The scripture text: Matthew 28:16-20
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power 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, until the end of the age.”
Generally, we tend to focus on ourselves and forget about others. Very often, we think first of our benefits and wellbeing. And, we are more concerned about our rights and privileges than we are about our duties and responsibilities. This is the story of our human condition. As far as we are concerned, what matters most is our own needs, not the needs of others.
Actually, there are good people who spend themselves attending to other people’s needs; very many others in our world are self-centered. Some are even obsessed with themselves. It is not a new thing; it has been there from the beginning of time. It is self-centeredness that made Cain kill his brother in Genesis 4:8. In Mark 10:35-41, the two brothers James and John went to Jesus to ask for distinguished positions in his kingdom. It was the need to secure their personal wellbeing that led them to begin scheming. And because the ten others thought these two brothers were trying to outsmart them, they were indignant. Every one of them wanted a good place by Jesus.
As Jesus noticed this bad attitude, he directed their attention to the cup that has to be drained before the throne is occupied, and told them in Mark 10:44 that the Christian mission is about service not about benefits and personal wellbeing.
One thing we have to keep in mind as adults in the faith is that our calling is not all about us; it is actually about others. It is not so much about what we receive; it is more about what we give to others and what we leave behind for future generations.
There was this man who worked so hard to make sure his family had enough to live by. He worked really hard and made good fortune. In the comfort of their wealth, his children became lazy different from their father who worked hard to give them what they had. They grew up, married and had children. Eventually the man died and left behind a hoard of riches for those children and their families. And what did the children do? They descended on their father’s estate and ate up the whole wealth like termites. In just a couple of years, they were left with nothing. They had nothing to live by and nothing to leave for their children.
They were born into wealth but ended up in poverty because they chose to receive without giving. They were enjoying without working. This should not be the lot of people who belong to Christ because Christ did not live that way, and surely did not teach us to live that way.
A Christian is a person with a double-layered personality. He is a disciple and an apostle at the same time. As a disciple he is like a child in the family. He obeys the rules and enjoys the blessings of Christ in the Church. As an apostle, he displays a great sense of maturity and shows himself as a good steward of God’s treasures. By his words and actions, he gives back to the community in the service he renders to others especially those in need. This is the way it ought to be. Every Christian should be a disciple and an apostle.
Unfortunately, some people have refused to grow. They only see the Church as a big mango tree where they can come freely to pluck plenty juicy fruits without thinking of how they too can plant for others to pluck. They do not think of those who suffered to plant the tree. It does not matter who watered and tended it to grow to the point of yielding fruits. And whether it is necessary to plant another mango tree so that those coming after may find fruits in their turn are not their concern. All they know is to go there when they need some fruits without caring to nurture the tree. And if they go and do not find fruits on the tree, they begin to complain and ask questions. These are people who jubilate when God does something great for them and complain when he fails to answer their prayers the way they would want. The problem is that they are only bothered about their rights without thinking in any way about their responsibilities.
Thank God I have lived to see Christians who truly witness to Christ in their lives. They put their faith to work the way it should be. As they enjoy the blessings of God in their lives, they also create opportunities for others to be blessed. This is what God expects of us. As we continue in our journey of faith, we should grow up to be adults both spiritually and religiously. We should enjoy all the blessings that God has given to us and do everything possible to bring others to share with us in the goodness of God.
This is the challenge the Lord Jesus is placing before us today. We call it the Great Commission or our Missionary Mandate. It is the duty that the Lord Jesus has placed on our shoulders as his disciples. We have to take the message across mountains and hills, across rivers and oceans, and through pathways and byways to those who have not yet given their lives to Christ so that they may come to the knowledge of the truth and enjoy God’s choicest blessings in their lives.
Matthew 28:9-10 says that after his resurrection, the Lord Jesus appeared to the women who were at the tomb early on the Easter morning. At that meeting, he sent them to his disciples to proceed to Galilee where he will meet with them. The women delivered the message accordingly and Matthew 28:16 says the eleven disciples went to the mountain in Galilee where the Lord had ordered them to go.
Let us stop here and reflect on some issues of great importance in these verses. First, the gospel says the number was no more twelve but eleven. Of course, we all know the reason why it is now eleven. Judas was no more with them. With this reduction in the number from 12 to 11, I remember Matthew 22:14 where the Lord Jesus said that many are called but few are chosen. They were not twelve anymore because Judas had allowed himself to be distracted and confused. Like Esau in Genesis chapter 25:32-33, he did not know how to order his priorities right. He started without ending because he did not focus on his vocation. By his own doing, the devil found him an easy target, used him to fulfill his purpose, and abandoned him to despair and self-destruction. Acts 1:26 says, Matthias eventually took his place and that raised the number again to twelve.
Of course, we are talking about Judas here, but this is something that still happens in our time. We cannot count the number of people who begin their Christian journey but do not end on a happy note. They fall off the wagon along the way. Granted that there are those that the stress of life has led away against their will but there are very many others who have given themselves to useless attractions and end up living outside the mercy of God. They might have occupied very prominent places in the Church but fell away because they allowed material interests to occupy their hearts and lure them away from Christ.
As we think about Judas and how he lost his rank in the college of apostles, we should not allow it to happen to us. St Paul encourages us in Romans 8:35 to remain strong in our faith commitment and not allow anything to separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We should treasure our relationship with God and remain faithful and focused in our Christian life. We should appreciate God’s love who has called us through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, matrimony, and holy orders to share in the life of his Son. We should draw strength from the heavenly food we receive in the Eucharist and stand our ground against the wiles of the evil one. Our place should be with the eleven who served faithfully to the end and even gave their lives in defense of the faith.
The second issue is the mountain. Matthew 28:16 says that “the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.” It is not by chance that the Lord Jesus decided to meet them on a mountain. That he ordered them to meet him at this location shows that what he was going to do was something that was religiously and spiritually very significant.
What we have to remember is that in the Jewish religious culture, important encounters happen on the mountain because this is a higher ground where they feel closer to God who is above. In their worldview, the mountain is a sacred place where the Jews encounter God and God encounters them in a very profound and impacting way. This is why all the significant events in the life of the Jewish people took place on mountains as we see in the bible. In Genesis 22:2, it was on Mount Moriah that Abraham offered the unique sacrifice that raised his status as our father in faith. That place later became the holy site where Solomon built the first temple for the Lord.
Moses received the Law that guided the people of Israel on Mount Sinai according to Exodus 31:18. Elijah had his great encounter with God on Mount Horeb as we see in 1 Kings Chapter 19. It was on the mountain that Jesus gave the popular Sermon on the Mount which is recorded in Matthew chapter 5 to chapter 7. The transfiguration took place on a mountain which is identified as Mount Tabor. Luke 6:12-13 says that he chose the twelve apostles after a long night of prayer on the mountain. It is therefore not surprising that after his resurrection, he summoned his disciples to a mountain where he gave them his last and most important mandate that defined the Christian mission. We need to think about the meaning of the mountain in our Christian tradition as that very important place where we encounter God in a very profound way, where he speaks to us, and draws us most intimately to himself.
Just as the mountain was important to the Jews as a sacred spot for divine encounter in the days of old, the Church is important to us Christians as the most sacred place where we encounter the Lord. In the Church, the Lord communicates himself to us in a special way; and there, we feel a special closeness to God in worship. Unfortunately, some Christians do not value the Church as a sacred space. Though they see it as a gathering space for prayers, they use it also as a place for socials and recreation. So, they make noise indiscriminately. Dear friends, the Church is a gathering space different from every other space. It is the dwelling place of our eternal and loving God; and we must respect and revere it as such.
Matthew 28:17 says that when the disciples saw the Lord they worship him but they doubted. I see a little problem here. I find it difficult to understand how they can see the risen Lord, worship him, and doubt at the same time. If they worshipped him, they would not doubt. Therefore, we should not understand the doubt in this passage in the conventional way we use the word these days.
By the way the word is used in this passage, the doubt is another way of saying that it was so surreal that the disciples could not believe their eyes. As we see in all the gospel accounts, it took the disciples some time before they could come to terms with the fact that Jesus had truly risen. The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest miracle of all time. There was nothing like it before and there will be nothing like it ever again.
As we sometimes say when we are overwhelmed, it was, wow! They never thought it could be possible. So when they saw him, they were completely blown away. It happens to us the same way. We sometimes have experiences that are so incredible and overwhelming that we find ourselves acting funny or even stupid.
I remember a woman who was so happy to see her only son coming home alive from the war that had killed ninety-nine percent of the troops that she rolled uncontrollably on the ground shouting thank you Jesus. Like the disciples in this passage, she could not believe her eyes when she saw her son step out of the car into her arms, her one and only son. In the same way, the disciples did not doubt like they did not believe it was Jesus. They believed completely; they were just overwhelmingly happy to see him again after all hope was gone.
While they stood there stupefied, the Lord Jesus approached them and spoke to them about the reality of his resurrected life. He has won the battle, so the crown was all his to wear. In Mathew 28:18-20 he said to them, “All power 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, until the end of the age.”
Now let us take it in bits. In verse 18, the Lord announced to the disciples that he was completely in charge. Of course, there is no other way he could have put it except the way he said it. Jesus is in charge and there is none else to compare with him. In Acts 4:12 Peter says that he is the only name by which we are saved. Revelation 5:5 calls him the Lion of Judah. Matthew 1:23 says his name is Emmanuel meaning God-with-us. Revelation 19:16 says he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. 1 John 2:1 calls him the Righteous One. And in Revelation 22:13 he reveals himself as the Alpha and the Omega. He is God – Omnipotent, real, incomparable, trustworthy, and eternal.
As prophesied long ago in Daniel 7:14, he has received dominion, splendor, and kingship; and all nations, peoples, and tongues will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship shall never be destroyed.
With full authority under his sleeves, the Lord Jesus gave his disciples a command and sent them on a mission which the Church understood from the beginning as the pivot of her existence. In Matthew 28:19 he says, “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.” This is a very important verse. It is important for different reasons. It speaks to us about our basic duty in the world as Christians; it authenticates the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity; and it reminds us of our place in relation to Jesus whom we claim to be our Lord and our God.
Let me begin this way. Jesus is our Master and we are his servants. Using the analogy of the human body, St Paul says in Colossians 1:8 that he is the head while we are the body. In John 15:16 Jesus himself says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” At all times and in every way, we must know that he is our leader and guide. So, as members of his holy regiment, we must obey his command and carry out his orders.
In this final command to his disciples which is confirmed in Mark 16:15 and Acts 1:8, the Lord Jesus wants us to continue the good work he initiated on earth and bring everyone to the blessings of salvation. In this passage, he sends us to go and make disciples of all nations. In other words, we are to go and bring people into his fold. We are to be positive influences in the world wherever we may be. Our job is not to scatter or tear the fold apart; we are not to destroy the community or cause division. The Lord Jesus is sending us to go to the nooks and crannies of the world and gather the scattered children of God that are in need of help.
One of the issues the Lord Jesus had against the Pharisees was hypocrisy. In Matthew 23:15, he accused them of going to distant places to convert people to their religion only to make them worse than they were before, by their bad examples. In the ministry of proclaiming Christ to the world, our message and our actions should be Christ-centered and geared toward eternal life with God and not a bundle of gimmicks and politicking for worldly gains.
In the command that we see in verse 19, we are to proclaim the message to all the nations without any geographical or cultural restriction. In 2 Timothy 4:2 St Paul reminds us of the true spirit of a faithful disciple. We are to preach the word at all times whether it is favorable or unfavorable. It is important to keep this in mind especially in this age of political correctness and bloated self-interest when we are afraid to speak the truth and bear witness to Jesus for fear that we may offend them or lose some material benefits.
In this mission the Lord Jesus has entrusted to us, we can be sure that we will not achieve much if we are afraid to suffer or die in the service of God. The truth is that the gospel message is not a seed we plant with convenience. The great men and women who brought the faith to our lands did not find it easy. Many of them lost their lives, many lost their possessions, and many gave up their rights and privileges to bring Christ to the people who were living in the darkness of sin.
Sometimes I am afraid that we may answer the name Christians without being Christians in spirit. We find shelter in the comforts of our parishes and feel that it is sufficient to keep the engine of our parish life running without going out in search of the lost sheep that are everywhere. To be Christian is to be open and go everywhere to plant the seed of faith. The mysterious way by which God himself opened the door of faith to the gentile world through the conversion of Paul in acts chapter 9 and the ministry of Peter to the household of Cornelius in Acts chapter 10 tells it all. We are to bring everyone to the service of the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. According to the command of the Lord Jesus, baptism is the means of our Christian initiation. It is not John’s baptism which was a baptism of repentance but a Trinitarian baptism which brings us to a life of blessedness with our Triune God.
What we have to understand here is that the work of salvation was not accomplished by Christ alone because by virtue of the unbreakable unity in the Godhead, there is always a mutual collaboration among the three persons of the Blessed Trinity. It was the Father who created the world, but the Son and the Holy Spirit were with him. It was Jesus who redeemed the world but the Father and the Holy Spirit never left his side. In this Pentecostal age, the Holy Spirit is at work in the world but the Father and the Son are not far away either. Therefore, when we are baptized, we are born into a relationship of blessedness with the three persons of the Most Holy Trinity.
As we undertake the mission of bringing souls to the kingdom, the Lord Jesus reminds us of the content of our teaching. In Mathew 28:20, he says we should teach them to observe all that he had commanded. In Matthew 15:9 and Mark 7:7, he warned his disciples against replacing divine truth with human precepts. We see this in many places today. Very many preachers create their own gospels and stamp them with the name of Jesus. They depart from what the Church was commanded in the gospel and preach what the people would want to hear.
As the Lord Jesus states clearly in his command today, the Church (and that means me and you and all of us who claim to belong to Christ), we are to teach what the Lord commands. The content of our catechesis and Christian kerygma should be the moral teachings of the Lord Jesus which we have in the bible and in the tradition of the Church. The command that we receive in the words of Jesus challenges us to be faithful to our Christian tradition in what we teach.
At the end of the message, Jesus says in verse 20 (Matthew 28:20), “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” This is a great word of assurance and encouragement. We are not alone in the mission. Whatever we do, we must know that the Lord Jesus is present with us to guide and guard us. There may be challenges out there but the word he speaks to us today should be our source of strength. In Isaiah 54:17 He says, “No weapon fashioned against you shall prevail.” Let us have confidence in the God we worship and serve him faithfully in all that we do. As he was with the apostles, he will also be with us to the end.
Oh that today you listen to his voice, harden not your hearts!
Heavenly Father, since it has pleased you to make us your children in Christ, fill us with the gifts of heaven and help us to proclaim you to the world without fear so that your presence may transform us and your truth may set us free. We ask you this through Christ our Lord, Amen.