Many of us have seen movies, and if you haven’t watched Avengers Infinity: Endgame – spoiler alert, there is one in there as well – where before a battle, or someone dies, or at that important point in the movie, someone gives a motivational talk, a bold speech, words of encouragement, words of truth, words […]
Many of us have seen movies, and if you haven’t watched Avengers Infinity: Endgame – spoiler alert, there is one in there as well – where before a battle, or someone dies, or at that important point in the movie, someone gives a motivational talk, a bold speech, words of encouragement, words of truth, words that inspire.
Some of the more famous ones are the one given in Braveheart by William Wallace where he exhorts his people to fight for their freedom and not live one further day in slavery, in Rocky where he gives his grown up son a heart to heart to stop blaming others and take charge of his own life, in the Shawshank Redemption where convict Andy does not allow grim circumstances keeping him from hoping and following his dreams, and possibly my personal favourite where Coach Boone in Remember the Titans reminds his players of the battel of Gettysburg and the need for them to come together as a team.
Well, friends, today, we are hearing Jesus’ speech to us of a similar vein. But what makes this even more important is that these are Jesus’ last words. His final word of instruction to his disciples before he ascends into heaven. And I think that we can see what Jesus thinks is important through his final words.
But before we get there, I want to share with you a little bit of context. You see, Jesus has risen from the dead, that is what we celebrated last Sunday with great fun and in 3D, that Jesus is no longer dead, that he has defeated death, sin and the grave because ‘He is Risen’ ‘He is Risen indeed’.
So Jesus has risen from the dead, and then he appeared to Mary (his mother), Mary Magdelene, and Salome in front of the empty tomb. They hurry and report to Jesus’ eleven disciples that they have seen Jesus alive. And the eleven fail to believe.
Jesus appears then to a disciple named Cleopas and another disciple while they travel on a road leading to the town of Emmaus. When Jesus finally reveals himself to them, the Scriptures tell us that they ruin and tell the eleven that Jesus is alive. And yet, the eleven still doubt.
Despite the testimony from a number of different sources, they believe Jesus is still dead. They don’t know what has happened to Jesus’ body, but they believe he is dead nonetheless. And they are terrified that what has happened to Jesus might happen to them.
And so they lock themselves in a room. And their attitude is that if Jesus is dead, we have reason to hide behind locked doors in fear.
Jesus had been crucified by Rome at the request of the Jews. The Jews said Jesus was an enemy of the Romans and of Caesar. And from what we can understand from history is that Rome did not tolerate rebellion. Rebels were ruthlessly crushed. And the cross was the place where they ended up, and those who were associated with rebellious leaders were often rounded up to endure the same punishment.
And so because of this, we find the eleven disciples in an upper room after Jesus had been crucified. It has been three days since the crucifixion, and they have heard eye witness accounts that Jesus is alive, but they are still hiding behind locked doors.
And then Jesus appears with them, and says to them ‘Peace be with you’. (John 20:19) And Jesus gives them positive proof that he is alive. He has them touch his hands and his side. He breathes on them. He eats some fish with them. The conclusion is that Jesus is not a ghost. His appearance is not just a figment of their imaginations. Jesus is alive. And apparently he gives them instructions to meet him at a place they all knew on a mountain in Galilee.
And that is where we pick up the story: Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16-17)
I will just pause the narrative there for a second. When I read this, I find something remarkable, and maybe as I have read this again, you have also realised – that even now, on the mountain the disciples still had doubts.
But further than that we read that they still worshipped him. I was chatting with some people midweek about this, and it is almost odd, because often we don’t think doubt and faith leading to worship could co-exist.
But that is because if I asked you what the opposite of faith is, many of you would possibly immediately say ‘doubt’? The opposite of faith is doubt.
But I want to suggest a different word as the opposite, and I pray that this word will help you in your faith walk, and that is that the opposite of FAITH is not DOUBT, but the opposite of faith is FEAR. The opposite of faith is fear.
Many of you may have seen the movie Shrek, but if not, here is a scene from it I want to describe to you. So there is a scene where Shrek and Donkey come to a rope bridge that goes over a chasm of molten lava. And Donkey is terrified to cross the bridge. He won’t budge. He acts like a stubborn Donkey.
Their mission requires them to cross the bridge to save princess Fiona. And as you see that picture, I want you to put yourself in the Donkey’s shoes, or his hooves for a second.
You see, Doubt looks at a bridge and wonders if it can support you. But when doubt turns to fear, it looks at a bridge and it says ‘it won’t support me’. And it is then fear that prevents us from crossing the bridge.
My observation is that it is fear that hinders faith, not simply doubt.
We can have doubts and still worship. I think we all have doubts from time to time. I have doubts from time to time. It is only natural, and I am quite sure that God understands. There are things that He does because He is God that our completely impossible for us to wrap our brains around. There are times in our journey of faith where we will be left wondering, “How is God going to accomplish that?” That is doubt.
But we don’t want to let doubt grow into fear, and it most certainly can if we are not vigilant, and this is where the Devil loves to get involved in our minds. You see, doubt after Jesus resurrection for the eleven disciples, even after several eye-witness accounts had turned into fear, and kept those eleven disciple locked inside of a room. And it was fear, which is why when Jesus entered he said ‘Peace be with you’.
Despite continued doubts, their fear was now gone. And the eleven ‘doubters’ had left the locked doors to do as Jesus had instructed, they obey his command to meet him on the mountain in Galilee.
If you had any doubts today, then I want to encourage you to worship anyway. We can still take a step onto that bridge, and if we do, we will discover that God is strong enough to support us even when we doubt that he can.
So now we have the elven disciples standing before Jesus and Jesus gives to them his final words of instruction. His motivating speech, his words of encouragement, his words of inspiration, his final words: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)
Now the words he is about to give are about our mission. They are what Jesus wants us to accomplish while he is away. And he assured his disciples that His last words are authorised by himself. Jesus has the authority to give the mission.
If Jesus stayed dead, then we would have reason to hide in fear, but because He didn’t stay dead, He has authorisation to give the mission, and the mission is this: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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 surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
We often call this the great commission. We have been given an assignment by Jesus to accomplish while he is away. These are Jesus’ last words, and the commission starts with ‘Therefore go’.
And I wonder if you have every experienced this, when you sit behind a car at a stop light and then the light turns green, and the driver is obviously distracted or resting his eyes, and they just sit there? Have you had that happen to you before, have you been the car that is not going?
Look, I find it frustrating, but I’m also usually patient. So I give them a moment or two, before I press down relatively firmly on my horn and mutter something under my breath, no swear words of course, but something like ‘Green means Go’.
And this is something that we learn from an early age – with songs such as ‘Stop says the red light, Go says the green; wait says the Yellow light sitting in between’.
But if you have also ever seen a rocket or shuttle launch into space, the control room normally gives their final clearance. And they look at their boards, and generally, if there are any indications of a problem, there will be a red light. The launch will be postponed. But if the lights on the board are green, they know that everything is ok, and the launch is a go.
Jesus’ has just given the authorisation to go – the lights are green across the board.
But the funny thing is that we reverse this so often, don’t we. A lot of things we do for church reflects the idea of ‘come’ instead of ‘go’. We come to bible study or small grounds, we come to church, we come to Sunday School and youth, we come to meetings, we come, come, come.
Now, don’t get me wrong, those things are important for the life and the health of the church. But before we know it, we will get locked into the idea that all Jesus wants us to do is come. And we miss the extreme importance of Jesus’ last words. He has told us to ‘Go’. To get the mission started.
And in many ways, that is quite scary. It almost sounds like we are going to have to sell everything we have and purchase a plane ticket to Asia. And the reason I say Asia instead of Africa as many of you who grew up possibly would have heard is that Africa is now majority Christian. In Asia on the other hand, only 6 countries are majority Christian, the other 45 are not, with 30 or more of those countries with less than 10% of people who believe in Jesus.
But when we read this, and think of ‘going’ we think of going somewhere. And some do, and we have an amazing partnership as you know with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Myanmar, and blessed to be partnering with them in mission.
But for many, that is a huge step onto the bridge. Some are ready for that, but I want to suggest to you another meaning today. The mission that Jesus wants us to complete is this. You see, he wants us to complete the mission, ‘as we go’. A better translation of Jesus last words is ‘as you go’ He wants us to complete the mission ‘as we are going’
We don’t have to buy a ticket to another country. Going can happen in the daily encounters of life. It is as you are going to the shops, as you go to the movies, as you go to a friend’s place.
The charge given us isn’t always to a foreign country – although that might be a part of it. But it is not there job alone. Each of us are charged with the responsibility of growing in influence with those who do not yet know Jesus as we are going.
And it works. There are countless stories of people from across our church who are here today because as you were going, you influenced them, you shared Jesus with them, just as you were going about the daily tasks of life.
You see, even when we go overseas to Myanmar, and share the gospel with the people who are there. The only reason they are in the places they are is because of the local Christians who already live there, who as they go and do life, they interact, they influence, and they take advantage of the openings God makes for the gospel to be shared.
Yes, we share the gospel with the people who are there – but we only go to places where the natural movement of the people there has opened up ways and means for the gospel to be shared. They don’t just look at a map and say – ‘let’s go ‘there’’. There is always a natural connection with someone who has moved to an area due to work, or a change in family circumstances.
And we are partners in the gospel – we are there for just over a week. The local Christians are there every single day, and so we are not going to be able to achieve anywhere near as much as they can achieve in the other 51 weeks of the year.
And each of us can do this. I have a number of people who I am ‘going’ through the ins and outs my daily life. As I get my hair-cut, as I work-out at the gym, and in the many other normal parts of life, I am ‘going’ with the good news of Jesus.
So, today, I want to encourage you. If you are here, and you believe in Jesus, even if you have doubts, I want you to really take notice of Jesus words. His words are telling us to ‘go’. Maybe overseas to our next Myanmar Mission trip, but even more certainly – as you do life, go and make disciples.
And we do that through influencing people, by talking to them, by doing life with them together.
One of the most amazing stories of ‘going’ I want to share with you this morning is of a man from the church in Myanmar that we partner with. 2 years ago on our first visit we went to a village about 6 hours drive north of Yangon, past Bagan, and on the way they shared with us how the ministry in this village started.
It started because who had moved to Yangon had become a Christian through the influence of others who were following Jesus’ command to ‘go’, and then this Christian man now had to due to family reasons return back to the town where he grew up.
The people in this area are Hindu in background, and so the woman, now living back in her home town invited some people from the church back to the her village to help her share the gospel with her friends. The problem was that most of her family and friends in her home village spoke Hindustani, and so it would have been difficult for them to constantly be translating.
But after some discussions, it was discovered that one man in the church did speak Hindustani, and when speaking with him, it was something that had deeply bothered him, because he regretted that his parents had spent time teaching him that language when he was a boy growing up, instead of something that would have been more helpful to his life and future income, such as learning English.
So when he learnt that he had an opportunity to share the gospel in Hindu, he knew that God had him learn that language for a reason. So a few people from the church went to this village on the odd occasion, and encouraged the Christian member who was there, but also chatted with other people, just as they went, about their faith, and why they were there.
Well, this started to gain a little bit of interest, and over time, people came to know Jesus, and were baptised all the way in the church in Yangon, some 6 hours away. As they continued to go and do life, they shared the gospel with more and more people, until one point where the village as a whole decided to rid their hindu temple of all its relics, and pictures and idols, and instead rededicate it to worship Jesus and the one true God.
2 years ago, we were witnesses of the first baptisms within that village, because there was no need for them to be baptised elsewhere, this was their home, this was the church – all because one person as they did life, naturally began to influence those people around them, until such time that the whole village came to know and believe in Jesus.
Due to pastor’s health, he was unable to be there for baptisms recently, and even more continue to come to know Jesus through the ministry that is happening there, and on the Sunday we were in Myanmar, 2 more adults were baptised into God’s family through the ministry of the people, and they too were sent out with these final words of Jesus, to ‘as you do life, go and make disciples’
It is as simple as that. In a country where over 95% of people don’t believe in Christ, a whole village came to know Jesus all because someone as they did life, followed want Jesus said to ‘go and make disciples’.
Let’s not complicate it, let’s not make it difficult. Jesus calls you to ‘go and make disciples’, and that is what the good news does. Once we receive it, the life, the salvation, the forgiveness of Jesus in our own lives, it is natural that we want to go. So I encourage you: ‘go’.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the life, forgiveness, salvation that you won for us on the cross, but also by your rising again which we continue to celebrate today. Lord, help us to not see ‘going’ as a complicated message, but to simply do what it is you are calling us to do, to as we do life, to go. Amen.
To view a video of the sermon, click on the following link: Church on Mission
This sermon was shared by Pastor Ben Hentschke after a group from Ipswich Lutheran Church returned from visiting their partner church in Myanmar.