Carriers of the Gospel

Photo by Joshua Sukoff on Unsplash

This is a sermon prepared for Sunday, October 03, 2021

Readings: Genesis 12:1–9 | Romans 1:8–16 | Epistle. 2 Tim 4:1–6 | Gospel. Matt 28:16–20

The Gospel has its roots in Genesis. Jesus was the incarnation of the enquiry of God, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9 (NIV) But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”)

The God who enquires after his creation, the one who is concerned when his own creation finds reasons to hide and remain distant, is the God who sent his own Son, the God with us, to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Photo by Steven Lasry on Unsplash

The voluntary nature of an evangelist emerges not from the free time s/he receives due to retirement, but from a commitment to seek the Lord as well as the lost and speak the good news to those who are in want of hope.

The voluntary nature of evangelism emerges from the fact that all are called but the choice to respond lies with us, just as it lay with Levi and the sons of Zebedi (Mark 2:13–14; Matthew 4:18–22).

Deep in the idea of “voluntary evangelism” lies the modernist dichotomy of the full time evangelist and a part-time evangelist. In the Bible every Christian is given the command to share the good news (Matthew 28:19–20; 2 Timothy 4:2). Christianity is giving and living the good news.

However, the idea of ‘ voluntary’ is primarily founded in God. God chose to create. God chose to redeem. God chose to incarnate and restore our relationship with him. God chose to teach us what it means to live like a human who is created by the triune God. God chose to open the doors to an eternal communion to us. In the Bible we see Jesus Christ willingly choosing to suffer torture and die on the cross. We recall this divine choice during our worship, “When the sinless, chose to suffer death by his own holy will, he took bread in his Holy hands…”

This voluntary ability to choose, or ‘volition’, is a characteristic of God. Choosing to serve God is a sign that the image of God in us is alive and the work of God has begun in us.

A closer look at the text

Matthew 28:16–20

v. 16

The eleven went to Galilee where Jesus had told them to go.

The passage begins by a crucial mention of “the eleven”. One was missing, and Matthew makes it abundantly obvious by referencing the number, which makes it clear that responding to Jesus is voluntary. However, each choice has consequences.

Every choice we make in life has consequences. Judas’ choice led him to take his own life. Therefore our choices need to be made prayerfully.

v. 17

When they saw him, some worshipped him, but some doubted.

It is noteworthy that Matthew tells us some among the eleven doubted the resurrected Jesus, while some of them worshipped. Following Jesus is surely not about what the majority does. It is not about certainty, or even reliance on your closest circle. Following Jesus and being in his presence also involves conviction on the one hand, and uncertainty/ doubts on the other hand.

Yet authority and instructions, in Matthew 28, were given to those who carried uncertainty with(in) them, and seemed to have been given a sense of purpose in order to assuage their uncertainties and doubts.

Some doubted… (Photo by Md Mahdi on Unsplash)

v. 18

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Jesus came to them and spoke.

There were doubters and there were worshippers. But he came to them all, nonetheless, and spoke to them. This is the Gospel. Jesus the Son of God, sent by the Father, came on his own will to the ones who worshipped and the ones who did not, so that they may know him, and that they may speak the good news among all the nations.

v.19–20a

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

The root word used in this verse to indicate “go” implies moving from one place to another, “with the possible implication of continuity and distance,” according to Strong’s Concordance. This is the second “go” in the passage, with the first being the one in v.16. Jesus had directed them to go to a mountain in Galilee.

Here we see that they first go to a familiar place, the place from where most of the disciples and Jesus himself came from (Galilee). Then they are asked to go to all the nations — to the ‘beyond’, to the unfamiliar, to the potentially, unfriendly, places. It is a call for a new adventure.

This sense of adventure is integral to Christian and Jewish faith both of which hark back to the call of Abraham. Genesis 12:1 says, “Wayyomer Yahweh el Abram, ‘Lekh Lekha…’” (And God said to Abraham, go /get out…”. Jewish biblical scholars and Rabbis place great importance to the “Lekh, Lekha” terminology and take it as a command to all Jews. Rabbi Jeffrey R. Salkin says that the passage, asking Abram to go/get out / go beyond (“Lekh Lekha”) implies:

  1. Adventure is an essential part of life
  2. Our mission is to be a blessing to the world
  3. To be Jewish (in our case, christian) is to know what it means to be a stranger in this world.

(Jeffrey R. Salkin, “Lekh Lekha”, Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12:1–17:27) and Haftarah (Isaiah 40:27–41:16): The JPS B’nai Mitzvah Torah Commentary (JPS Study Bible) Philadelphia/ Lincoln: The Jewish Publication Society / University of Nebraska Press, 2017)

It did not end there, they would not only proclaim the good news, but would also train those who received the message (disciple), and baptise those who wanted to be part of the family of God and instruct them everything Christ had commanded them.

Paul too received such a calling, and followed the instruction of Christ, which took him to a number of places in Asia and Europe. He says:

Romans 1:14–15 (NIV) I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

v.20b

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The end portion of the verse 20 begins with the phrase, ‘kai idou’ which means, “and, behold!” or look, or in this case, implying, “Pay attention!” or even, “listen carefully!”

However, the instruction to “look/ behold” gains importance in the light of what is said next.

The emphasis with the use of “Ego… eimi” (I … am) is clearly a word-play on the Old Testament name of God, the “I am”, which was revealed to Moses. It is a name that is revealed to Moses when he fearfully seeks to know the name of the God who sent him. It was a moment of intimacy, in which Moses asked to know the God who had called him, in a closer manner, thereby asking his name. At that point, God reveals to him that his name is “I am who I am”, and that he was to say, “I am” had sent him.

However, Jesus’ assurance to the eleven (including those who doubted and those who worshipped) is a modification on the name from “I am” to “I am with you” (Ego meth’ humōn eimi) adjoined by “all the days up to the end of the age”, which implies, the totality of his assurance, that lasts as a guarantee till the time of the completion of time, or the end of age, signifying the time of his return.

Paul points to the eventual return and judgment of Christ, and asks Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, diligently, by following the command of Christ. (2 Timothy 4: 1–6)

The injunction to look, here, coupled with “I am with you” is the statement of the revealed I am: The one who is standing with them in flesh and blood, the one whom they had touched, and experienced in person. It was this experience, along with the commandments of Christ that they had seen, which was to be carried to all the nations as the good news.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The pandemic time has brought upon us much uncertainty. A commitment to Christ seems tough when much is at stake. Yet to them, whether they doubt or worship, Jesus says go, in the Spirit of the “Lekh Lekha” call to Abraham, and do the work of an evangelist, as Paul reminds Timothy. His assurance, carried in the heart, together with the assurance of being a community of Christians, a family of God through our baptism, becomes a matter of strength, that enables us to take this journey for Christ, voluntarily — just like he chose to come down and live among us.

Conclusion

Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the longing of God to have an intimate relationship with His creation (“Where are you?”)

The voluntary nature of evangelism is not only a response to the Gospel but a mirroring of God’s posture towards his creation.

God calls even the uncertain ones, and speaks to them. He even entrusts them with the good news and instructing them to nurture those who have received him, besides gathering those who are near and far to the family of God.

The experience of God in Jesus Christ turns the knowledge of God as the “I am”, to God as the “I am with you”. The assurance becomes a conviction when one believes and sets on an adventure based on his promise, just as Abraham did (Lekh Lekha).

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Mathews George | mathewsgeorge.in

What are your thoughts? Do send comment or reply with your thoughts / additions / criticism.

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