16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 ESV)
These last verses of Matthew’s account of the Good News of Jesus are well known for what has been called in the Church ‘The Great Commission’. It marks the ‘going out’ of the followers of Jesus into the world. It is the fulfilment of what good news is all about.
And that is what we expect good news to do! Go out! Help! Think about it. If I had good news that would be good to you – if I had good news about medicine or a cure for your disease; if I knew where the fire extinguisher was in the fire; if I had the news that could have prevented your property being damaged, you losing money, or I had the news so you could reconcile and make friends again – and I did not tell you, and you found out, you would rightly be miffed, hurt, angry, in fact in some cases you might want to sue me, get back at me, and, at the least you, would call me ‘selfish’. The good in good news is that it is good for you.
Who determines this good varies – so welcome also to advertising and the rise of religions and cults and philosophies – just because something is described as good doesn’t necessarily make it so. I think it boils down to us mainly choosing what is good against a backdrop of some absolutes – life and death – it happens to all of us; meaning and purpose – we all need them; and the behaviours that enhance and uplift as opposed to oppress and abuse – and so we tend to highlight things such as truth and justice and personal freedoms while knowing people are always haggling over definitions and interpretations. And into this mix comes a god or gods especially if they are deemed to be good.
Christians have gone out into the world with the good news about a good God because the news is good for all people akin to water, light, bread are good, even vital, for all people to live and live well so this good news is vital for us all so that we may live now and forever.
Religions usually say that are good for you and are happy for people to come and join them – become enlightened, be blessed, join in the rituals and the behaviours – but there is often a more ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. You are born into the religion. Maybe you are curious and learn more and join. Christianity, on the other hand, has always had this ‘Go’, this outward motion, out into the world. The task can be summarised in a few words but church history reveals a wide variety of interpretations about what it all means in practice, in this world.
Church history swings on a pendulum, it seems, between making the good news spiritual-only having no affects on personal and social conditions here and now – it is thus attacked as the opium of the masses’ – through to the good news is only good when it brings about personal and social liberation and justice – and is thus attacked as another version of political change against the status quo – a so called ‘social gospel’. The 2,000 years of history are also shaped by whether Christians are dominant socially or politically. When not next to power, Christians serve each other and long for better days. When next to power, often perceived as those ‘better days’, Christians still say they are serving but are more open to the abuse of power. Historians still debate whether Constantine legalised Christianity because he was a Christian (the evidence for his mother’s Christian faith is far stronger than the evidence for his faith) or whether it was a very canny use of a religion for his political purposes – and who am I not to say that God is faithful to baptism and Constantine was baptised at the end of his life? – but my point simply here is that we have 1,700 years or so of having Christianity and power being used by the secular rulers and by the Church to achieve certain ends and the question to ask is ‘Are they good ends?’.
So let’s go back to that mountain in Galilee – an unknown one – after Jesus’ resurrection when Jesus told the disciples he would meet them in Galilee and sometime before the disciples go back to Jerusalem and see Jesus ascend and then wait for what turns out to be Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit. What did we find?
That they are not in Jerusalem – not in the south but in the north, in Galilee, where there are Old Testament references or echoes about God bringing light to the nations, a Wonderful Counsellor, a Mighty God, an Everlasting Father, a Prince of Peace for all, his kingdom to the Galilee of the nations – and that the original plan of God to bless the entire world has always been the game plan.
That they regard Jesus as God – because they worship him – you only do that for your God.
That they struggled with doubts and they were there but I think we can see it as the tension of words over eyes, truth over experience and as we’ve heard this Easter, it is a strong message that the followers of Jesus see with their ears, and their eyes are opened by words and the breaking of bread, and the truth of Jesus is anchored in words, water, bread and wine – in Jesus himself – rather than our own experience, sensation, feeling of Jesus and of our life with him.
That we have the same promise and truth about Jesus at the beginning of his life as we do now in his resurrection. Matthew records that Joseph was told to name the baby Jesus because he would save his people from their sins and that he was Immanuel which means ‘God with us’. Matthew now records Jesus telling the disciples to ‘Go and make disciples’ that’s the instruction. How? By baptising and teaching – that’s the how. And what is the key message – the Gospel core? That God has forgiven us – good news for sinners – and all the words about Jesus and about us give us the details and the consequences. And how does Matthew end his message? Jesus says that is he with us always – to the end of the age, the end of the world, to all and any endings you want to think about because mysteriously when this world ends, he and we do not. Jesus is still, always, ‘God with us’.
And into this scene Jesus reveals something that people might have sensed, or tried to get their heads around, or were wrestling with – and perhaps this was part of their doubts – about how to understand Jesus and how to understand God and how to understand what Jesus said especially on the night before his arrest when he talked about the Counsellor, the Comforter, the Helper, the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit – and that is who and what is God? These men grew up with the God of Israel in their Scriptures, our Old Testament, and their rituals and practices in the synagogue and temple, and their lifestyles that God expected – and now they are confronted with the message, the person, the words, the explanation that the God of Israel keeps pointing to Jesus who is standing in front of them, had died for them, was alive again, and spoke about his Father and this Spirit and said ‘listen to him’ – while Jesus keeps pointing to his Father and saying that he and his Father are one. Can you sense the furrowed brows? Can you sense the struggle with what Paul will write to the Colossians that in Jesus the fullness of deity dwells bodily? Can you sense how Peter could say to Ananias that when he lied to the Holy Spirit, he was lying to God? Can you sense the Trinity? And Jesus gives us the words, the names of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in whose name the Christians go out into all the world.
It will take the Christian Church about 500 years or so to come to an agreed formula about how to teach this mystery but from the beginning the use of the three names of God and the importance of maintaining the tension between one and three and three and one while keeping the focus on Jesus was paramount because if that didn’t happen then the forgiveness of sin was in jeopardy and the assurance of the Good News not secure.
So what does this mean for us today? Many things no doubt but let me suggest three.
1. We return daily to the message – the truth – our faith trusts this – and the Gospel proclaims this – that God is good. And when we talk about this God we are talking specifically about Jesus and the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and yes, we acknowledge it is a mystery but that it is not unknowable, not unbelievable, and the mystery even lends credence to truth. Who wants to follow a god we can fully understand or just a bigger version of ourselves?
2. We return daily to the truth that the Good News is for everyone because everyone needs forgiveness – the human condition recognises it, so does history, so does psychology – and this forgiveness and peace from God sets us free to live a new life each day.
3. We commit ourselves to going out into the world – whether it be the family room, the street, or another country – to share this Good News in word and deed, loudly and in silence – because we want people to know Jesus, to know the joy and peace that is Jesus. And we go out conscious of what has gone before in Jesus’ name and so work hard to serve and be good to all and so that our organisations and structures do not get in the way and make the words and deeds of Jesus ‘not good’. We serve where God puts us – in the relationships he gives us. This commitment to service requires us to think, to discern, to act or not act depending on the context but whatever happens in Jesus’ name is so that good can happen, people are blessed, and the planet knows that sins are forgiven. And in this service with all its highs and lows, Jesus is with us always to the end of the age.
- Matthew 28:16 - 20