8 April 2015

Matthew 28:16-20

"Go ... and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (v. 19)

Psalm: Psalm 105


At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus bids his disciples farewell, but with carefully thought-out orders. The turmoil in Jerusalem, following the events of Easter week and afterwards, has driven the disciples back to their provincial homes in Galilee. Are they to pause a while then return to Jerusalem? No, indeed they are not. The command is to go and make disciples of all nations.

Is this a project whose aim is to make every human being, regardless of nationality, a disciple of Christ? Or does this statement mean that the Christian mission is to the entire world - no nation is excluded from it? Like John Wesley's memorable saying, "The world is my parish", these words can be taken either way. An Anglican parish priest holds what is called "the cure of souls" - responsibility for ministering to anyone in need in the parish. It is a responsibility that, tragically, has cost some their lives.

But Jesus goes on in Matthew's account of events, to issue an even more remarkable order - baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. To a modern eye this looks like the first recorded statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, by none other than Jesus himself. But that doctrine was being argued about long after the Gospel was written, and didn't take its final form until centuries later. There are clear signs elsewhere in the New Testament that this uniquely Christian insight into the nature of God was still very much a work in progress.

This is not the place to argue the case one way or the other. Suffice it to say that for Matthew, the objective was to make disciples from all nations. Until this point only the 12 (now the 11) were 'disciples'. (Read Acts 1:12-26 to see how the 11 became 12 again.) From now on the door would be open and the welcome mat rolled out for all to be baptised and join them.

To Ponder

  • We prefer to take on projects whose end-point we can see. How big is your vision of God's call for you?
  • Jesus' command was to go forward, not to work only in familiar territory or rely on established good practice. Are you ready for that?
  • When God invites us into fellowship God always gives us room to say no and walk away, but God still loves us. As you respond to God's call for you, are you ready to watch people walk away, but still love them?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr John Ogden

John Ogden spent most of his life (he is now in his late 70s) teaching Computer Science in the universities of Glasgow and Reading. A local preacher since 1964, he served the Reading and Silchester Circuit as a circuit steward in the 1980s, then candidated for (non-stipendiary) ministry.