Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Meaning of Making Disciples : The Business of Christian Education XXXIX

Matthew 28:16-20

16 Οἱ δὲ ἕνδεκα μαθηταὶ ἐπορεύθησαν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν εἰς τὸ ὄρος οὗ ἐτάξατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, 17 καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν προσεκύνησαν, οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν. 18 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς λέγων• ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ [τῆς] γῆς. 19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, 20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν• καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθʼ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and 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.”

What I am about to explain here is a secret of heaven and earth. And the good news is this secret has been revealed to all of us.

Now, commonly, when people are about to leave to a faraway place for a long time, they would speak the most important message. Because they might not have any other chance to say things. So they would pick the most important words. They would speak only what truly matters. In our passage today, Jesus is about to leave the world and go to heaven for good. His disciples are with him. Then Jesus speaks. It’s his parting speech. He spoke three most important sentences. The first statement is
the foundation for giving command. The second is the command. And the third is the assurance of his love and providence. The command is sandwiched between two strong truths.

First Statement – The Foundation

Jesus claims: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This truth means that God the Father gave all authority to Jesus, for he was found worthy. Satan tempted Jesus in Matthew 4:8-9 with the power and the splendor of the world. Satan made a false claim that he could give all the power to Jesus. The world does not belong to the devil. So Jesus refused the offer. In the last chapter of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus was proven worthy, and the true authority was given to him by the true owner of the world, God. And this authority is not given to any other person or being, but to Jesus Christ. Jesus becomes the most powerful man. He alone holds the greatest power. Thus he is sovereign in all realms. Nothing would happen without him knowing it and approving it. Moreover, Jesus has the authority to bestow authorities to whomever he wishes. This is contrary to the claim made by Satan. Satan does not have the authority. But Jesus does. His authority is legitimate, for it is given by God himself. Satan’s claim is false, for he lies. Not only he has no authority, it is not given to him either. And since Jesus’ authority is legitimate, his following command is very powerful.

Second Statement – The Great Commission

Jesus commanded: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, (by means of) baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and (by means of) teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is a royal command. Jesus is King, all authority is in his hands, he sits on the throne. His apostles are given this royal command, and this royal command is extended to all of us. This is the time to claim the kingdom completely. Furthermore, this royal command is an everlasting command, for this command will meet the end of the age. The making of disciples of all nations is a reversal of centering only on one nation, Israel. For the true meaning of Israel is extended to whoever believes in God, the Israel of God (cf. Galatians 6:12-16).

The main command here is to “make disciples of all nations.” In Greek this is the main verb: μαθητεύσατε. The word go: πορευθέντες, baptizing: βαπτίζοντες, and teaching: διδάσκοντες, are all participles. This means that the participles are to be translated as explaining the main verb. Therefore, the heart of Jesus’ command is to make disciples of all nations. The word "go" goes together with make disciples, and is best translated as “quickly make disciples.” Baptizing and teaching are best translated as the way we ought to make disciples. The first way is by baptizing them, and the second is by teaching them.

Baptizing must be carried out specifically in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Not to be done in any other names. This is an important revelation of the Godhead. God is Trinitarian is made clear here in Jesus’ saying. The teaching is also to be done accordingly. Jesus’ disciples are to teach what Jesus commands them, so they may keep the commandments. No false teachings, pseudo truths, are to be taught. There are many teachings in this world, such as: God is dead (Freidreich Nietzsche), God doesn’t exist (Atheism), Jesus is not God (Jehovah’s Witnesses), the world is a product of evolution (Evolutionism), God is only our projection (Freudian Psychology), Money is everything (Mamonism), and the most recent one is Gay Marriage is human right, etc. Those false teachings are not to be taught, for those will not count to the making of Jesus’ disciples of all nations.

Now, I’m going to spend a longer time explaining this particular command by Jesus. If taken just on the surface, this command feels very clear. We have heard it many times. But if we start pondering the real meaning of it, we will encounter difficulties. I shall try to attempt to explain it so we may have a deeper understanding of Jesus’ command here.

The command by Jesus here is very well known as the Great Commission. Thus, normally, all Christians of all ages, everywhere in the world, must do this. But! The question is, how many of us “make disciples”? Many of us don’t even have the courage to speak about Jesus to our family, or to our friends, let alone making disciples of them. Some say, “It is not our job to disciple. Just leave it to the ordained ministers to do it. They are trained for such duty, are they not? Besides, why would Jesus want us to make disciples?” So we abandon Jesus’ Great Commission. But, remember that Jesus did not say that this is only the command for clergy. This is the command for all of us.

The early church, never took Jesus’ command as only directed to clergy. So all Christians at that time just went out and made disciples of all nations. The result was stunning. As pointed out by a secular Sociologist, Rodney Stark, in his book “The Rise of Christianity,” there was an explosion of growth of Christianity beyond comprehension during the early Christian era. Despite the severe persecution and hostility towards Christians, they increase sharply in numbers. Early Christians did not leave the work to clergy. They themselves made disciples of all nations and continued to multiply.

Why then today, after 2000 years passed, do we “dare” to abandon Jesus’ commission? Our own Lord and Savior commanded us to do so, why won’t we do it? Jesus said that all authority in heaven and earth is in his hand now, so what do we fear? Moreover, Jesus promised that he will always be with us, and so what is our excuse of not making disciples?

Now, I think, our abandonment of Jesus’ Commission is a reflection of our confusion. We don’t quite understand why Jesus gave the command. In order to understand the extent of his command here, I want us to recall the time when humans were first created. For without connecting the two, we will find it difficult to obey Jesus’ commission. With that, I want you to bear with me to look at Genesis 1:26-28. I will use it to explain Jesus’ command in Matthew 28. Pay special attention to the purpose of creating humans and the command to multiply.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28)

Genesis 1:26 states clearly the purpose of humans being created as Imago Dei. Because our purpose is to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground,” therefore God created us in His Image. God endowed us with all the necessary means to accomplish the purpose. Genesis 1:27 records that God created humans according to the plan in verse 26. In Genesis 1:28 God blessed them and commanded them to do exactly what they were made for. However, there is a slight difference in the first part of Genesis 1:28 if compared with verse 26. In verse 28 God added “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” The last part that says “subdue it (the earth)” is connected closely to the purpose of creating humans, which is formulated as a command in the following clause, the second part of verse 28: “Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” The second part matches word for word with the purpose in verse 26. The additional command in the first part that God ordered Adam and Eve to multiply, however, is not mentioned in the original plan in verse 26. I was puzzled: “Why? Why the difference? Why did God suddenly add a command that was not in the original plan?”

The clue is in Genesis 1:22.  "God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”  So this is what I think, perhaps to contain the animals, humans also need to increase in number. Makes sense, doesn’t it? But, again, driven by curiosity, we might ask, “Why Adam and Eve alone couldn’t do it? Weren’t they created in the image of God himself?” To answer this let us take a look at Exodus 23:28-30 that says:

I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.”

Obviously God told Israel that multiplication is a necessity if they were to possess the land. They cannot rule the land without increasing in numbers. This fact confirms that humans are limited even though we are bearing God’s image. Thus, Adam and Eve couldn’t rule the world alone. They had to increase in numbers. So, bear in mind, multiplication is a must. No negotiation here. But! There is another troubling matter as we multiply. Now, God’s order is clear for humans to multiply. But what if I cannot bear children? Say I am born with the inability to procreate. Am I then transgressing a direct order? Am I not to be punished for not being able to complete God’s command? Would I not be guilty of a great sin? How are we supposed to answer?

Let me tell you the good news. Our God provides the answer! Look at Jesus.  Didn’t he have no children? Our great Master, Redeemer, Son of the Living God bore no children. And wasn’t he sinless? Moreover, isn’t Jesus the true image of God and we are created according to him? Colossians 1:15: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Of course, the big question is: “How, then, Jesus got away with God’s command to multiply?” The answer lies deeply in the meaning of multiplication and our state after the fall.

Now, please pay attention to what I am about to elaborate, for here lies the secret to understand the connection between God’s command to multiply and Jesus’ command to make disciples.

Important to note is the command to multiply was given to Adam and Eve before the Fall. This truth carries a theological significance to our understanding of multiplication. For consequently, Adam and Eve were to multiply the image of God. But after the Fall, their state of being changed. They no longer were the unblemished image of God. Their nature of God’s image was contaminated with other images. In other words, the image of God in them was broken. If they multiply after the Fall, they would pass on the broken image to their offspring. Since Adam and Eve are our ancestors, we don’t automatically multiply God’s image whenever we have children biologically. Like Adam and Eve, we are reproducing broken images every time we procreate. This broken image is vulnerable to be formed in many different ways. God wants us to be Imago Dei. But, if the broken image is continuously passed on to the next generation, then we are not following God’s original plan. Even more horrifying is if the image we are multiplying is the image of the devil. Yes the image of the devil, take a look at John 8:44, where Jesus says to the people:

“44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Adam and Eve, after the Fall, multiplied the broken image. Cain was carrying the image of the devil, for he murdered his brother, Abel. But Abel carried the image of God, for he offered the acceptable sacrifice to God. Seth was born to Adam and Eve carrying the image of God, for he called the name of God while others did not. Lamech was carrying the image of the devil by intending to be more wicked than Cain. Enoch, was carrying the image of God, for he walked with God until God took him up to heaven. The people surrounding Noah were perpetuating the image of the devil, so God regretted he created humans. But Noah was carrying God’s image in him, for he found favor in God’s sight. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were multiplying the image of God while the entire world was multiplying the broken image. Pharaoh was carrying the image of the devil for he did not obey God’s word, while Moses was perpetuating God’s image by his obedience. Saul embraced the world and abandoned God and thus he did not carry with him the image of God, but David’s heart was longing for God and thus God’s image lived in him. The kingdom of Israel followed the track of the devil and in God’s providence the kingdom of Judah followed the track of the image of God. I can go on and on with the list, but I believe you understand what I mean.

The key of God’s command to multiply is the understanding that the image humankind should multiply is the image of God. NOT any other images. Thus, the heart of God’s command is not the biological multiplication, but the spiritual multiplication or in Jesus’ words “make disciples.” Although Jesus had no biological children, he did not sin, because he obeyed God’s command to multiply by multiplying the True Image of God. In his ministry, Jesus multiplied spiritual children. Children who live according to God’s will. Those who believed in Jesus and obeyed him were his offspring. Jesus did multiply. He did not multiply biologically, but he multiplied spiritually. Jesus fulfilled exactly the command of God “to be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” In Jesus, the descendants of Adam find salvation from the doom of not multiplying the image of God. The very image that was broken in the Fall, has been restored in Jesus Christ. Humankind now has hope of the image of God being restored in them through Jesus Christ. Similarly, we are still charged with the same command to multiply that God gave to Adam and Eve. So whoever we are, can bear biological children or not, our charge is to multiply God’s image. For those that can bear children biologically, they are not off the hook of God’s charge to multiply. They are to teach their biological children in such a way that their children will grow in the image and likeness of God and not the likeness of the world or the devil. For those that have no children biologically, they are also charged with the same command, and thus they may have no biological children but still have to produce Imago Dei. When the childless people multiply God’s image in the lives of the children not their own, they are blessed, much more than those who have children biologically but fail to multiply God’s image in the lives of their own children.

Let us pause for a second and recall the faces of our children. Who are they like? Don’t we see that they resemble us in many ways? Look at our students, aren’t they like us somehow? How about our friends, don’t we look alike some time? Conscious or not, we all are multiplying images, but whose image is the big question. We are born with the ability to multiply very fast. Kids are natural imitators. When they imitate they have been multiplied; or they have been made disciples. We need to be aware as whose image we are passing on to the next generation, to our children, to those entrusted to us. God’s charge remains, that we are to multiply Imago Dei, fill the earth with Imago Dei, and subdue the earth according to the nature of the Imago Dei, for the glory of God, who is the Original and the true owner of the world. Jesus’ command in Matthew 28 extends God’s original command to our ancestors to us, with a clearer understanding. Jesus commands all Christians to make disciples (to multiply) of all nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And by teaching them to obey everything he has taught us. Make them like Jesus, just like we make our kids, our students, our friends like us. For we have been made like Jesus. Jesus’ command is not about biological multiplication, it is about the multiplication of the image of God. And this is a necessity. Jesus’ command is not a new command. It is an old command given by God in the beginning of the world. Jesus’ command is not against our nature either, for God created us with the capacity to multiply. But Jesus makes explicit God’s original command of multiplication to mean multiplying Imago Dei. Jesus gave a vivid example on how to multiply. He called the twelve. He taught them the word of God. He even washed their feet, so they may wash each other’s feet. He lived with them so they might see how an Image of God should live.

Imagine our world filled with people like Cain, Lamech, Pharaoh, Saul, or even Hitler. Wouldn’t our world be in chaos? One Hitler was enough to bring a great threat of destruction to the whole world. One thousand Hitlers would bring down half the earth. A million Hitlers will definitely destroy the beautiful world God created. The horror of holocaust must not be repeated. The Serbia Bosnia tragedy must never be replicated. The evil of Cain murdering Abel must not be perpetuated. The disobedience of Adam and Eve must not continue in God’s world. God’s purpose is for us to rule the entire world. We are created in God’s image to fulfill God’s intended purpose.

I believe you won’t object when I propose: We want the image of God to rule the world, not the image of the devil. We want people multiplied by Jesus Christ to subdue the earth. We want godly people to rule the politics, the business world, schools and universities, agriculture, entertainment, internet, the army, hospitals, art and music, sports, and every sector of life. So Yes! Yes! Yes! We have to multiply! We have to multiply the image of God on earth. For those reasons above, Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations. And remember, Jesus himself restored our original function to multiply God’s image. Jesus fulfilled God’s command in Genesis 1:28 and now he has passed it on to us.

Third Statement – The Assurance of Accompaniment

Jesus utters his assurance: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  This assurance from Jesus is extremely important for all Christians, because just like Jesus was persecuted, all his followers will also be persecuted. Christianity is not getting easier after Jesus ascended to heaven. Even with all the authority on hand, Christianity undergoes persecution from time to time. In a place where hostility towards Christianity is common, many Christians develop timid attitude. Some will grow stronger as Christians. But many will comply and compromise their faith. The main fear is suffering. Naturally, as humans we avoid suffering. We only march toward suffering when we have a particular goal we consider greater than our suffering. Many Christians won’t want to suffer because they don’t see “making disciples of all nations” as greater than their suffering. In a place where Christians become too comfortable in their life, many Christians also develop timid attitude. They don’t want to come out of their comfort zone, how much more to suffer. They become too attached to their comfortable life, and thus avoiding getting out of their comfort zone at all cost. Naturally, as humans, we seek comfort. We only abandon comfort when something truly important comes up. Obviously, they don’t see “making disciples of all nations” as more important than their comfort. Consequently, both attitudes result in Christianity diminishing. The command of Jesus is abandoned. Jesus knew this. That is why he spoke his assurance. His providence and love will carry us to complete our task. His presence in the Holy Spirit empowers us to do what we ought. The bottom line is, based on his assurance, we ought not to be afraid anymore. Jesus, the most powerful man assures us his presence. No force in this world can stand before Jesus. And no force in this world can take us away from his love (Romans 8:38-39):

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Therefore, this is the time we wake up. This is the time we respond accordingly to his command. With all authority in his hands, our life is secure. Although bad things might happen to us in this world, know that we will be risen like Jesus Christ, full of glory and honor. Jesus went through the most terrible thing, and we might go through similar troubles, but rest assured, just as Jesus went through it and live forever, so will we. The assurance lies in Jesus Christ. This is a mystery. This is a secret of heaven and earth. So, with renewed understanding, we shall not be afraid to suffer in the process of making disciples.

With this, let us read once more the word of God:

Matthew 28:16-20

"16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and 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.”


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