A Discipler’s Guide to Spiritual Conversations (1/7): A MISSION TO DISCIPLE
No matter how familiar you think you are with this portion of scripture just take a moment to read it.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, 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)
I usually love to come to this passage to point out an encouraging truth for those eager, but hesitant, to jump into the mission of God - which is this: God loves to exercise his power by inviting the frail, fearful, and flawed into his mission and using them in the unfolding of his kingdom on earth.
Frail, fearful, and flawed people like these doubting disciples.
While this is an ultra-encouraging reality, there is a more foundational thing to unearth in this passage. It has to do with the nature of God’s kingdom and how these disciples (and us) fit.
We know the scene. The disciples head to the spot Jesus arranged for them to meet. One last conversation before his ascension. Eleven disciples left. The traitor lost to suicide.
These guys have been through the ringer, but they are all facing their friend who was just flogged, crucified, and buried and yet now stands before them alive, whole, and motivated (just like the old days before he was murdered by Roman executioners).
Their reaction? They all worshiped Jesus, but some doubted. What an odd mixture.
They are at the same time overwhelmed emotionally by the mysterious wonder of their friend who just recently was prepared for burial (and then actually buried) that they are worshipping him, but some are, in their heart of hearts, doubting.
But what are they doubting?
The classic answer would be to say they are doubting like Thomas doubted in John 20 when he said: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” The problem with seeing it this way lies in a simple fact: the other ten were there to witness Jesus empirically prove himself to Thomas. So what, then, is the nature of their doubting?
The truth these eleven were very slow to understand was God’s kingdom was never of the right-handed, violent variety. These men thought Jesus’ kingdom was a physical kingdom with walls, Jewish people inside, and an army built for war to secure their safety and autonomy. They also thought Jesus was THE king that would gather such an army to overcome their Roman oppressors and establish such a kingdom. They really, truly believed this.This idea of a king and kingdom was ingrained in them. It’s all they knew.
Can you imagine how crushed the disciples would have been to see Jesus captured by the Romans? These were the very ones that he was supposed to capture and overcome. Then to watch him be sentenced to crucifixion and die. Again, the wrong guy is dying. A major plot twist to the movie these eleven already had written in their heads. The dream is over. Dejection. Depression. On to the next potential king.
Then another major plot twist. He rises from death, walks out of his tomb and gets the band back together to gather for this pep talk recorded in Matthew 28. Yes! The dream is back on. Rome is in for it. They just unjustly killed a guy and he’s back from the dead. Game on! Time for war. Let’s go make this kingdom thing happen. We know this is what they were thinking (Acts 1:6).
Then 40 days go by (Acts 1:3) where Jesus talked a ton about his Kingdom, but no army was formed and no plan for a kingdom was established.
What was the point of all this? Why die? Why come back? What are you doing, Jesus? What role do we play? These are the questions (doubts you might say) that are going through their head and hearts. A confusing and uncertain time for the guys who thought that they would be high ranking officers in Jesus’ military.
Into all this doubting about what Jesus is up to in the world the specific roles they play in it all Jesus says to them “Go … and make disciples …”
What is God doing in the world and how do I fit? The answer: As you go about your days, weeks, months and years: disciple the people around you. Crazy simple! Not easy. Simple.
For these eleven, their idea of kingdom gets flipped on its head. No. Destroyed.
Is Jesus gathering a people? Yes, but it’s not an army of the strong and skilled of his day. Rather it’s the least, last, little, and the losers that he gathers to himself.
Is Jesus waging a war? Yes, but not the war that the eleven imagined. The war Jesus waged was a war waged on Sin, Satan, and Death. It was finished and won with Jesus as a victorious king before these eleven ever even caught on.
Is Jesus establishing a kingdom? Yes. Though, it is one of reconciliation and not war. The war is over. All that is left is the good news of the victorious king who came and conquered all that alienated us from the God who created us, namely our sin and it’s consequence of death. Reconciliation between God and man is now available to all who will believe because of the finished work of Jesus.
Well then, how do we fit? Where’s my place in this kingdom? What are we supposed to now do? Jesus answers with “Go … and make disciples …” Go and carry this Good News to those around you where you live, work, and play. Proclaim to them that the One who created them has also reconciled them. Forgiveness of sins and peace with God is now available to all.
What is God up to in your neighborhood, workplace, local brewpub, dive bar, music venue, sports complex, park, and coffee shop? And how do you fit?
Go … and make disciples …
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
In a day where polished gatherings, building aesthetics, and the latest hype are capturing our imagination as to what we should be about as leaders, churches, and everyday disciples, it’s important for us to be reminded of the mission Jesus gave us to disciple.
In a day where we strategize and make plans to reach potential people with sensational outreach events, the mission to disciple begs us to slow down with the actual people in our lives and begin being intentional with what they need.
It seems that this simple mission is still overturning some kingdom paradigms.
So how about you? Are you giving your life to the mission Jesus gave us? Or do you find you barely have time for discipleship after all your church responsibilities are through? Or maybe you find yourself, like those disciples in Matthew 28, in a state of constant questioning, wondering to what or where should you turn next because the last thing you thought was going to work just didn’t.
Over the next several weeks we’re going to explore the various contours and nuances of discipleship relationships through this blog series. We’re going to look to the scriptures for clarity while keeping an eye on the current spiritual climate in the West to see how the ancient and simple ways of Jesus are needed now more than ever. We hope to not only be faithful to what God has declared but to also be helpful in considering how to disciple those who are part of your church family and also those uninterested in the church.