Summary: Many times a "final" farewell surrounds the death of a friend or loved one, but Christ’s farewell was about comfort, vision, and encouragement to his disciples and the Church.
Have you ever spoken with someone knowing it was the last time you would see them and your last opportunity to speak with them? I remember having that type of conversation with a cousin several years ago. He was dying from a terminal disease, and Paula and I made the trip to see and speak with Pat one last time, knowing that he would die soon. We reminisced, swapping stories of times spent together, told each other, "I love you," and I asked him if he was right with God. Thankfully, he was. Pat died a few weeks later. I was thankful for that last conversation.
When we knowingly have a "final" conversation, it’s usually in the face of death. They’re not easy to have, but they can be cleansing and empowering. We often times relive the words and details over and over in our minds, and that usually brings comfort.
In today’s scripture, Christ is having his final conversation with his disciples. The difference is that he has conquered death through his resurrection, so the tone of the conversation is not one of sadness or grief, but rather one of comfort, encouragement, commission, and vision.
In the wake of having celebrated Resurrection Sunday two weeks ago, having considered Thomas’ struggle to believe in the resurrected Lord last week, I read these words this morning, that they may serve as a reminder of what the resurrected Lord has promised to do, and what he has called us to do.
Christ’s final words send three messages. First, he assures us of his power. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." In other words, we know about Jesus’ miracles- his ability to heal, provide food, and command the winds and the seas. He has also conquered death, but he still reminds us, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me."
The opening of John’s gospel reminds us of this same thing:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
He is the resurrected Lord, he is God, and all authority and all power is his. This had to have been a tremendous boost for the disciples. Seeing Christ resurrected would’ve been powerful enough, but they are now hearing that the one with whom they’ve spent the past three years, the one by whom they’ve been taught, and the one from whom they’ve heard so many stories, does indeed have supreme authority in heaven and on earth.
Christian Herter was governor of Massachusetts in the 50’s, when he was running for a second term in office. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes with no lunch he arrived at a church barbecue. It was late afternoon and he was famished. As he moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken. She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line.
Governor Herter said, “Excuse me, do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?” The woman told him. “I’m sorry, but I’m supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person.” “But I’m starved,” the governor said. “Sorry,” the woman said again. “Only one to a customer.”
Governor Herter was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around. “Do you know who I am?” he said. “I am the governor of this state.” “Do you know who I am?” the woman said. “I’m the lady in charge of the chicken. Move along, mister.”
She had the authority when it came to the chicken, but Christ is the one who has the ultimate authority. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word is…Jesus Christ. He assured the disciples, and he assures us of his power, because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.
The second message is the commission. This particular passage is referred to as the Great Commission, because it is here that Jesus commissions the disciples, giving them their marching orders for ministry, and in doing so, he spells out the mission of the church: make disciples, baptize them, and teach them about me.
Some folk ask the question, "Why baptism?" We often answer, "Jesus was baptized, and he told us to be baptized," which is true, but I think Paul Harvey, in describing his own baptism in Guidepost, explains it well.
He says that even though he had received almost every reward for his broadcasting powers and ability, he still felt empty inside. It seems that one summer he and his wife were vacationing in a place called Cave Creek, AZ. Sunday morning came and they decided to go to church. They went to this little church, and there were only 12 other people present, but there was a good spirit, and for some reason he began thinking about John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."