When Jesus rose from the dead, it was only the beginning of a new story. Jesus was starting a revolution that would sweep over the whole world. His message of forgiveness, love, and hope for a new life had to be shared with all the peoples of earth.
But Jesus was going to leave the earth, and finish his work through regular people, starting with his disciples. He was going to send the Holy Spirit to work through fallible human beings, to create a new community in the world - the Church. They would be responsible for carrying on what Jesus started, so he had to prepare them for what would come next.
In Matthew 28, Jesus gives his disciples The Great Commission. It’s the task that the Christian Church has to this very day. What did Jesus tell his disciples before he ascended to heaven? [read the following numbers out loud as a list]
- “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:8). Jesus was more powerful than Caesar, or any emperor the world would ever see. No matter what challenges his followers faced on earth, Jesus assured them that he had all authority over everything in heaven and on earth.
- “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations [...] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus told his small band of disciples to go and spread the message, and expand their movement. Their mission was for all nations, not just their own people but every family of the world. The mission would be complete when the whole learned had learned how to live in the way of Jesus. He was going for an empire to end all empires.
- “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The disciples would need to baptize people. As people descended into the water and rose from it, they would symbolically join the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This was not just a mission about morality or a lifestyle - this was about the supernatural power of God bringing new life to a dying world. This Kingdom was based on the truth that Jesus died and rose again - defeating death on behalf of humanity.
- “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus promised his followers that he would be with them until the end of the world. He would do this through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Look at your own spiritual journey. Has it been based on this commission? Do you see your daily life fulfilling this calling? Have you shaped your hopes and dreams for your life around this commission?
Jesus said Go tell the world, but many Christians are afraid to speak out, or unsure how to say it. But following Jesus is most fulfilling when we share Jesus. For Christians, true spiritual fulfillment is only complete when we live our lives to see the Kingdom of God fulfilled in the whole world. We have all been given a cause to fight for - to bring new life to the people around us through the power, message, and love of Jesus. The question is, will you step up to your calling?
- The story of Jesus doesn't end with his death or even resurrection. In many ways, it is just getting started. What are the things that Jesus tells them they ought to do in Matthew 28:18-20? What tasks are they supposed to do?
- The last line of Matthew is Jesus telling his disciples that he will be with them forever. But how will he go about doing this, if he is ascending to heaven? Read John 14:15-31. How does this explain Jesus' continued support for and presence among his disciples?
- In this passage, does Jesus identify himself as the Holy Spirit, or are they different entities?
- Look also at John 15:26-16:33. What details does this add to understanding of Jesus' plan for his disciples after his departure?
- Look again at the Matthew 28 commission and compare it to Acts 1:1-11. What is the geographical/national scope of Jesus' commission? Who do the disciples think his kingdom is for? How does Jesus respond to their expectation? What similarities and differences in instruction do you seem between Matthew 28 and Acts 1?
- What have you done in your life to follow the instructions given in the great commission? Who have you led to Christ? And if there are areas where you've struggled to follow through with it, what are those areas? What is difficult about making disciples?