Summary: Jesus’ last words remind us that evangelism is not an event; it’s a lifestyle.
Have you seen the commercial urging Albertans to recycle? The one I’m thinking of features two hikers caught in a snowstorm high in the mountains. One hiker falls and urges the other to go for help. But before that hiker can leave, the injured man thrusts an empty water bottle into his partner’s hands and says: “Promise me one thing. If I don’t make it, you’ll take this bottle to the depot and recycle it!”
Although the commercial is a bit overdone, it grabbed my attention. Why? Because I was curious to find out what the injured hiker’s last request would be. There is something about a person’s last words; we take them seriously. Even criminals on death row get to make last requests that are often honored. Although they weren’t the very last words he spoke before his ascension, the things Jesus said in our text are some of his last recorded words. We’re going to see that his last words are our first work – to make disciples of the Triune God. Let’s find out how Jesus says we are to do this important work.
Jesus spoke the words of our text on a mountain in Galilee some time after his resurrection. As his disciples worshipped him Jesus said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 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 28:18b-20).
The main point of Jesus’ last words is this: make disciples of all nations. We do this first by going to the nations and not expecting them to come to us. We shouldn’t expect people to come to us because by nature sinners don’t want to be evangelized. They’re content to hold to their pagan beliefs or faith in science and don’t think they need the forgiveness Jesus has won for them. That’s why it’s important as a congregation we do more than keep our doors open. We want to get into the community and forge relationships so we can tell people about Jesus. What Jesus actually said was “as you go make disciples…” As we go about our daily business we are to make his last words our first work. Therefore as you go about your work as parents, make disciples of your children. As you go about your life at school, make disciples of your classmates and teachers. As you go about your business of getting medical check-ups, make disciples of the nurses, the doctors, and the other patients.
But how exactly are we to make disciples for the Triune God? Jesus says by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus says that we make disciples by baptizing, we realize that the making of disciples is not something we do; it’s God’s work. Sure we apply the water and speak the words of baptism but it’s the triune God who works through the sacrament to save. We only play the part of the lawyer who gets the adoption papers ready, while God does the actual adopting. And that is what happens in baptism. We are adopted into God’s family. We who were once known as rebellious, ungrateful, and loveless are given new names. We take on the Father’s name and are known as “loved”. We take on the Son’s name and are known as “forgiven”. We take on the Holy Spirit’s name and are known as “believer”.
But baptizing is only the beginning of what Jesus wants us to do in making disciples. He also wants us to teach people to obey everything he has commanded. That’s why we still teach a six-day creation, the different roles of man and woman, and close(d) communion. Sure these teachings may seem outdated and often cause difficulties in our pluralistic society, but they are all part of God’s Word and must be believed and shared.
Jesus doesn’t want us to believe in every teaching found in the Bible because we have to but because it’s for our good. That’s portrayed in the word translated as “obey”. When Jesus said, “…teach them to obey everything”, he really said: “Teach them to guard as precious everything I have commanded.” The same word is used of how Mary treated the bottle of perfume she poured on Jesus’ feet shortly before his crucifixion. She didn’t just guard that bottle so that none of its contents spilled or so that no one took it. She treasured it as she looked forward to anointing Jesus’ feet. In the same way Jesus not only wants us guard his words so that we don’t carelessly spill any, he wants us to see all his teachings as precious and worth firmly holding on to because they connect us to eternal life.