Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “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 lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
Christ is Risen!
Yesterday, we examined the account of the Resurrection from the Gospel of Matthew. Today, we will discuss the last few verses of the Gospel of Matthew, which include two verses, 19-20, known as the “Great Commission.” It is believed that this commission was given to the Disciples immediately prior to the Ascension, though the Ascension of Christ is not mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel.
This Gospel passage is read at every baptism in the Orthodox Church. Every baptized Orthodox Christian is given the same commission as the original Disciples—to go, make disciples of all nations, baptize them, and teach them all that we have learned from Christ. There are four specific verbs in the Great Commission—to go, make, baptize, and teach. These four things are the responsibility of every Orthodox Christian, not just the clergy.
The idea of making disciples is something that is foreign to many Christians. We think about our personal responsibility to attend church, but we don’t think about the responsibility given to us to bring others to Christ and to the church. We have to ask ourselves some critical questions—do we believe it is a commandment of Christ that the Church should grow? Do we believe that we have a personal responsibility to bring others to Christ? And are we ourselves good disciples, able to bring people to Christ based on how we are modeling our own Christianity? These are three tough questions.
There is no doubt that the answer to the first two questions is YES. Yes, it is a commandment of Christ that the church should grow. There is no other way to interpret the Great Commission. If each Church is supposed to be growing, we have to ask ourselves how can the Church grow? This happens with the zeal of the members of the church community. If they are filled with Christ, others will notice and “come.” And if they are bold enough to share Christ with others, to GO and to share who Christ is with others, then others will notice and “come.” Churches do not grow when the members do not radiate the example of Christ, or when the people of the church do not feel compelled to talk about Christ with others.
The concept of discipleship is generally foreign to Orthodox Christianity. Other churches are good at it. And certainly without any sense of discipleship, we wouldn’t even have a church today. There is an expectation that each member will lead others to Christ.
As for the third question, are you a good disciple, that can only be answered by each individual person. If you are actively seeking to lead others to Christ, then you are a good disciple. If you are learning the faith, with the intention of eventually leading others to Christ, then you are a good disciple. If you do not know the faith and are not seeking to deepen the faith you have, you will not be in a position to ever bring others to Christ. It would be hard to consider someone like this to be a good disciple.
One of the comforting aspects of this short passage is in the first verse—as Jesus went up the mountain with His disciples, they worshipped Him but some doubted. They didn’t doubt enough that they didn’t worship or that they left. They had doubt but they also had a stick-to-itiveness, which inspired them to stay.
There is nothing wrong with doubt. In fact, doubting is very human. It is important to say that while working through doubts while getting to know who Christ is, it is important to keep showing up for worship. It is important to continue to pray and worship, even in times when doubts are heavy. Because once we work through our doubts, we are still with the church and ready to have our faith strengthened.
Going back to the Great Commission, this is one of the most important passages of scripture because it is the call to make disciples that is given to EVERY Christian person. It is also given to every Christian church. Churches that fail to make disciples, that fail to bring people to Christ, they fail.
When the disciples had gone up onto the mountain for His Ascension from earth, the Lord stood by and they worshipped Him. And, having been instructed in the universal power which was given to them, they were sent to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Resurrection from the dead and His return to heaven. He, Christ, God and Savior of our souls, also promised them to be with them forever. (Eothinon Doxastikon One, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press, 1991)
Think about the meaning of the word “discipleship” and ask yourself how you can be a better disciple, so that you in turn can make disciples for Christ.