The 11 disciples meet Jesus in Galilee, and there he gives them his final words. When they see him, they worship him, but also some doubt. This is important. This resurrection stuff is hard to believe. If it’s hard for the disciples to believe while they’re standing with him in the flesh, how much harder is it for us. Beloved, you can both worship and have your doubts at the same time. And I would say that naming and stepping into those doubts, rather than stuffing and denying them, will lead you to more authentic worship.
Then Jesus begins with these words that are easy to gloss over but continue with one of Matthew’s running themes: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” It’s clear now: Authority is not with government or the religious establishment. It is in Jesus. He is the embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore heavenly authority is in him. And then he says these famous words, that we know as the Great Commission.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”. He says “to all nations”. The word for “nations” here is the Greek word “ethnos” (ἔθνος). It’s where we get our word for “ethnic”, and is often translated as “gentile”. Back in Matthew 10:6 Jesus told his disciples to go to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Having done that, Jesus now hands off the baton to his disciples and says take it worldwide. The Kingdom of God has been broken wide open, and the disciples now take it and go with it. They don’t do it perfectly, but here I sit, 2000 years later, spending nearly four months working through the Gospel of Matthew.
Yes, they took the baton and went, and because they went, Jesus was with them. But as we look back on 2,000 years of Church history, we see the pattern repeat itself: That is, that over time, religion becomes institutionalized, and can lose its way, which is a soft way of saying that it falls back into marginalizing people at best, and moving into full-scale genocide and imperialism at worst. The “going” that Jesus calls us to is not to go and make church members and firm up an institution. It’s not to build buildings, and it’s not to “win” a nation or city or neighborhood for Jesus.
The going is to make disciples of Jesus, not disciples of our own doctrine and leadership. We go and make disciples by first embodying the ways and rhythms of Jesus in our own heart, soul, mind, and body, and then creating atmospheres where people encounter the risen Christ in their own life and experience. As someone once told me (can’t remember where this comes from): “The Church does not make disciples. Disciples make the church.” I believe the American Church has lost its way, from the most ancient and liturgical to the most new and innovative and everything in between. We have been too much baptized in consumerism, with our temple on Wall Street, and our high holy day as Black Friday. Yes, I mean the Church has been grafted into that. Black Friday is done in Jesus’ name. More specifically the baby Jesus’ name.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything good in the American Church or in American Christians, but I do believe we’ve lost our way. And I believe, this Easter Monday, Jesus stands before us and says, “Go. Flee that old way, and go reshape, rebuild, reform this faith, and bring it back to life. Don’t worry about bottom lines, and page follower data, and who’s in the news. The authority is not in your metrics and brand. All authority has been given to me, so go, and take the risk on reshaping everything in a way that actually fosters growth in Christlikeness and the resurrected life that comes with it. Go. And know that I’m with you in it. The establishment might not be, But I am with you. If you go.”
So, beloved, let’s go.