16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Two weeks ago, we read the story of Jesus calling the disciples. We reflected on how Jesus calls us to a journey of discovery. That is, knowing more of who we are and who God is.
Last week, we read the story of Jesus giving his last words to his disciples. We reflected on Jesus’ command to love each other. That is, to always think of another person’s well-being.
Today, we see Jesus speaking to his disciples again. This time, it is the risen Jesus speaking. The disciples encounter Jesus on the mountain after hearing the news of his resurrection. Jesus tells his disciples—
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…Matthew 28:19
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” What does it mean to “make disciples”? Christians know this. But do we really know what it means to “make disciples”?
Does it mean to “force” others to believe what we believe? That’s the picture we might get from this. Like “make” someone a believer like you. The reality is, even if you think you can, you can’t. You might be able to coerce someone into thinking certain ways with fear and manipulation, but that only produces an inauthentic, temporary change. Even ancient philosophers were well-aware of this too.
Nothing taught by force stays in the soul.Plato
If we read the rest of the verse, we get a clearer picture of what “making disciples” involves. There are two parts.
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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…
Matthew 28:19, 20
Baptizing and Teaching. These are the two pillars of making disciples.
On the one hand, BAPTIZING refers to the act of baptism itself. We see this at church every now and then. Baptism is a significant event. We profess our faith in the presence of our community. For infants, parents do so on behalf of their children. The minister baptizes the person by saying, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Baptizing, however, is not just about the event or the ceremony. It represents a new life and a new beginning. It affirms the NEW relationship we now have with God, and also with our community as one of its members. In that sense, “making disciples” involves helping others be rooted in their newfound relationship with God, and with their community of faith. It has to do with helping others find a sense of BELONGING.
As human beings, we have a desire to belong. It makes us feel loved, accepted, and safe. We experience this belonging in relationships. In Christ, God has shown us that we are not alone. We now have a relationship with God, and his people. We can live confidently knowing that we have this solid foundation in our lives. We have a “home” we can always come back to. As people who have experienced this, we are to help others to also experience this good news that they now belong.
Connected to baptizing, is TEACHING. Jesus said, “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This sounds like we are supposed to just tell others what to do. Relay information, nothing more.
I think we often misunderstand the spirit of real teaching. Good teaching doesn’t just communicate information. Good teaching isn’t completely one-sided. Good teaching is honest, truthful, and authentic. Good teaching gives you a sense of journeying together.
In that sense, teaching has more to do with SHARING. You share with others what you learned. In the context of faith, what God has shown you. As a pastor, you may expect that I have all the “answers”. I don’t. I don’t preach on Sundays because I know everything. I simply share with you what God gives me. I’m discovering as I go, just like you. When you share your insights with me, I learn a lot from you. We learn and journey together. We are all disciples (learners).
Don’t keep what you have learned and experienced to yourself. Share it openly and generously with each other. That is why we have discussion time after worship and at retreats. We feel self-conscious because we feel like we are supposed to have the right answers. That’s not what’s expected of you. You will seem phony if you try acting like you know it all. Honestly share your thoughts and insights. God gave them to you for a reason. So that you can bless each other and learn from one another. Speak from who you are and where you are.
When Jesus sent out his disciples, he didn’t send perfect, flawless people. They were far from perfect. They still had lots of room to grow and mature. They were all in different places in their journey. When they saw the risen Jesus, not all of them responded in the same way.
When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.Matthew 28:17
Even with those who doubted, Jesus sent them to make disciples. He gave them the power and the confidence to do that.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. THEREFORE go and make disciples…Matthew 28:18, 19
What you need isn’t some skills, talents, or even good looks. What you need is to be YOU. That is, to be a LIVING TESTIMONY of God at work in your life. St. Paul said we are the “letters” and “fragrance” of Christ. When you are truthful, sincere and honest about who you are and where you are in your faith journey, people will see and experience God’s presence through you. God’s grace will shine through even your flaws and imperfections. That is what changes and transforms people. Genuine change inspires others. I experience it often when I see you guys. That is what “makes” disciples. Jesus made disciples not only by what he said, but through his life. He lived what he taught. He revealed to us who God is. He has now given us his Spirit to live our lives in the same way.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.Acts 1:8
As we wrap up this theme, continue following Jesus faithfully. This is only the beginning. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of who you are and what you believe. Go and make disciples. Help those around you know that they belong. Humbly share what you have learned and discovered. You will be God’s witnesses wherever you go.