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Matthew 28_16-20

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TITLE:  Jesus' Four-Point Program    SCRIPTURE:    Matthew 28:16-20


When you were a child, did you remember hearing the preachers preach on this text:  "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations"

It seems very romantic doesn’t it, going into all the world.  Can you picture yourself in some faraway place, talking to natives garbed in loincloths and face-paint.  I wondered how you could talk to them. 

Have you ever considered becoming a physician, thinking that no witness could be more powerful than healing a person and then saying, "I do this for you in the name of Jesus." 

That all sound glamorous, but a wise missionary once said all that what they really needed was a common churchperson.  He meant that the priority was teaching people about Christ -- training indigenous pastors -- building churches -- starting Bible schools.  He was really saying that their priority was:

        -- Going
        -- Making disciples
        -- Baptizing
        -- Teaching

In other words, fulfilling the Great Commission.

But as I reflect on my service, I am disappointed.  I did a great job of "going," but a less than great job of "making disciples." If we go but fail to make disciples, we are like a carpenter who shows up at the work site but never drives a nail -- or a firefighter who shows up at a fire but never hooks up a hose.  I wish I had a longer list of people who knew Christ because of me.

But I read something that I found comforting.  Frederick Dale Bruner is a Presbyterian scholar who experienced some of the same disappointments that I did.  He grew up in Hollywood Presbyterian Church many years ago when that congregation was producing one great Christian leader after another.  They told him that he needed to be a missionary, and he tried. He went to the Philippines for ten years, and nothing happened.  Ten years -- that's a long time.  He felt like a failure.  But then he found that his calling was to teach young people, and he spent the rest of his life teaching and writing about Christ.  He has had a wonderful effect on thousands of people.  His point was that we are not all called to the same calling.

But I started to tell you what Bruner wrote that I found helpful.  He said:

        "Only (Christ) can do the big things
        like convert, win, bring repentance, or move a person to decision --
        all authority is his alone. 
        But disciples can, must, and will do the little thing of 'discipling' others --
        that is, they will spend good time with people --
        in the confidence that sooner or later
        (Christ) will create in these people the decision for baptism."

I found that helpful, in part, because it took me off the hook.  My job is simply to be faithful -- to go where I am called to go and to do what I am called to do.  It is Christ's job to make it happen -- to put power in my ministry -- or, as Paul put it, to bring about the growth.  When Paul described his work in planting a church, he said, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth"  (1 Cor. 3:6).  Paul understood that it was his job to plant the church -- to get it started.  It was Apollos' job to follow up -- to nurture the church -- to water it.  But it was God's job to bring the growth -- to make it happen -- to fuel the work with Godly power. 

So I found Bruner's words helpful because they took me off the hook -- but I also found them helpful because they are true.  I bring nothing wonderful to ministry.  If anything wonderful is going to happen, it will happen because God makes it happen.   My job is to be faithful.  God's job is to bring about the harvest.

When Jesus told his disciples to make disciples of all nations, that must have sounded like an impossible dream.  Jesus' disciples were as ordinary as they could be -- and there weren't many of them.  They had no radio or television or Internet.  They had to do most of their traveling on foot.  They would face opposition from Jews and persecution from Romans.  There was little or no chance that they would succeed in bringing Jesus' grand vision to reality.

But they did!  We know so little about the apostles -- how they did it -- but they did.  They went to all nations and made disciples of all peoples.

I said that we don't know how they did it, and that is true in one sense.  In another sense, it isn't true -- we do know how they did it.  When Jesus gave them the Great Commission, he ended by saying:

        "And remember, I am with you always,
        to the end of the age."

That was the secret of their success.  Jesus was with them.  Jesus empowered them.  And so they were able to do it.  They went -- they made disciples -- they baptized -- they taught people to obey Jesus.  And so today we have Christians all over the world -- in every nation -- even in places where they must worship in secret lest they be thrown into jail.  Every minute of every day, Jesus' name is lifted up in praise somewhere across the face of our globe -- all because Jesus' disciples, then and now, went and made disciples. 

And that gives me hope.  When I examine myself, I have to ask, "Am I a world-class disciple?"  And, sadly, I have to admit that I am not. 

When I look at the work that I do every day, I have to ask, "Are these the kind of things that shift the axis upon which the world spins?"  And, sadly, I have to admit that they are not. 

And when I look out at this congregation, I see people who, for the most part, are as ordinary as myself.  I have to ask myself whether there is any hope that we can go into all the world -- making disciples of all nations -- baptizing them -- teaching them to obey Jesus.  And I must admit that it doesn't look hopeful.

Except for one thing!  And that is this.  Jesus promised:

        "And remember, I am with you always,
        to the end of the age."

"Always!  To the end of the age!"  I think that Jesus phrased it that way to make sure that we, living centuries later, would understand that he is with us too -- just as he was with those early disciples.  He is the guarantor of our work, just as he was the guarantor of theirs. 

Jesus blessed those early disciples, and they did the impossible.  Jesus blesses us too.  What we do day-by-day and week-by-week in this church might seem inconsequential when compared with the need.  When I pick up a newspaper, and I rarely do that anymore, and see the power of evil reflected in its stories, I wonder if there is any hope that that we can make a difference.  The truth is that we would have no hope if we worked by our own power -- but we don't. We work by the power of Christ.  He said:

        "And remember, I am with you always,
        to the end of the age."

And that makes the difference.

It is not our responsibility to change the world.  It is our responsibility to be faithful -- to go -- to make disciples -- to baptize -- to teach people to obey Christ.  If we are faithful to that -- Christ will do the rest.


What can you do to carry out the Great Commission?  Consider the story that Charles Colson told in his book, Kingdoms in Conflict.  He told of visiting a prison at Jessup, Maryland.  Governor Hughes was there to greet them.  Gospel singer Wintley Phipps was there to sing.  Herman Heade, a former inmate who had been converted to Christ while in solitary confinement, gave a powerful testimony.  But when asked what had meant the most, one of the prisoners said with choked voice:

        "I really appreciated Chuck Colson's message."
        Wintley Phipp's singing stirred me beyond words,
        and Herman's testimony reached me right where I was at.
        But frankly, those things really didn't impress me as much as what happened later.
        When the celebrities and TV cameras left,
        the ladies among the volunteers went into the dining hall,
        with all the noise and confusion,
        and sat at the table to have a meal with us.
        That's what really got to me."

It would be wonderful if we could all sing like angels, but we can't.  It would be wonderful if we could all stand in front of a crowd and give a powerful testimony, but we can't.  But who among us cannot show a bit of humanity -- a bit of caring -- a bit of Christian love for a person who is hungry -- or for a prisoner -- or for a friend down on their luck.  Christ doesn't need us to be people of great talent.  He needs only for us to be faithful with the gifts, great or small, with which he has blessed us.

I would like to close this sermon in an unusual way -- with a few moments of silence in which I will ask you to contemplate how Christ is calling you to do your part.  He told us to go -- to make disciples -- to baptize -- to teach people to obey Christ.  What is your part in that?  What should you be doing?  How can you be faithful to your call?  Let me invite you to bow your heads now and to prayerfully consider what you should be doing for Christ?  Let us bow our heads.

(NOTE TO THE PREACHER:  Time yourself.  Have silence for not less than 30 seconds and not more than 60 seconds.  Then close as follows.)


I gave you a moment to reflect, but you have a whole week ahead.  Let me ask you to continue your reflection.  Christ told us to go -- to make disciples -- to baptize -- to teach people to obey him.  Pray for guidance so that you will know what you should be doing to honor your call.  Then as Christ reveals to you what you should do, do what he asks.  It will change your life -- and through you Christ will change your world.


Freely, Freely  UMH #389

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty  UMH #64


CHILDREN'S SERMON:  Something to Talk About
Objects suggested: A rose or other fragrant flower.
When you finish reading or hearing a very good book, do you have the feeling you want to tell someone about it and suggest that they read it too?  Yes, we want our family or friends to have the same fun experience we have had reading a wonderful book.

What do you do when you see a pretty flower?  Do you like to smell it to see if it is fragrant?  Do you like to show it to someone else so they too can sniff the sweet fragrance and see the design of the soft, colorful petals?

How about if you were to win a contest and receive a wonderful prize?  Wouldn't you be excited and want to tell everyone about what has happened?  It is natural that we should want to share happy experiences and good news with others.

When Jesus was preparing to return to heaven, he gathered his disciples around him and told them to "go, therefore and make disciples of all nations."  He also said, "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." 

This was and is good news. The disciples had spent time with Jesus.  They saw the miracles he performed and the power of his love that was offered to everyone. They wanted others to know of this wonderful thing that they experienced.  Over two thousand years later disciples, and that includes us, are still sharing the good news about the power of Jesus' love.

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