His Last Words: Our First Work
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. 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 that 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 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. 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.
When the disciples first heard Jesus’ last words, they must have thought that the task before them was impossible. After all, at this point there were only a couple hundred believers. How could they make disciples of all nations? We still often have those same doubts, don’t we? When we hear Jesus’ words to make disciples of all nations, we look around us and wonder how can we go to all the nations when our congregation and church body are so small?
Well Jesus doesn’t just tell us what he wants us to do; he equips us for the task. Do you remember how Jesus began his last words? He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18b). So when we think that Jesus has told us to do the impossible in making disciples of all nations, remember that this Great Commission starts with the Great Claim. Jesus has all authority and power. And so he doesn’t send us out with nothing but our bare hands to bring in the harvest. In the Word and Sacrament we have powerful combines able to harvest souls from the rockiest soil.
Not only does the Great Commission start with the Great Claim, it ends with the Great Comfort. Jesus promises to be with us to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). We shouldn’t picture Jesus sitting back comfortably at headquarters as we go about his business here on our own. He’s in the field with us.. When we gather our children in our arms and sing “Jesus Loves Me”, Jesus wraps us all in his embrace. When we grieve the loss of our loved ones, Jesus grieves with us as he did at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Wherever we go. Whatever we do. Jesus’ last words assure us that we can count on his abiding presence.
Someone’s last words, would you honor them? As silly as it may seem, I think we would. How much more then won’t we want to make Jesus’ last words our first work. Making disciples of all nations is not just a task given to us by Jesus; it’s the reason we’re still here on earth. Stay faithful to this work knowing that the all-powerful Jesus is with us every step of the way. Amen.
This message from Pastor Daniel Habben is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project