We’re getting near the end of our sermon series, “The After Party”, looking at what Jesus said and did after he was resurrected and before he went back to heaven. In fact, the verses we’re looking at today are the last words that Matthew records Jesus as having said while he was on earth. Now Luke has some more stuff, including Jesus’ actual ascension into heaven, and we’ll talk about that next week. But here we have, according to Matthew, Jesus giving the disciples their final instruction before he left them.
Remember how we said that, when the disciples first heard Jesus was resurrected, they were happy about it but they did not know what they were supposed to do next? Well, here they find out. Jesus gives the disciples their mission statement. He tells them “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.”
He tells the disciples to go and make disciples. Do you know what a disciples is? Maybe you do, but you know that’s one of those words we throw around all the time in church and we never really stop to say what it means. A disciple is simply someone who learns from another, as a pupil or a student. The original disciples were Jesus’ students. And they were told to go and teach other students.
Do you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus? I think we should. I mean, as Christians, we’re all trying to learn from Jesus, right? We’re trying to learn from his words. We’re trying to learn from his actions. We’re trying to learn from his example. It seems to me that anyone who claims to be a Christian would have to be, just by definition, a disciple of Jesus.
So then, if you and I are disciples of Jesus, then what Jesus said to the original disciples should apply to us, too. You and I are supposed to “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”. Jesus has commanded us, just like the original disciples were supposed to do.
So how are we doing on that score? How are you doing? And how am I doing?
Now, the point here is not to be critical. I’m not assuming a negative answer. I’m asking an honest question. And it’s a question we need to ask frequently. We need to ask it of ourselves as individuals, and we need to ask it of ourselves as a church. After all, this is the one job Jesus gave us before he left. It seems like it’s pretty important that we do everything we can to do it to the best of our ability. So how are we doing? How are we doing, as individuals and as a church, at making disciples of Jesus Christ?
There’s obviously not one simple, easy answer. We do better at some times than we do at other times. But the point is that we need to keep this as our main focus, because again, this is the one job Jesus gave us. Everything we do as a church should be focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ in some way. When the church council meets, its focus should be on making disciples of Jesus Christ. When the Staff-Parish Relations Committee meets, its focus should be on making disciples of Jesus Christ. When we have coffee time after [before] church, our focus should be on making disciples of Jesus Christ. Now, in some cases, that focus will be direct and obvious, and in other cases it will be indirect and less obvious. But still, everything we do as a church should be focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ in some way. That is our one job as Christians.
That’s not easy to do. It’s very easy for us to get distracted. It’s very easy for us to lose that focus. Not because we’re doing anything bad or wrong, but just because we let other things get in the way. Sometimes life gets hectic and busy. Sometimes we get tired. Sometimes we don’t see anything happening, and we get discouraged. Sometimes we get bogged down in details, and forget about the bigger picture. There can be all kinds of reasons why we lose our focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ.
So how can we keep from losing that focus? I think the answer gets back to what we talked about last week. The answer gets back to the question Peter asked Jesus. We can keep from losing our focus if we can honestly answer yes when Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”
If we love Jesus, if we truly love Jesus, we’ll open our hearts and our minds to where Jesus is leading us. And if we do that, we’ll be able to overcome the distractions. Not perfectly, and not all the time, because we’re still human. But if we keep working to open our hearts and open our minds to God’s Spirit, God will keep working with us and keep working in us. God will help us conquer our human failings and overcome the distractions. We won’t let the hectic pace and the busy-ness of life get in our way. God’s Spirit will keep us energized and fired up about making disciples. We won’t get discouraged, because we’ll know that things will happen in God’s way and in God’s time. God will help us see the bigger picture. If we truly love Jesus and open our hearts and minds to God’s Spirit, we will keep our focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ.
But there’s something else that gets in our way, too. You know what it is? It’s fear. Fear mixed with a feeling of incompetence and helplessness.
What happens is we hear Jesus’ words—go and make disciples—and we know we should do exactly that. But we think, “How? How do I do that? I don’t know how to make someone a disciple of Jesus Christ? I don’t even feel like I’m a very good disciple myself. How am I supposed to make someone else a disciple? I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. What if they have questions and I’m not able to answer them? What if they get mad at me? What if I come off as sounding like I think I’m some holier-than-thou goody-two-shoes? And besides, there’s no reason anyone should listen to me. If I try to make disciples of Jesus Christ, all I’ll make is a fool out of myself. I better leave that for somebody else, somebody who’ll do a better job than I can.”
You ever have those thoughts? A lot of us probably have. I have. It’s understandable. But it’s not an excuse. Jesus did not say that making disciples is something only certain special, holy, important, well-prepared people should do. Jesus said making disciples is something all of us are supposed to do. Each one of you. And me.
After all, who were the original disciples? They were nobody special. Some fishermen. A tax collector. Some people who we don’t even know what they did. They were not chosen because they were the smartest, the most holy, the most important, or the most well-prepared people around. And I suspect, when Jesus told them to go and make disciples, some of them may have had some of those same thoughts and some of those same questions. They knew they had been far from perfect in following Jesus. They felt like they did not know what to do or say. They were probably afraid they’d look foolish, too.
But they did it anyway. They did it imperfectly, sometimes, but they did it. They did it because that’s what Jesus told them to do. They did it because they loved Jesus enough and trusted Jesus enough to do what Jesus told them to do.
And there may have been something else, too. They may have remembered what Jesus had told them before, before his arrest or death or any of that. It’s in Luke Twelve. Jesus told the disciples, “Do not worry about…what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
You and I don’t need to worry about whether we’re good enough to make disciples. We don’t need to worry about whether we’re good enough or whether we know enough. We don’t need to worry about how people are going to react to us. All we need to do is trust the Holy Spirit. If we’ll just take that first step, if we’ll just go out and try, if we’ll just do our best to do what Jesus told us to do and go make disciples of Jesus Christ. If we do that, the Holy Spirit will guide us. God’s Spirit will tell us what to say. God’s Spirit will tell us what to do. And things will go the way they’re supposed to go.
We won’t always have success, because everyone is allowed to make their own choices. But if we do our best and trust God, God will bless our efforts. We may not make disciples of everyone, but we’ll make disciples of some. And remember, God does not tell us to succeed the way the world defines success. God tells us to follow and to trust and to be faithful. If we do that, we’ll have succeeded in God’s eyes, no matter what the world may think about it.
Jesus told us to go and make disciples. That’s the one job Jesus gave us. Jesus believed in us, in you and me, enough to trust us to do it. So let’s trust him, and do it.