“The Great Commission” Sermon by Rev. Patrick P. Augustine on Trinity Sunday, June 19, 201, at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin.


Matthew 28: 16-20
The Great Commission
On a mountainside, the risen Christ appeared before his disciples. He 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, and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
These instructions of Jesus to his disciples have been called the Great Commission. The scene begins on a mountain, just as several other stories about Jesus with his disciples were on a mountain. The temptations; the sermon on the Mount; the transfiguration; the final discourse on the Mount of Olives; and now here on the mountain Jesus gives the Great Commission to his apostles. In the Old Testament we read stories of Moses and Elijah who met the living God on a mountain. The mountain is often used in the Bible to designate a meeting with God.
I want us to understand in which context, time and history Jesus delivered these words of Great Commission. The sentiments of Jewish authorities were not favorable to Jesus’ movement. Palestine was ruled by the Romans. The dominant religion in the Roman Empire was emperor worship. Tiberius Caesar was the ruler from A.D. 14-37. Romans were hostile to the early Christian Church. In 70 A.D. Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans and the Temple was destroyed. It was into this world, that Jesus commissioned his disciples. Jesus qualifies his call to the disciples with one of the most crucial statements that he ever made:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
We have several other statements in the Gospel about Jesus’ authority:
1. Authority to forgive sins (Luke 5:20; 7:48).
2. Authority to mediate to the Father (1 Tim. 2:5).
3. Authority to send the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26).
4. Authority to open the hearts and minds of His people (Luke 24:45).
5. Authority to reveal the Father (Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22).
6. Authority to give eternal life to whom He chooses (John 10:27-28).
7. Authority to raise us up on the last day (John 6:40).

And he closes his statement with a promise:
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
The Great Commission’s instruction to obey everything that Christ has commanded springs from the Great Commandment, which the Great Commission therefore incorporates. Earlier in the gospel a Pharisee asked Jesus this question: “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’” (Matthew 22: 36-40). The love of God and of our neighbor impels us to engage in mission and evangelism to share the good news about the person of Jesus Christ. This love, which is the basis of evangelism, moves the Christian church to reach out into the world with the message of the good news of the gospel. Everything the early church “was called to be and do in its worship, witness, fellowship, and service was infused and informed by evangelism” (Dunnam, 1992, p.2). Today, in the 21st century, when we hear these words of Great Commission we see that evangelism is God’s work which he is calling on us to do. How much we are willing to accept this responsibility is a measure of our commitment to Jesus Christ and to God’s commandments [1].
When we study the annals of the history of the world our attention is drawn to the peculiar and radical nature of the new faith in that setting: how enormous a transformation of thought, sensibility, culture, morality, and spiritual imagination Christianity constituted in the age of pagan Rome; the liberation it offered from fatalism, cosmic despair, and the terror of occult agencies; the immense dignity it conferred upon the human person; its subversion against the cruelest aspects of pagan society; its (alas, only partial) demystification of political power; its ability to create moral community where none had existed before; and its elevation of active charity above all other virtues.[2] That is the impact of evangelism on human society as it was and as it is now.
Christians in the early church did not only preach the gospel but they lived it. Tertullian, a Church Father in the second century writes:
We do have our money-box, contributed to by those who wish, and who are able, once a month. The money is used to help the poor, orphaned children, the old, the shipwrecked, Christians sent to forced-labor in the mines, or exiled to islands, or shut up in prison. This is why people say of us, “See how these Christians love one another!”
This was even noticed by the persecutors of the church. In 362 A.D., the anti-Christian Roman Emperor, Julian, complained:
These Christians feed not only their own poor, but ours as well, while no one in need looks to the temples.”[3]

The same spirit led Mother Teresa to go to pick up dying human beings from the gutters of Calcutta and give them dignity as children of God.
It was Christian nuns who opened the first leprosy centers in the Islamic militant country of Pakistan. The Church of Pakistan in the Northwest Frontiers today continues to treat in their hospitals the wounded Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who even threaten to kill Christians in Pakistan.
It is this gospel which compelled Bishop Tutu to stand in solidarity with the suffering people of South Africa to raise their voices to end the apartheid.
Why? Because the followers of Jesus are commissioned by their Lord and Savior to tell the good news of the Gospel to the sin sick humanity. It is the call of Jesus:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.
There are still millions of individuals and thousands of peoples who have never yet even heard the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the good news of what God has done through his cross and resurrection for the salvation of the world. Millions still wait for any portion of the Word of God to exist in their mother tongue. God depends on you and me to carry his mission to the ends of the world. The earth, of course is a global society that has no “ends.” From missional perspective, “the ends of the earth” are as likely to be found in your own street as they are far across the sea.[4] Evangelism should not be a frightening word for us. C. H. Spurgeon said, “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread.” Our world needs to know “where that bread is.” Jesus is the bread of life.
[1] Claude E. Payne & Hamilton Beazley, Reclaiming The Great Commission, Jossey-Bass, 2000, p.19
[2] David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions, The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, Yale University Press, New Haven &London 2009, p.11-Introduction.
[3] John Foster, The First Advance AD 29-500
[4] Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People, Zondervan, 2010. Pp. 286-

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