Joshua 1:1-9 and Matthew 28:16-20
I love the story of the raw army recruit standing at attention on the drill field. The drill instructor yells, “Forward, march!” And the entire rank begins to move, all except this one raw recruit. He’s still standing there at attention. So the drill instructor strolls over to him and yells in his right ear, “Is this thing working?”
“Sir, yes, sir!” The recruit yells. Then the drill instructor walks around to the other ear and yells, “Is this thing working?” “Sir, yes, sir!” The soldier says. “Then why didn’t you march when I gave the order?” “Sir, I didn’t hear you call my name.”
Some of us are like that soldier standing around waiting for God to call our names. But the great commission is a blanket order. It has everyone’s name on it. And you can be sure that God says to each of us, “Go! Disciple! Teach!”
Jerry and Dawn, you have heard God call your name and you have answered, “Here I am, Lord, send me.” You have a difficult path ahead of you. I have learned that a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has to have tough skin and a soft heart. It won’t be easy, yet I have confidence that you can and will be excellent shepherds, Dawn, of the Ewen flock and Jerry, of the Bergland flock. Ted Trudgeon came out of this church as well as Pete LeMoine. I had confidence in them and I have confidence in you.
We read in Matthew 28:18-20, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”
Jesus is telling the disciples some very difficult things to do. The first hard thing: Jesus told them is to go and make disciples of all nations. The world of the disciples was smaller than the world as we know it. They had no idea of the existence of North and South America, for example, but they also were limited by first-century modes of travel and communication, so even restricting their world to the geography they did know about, making disciples of all nations must have sounded like a daunting task.
But beyond the dimensions of the mission, the distrust of foreigners was a huge problem, especially for disciples who were neither well-traveled nor learned men. Even today, many of us have difficulty relating across cultural and racial lines. What’s more, the disciples had no power base to start from (unless, of course, you count the Holy Spirit, but Pentecost hadn’t happened yet). And, they belonged to an oppressed subgroup — the Jews — within the Roman Empire. And yet Jesus says to these most unlikely of candidates: “Go turn the world upside down.” It must have sounded like a monumental — impossible — undertaking.
Second hard thing: Jesus told the disciples that once they got moving on that first work, they were to baptize the people of those nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Of course, baptism was not the first step in making new disciples; baptism only took place after a person had been evangelized and was persuaded by the gospel message to embrace Christ as Savior and Lord. So what Jesus was telling the 11 to do was huge. He was telling them to share the gospel with strangers, to publicly identify themselves as followers of someone who had just been officially declared an outlaw and executed. They were to give personal witness to their faith and we all know how difficult that is!
We do know that once Pentecost happened, the disciples found greater courage to proclaim the gospel, but Pentecost hadn’t happened yet. And what about us? We live on this side of Pentecost, but still, not many of us find the evangelism process easy to do.
The third hard thing: Jesus told them to teach these new converts everything he had commanded them to obey. That, too, must have sounded like mission impossible. Even assuming a few of them had the gift of teaching, where was the curriculum? The gospels hadn’t been written yet. The apostle Paul, whose letters would eventually become much of the New Testament, had yet to be converted. The church hadn’t been formed yet, the doctrines hadn’t even begun to be formulated and the creeds were still a couple hundred years or more in the future. What teaching materials there were included the Hebrew Bible — our Old Testament — and the disciples’ memories of what Jesus had said and done while he was with them.
In Joshua 1:1-7 God tells Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous, Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”
Dr. Mordecai Johnson, the African-American educator, once told of a colleague of his. He tried to interest his friend in Christ, but he was always met with polite refusals. Finally, Johnson got the man to talk. It seems that when he was growing up in a small southern town, an evangelist visited for a week of meetings in a tent. The little boy had gone, drawn by the excitement of it all, and sat in the back of the tent reserved for Negroes. At the end of the week it was announced that Sunday morning would climax the week when all those who were ready to receive Christ would be baptized in the river. Those wanting baptism were to appear on the bank dressed in white. So, the little boy hurried home to tell his mother what he wanted. His poor, old mother had to take a sheet off one of the beds to make him a little robe. Proudly, yet somewhat frightened, the child made his way to the river on Sunday morning. Oh, it was quite a meeting with crowds of folks singing. Scripture reading, testifying, and preaching. One by one, many were baptized into Jesus Christ the King of all creation. When, finally the service was over and the crowd dispersed a little black boy stood alone on the riverbank in a little white robe that was all dry. He was waiting for someone to notice him, to talk to him, to baptize him.
He’s still standing there, that little child. His face is many colors. He lives on every continent. His eyes still plead. “Come, love me, and share with me. Teach me faith in Jesus. Baptize me. Disciple me. Fulfill the commission of Christ!”
Dawn and Jerry there are adults, youth and children in our world who are waiting to be taught about the love, grace and mercy of God, which was lived out in the life of Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son. You have been well trained in this White Pine Community United Methodist Church.
Now go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!