Bible Reading John 12:10-19
We are in a series on the fundamental building blocks of establishing and maintaining a rock-solid relationship with God. We began with the brick of seeing a true vision of Jesus and what he came to do. We have added the bricks of knowing God personally, carefully listening and speaking, acts of service, which together is applied in living, or walking humbly with God. Today, on this Palm Sunday, we establish our relationship with God by adding the brick of sharing our lives with others. In the Gospel of John, he describes how the people gathered in the community to boldly declare their hope in Jesus:
Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus. The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “[Hosanna!] Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! [Blessed is the King of Israel!”] Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said: “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem. Look, your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt.” His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him. Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. Then the Pharisees said to each other, [“See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” ((NLT) [NIV])
Message Established by Sharing Matthew 28:10-19
Usually we hear only the narrow context of a feel good, victorious entrance into Jerusalem, only to discover what feels like a great turn of events later in the week. But add just a few verses either side of the event and John makes it perfectly clear that official powers of the day were already openly opposed to Jesus’ grass roots movement toward God, and while the general populace may not have known the plots being created in back rooms, they probably knew it may be risky to go out and openly declare their hope in public, even on this Palm Sunday. Yet they did, and Jesus’ opponents unhappily declared what is our greatest hope – that the whole world would follow Christ and his ways.
And it is Christ’s hope too. As we take in global and personal news, we sometimes wonder how God is going to work in the midst of this natural disaster, or that human violence, this economic setback, or what seems to be a spreading inclination to do wrong, or our personal reversal of fortunes… Understand that God has set one plan in motion – and there is no back-up. He has placed all of his hope in his Son’s followers making a positive difference in a difficult life.
The moment they saw him, they worshiped him, but some still have lingering doubts. (Matthew 28:17 (TPT))
After this week ends, after Jesus has died on the cross, rises from the tomb, appears to people for 40 days, he sets up a final meeting with his disciples. When they see him; some worship and some doubt. Some will worship anytime they see God is actively at work in and beyond his people. Others can only see things to criticize. Jesus doesn’t stop to get them on board -- he trusts the Spirit and his truth will saturate them and they will become established as they do what he says. Therefore, he simply continues to come close and presses on with Matthew's rendition of the resurrected Christ’s last words to his disciples -- -- words we now label as “The Great Commission.
“All the authority of the universe has been given to me. Now go in my authority and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
... And teach them to faithfully follow all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19a,20a (TPT)(emphasis added))
Jesus is talking to his 11 closest disciples. Some then suggest that this commission is limited to the quote-unquote “professionals”. No. It is not exclusively directed toward the officially positioned people, nor is it limited to the especially gifted, powerful or popular people. As one person put it, It is not the "great" that are commissioned, but the commission that is "great." It is for all of us -- together. No individual may do all, but each of us has a part to play and together as a group we can fully participate in moving this commission forward.
But then, like the religious law expert wanting to justify himself by asking, “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), the question also gets asked, “who are these “thems” that we are supposed to teach, baptize and make disciples? The short answer is – everyone who is not yet in a personal relationship with Christ. But since the process of discipling never ends – (we’ll get to that later) the “them” would also include all of us who are in a personal relationship with Christ. It includes everyone. The church is a grass roots movement of people who, by their heart directed attitudes, words, life choices and actions, are striving to help everyone meet, know, and follow Jesus, whether it is across the world across the street, or in the same room. Let’s break it down …
The authority he passes on to us is not granted by who we are, what we say or do; (we don’t earn it) nor does it come from knowing the words of these “marching orders”. Nor is it now our chance, to use the biblical phrase, “to lord it over others”. Instead it comes from the Purpose of God, the Presence of the Holy Spirit, and the Person of Jesus Christ.
We’ve been learning, or reminded, over the last few weeks how the one who has authority over all the Universe uses that authority. We hear phrases, especially during holy week, that summarize how Jesus uses his universal, kingly authority. “Amazing Love” “Suffering Servant” “Kneeling at the feet his friends” “obedient to the cross”. Equal with God and with all authority, Jesus happily goes from heaven to come to us, and now as he is about to return to heaven, he tells us to go in the same fashion that he comes to us: with humble grace and love and an attitude of service…
During his student minister days, a pastor served a small, elderly congregation where the highlight of every year was their participation in the community’s annual festival. More planning, time and effort went into that festival than anything else in the life of the church. At a council meeting, this young pastor suggested they set aside some time to explore ways their declining church could reach out to their changing community. The council chair replied, "We don't have time for that, we haven’t recruited enough workers for the festival."
The pastor later confessed he was filled with inexperienced enthusiasm and naïve idealism when from the pulpit the next Sunday he blurted out that "There's more to the Christian life than festivals!" He might as well have spoken against Christmas and Easter. For the first time in no one knew how long, they did not participate in the community festival. Nearly 30 years later, this pastor reflected -- “No one there remembers my name, but they all remember “the pastor who killed the festival.”
Theologically speaking, the great commission was never meant to compete with the normal activities of life. We don’t do this (commission) instead of any other activity. This now experienced pastor understood that our unique purpose, our commission filters through every activity of life -- personal, community, school, work or church.
The premise used to be: "If you build it, they will come. If you rebuild it, they will come back." And again, if you build a better mousetrap, people will beat down a path to get your door, passing many other doors in the process, so churches try to develop superior building plans and try to out-program others to “win the competition” for church people. The culture practically dumped people at our entryway doors and it was just a matter of having the being the best church option around. And there have been brief times in history when that has worked.
But despite Palm Sunday and the early days of Pentecost, mere decades later, people were not flocking to the early house churches because it was the “cultural thing to do.” And today, church going and faith building is no longer a cultural expectation.
In response, some take today’s “Go” to say we need to get out of the building and into the community. Sometimes, it is taken so literally that churches think they are fulfilling this command by having an annual worship service (or two) down at the community park. There is nothing wrong with that; but relocating church services into an open-air venue is not what this text meant by “go to all the nations”. What it means is that we personify our faith in Christ wherever we go and whatever we do. We take our faith with us from these walls as we go into our work place, we go into our recreation places, we go into educational places, we go into our households, we go into our restaurants, and we go into our neighborhoods. Wherever our daily paths may take us, we use our words and our lives as the Spirit leads us to make disciples.
We go. We make disciples. Disciples are people who have embraced and devoted their life to learning and living a certain teaching. So, for example, Aaron Rogers has embraced and devoted himself to following the ways, the discipline of football. Justin Verlander has done the same, submitting his body, mind, and life patterns to the discipline of baseball. And Lang Lang (pronounced Long Long) committed himself to the disciplines of piano playing from the earliest of ages. But beyond career disciplines, there are faith disciplines in which we devote ourselves to living out a belief system, in our case, that is embodied in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ - that we too may embody in us the life and teachings of Jesus. So wherever we go, they see Christ.
The modern English connotation of making disciples may imply force. I’ve heard it preached that way before -- we don’t offer discipleship, we don’t encourage discipleship, we don’t introduce this new life style -- we make disciples like you make your child make their bed. I’ve already covered this when discussing authority. That’s not the way we do it. But let me just throw out another example based on one of Jesus’ sermons (in Matthew 5:13ff).
We are to make disciples in the same way seasoning makes a steak. It's not about forcing the steak to be the kind of steak we want, but preserving and flavoring it by your presence, you words and your deeds... To make, to salt, (and Jesus adds, to be light) happens as a natural influence of who we are as we work with or in our schools, homes, shops, hospitals, and offices -- wherever we go?. Do our lives 'whet the spiritual thirst of people, creating within them a desire to be more like Christ?
It is as the old saying goes -- you can’t force a horse to drink water and trying to will probably make them buck and fight you every step of the way causing frustration for both the horse and yourself. But if you put a salt lick on the way to the stream, the horse will want to make its way to the stream and willingly take a gulp. In the same way, by the quality and character of our life, we can become salt that will make someone want to drink in Christ’s living waters.
Speaking of water, we also baptize. While it refers to the sacrament, don't think the ritual, think its meaning -- that it communicates an initiation into the family of God. No program or ritual, in and of itself can make a church warm and welcoming, only people can do that. So the question is, are we building each other into an open, welcoming family for each other?
We go, we make disciples, we baptize, we teach. Maybe a better understanding is to say it this way: We “keep on going, keep on discipling, keep on being immersed in the new life Christ offers, and we keep learning and teaching what devoting ourselves to a discipline of faith is about, what a relationship with Christ involves. To be disciples together means taking the time to enter into caring relationships with each other, where our mutual life grows as a group, where more is caught by our lives lived together, even more than is learned by the words we speak. Never stop paying attention to your spiritual journey. Never stop representing in your life what you have learned in that spiritual journey.
You may wonder how this fits into our series, how it helps us establish a rock solid relationship with God. It has to do with how we grow (how we learn). Some of us learn best by reading, some by hearing, some by hearing in combination with writing notes, some by seeing, some by doing hands on. There are many facets of learning, and most of us learn best by incorporating multiple and varying methods and by using as many senses as possible. But in my opinion, nothing helps us learn better than having to teach someone else what we have learned because if you need to explain it to someone else, then you have to understand it first. So, if you have to explain what it means to be in relationship with Christ, we have to understand what that is first, and our learning and teaching build on each other as we continue to explore what the implications of what that means. Teaching others about our relationship with God through Jesus not only spreads the news of God’s great love and hope for humanity to others, it will at the same time reinforce and help us understand and grow our own relationship with Jesus all the more. Be devoted to the discipline -- of the commission -- that will build our faith to maturity.
Most of us are not called to be religious salespeople. But the Bible does not call us to be religious salespeople. We are called to be witnesses. (See Acts 1:8) A witness isn’t responsible for the verdict in the listener. A witness is only responsible for honestly reporting - teaching others - what they have seen and heard and experienced. God may well have placed you in the lives of other people so that too they can have an opportunity to respond to his love, mercy, grace, and truth. And as you do these things, Jesus concludes, “never forget that I am with you every day, even to the [very end] of this age.” (Matthew 28:20b (TPT)[NIV]) You never know what God might do as you demonstrate the seeds of his discipling in your life wherever you go.
Let's pray... Lord, we have learned with the hymnwriter that the more we repeat our experiences with your Son, the sweeter our relationship becomes -- and those who have heard it the most crave it the most because it leads them to love you the most, and loving you is one of the most rewarding disciplines of life. Bless us in all our disciplines, but especially today, teach us how to exercise the discipline of our faith throughout all our life’s activities, that your story may spread, and people can experience you uniquely in their life, as we have in ours. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 156 I Love to Tell the Story
Closing Blessing Now go to live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ., who deserves all the glory, both now and forever! Amen.