Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 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 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is the last few verses of Matthew’s gospel, which takes place on Easter day. The male disciples haven’t yet seen the resurrected Jesus, and have only the word of the female disciples to go on (who’ve seen an angel and Jesus). They weren’t around that morning when all the resurrection events were happening. So, having missed the earthquake, the rolled away stone, the angel’s command, and an appearance of the risen Christ, these eleven men head on up the mountain where the female disciples say Jesus will meet them. Sure enough, Jesus is there, and the reaction of these—the closest of Jesus’ followers—is mixed. Some worship him, some doubt.
I find that amazing. They followed Jesus for three years, saw his miracles, watched him die, now they are talking with him, raised from the dead. Yet some still aren’t sure? That’s like the ultimate is assurance, don’t you think? How often have you said, “Just give me a sign, God!” Well, let’s see, how about raising someone from the dead. I think that should pretty well take care of it. And it still isn’t enough for some of them. I think they might be just a little bit fussy here, don’t you? “You’re gonna have to do better than that to convince me, Jesus. Go ahead. I’m waiting. Let’s see something impressive.”
What’s interesting is that Jesus doesn’t seem to care whether they believe or doubt. It doesn’t seem to matter to him. All of these disciples, all of them, the men and the women, the believers and the doubters, all of them are given the same commission. “Go.” “Make disciples.” “Baptize.” “Teach.” Whether you believe or whether you doubt. Whether you think you’re a credible witness or not. Whether anyone will listen to you or not. “Go.”
We usually emphasize the “make disciples” part of this. That’s only part, and it’s not a part we deal with well anyway. A disciple is a follower, a learner, a student. Which, when you think about it, isn’t the same as believing. I can learn from anyone, whether I “believe in” them or not. I can find something intriguing, hear something I didn’t know, tag along out of nothing more than finding them interesting without “believing in” them. A disciple, even these closest to Jesus, are apparently quite free to doubt. They are still disciples, still following, still learning. That’s why they showed up on this mountain, because some of the disciples said Jesus would meet them there.
If being a “learner” is what it means to be a disciple, I think a lot of believers aren’t very good disciples, because some believers have quit learning. Perhaps, then, a disciple is someone who is honest about their current state of belief, but are still willing to consider the possibility this could be something worthwhile. So they learn and follow, with enough hope in what’s being taught that it’s worth continuing to check it out. Maybe a disciple isn’t so much a “believer” as a “hoper.”
So let’s leave the “making disciples” part alone for a while. How about instead we consider the “teaching them” part?
Think of someone who has taught you about Christ and what he commands his followers to do. How did they do it? Chances are pretty good that people who teach us about Christ are people we know well. Most methods of teaching come through relationships.
Lots of people have taught me to obey all that Jesus commanded. I’m sure that’s true for you too. And they’ve all taught in different ways.
My mom was my first teacher. Through her unselfish commitment to her children, she taught me Christ’s command to deny yourself by sacrificing a lot in order to take care of me even when I took it for granted.
My wife teaches me how to obey Christ’s command to forgive 70×7 times by forgiving me even when I say and do stupid things.
My children teach me how to obey Christ’s command to live as a child of God by pursuing their God-given gifts whether I approve or not.
There are staff members at Sky Ranch who teach me how to obey Christ’s command to see Christ in every person by calling out Christ in me.
Our Confirmation students teach me how to obey Christ’s command to grow in spirit by continually asking deep and authentic questions.
As a congregation, you teach me how to obey Christ’s command to have compassion on the least by showing compassion each time a need is made known.
All of these people and so many more are already obeying Jesus’ Great Commission by revealing Christ who is present in their own lives. In that they are teaching me to obey everything Jesus commands. In that, they teach me to be a better disciple.
There are those who get caught up in how many people they’ve converted to Christianity. Don’t be one of them. That really isn’t what Jesus is commanding here. Instead, consider the whole of the Great Commission, consider what Christ-like traits are in you. Consider what you might be teaching those close to you what Jesus is like.
Just as each of us have had several Christ-teachers, so none of us can be the only teacher for anyone else. What part of Christ do you reveal? What part of Christ’s priorities do you live? Be that teacher. Teach that. “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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”