Today we celebrate our one-year anniversary of living in Budapest. It’s frigid and overcast outside, which means it is still winter in Central Europe. While I am thankful for the snow I can’t help but hope for sunshine, and soon. We are both feeling a little depressed today. We miss home and wonder what the next year holds. In this melancholy state, I hit my knees desperately searching for hope and answers when I came across Matthew 28:16-20.
This passage is commonly referred to as “The Great Commission.” As missionaries, we have read this passage a thousand times before we left and re-read a couple more thousand since we’ve been here. Today, however, I am floored by a few things that either I haven’t paid much attention to or have never noticed at all.
The eleven disciples, who have been through the emotional ringer and even lost one of their own, gather at a mountain where Jesus instructed them to meet. When they see the resurrected, crucified Lord, “they worshipped him, but some doubted” (v.17). Then Jesus makes yet another dramatic statement, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (v.18). Apparently being nailed to a Roman cross didn’t soften Jesus’ flare for the controversial.
The first thing to observe is the power of Jesus and frailty of His followers. Verses 17 and 18 remind me that Jesus is still God-in-the-flesh and the disciples are still human. After laying eyes on the risen Jesus, some of the disciples break out in triumphant worship and still others have the audacity to doubt him! I can’t help but wonder which crowd I would have joined. Despite seeing God work miracles before my eyes and within my own heart, I still have trouble trusting Him. God only knows why He would call me to go overseas in the midst of the darkest season of spiritual doubt I have ever experienced.
Even so, Jesus does not rebuke the doubters or call them foolish for being skeptical of what they see. Instead He affirms his authority over all things (an incredible statement) and charges the half-believing riffraff with a worldwide rescue mission:
“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” (v.19-20).
The second observation I have so often missed deals with how one makes disciples, by “baptizing” and “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” I can say with certainty that I haven’t always taken seriously everything Jesus taught and commanded. After all, Jesus did and commanded a lot of crazy things: The casting out of demons, healing the sick, healing the lame, multiplying food resources and even raising the dead. He can’t be asking His followers today to “observe” or obey those things?
While living in Europe, I have seen God heal people on more than one occasion. The first time it happened I thought my brain would short-circuit. I didn’t have a category for “modern-day miracles.” It made me feel uncomfortable, out of control and humbled, like watching lightning strike a building and shut down all of its power. I am seeing just how important it is for God to display His power in a place like Europe, where God is by-and-large a subject to be discussed in Philosophy courses. Despite yours or my system of theology, Jesus is still empowering His followers to heal people, cast out demons and even raise the dead.
The final words of Jesus, as recorded by Matthew, are the most intimate of His commission. The promise to be “with you always, to the end of the age” is one I have clutched dearly over the past year. When my ugliness and selfishness seems too potent to have divinity anywhere near me, God is here. Regardless of my doubtful thoughts, overwhelming feelings or hateful actions, I can’t stop Jesus from being the great “I AM.” Jesus simply won’t leave me alone, and I am thankful.
Jesus’ persistence in loving us and breaking out of our boxes reminds me of a quote from CS Lewis in Surprised by Joy, so I’ll close with it.
In describing his hatred for authority, Lewis explains how he tried desperately to be a rebellious individual, to hide himself even from God...
“But Christianity placed at the center what then seemed to me a transcendental Interferer...There was no region even in the innermost depth of one’s soul (nay, there least of all) which one could surround with a barbed wire fence and guard with a notice No Admittance.”