Matthew 28:19a

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations

New International Version
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I rarely write a scripture reflection on half of a verse, but I feel compelled to write about the basics of what we as Christians are to do and to focus tightly on three big concepts delivered through these eight words.

The first concept is “make disciples.” Jesus told His students, to encourage other people to become students of Jesus. We need to remember that the twelve disciples Jesus selected were unlikely candidates to be any rabbi’s students. We also need to remember that those hearing Jesus speak these words had been lousy students up to this point, even abandoning and denying their Teacher just weeks before. So Jesus is telling them to find more poorly prepared students that would likely fall behind in their studies.

Harvard University has a 5% acceptance rate. Jesus has a 100% acceptance rate.

Let’s consider again the poor performance of the disciples in attendance at Jesus’ ascension, and remember that Matthew 28:17 tells us that even as they stood on that mountain “some doubted.” Jesus was not calling this group of followers to be rabbis and teachers, but to invite and encourage others to seek Him. In time, some of those on this mountain would be preachers, some would be teachers, some would be activists, but all of them and all of us are called to encourage every person to listen for Jesus to speak to them.

The second concept is to “go… [to] all nations.” Let’s look at the Greek words translated as “all” and “nations” so we understand what Jesus said and not what these words mean in contemporary geopolitics. The word for “all” is pas and it means “each and every individual.” The word for “nation” is ethnos and it means “any group of people living together.” In some writings, ethnos means “the human family,” and Paul’s writings often used this word to inclusively reference Gentiles. This concept ignores political boundaries, social divisions, economic barriers, and political and philosophical differences. “Every person” means every person.

Jesus wants us to encourage every person to be a student of His. This is our mission statement.

If we believe that our mission is to encourage every person to be a student of Jesus, then anything we do that discourages someone from being a student of Jesus is not following our mission.

When we promote division, we work against our mission statement. When we align with organizations that dehumanize others based on their ethnicity or language or skin color or economic status, we are tearing down what we should be building up. When we choose what we think will be the “winning” side in a conflict, we fail to carry out what Jesus commanded us to do. When we treat those who serve us as less than a unique work of art by our Creator, we betray our calling. When we allow political parties or national interests or denominational infighting or any other group that benefits from luring people to fight with each other to influence our Christian practices, we are turning our backs on the One who intentionally opens His Kingdom to pas ethnos. You cannot encourage division and obey Jesus.

The third concept can be summarized nicely by a proverb I read this week that said, “a sound tree doesn’t have bad roots.” We can’t build a healthy Christian relationship, community, or movement on divisiveness or deceit or by ignoring those evil attitudes. Think of it this way. We are to be students of Jesus, encouraging those we meet to be students, too, and our responsibilities as students are to listen, to learn, and to obey. Just as there are those who use divisions to build up their movement quickly, there are others who compromise beliefs to build up their movement with less effort. We can’t compromise our love for God and our love for each other — those two great commandments Jesus taught — in order to avoid conflict and perpetuate a foolish hope for unity among disciples. Just as we are to encourage others to become students like we are, we are to encourage others to grow as students of Jesus and encourage them to put aside hatred and evil that would impair and reverse their growth as disciples. God’s love in us compels us to encourage everyone to grow in love and grow closer to Jesus. Notice the word I used is “encourage,” not “judge,” because that’s what Jesus taught us to do.

For me, pondering our mission given to us in this half verse means I need to forgive some organizations whose actions decades ago shook my beliefs and challenged my sense of what is right. It has been much easier for me to write off and condemn groups that have made decisions that I know were wrong than it would have been to recognize the human frailty of those organizations and pray for their repentance and healing. I chose to embrace a division to separate me from those organizations, but God isn’t letting me keep hiding behind that division. It is time for me to grow in grace and love and to respond to past wrongs with patience, forgiveness, and encouragement. I need my love for God to be greater than my dislike for those with who I disagree. If I am faithful to my mission, I know that God can heal me and heal them, too.

JM

Scripture passages from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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