changing currents of denominational missions, our church has become a model for other congregations. When I worked as a voice of missions mobilization for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global Missions, I wearied of pastors telling me; “this idea of missions at the center of the church sounds good, but I do not see anyone doing it. Show me what it looks like and I will give it a try.” It seems that many feared that missions at the center of the church would drain budget dollars and distract from the overall ministries of the church. We are proving them wrong. As we claim our place in God’s given mission we reflect God’s heart. God is in the sending business. John 3:16 reminds us that “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son.” Jesus tells us in John 20:20 that “As I was sent, so I send you.”
As I looked over what we are doing in missions in our community and in our world I was candidly amazed at its depth and diversity. We see every age group engaged. We witnessed our children reading and hosting the fund-raising basketball game to help purchase supplies for an orphanage in Asia. Our 55+ Council hosted a teachers’ appreciation moment for the teachers working at Eugene Field Elementary, the site of our KidsHope Mentoring Program and whose student population is one of the poorest schools in the district. Over the last 18 months we have had mission teams working along the Texas-Mexico border, in Guatemala and Ghana; India and Indonesia. We sent a one of our families to investigate mission opportunities in the Middle East and will commission our youth to go and serve in poverty focused missions in Missouri. We are involved in a partnership that fosters Bible translation in Africa. We are partnering with CBF’s work among an unevangelized people group in Central Asia. We respond to global disasters through Baptist World Aid and provide life-saving mosquito nets through HisNets. We are invited to help train the next generation of Hispanic leaders through our partnership with the Baptist University of Americas. Locally, we see Good Shepherd Ministries serve over 10,000 people of year; our Language Center touches students from the four corners of the world, and now see our International Student Ministry is beginning to find its footing. We also staged a work day at the OBHC Boys Ranch Town as a part of our partnership with them. We have also seen our Associate Pastor in pastoral care ministries in the days after destruction in Greenburg, Kansas and Pichard, Oklahoma. What is is remarkable is this list in not comprehensive. Our congregation has claimed other partnership relationships and individual members have found other mission endeavors where they could invest their time and resources. Whew! But how has God responded? In this season with such an intentional focus on missions we have witnessed the strongest growth in giving and membership that the church has witnessed in a generation. People have begun to unite with us because they can see that when we proclaim that we are a church in the heart of the city for the heart for the world – that we mean it and live it.
The first half of verse 20 proclaims the second half of the commission "and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. "The result of responding to the Great Commission is not just to proclaim the name of Jesus or to give a cup of water in Jesus’ name. It is to change lives – to make disciples that walk with Jesus. One of my great hopes in that over the next ten years we will be a leader in the transformation of the Classen-Ten-Penn community. This once great neighborhood is now defined by poverty and prostitution, gangs and drugs. The only way to change the difficult realities of this community is to address their heart issues, their need for a redemptive relationship with God and a life of obedience that beckons them from brokenness to faithfulness. This is true in the Classen-Ten-Penn community and every where else we seek to serve in the Christ’s name. It transforms missions from the passing out of the four spiritual laws to building relationship that results in growing disciples
Jesus closes the Great Commission with one of the most reassuring words found in scripture. Jesus says, And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. The great news is that this grand task invites us into partnership with God. Whether we serve as a language helper, a child’s mentor, a Good Shepherd volunteer, or go as a part of a team to a place a world away – we go with Christ. It means that when we choose to “go” as an individual and/or as a church, we go with Christ – in God’s authority, as a reflection of God’s heart, with the passion to help people find redemption and hope as Christ’s disciples.