Today’s Reading: Exodus 23-24, Matthew 28
In the Exodus reading today we discover such worthy themes as justice for all, the law of the Sabbath, and Israel affirming their covenant with God, Moses and Joshua ascending the mountain to meet with God. Wonderful food for thought with far reaching implications; but the Matthew reading drew my attention and riveted my mind to some aspects of that chapter that I had never thought of before.
In the last four verses of chapter 28 we read Jesus’ last words to His disciples before His ascension. I would imagine they were pretty important words and were actually included in Mark, Luke and Acts. The eleven remaining disciples had been on a roller coaster of emotions facing the crucifixion, the burial, the initial confusion of the resurrection; and now, the impending departure of the resurrected Christ from the earth. From the euphoria of finding that He was actually resurrected from the tomb they had placed him in, to not quite understanding what was happening on the mount of ascension. He was compelling them to “Go and make disciples of “all the nations”, baptizing them, teaching them, and I will be with you always – even until the end of the age.”
I don’t really think they comprehended what Jesus was asking them to do. To say that they were “forlorn” was probably putting it mildly! I don’t see them going home and packing their suitcases and taking off for the “uttermost parts of the earth”! In fact, if I understand the history of the early church accurately, they went home and stayed within their comfort zone in Jerusalem until persecution forced them to rethink staying there. The stoning of Stephen and the dragging out of their homes of some of the followers of Jesus lit a fire under them and they began to make their way to cities where they might be a bit safer.
Even then, I don’t see where the disciples were anxious to talk about their experiences with Jesus in the cities where they fled. It was a group of Hellenistic Jews that fled to Antioch that began to speak about the things they had seen and heard that actually started the growth of the Kingdom and got the attention of the disciples who dispatched someone there to oversee the fledgling group of converts in Antioch. It took them some time to leave forlorn behind and become fearless in their pursuit of Jesus’ commission to them.
Should we criticize the disciples for their lack of exuberance regarding the Great Commission that Jesus’ gave them? No, I personally have no right to because I have treated Jesus’ last words exactly like they did! I have stayed within my comfort zone, my Jerusalem, for the majority of my over 50 years as a Christ follower. The majority of the churches that I have been a part of have had a “fortress” mentality regarding the church – keep the world out at all costs! Build up the walls, be ready to lift the moat as soon as any sinner made it in the fortress. We wrapped our righteous robes around us so as not to be contaminated by the poor unrighteous sinners on the outside. How opposite was our mentality from Jesus! From the very beginning – even in the Old Testament, the Bible hints that the Gentiles (heathens/sinners) would be taken in. In Jesus’ own family tree, three Gentile women are listed, Tamar, Rahab and Ruth. Jesus was constantly teaching through the parables about His view of the Kingdom of God that encompassed the whole world. At His birth, Gentile magi came a great distance to worship Him. The story of the centurian in Matthew 8 shows in a beautiful way Jesus blessing on the centurian’s faith.
How wonderful it is for me at this stage of my life to be a part of a church that has a expanding world view of the Kingdom of God. It’s not a time to be concentrating on the degradation of the world and being “forlorn” with no hope for the future of the church. It’s a time to be “fearless” in our pursuit of spreading the gospel, the good news throughout Jerusalem (Murphysboro), Judea (Carbondale, Pinckneyville, Ava) and the uttermost parts of the earth (the entire country, Kenya, Nigeria, Europe) wherever God gives us the opportunity to sow and spread the gospel. I’m so glad to have had my small view of the Kingdom enlarged to encompass the world. As you are reading this, I will have spent my day yesterday working at the Dream Center Food Bank – letting my light shine and my voice speak the good news of the Kingdom.
No longer “forlorn”; let’s be “fearless” for God! What an exciting time to be alive and full of the Holy Spirit!
“…and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands and crying with a loud voice saying, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Rev. 7:9-10