“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Oftentimes in life, we say our last “goodbye” without realizing that it is indeed the last. I do have some friends who will couch their departing words with “Until we meet again,” recognizing that if we do not see one another in this life, there is hope in the resurrection of a reunion on “the other shore.”
But perhaps you’ve had the occasion to know that this would be the very last time you would see someone in this life. What might you say? What is the most important thing that you can say at that moment?
On October 18, 2003, I found myself beside my father’s bed knowing that this was the case. We had spent the day as a family speaking words of comfort and hope to him, and gathered around his bed to sing hymns, knowing that the number of his days was short. So I found myself late in the afternoon having to get back in my car and make the four-hour trip back home, with the gnawing reality that I would never see my father in this life again. I remember wondering what I might say to him, not even knowing if he could hear me or understand me. So I said what I needed to say, not necessarily what he needed to hear (though I do think it was important for him, too!). So, after I packed my car, I went beside his bed, leaned over his frail body, gave him a kiss on the forehead and whispered in his ear, “I love you.” (My dad died the next morning).
That exchange was rooted in the reality of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. My father, a stubborn agnostic for much of his life, was humbled and saved by God’s amazing grace in his 50s. I am forever grateful to God for His kindness and mercy not only to me, but to my dad.
This Sunday we will continue our Mission Festival month by looking at the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28. There are important lessons for us to understand about the nature of Christ’s mission, and participation in it. But as I’ve chewed on this passage the past few weeks, I came to realize that the part we focus on – the going and making disciples – is bracketed by something that makes these doable. Without them, our mission would be impotent and hopeless.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” The mission of the Church is for Christ, by Christ, and in Christ. What a freeing thought that it is not up to me, but that the very words of the Gospel contain this authority and power to make dead men live as the Spirit of God makes us alive in Christ Jesus. So we can affirm with Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith….” (Romans 1:16-17).
And not only does the very Word of God accomplish all that it purposes to do (Isa. 55:11), but the profound reality of the resurrection means death did not have the last word. As the angel reminded the women at the tomb, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Matt. 28:5).
The resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus would assure that he will build his church (Matt. 16:18). “I tell you the truth” it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). So the final clause in the “Great Commission” reminds us of this great reality! “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We are not left here to figure all of this out on our own. God the Son secured our way to the Father, and the Holy Spirit continues to work in us and through us to build Christ’s glorious kingdom. So we can joyfully participate in the mission of God, knowing these great truths that Jesus is King, and he will never leave us or forsake us. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).