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Messy Life Together | A Sermon on the Great Commission from Matthew 28:16-20

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Narrative Lectionary Text. Easter 2. Matthew 28:16-20.

Here’s my big question for today.

Are you a missionary?

What do you think of when you hear the word “missionary?” When I was growing up, whenever I imagined a missionary in my mind, it always looked a lot like this.

When I was growing up we had a huge map of the world on the wall of our worship center with the words “GO YE INTO ALL THE WORLD.”

My idea of a missionary was that these were the people who really, really loved God, way more than the rest of us. They are the ones who are on the front lines of God’s work in the world. They were willing to give up everything and move to a remote jungle village on the other side of the world and suffer for Jesus their whole lives.

Those people were missionaries. They were the first class Christians, and the rest of us were the ones who supported their work by settling for ordinary jobs in the comfort of the United States.

That kind of thinking came from our text today. We are looking at Matthew 28:16-20. It is usually called the Great Commission. It is that moment, at the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus leaves his disciples and commissions them to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. The missionaries are sent.

My understanding of this passage has changed a lot as I have grown up. Here’s what I’ve learned.

We are all missionaries.

I want you to turn to the person next to you right now. Point at them. I know that’s rude, but do it anyway. And say, “You are a missionary.”

Now turn to another person and do it again. Say, “you are a missionary.”

Now, put your thumb up, point it to yourself and say, “I am a missionary.”

We learned last week that Easter is like God’s massive RESTART button for creation. This passage gives us Jesus’ instructions for what this restart should look like. This is God’s mission for the new world.

This passage shows us three things about God’s mission.


The first thing is that it is messy.

Look in verse 16. Remember, the last thing the disciples knew was that Jesus had been executed by the Romans. He was dead. Their hopes had been crushed. Then some of the women said that the tomb was empty and that they had seen Jesus. They said he was alive and that he wanted to meet them on this mountain.

So, they show up.

Look what happens. It says that some worshiped him, and some did what? Some doubted.

The disciples all worshiped Jesus when they saw him post-resurrection, but some doubted. I find great comfort in that. Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI) began his Introduction to Christianity by noting that doubt is the one thing that unifies us as humans (read my annotated notes here).

When we, as followers of Jesus, embrace our doubts, it humbles us and opens us up to be able to truly listen to others. I have found that when I listen to others tell me about their faith journey–no matter how radically different it is from mine–I learn something new about God.

Faith is not putting God in a box and tying it up with a neat bow of correct doctrine. Faith is encountering the  resurrected Jesus and grappling with the radical implications of that reality for the universe.

Our doubt keeps us human. It keeps us leaning in for more understanding. It keeps us engaged with the world. It’s messy.

The second thing we learn about God’s mission is that God’s mission is about life.

Jesus reminded the disciples that his authority is over all things. He wasn’t sending them out to “reclaim the world” for God. That’s a done deal. It is God’s.

Notice three things in this section:

  1. It’s about experiencing life.

Jesus wasn’t actually sending the disciples. The imperative in this text is not the word “Go,” it is the word “make disciples.” The tense of the word “go” might be better understood to read, “as you are going.” As you are living your life in the world…

As you go to school…

As you go to work…

As you take a walk through your neighborhood…

As you visit your aging aunt in the nursing home…

As you stand on the side of the soccer field…

Do you realized that each of these places is as much the mission field as the most remote village in Africa?

God’s mission is that ALL NATiONS, all people, everywhere, would know the love of God. That means you and the people you are with every day.

  1. It’s about life-long learning.

Jesus said that as you are going, make disciples. Notice that Jesus didn’t tell them to make converts. He told them to make learners/followers (that’s what disciple means).

The term convert implies a quick and complete change from one thing to another. Once you were that, now you are this. As I’ve studied conversion, I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t work that way. Conversion is a long and messy process (again, messy).

A disciple, on the other hand, is a person who is engaged in the process of learning, investigating, walking with, and growing. We can engage people in authentic conversations, in which we listen more than we talk, that will invite them to learn more about the way of Jesus in the world.

  1. It’s about life in the Triune God.

Jesus told them to dive into the Life of God. That’s what I think Jesus meant by the phrase “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Baptism is not merely an event or a box to check on a religious to do list. To be baptized is to be immersed completely into something. Baptism is a way of life.

We are created by the loving community of God–Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all things–for loving community with all things (read more about the Trinity here). We are invited each day to follow Jesus to the cross, to die to the sin and death that binds us, to be buried with Christ, and to walk in the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. This is the life of God for the world.

The third thing we learn about God’s mission is that we do it Together

Jesus said “teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Is this another list of rules to follow? Is it a test to determine whether you are “in” or “out.” Follow the rules and you’re “in.” Disobey and you’re “out.” I don’t think so.

What were Jesus’ commands? “And this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Love God. Love your neighbor. That’s it. That is the beginning and the ending of the law that we must follow. Every human activity is contextually bound and must be evaluated only on the test of whether it demonstrates the love of God for others. Period.

That means our highest calling, and the mission of God, is to learn to live together. The good news is that we aren’t left to figure this out on our own. Jesus has promised to always be with us as we live this messy life together.

So, are YOU a missionary?

Let me try to rephrase this passage as if Jesus were speaking it to us today.

This whole world is mine, and I invite you to engage in it.

As you are going, invite people to learn more about me. As you go to school this week, as you go to work, to the gym, to visit your friends, to pay your taxes. Let your walk with me be so natural and part of your everyday speech that people feel free to talk openly about faith and life.

Let your baptismal identity be so real that is splashes on everyone around you. Flood the world with the love of the Triune God.

Show people how to obey my teaching. Let the love of God be the rule of your life.

Remember, I’m always with you as we walk this messy life together.


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