Most of you have had to write essays at some point in your life. And if you remember what your English teacher taught you, you know that your closing paragraph is supposed to tie everything up together. Kind of a summary of what’s most important about what you’ve written for people to take away with them.
Well…this is Matthew’s closing paragraph. His summary. Here…Matthew is letting you know what’s most important about this story of Jesus…what he wants you to take away with you after you’ve read the whole thing. And I’m not really a three point sermon person….but today, I’m making an exception. Because I believe there are three things Matthew wants you to take away from his gospel in these final verses.
The first takeaway is that Matthew tells us that they worshiped him but some doubted.
Out of these closest friends…the eleven who were left of those who had followed him for years…who had risked their life to be with him….who had seen him, in the flesh, resurrected after he had died — Matthew makes it clear that still, some of them doubted. Let’s face it. This resurrection thing is nuts. It doesn’t make sense. It’s impossible. What’s happened is beyond explanation. Of course, some doubted. It would be crazy if they didn’t. We have this weird idea that doubt is the opposite of faith. People feel that somehow they are wrong if they have doubts about Jesus…about God…about all of this. But that’s completely wrongheaded. Doubt is part of faith. Because faith is all about the unseen, the unknown…doubt is only reasonable.
No, the opposite of faith is not doubt. Rather, the opposite of faith is certainty. Certainty — a certainty that I have all the answers. That I understand God fully and can tell you what is absolutely true. Certainty that I can be the judge of who is good and who is bad. That is the opposite of faith. I mean, we learned that in Genesis…in the garden, didn’t we? That was the whole forbidden fruit thing….it was Adam and Eve wanting to be like God…to judge good and evil…to be in charge…to be certain and have all the answers….that made them eat the fruit. So Matthew…after telling you the whole story of Jesus, wants you to remember you don’t know everything. And it’s okay. It’s okay to not understand. To doubt. That’s just part of this faith thing. They worshiped, but some doubted.
The second thing Matthew wants you to know is that we have work to do. We are to go and make disciples and teach them what Jesus taught us. But what does that look like?
And here, it’s important for us to stop and ask that question. Because I will tell you that more damage has been done to others using this verse as justification that any of us can fathom. This “Great Commission” has been used to justify the horrors of the missionary movements for centuries that abused and terrorized people in the name of faith. This is how they justified taking native children away from their families and tribes and the horrible abuse they endured in boarding schools…it was to make “Christians” out of them. This verse justified the missionary movement that saw everyone who didn’t look and act like us as a “savage” and “unclean”….a movement that was arrogant and evil and oppressive.
But that’s not what Jesus is asking here. Jesus wasn’t commanding us “Christianize” the world by force….by destroying cultures or using violence. Rather…Jesus asked us to teach what he taught them. We do well to remember exactly what Matthew told us Jesus taught…for instance, in his sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the ones who cry out for justice. Blessed are the ones who are persecuted (not the persecutors). Love your enemies. Give more to others than they ask of you. Do not judge others.” That’s what Jesus taught. Go back and read it, if you want. Jesus wants his disciples not to teach people what creed they must believe ….but rather to teach people that they matter…that they are seen and loved. Teach people like Mr. Rogers taught us — Fred Rogers was a pastor, and he taught as Jesus taught without ever mentioning Jesus at all. He showed kids they mattered. He showed kindness and respect. He listened and treated every person as important…beloved…as a child of God. Too often we think discipling is about teaching doctrine or teaching morality…but it’s not. It’s about loving the world that God so loves. It is about recognizing God’s fingerprints on every person…in every act of mercy, in every act of compassion. Go to all nations…and do that…like Jesus did. That is the second thing Matthew wants us to take away with us.
And the third takeaway, the final and most important takeaway, is simply this…Jesus is with us, always with us, to the end of the age.
It is Matthew who, in announcing Jesus’ birth, called him ‘Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’
For Matthew, this is simply who Jesus is…from the beginning of the story to the end. Jesus is God who comes to be with us in flesh and blood…to show us that there is no distance between God and us. To show us that God is here…in middle of everything that is happening in this world. In the middle of all the mess, the controversy, the dissensions. God is not far off, looking down from a distance…but is walking with us, living with us in the midst of it all. And so, Matthew says, we have nothing to fear, nothing to worry about, nothing to be discouraged about, nothing to despair. Because we are never alone.
But, it’s so easy to be discouraged, isn’t it? To want to throw our hands up in anger and disgust at the stupidity of human evil and hatred and pettiness. But Jesus promises that he’s got this. He’s got us. He has us, he holds us and he’s not letting go. There is nothing that can separate you from Jesus. We’ll share in the meal in a moment…the meal that is the tangible sign of this promise Jesus gives. I am with you. As surely as this bread and wine are in you, and will course through your body and your blood after you eat them….Jesus says, I am a part of you.
You will leave here today…but you do not leave Jesus behind. Wherever you go…Jesus will be. I mean, wherever. Home, work, golf course, restaurant, in your car, at school, at the grocery store, on vacation….Jesus will be there. In every place you go, in every person you meet….Jesus will be with you. To the end of the age.
And that’s it. Matthew’s three point summary of his gospel. And my three point sermon. Doubt is okay. Don’t teach doctrine…teach love because that’s what Jesus taught. And remember… that Jesus is always, always with you. Amen.
Leave a Reply