Thinking Christian

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Jesus’ Final Words: Matthew 28

Posted on Feb 16, 2013 by Tom Gilson

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Jesus' First and Last Words

The Great Commission

And Jesus came and said to [his disciples], “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.”

Churches and mission organizations (including the one in which I have spent my whole adult life) take these closing words of Matthew as a calling to share the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone, everywhere. We call it the Great Commission.

The Source of Authority

The more I reflect on it, the greater it is. Sometimes Christians get bad press for invading other cultures with our beliefs. Where do we get the right to do that? The answer is here: All authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus Christ, and by that authority he commanded us to go. So we go.

But that needs unpacking. “How did Jesus get that authority?” you might ask. Jesus is qualified. He is and was God from all eternity, creator of all that exists. He entered into that creation as a human. He lived a perfect life. He faced creation’s greatest danger, death itself, and overcame it. What else could you ask for in a set of qualifications?

Authority and Submission

As God he had all rights of rulership, and yet it says “authority … has been given to me.” I’m going to suggest there is something further here to be learned about authority and hierarchy. The three Persons of the Godhead, Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit, are equal in every way, yet they have different roles. Throughout the book of John, for example, Jesus speaks of submitting to the Father. The Father sends the Holy Spirit. The Father clearly holds authority that the Son and Spirit do not.

Sometimes we chafe at the idea that someone else is in charge: “I’m as good as he is!” You very well might be just as competent or even more so; and you’re certainly possess the same human worth. Hierarchy in human institutions is never perfect, but the fault is in our humanness, not in hierarchy itself. The Son and the Spirit can be in submission to the Father in a completely perfect hierarchical relationship.

I take it, then, that to have a boss or a leader over me is no reflection itself on my worth as a human being. It’s a reflection instead of the way things naturally are under God.

Good Authority

Yet I still wouldn’t blame a non-believer for being taken aback at Jesus’ authority claims. He may have the legal qualifications, but would I want one person running the show for everyone? Doesn’t authority usually mean lording it over everyone else? It’s another good question, and for the answer I’ll take you to a famous passage in Paul’s letters. In this section he applies what I was just talking about, the principle of hierarchy, in which to be a leader does not make one more important than another person. In this context, Eph. 5:25, 28-29, it is the husband to whom he speaks:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,

Jesus himself had told these same disciples, just a few weeks earlier, that to lead is to serve (Matt.20:20-28, Luke 21:24-27).

Instruction For Everyone

So it is that Christians go, under the delegated authority and instruction of Jesus Christ, “baptizing” people in the name of the Three-Person God. The baptizing is not the point, of course; Jesus uses that as synecdoche for the whole process of coming into full relationship with Christ himself and with his people, the Church of which he is the head. We go with instructions to pass along his teachings to everyone: not only that they would learn them but that they would do them.

Which is exactly how each of us who is now a believer came to be one: we are, each of us, the latest link in a centuries-long chain of persons passing along Jesus’ teaching and instruction.

Good News For Everyone

And I will forever be grateful for everyone who has gone before me in obedience to the Great Commission. The message they carried was not only good instruction, it was also the best news of all time. Jesus Christ, the Lord of all reality, came as a man to earth and died for me. He rescued me from a helpless fallen state and gave me life. Learning that was an infinitely better thing than anything else that has ever happened to me.

We’re all in this together. Everyone, in every corner of the world, is in that same helpless fallen condition. The new life in Christ is good news for every person in every culture: Western, European, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, tribal, Buddhist — everyone without exception.

Great News Carried By Ordinary People

We know that this is controversial. We recognize that not everyone agrees. I literally tremble at the thought that I might be conveying an attitude that as a Christian I am superior to others. Heaven forbid, and God help me if I’m communicating that! No, I’m not better; I’ve just been given the opportunity to carry some great news that’s important for everyone.

Jesus Christ is better than any other person. I have no hesitancy saying that; in fact, I insist on it! But the rest of us are all in the same condition: we need a living relationship with Christ, and we need to follow him, in order to be rescued from death and experience God’s best.

And so we go: under authority, with that delegated authority, knowing that the good news we have learned and experienced is good for every person.

 

 

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28 Responses to “ Jesus’ Final Words: Matthew 28 ”

  1. Larry Tanner says:

    From the OP:

    Sometimes Christians get bad press for invading other cultures with our beliefs. Where do we get the right to do that? The answer is here: All authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus Christ, and by that authority he commanded us to go. So we go.

    I find this greatly disturbing. Neither I nor anyone else has reason to accept your assertion that Jesus Christ holds authority. As a Jew, I was taught the reasons Jesus was a false messiah. As an atheist I understand that the claim to authority has virtually nothing to do with evidence but most everything to do with political and moral entitlement. Hence, the “bad press” Christians get for invading is the correct press.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, I’m sure you disagree. That’s not news.

    You have your beliefs, and your beliefs have their implications. We have our beliefs, and our beliefs have their implications.

    I think you are wrong. You think I am wrong. We will not settle that here.

    Nevertheless, the news about Jesus Christ is very good news, and worth telling the world—even if you think otherwise. For us to keep it to ourselves would be very selfish indeed.

  3. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom,

    OK, then. That actually sounds pretty good, so I hope you are equally supportive of those spreading the very good news that God doesn’t exist and Jesus was neither God’s son nor a prophet.

  4. SteveK says:

    Apologies for the snarky comment that I just deleted.

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Supportive? I very heartily support your right to do that, even as I do all I can to persuade you and others that there is much, much better news than that, which also has the virtue of being true.

  6. Victoria says:

    @Tom
    Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts. (Zechariah 4:6).

    I’ve girded myself for battle (Ephesians 6:10-20), so bring it on Larry :), and when the dust settles, we will see who is still standing. Answer, Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-11); everyone will be kneeling, those of us who have chosen His side in the here and now, in grateful praise and in celebration of the hard-won victory and everlasting joy, others who have rejected Him in the here and now, in utter defeat and eternal regrets and shame.

    The evidence for Who Christ is, which you dismiss, is precisely what God will be holding you to account for.

  7. Larry Tanner says:

    Victoria,

    I’ve always found the spiritual warfare thing to be creepy and undignified.

    No one’s going to be held accountable in any afterlife. That whole idea is without merit.

    We’re all far better off reading and quoting Shakespeare or Thomas Middleton than the Bible. More relevant, more wisdom, more passion, more life.

    But I do wish that you will some day feel confident and secure enough to embrace reality without allegiance to God, Jesus, Christianity or any dogma. I wish you peace.

  8. Victoria says:

    @Larry
    And I do hope (and pray) that you will find what we have :)

    And that spiritual warfare thing, the fact that you dismiss it, puts you at a severe disadvantage, both tactically and strategically, since you do not know Whom you are fighting against, nor do you even know who it is that has taken you prisoner, and whose work you are doing for him – you are just cannon fodder for him.

    We on the other hand, serve the Living God, and have His indwelling Spirit, and when the time comes, like a Roman army, we will fight as one. We are already doing it here. We are united in ways that you cannot see.

  9. Larry Tanner says:

    Victoria,

    I don’t dismiss spiritual warfare at all, and so I am not disadvantaged. I simply hold it in low regard. You’re play acting, conceiving yourself as a warrior in a great and glorious struggle. To me, this seems ultimately a fruitless and potentially destructive view, to say nothing of false.

    Your last comments keep trying to caricature my position. I don’t dismiss God or Jesus. Neither to I reject them. Nor do I dismiss spiritual warfare. On the contrary, I embrace these things as they are for what they are.

    Appeal as you wish to service of “the Living God,” but it’s plain to all that God is not your master. You are his.

  10. BillT says:

    “…I hope you are equally supportive of those spreading the very good news that God doesn’t exist…”

    So it’s good news that not only my life but every life ever lived has no real significance whatsoever. That we are all just “sound and fury signifying nothing”. That love and beauty and friendship and loyalty and courage are are no different than hate and ugliness and enmity and treason and cowardice. For a world without God is a world with no real past and no real future. Just a sad little rock with a short lived species trying vainly to be something other than what they are. Good news indeed.

  11. Larry Tanner says:

    BillT,

    Do you think a generally poor and sour attitude on life accounts for the need to cling to whichever of the Christianities you do?

  12. Tom Gilson says:

    Wow. I’ve gotta hand it to you, Larry, that was one powerfully nifty rhetorical maneuver. Quick, sharp, cutting, pithy.

    I’m on my mobile so I won’t say much more. On the other hand, it probably doesn’t deserve more. It’s nothing but a jab, lacking substance, lacking worth. But I don’t want that to take anything away from its rhetorical skill. If only rhetorical skill were what really counted…

  13. SteveK says:

    Do you think a generally poor and sour attitude on life accounts for the need to cling to whichever of the Christianities you do?

    Your wife is a Christian, Larry, how does she respond to this question?

  14. bigbird says:

    If only rhetorical skill were what really counted…

    Plato said all that was ever needed to be said on rhetorical skill :)

  15. bigbird says:

    We’re all far better off reading and quoting Shakespeare or Thomas Middleton than the Bible. More relevant, more wisdom, more passion, more life.

    Ironically, you can’t fully appreciate Shakespeare without a thorough knowledge of the Bible.

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    There never could have been a Shakespeare (or a Goethe or a Milton or a Donne or even a Voltaire) without the Bible.

    There have been great writers without the Bible, of course, in cultures flung far across the world. Their messages were not the messages that came out of the Christian West, of course.

    Now, I think I could mount an argument that in their greatness they too were “reading” the knowledge of God through God’s common grace. I won’t take anyone’s time with that right now.

  17. BillT says:

    Larry,

    Your obvious pithiness aside, no. Perhaps you could describe the “… generally poor and sour attitude on life…” you are referring to and just who demonstrates such an attitude? That is unless this sad little red herring (and that’s giving it more credit than it deserves) is the best you can do.

  18. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Larry Tanner:

    I simply hold it in low regard. You’re play acting, conceiving yourself as a warrior in a great and glorious struggle. To me, this seems ultimately a fruitless and potentially destructive view, to say nothing of false.

    Victoria is not play acting, but rather repeating and using on her own terms an oft-used metaphor. The image of Christians as athletes (Victoria is a marathonist) or soldiers is repeated several times in the scriptures. St. Paul alone does it several times. This depiction goes on through all the typically Christian literature. For just one example, here is the Desert Fathers, from the anonymous series, no. 11:

    A brother asked an old man, ‘How can I be saved?’ The latter took off his habit, girded his loins and raised his hands to heaven, saying, ‘So should the monk be: denuded of all the things of this world, and crucified. In the contest, the athlete fights with his fists; in his thoughts, the monk stands, his arms stretched out in the form of a cross to heaven, calling on God. The athlete stands naked when fighting in a contest; the monk stands naked and stripped of all things, anointed with oil and taught by his master to fight. So God leads us to victory.’

    You are certainly entitled to your “low” opinion; but since your opinion only makes sense if Christianity is false, why exactly should any Christian here care about it?

  19. Crude says:

    But I do wish that you will some day feel confident and secure enough to embrace reality without allegiance to God, Jesus, Christianity or any dogma. I wish you peace.

    No dogma but yours, eh Larry? ;)

    Nothing quite as rank as faux sincerity to mask a middle finger. Nothing quite as amateur either.

    Larry, I hope someday you feel strong enough to leave behind your sins and insecurities and finally open your heart to God. I have faith that, not so much with your effort but by God’s grace, the rot in your heart can be shaken and healed. I’ll keep you in my prayers.

    See? A backhanded insult, layered over with syrup. It’s not very difficult (pretty banal, really, when either I do it or you) nor is it very insightful.

    But really, Larry – build whatever psychological walls you need to. If sneering, snark and passive aggression is what you need to get you through the day, hey… sad, but if that’s how you cope, that’s how you cope.

    (I await now the predictable objection that you embrace none of these things, you just… recognize how droll it all is, or how you only wish to help or any other excuse that obscures your weakness on this front.)

  20. Larry Tanner says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    since your opinion only makes sense if Christianity is false, why exactly should any Christian here care about it?

    Because I am asserting that the martial metaphor–and I do not accept the attempt to ramp the metaphor down to benign athleticism–is not only fruitless but destructive. The warrior/warfare conception seeks conflict, sees it absolutely everywhere, and allows no peer engagement with others, especially unlike-minded others.

    Crude: Read more carefully. I am not against dogma, yours or mine. I am against being a slave to dogma. But you seem to have anticipated this answer.

    Where to go, then? Well, I’m interested that you seem to think that to “get through the day” I need “sneering, snark and passive aggression” (BTW, what is it with you folks and sneering? It seems to be a favorite characterization of anyone who isn’t impressed with Christianity, as if one can only reject Christianity in a mean and mocking way.).

    What interests me is the expression ‘getting through the day.’ That seems like a terrible way to live, if one is only getting through. Personally, I tend to be optimistic about each day and tend to look forward to them.

    But remember how this thread started, with someone proclaiming Christians had the absolute and sole authority to go preach the ‘good news’ wherever and whenever they feel like it. Christians have the authority and mandate, and those savages and poor unwashed saps without the gospel need to get their minds right–and to drop all those silly superstitions they might hold.

    Maybe it seems sneering to be uncomfortable with what seems to me unwarranted arrogance and entitlement, but at least Tom agrees that those of us who do not share the view that Christianity is ‘good news’ may go ahead and preach the gospel of reality to you.

  21. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Larry Tanner:

    Because I am asserting that the martial metaphor–and I do not accept the attempt to ramp the metaphor down to benign athleticism–is not only fruitless but destructive.

    Let me put this in terms that even you can comprehend. I do not care about your assertions, because they presuppose the falsity of Christianity. If Christianity is true then Christians, all Christians, are soldiers and athletes, period.

    And as a matter of objective fact the two images are used (e.g. St Paul does it), Christians as athletes and soldiers, so whether you accept the “benign ramping down” or fail to accept it is, once again, quite irrelevant. And the reason why both imagery is used is quite simple: to convey different truths.

    But remember how this thread started, with someone proclaiming Christians had the absolute and sole authority to go preach the ‘good news’ wherever and whenever they feel like it.

    No, that was your misreading of the OP that you then used as an excuse to beat on your chest, take the moral high ground and preach your gospel.

  22. Larry Tanner says:

    G. Rodrigues:

    If Christianity is true then Christians, all Christians, are soldiers and athletes, period.

    Non-sequiturs be damned!

    Here’s the OP

    Sometimes Christians get bad press for invading other cultures with our beliefs. Where do we get the right to do that? The answer is here: All authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus Christ, and by that authority he commanded us to go. So we go.

    Please tell me more about my misreading. Please tell me how this is not a mandate to: (1) Personally accept some brand of Christianity as true, and (2) Impose it on whomever you want, wherever you want, regardless of their thoughts on the matter.

  23. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Larry Tanner:

    I have very little patience for people that want to score a point on the holier-than-thou scale. You want to shadowbox the cliche of the Christian, sword in hand, converting the world by force? Be my guest; do not let reality stand in the way.

  24. SteveK says:

    …as if one can only reject Christianity in a mean and mocking way.

    There are other ways, but if the shoe fits.

    …Impose it on whomever you want, wherever you want, regardless of their thoughts on the matter.

    *giggle*

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, believe what you will based on information you prefer to take out of context.

    You wrote,

    Here’s the OP [Note from Tom: No, this is not the OP. It is a snippet of the OP out of context….]

    Sometimes Christians get bad press for invading other cultures with our beliefs. Where do we get the right to do that? The answer is here: All authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus Christ, and by that authority he commanded us to go. So we go.

    Please tell me more about my misreading. Please tell me how this is not a mandate to: (1) Personally accept some brand of Christianity as true, and (2) Impose it on whomever you want, wherever you want, regardless of their thoughts on the matter.

    The answer is contained in the rest of the OP. Read it.

    I have no hesitancy to accept biblical Christianity as true. I have no hesitancy in expressing its truth to others who are willing to listen. I do not “impose” it on people who do not want to listen. I do not force anyone to accept it.

    And I don’t appreciate one bit the way you’re imposing your false view of Christianity on this forum, you self-righteous hypocrite! Don’t you see what’s going on? If it’s wrong for us to accept a belief and express it here, why is it okay for you to distort a belief and express that here?

  26. Crude says:

    Read more carefully. I am not against dogma, yours or mine. I am against being a slave to dogma.

    Larry, stop trying so desperately to appear thoughtful and witty – it’s not serving you well. Yes, you denounced dogma. Snottily, with faux concern to mask a middle finger. If it doesn’t sit well with you now, don’t pretend others have reading comprehension problems. Admit you were either wrong, or that you have writing skill problems. Or hey, both. That’d put you on the road to embracing reality, in small part.

    Where to go, then? Well, I’m interested that you seem to think that to “get through the day” I need “sneering, snark and passive aggression” (BTW, what is it with you folks and sneering? It seems to be a favorite characterization of anyone who isn’t impressed with Christianity, as if one can only reject Christianity in a mean and mocking way.).

    No, one can reject it in a variety of ways. But you were sneering and mocking – more ‘people’ than Christianity – and so you were called out for it.

    As for whether or not you need sneering, snark and passive aggression to get through the day, well, it seems to be the case. Naturally you’ll insist you don’t. Hey, maybe you rely on it for other reasons. But please don’t suggest you don’t engage in it, when the reality’s just too plain to see on this front.

    But remember how this thread started, with someone proclaiming Christians had the absolute and sole authority to go preach the ‘good news’ wherever and whenever they feel like it.

    …which has since morphed to…

    Please tell me more about my misreading. Please tell me how this is not a mandate to: (1) Personally accept some brand of Christianity as true, and (2) Impose it on whomever you want, wherever you want, regardless of their thoughts on the matter.

    Larry, how about you do us the favor of explaining how 2 is evident? Really, double down on your lack of reading comprehension and your paranoia – put it on display for all to see.

    Maybe it seems sneering to be uncomfortable with what seems to me unwarranted arrogance and entitlement, but at least Tom agrees that those of us who do not share the view that Christianity is ‘good news’ may go ahead and preach the gospel of reality to you.

    Ah, the lack of self-awareness. I love that in the very same sentence you whimper about arrogance and entitlement – and then turn around and cast yourself as being in possession of ‘the gospel of reality’. You know, as opposed to everyone who disagrees with you. No arrogance or entitlement there, no sir!

    Larry, you don’t have the gospel of reality in your hands, in your heart, or in your mind. But hey, enjoy that counterfeit.

    You know. Whatever gets you through the day. ;)

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, you say,

    The warrior/warfare conception seeks conflict, sees it absolutely everywhere, and allows no peer engagement with others, especially unlike-minded others.

    Does this characterize every actual warrior? Does it characterize the U.S. Marine Corps? Or the army of every single nation? Or have you perhaps distorted the warrior metaphor?

    The warrior/warfare conception is equally able, and in real life is far more likely, to see conflict in as few places as possible but to be ready for it where it actually exists.

    BTW, I have sat with U.S. Air Force officers in meetings with peers from other nations.

  28. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry finds it odd we’re characterizing this as sneering.

    OK, then. That actually sounds pretty good, so I hope you are equally supportive of those spreading the very good news that God doesn’t exist and Jesus was neither God’s son nor a prophet.

    You’re play acting, conceiving yourself as a warrior in a great and glorious struggle…. Appeal as you wish to service of “the Living God,” but it’s plain to all that God is not your master. You are his.

    Do you think a generally poor and sour attitude on life accounts for the need to cling to whichever of the Christianities you do?

    Non-sequiturs be damned!

    Please tell me how this is not a mandate to: … (2) Impose it on whomever you want, wherever you want, regardless of their thoughts on the matter.

    Perhaps “sneering” does not technically describe your attitude, Larry. But I thought you might be interested to know that I did a back-end search of comments on this blog, and in the past twelve months the word “sneer” was used by:

    – Atheist/skeptic Michael Powell on February 6,

    – Myself on last October 12 and July 26,

    – Mike Gene on April 15, and

    – Atheist/Skeptic Hiero5ant last March 12 and March 9.

    I omitted a couple of comments in which others quoted those instances and replied to them.

    So what is it with you accusing Christians thus:

    (BTW, what is it with you folks and sneering? It seems to be a favorite characterization of anyone who isn’t impressed with Christianity, as if one can only reject Christianity in a mean and mocking way.)

    Where’s your evidence that this really characterizes “us folks” differently than anyone else?

    Now here’s the point. You’re probably not seeing my answer here in this way, but this is what I’m after with it. I’m not trying to score points, though I’m aware that there is some of that going on. It’s a necessary step on the path toward where I’m really headed, and what really counts: I’m inviting you to look in a mirror. I’m inviting you at the same time to engage with us as peers, or rather as human beings. You have stereotyped us (“What is it with you folks and sneering?”) without any basis in fact. You have mischaracterized the warrior metaphor. You have taken part of my post out of context and distorted its meaning by doing so.

    Please look in the mirror: Is this the way you want to be? Really? Or would you rather try to understand what another human being is saying before you jump all over it with criticism? I would think the latter would be more attractive to you.

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