Putting Jesus’ Last Words First

Notes from a sermon preached at All Saints’ Ockbrook on Sunday 26th April (Bible Reading: Matthew Chapter 28 verses 16 – 20).

Mountains in the ministry of Jesus: According to Matthew’s Gospel there are three significant mountains in Jesus’ ministry: early on we have the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus’ articulated the ethical teaching he wished to underpin the lives of those who followed Him (still important in our culture predicated on moral relativism); mid-way through the Gospel we have the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus’ true identity and mission is revealed and lastly here in Matt. 28 as the Gospel ends, Jesus is on an mountain somewhere in Galilee sketching out his vision for world mission, to which all his followers are called.

Be in the right place and live in the right way: The 11 disciples travelled north from Jerusalem to Galilee. It seems somewhat strange they should be asked to do that because all the post-Easter action was taking place in Jerusalem. So why Galilee? It was a region with a mixed population of Jews and gentiles. Indeed being so far north it was called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’. Jesus is commissioning his disciples not into a synagogue, temple, church of lecture hall, but to go out into all the world; to where people are.

So the 11 disciples travelled north to that mountain in Galilee because it was where Jesus had called them to be at that time. God calls us to different places at different times in our lives, but what’s important as Christians, is how we live when we get there!

When you are rightly related to God by salvation, remember that wherever you are, you are put there by God and by the reaction of your life to the circumstances around you, you will fulfil God’s purposes as long as you keep close to God. (Words given to me years ago by a friend Sue Harris).

Worship + doubt = faith & growth: When the 11 disciples saw Jesus they instinctively worshipped him. The Gk word translated worship is derived from proskyneo and means ‘to come towards to kiss (the hand)’ and denotes the external act of prostrating oneself. As Jews we could say they broke the third of the 10 commandments: ‘You shall not make for yourself and idol and you shall not bow down to them or worship them’. But in that act of worship they are symbolically affirming the divinity of Jesus the Christ!

Matthew adds ‘some of them doubted’ and I’m so glad we get that honest insight. The word means a state of uncertainty and hesitation, rather than a settled unbelief and is used in only one other place in the NT (Matt. 14:31). Over the years I’ve come to realise that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; that is fear and that can anaesthetise faith. Doubt is the other side of the coin to faith. They paradoxically belong together. My experience has been time and time again, that my faith in Jesus has become stronger through my doubts.

As they worshipped Jesus, so he comes near to them!!

I read recently that many in our nation find some church worship services strange, inaccessible and uninspiring; and that’s being kind. They say it’s no wonder that Jesus never seems to show up. I was at a seminar a few years ago led by Archbishop John Sentamu and he said this: I thank God that people don’t go to some churches I know. They’re so gloomy and unhappy. The atmosphere can be so cold you could skate down the aisles.

I’ve come to appreciate the range of different worship styles we have in our churches here in this parish; it is a strength. But we must always remember we’re not to focus on the styles of worship, because we can end up worshipping those. Whatever the style, worship is an offering to God; God is always the congregation in worship, not us!!! What we do is for God’s benefit, not ours. As we do that, so we encounter Jesus in many different ways.

Putting last words first: Like all of us I have regrets when I look back at my life so far. One of the biggest is that I didn’t get to my father before he died and so cannot remember the last words we spoke. I had some help dealing with that and as part of that process wrote the following:

If only I could wind the clock back just once; if only. If only I could, I would wish to see you just once more; if only. If only I could stand at that hospital door, I would make sure I pushed my way through the doctors and nurses trying so desperately to keep you alive; if only. If only I could, I would take your big hands in mine and feel the touch that so often eluded us as father and son; if only. If only I could, I would hold you in a hug and feel the closeness of your heartbeat and breath; if only. If only I could, I would speak just four simple words, unembarrassed by those listening on; if only. If only I could, I would whisper up close in your ear: ‘Dad, I love you’.

Wonderfully, Matthew records some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples. These words give this passage its title: ‘The Great Commission’. Jesus, God incarnate, raised from the dead in power, commissions his followers or disciples (which means apprentices, students, learners) to go out and make disciples of all nations. Some say this should be translated as the ‘Great Omission’ because the church so often ignores it.

John Adair, well know author and leadership guru writes: ‘A hospital exits to make sick people better, whatever ends are pursued by some of the staff working there. There’s a truth about all organisations – what their purpose is supposed to be’.

Recently our church leadership (PCC) finessed our purpose statement: ‘Making Christian disciples who love God, love one another and live out God’s love in the world’. Whatever role we may have in the church, whatever gifts we have, I believe that call and commission to make disciples is for each of us. To intentionally live in such a way that our lives becomes windows onto the life of Jesus, making Jesus present for people by embodying something of what he is like and what a life filled with Jesus is like. There are people around us in life that only we can reach for Jesus; so the question is: are we seeking to?

Ever think you’re too small to make a difference? Maybe you’ve never been 2 bed with a mosquito!  If we don’t disciple people, the secular culture around us will.

The presence and presents of God: Here’s the crescendo of Matthew’s gospel. A wonderful, breath taking promise. The Gospel began with an assurance that the baby Jesus would be Immanuel or God with us (1:22). It closes here with the reassurance that he is still with them and would be for ever! The fulfilment of that prophecy happened at Pentecost when the HS was poured out and the presence of Jesus was then with them in tangible and tactile ways.

God is everywhere, but in order to know God we have to experience God somewhere. The everywhere God has to become the somewhere God. God is with God’s people (Bishop Stephen Cottrell).

Following Jesus can be tough, important to remember that in out consumerist culture. As Christians we’re not cocooned from the pains and strains and pressures of everyday real life. But we are promised the presence of Jesus (The Holy Spirit and His gifts), necessary for us to fulfil our mission and ministry in him.

The Victorian explorer David Livingstone once addressed students at Glasgow University. He rose to speak and his body bore the marks of struggles as a missionary in Africa: gaunt from over 30 severe illnesses; left arm hanging flaccid from a lion attack…He said, would you like me to tell you what supported me and kept me going all those years amongst people whose language I couldn’t understand and who were often hostile to me. It was this: ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’.

Go to it, go do it! Let’s remember that God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called!  Let’s also remember that God has called each of us to know Christ and to make Christ known. Let’s seek to do that in God’s strength, which St. Paul reminds us is made perfect in our weakness. As we do that, so we play our part in fulfilling the Great Commission and putting Jesus’ last words first!

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