Perhaps the most famous chapters in Scripture. Matthew 28 and Luke 24. The Marys visit the tomb of Jesus and find it empty! There’s an earthquake, an angel, and Jesus Himself – all converging to commission Christ’s followers to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity, and teaching them to observe all that Jesus commands!
Pretty straight forward, right???
Let’s imaginatively immerse ourselves in the nitty-gritty of the great commission…
First of all, the Marys (the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection) are full of awe, joy, obedience, and obsession with Jesus! So we’re off to a good start! In fact, this is such a good start, that obviously the first thing to do is fire the former apostolic leadership team (because they all fell away from Jesus in His hour of greatest need), and replace them with the Marys (who have always been more attentive to Jesus, and who have proven themselves faithful to Jesus through thick and thin!). These gals are precisely the kind of people we should ordain as the foundational apostolic building blocks of the church! Well, all things being straightforward, that would make a lot of sense; but as it turns out, God’s ways aren’t exactly our ways, and it seems that God likes to perfect His power through foolishness and weakness. SO… the all male, mercurial, apostolic team (minus Judas) will remain in place, and the Marys will humbly deliver the most important news in history to the ‘venerable’ long-standing apostolic leaders!
Of course, we can all agree, if there’s one non-negotiable qualification for church leadership it is unflinching and unwavering belief in the resurrection. Certainly it’s not too much to ask that all professing Christians, and most especially the apostles, receive the news of the resurrection with alacrity! This is a gimme. Right?
It is concerning that you’re not immediately affirming my assumption of what should be a given.
What happened when the Marys told the apostles about the resurrection?
“It seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe.”[Luke 24:11]
The great commission is off to a not-so-great start.
Assuming the apostles finally come around and actually start believing in the resurrection of Jesus, can we assume that it’ll be smooth sailing from then on?
Well, as it turns out, there are some additional obstacles.
For instance, all the most influential and powerful people are investing a lot of energy into spreading the rumor that Jesus hasn’t really risen from the dead, but rather His disciples came by night and stole Him away while the soldiers guarding the tomb were asleep. And that rumor has been believed by a lot of people, and it’s spreading pretty lustily. Moreover, the influential people who started the rumor also have the resources to sufficiently bribe key politicians and media pundits, so there’s little-chance that the rumor will ever die down.
But just for giggles, let’s suppose, against all odds, that the message of the Risen Suffering Servant From Nazareth gets traction with some folks and starts to spread …then we’re in open waters right? NO MORE OBSTACLES!?
Well, the commission involves making disciples of all nations. So learning new languages, and understanding and respecting complex variations between cultures is part of the work.
But about how long will that take?
How about this …I’ll start a timer, and you start studying a new language; and when you can limp and fumble your way through a very basic, 10 minute, conversation in that language come find me and I’ll stop the timer, and then we’ll have a sense for about how long it takes for a person to begin to do the work of the great commission.
Let’s assume you don’t learn a new language, and let’s assume you never interact with anyone outside of your nation. Even then, the great commission insists that you MAKE DISCIPLES. In other words, you’re not simply declaring the news that Jesus is alive; but rather, you’re working with them to form them into disciples of Jesus (teaching them to observe all that He has commands), which is a comprehensive undertaking. And keep in mind, even in the most compliant recipients, you will run into resistance from time to time. Moreover, your capacity for relapse and resistance will impede progress from time to time (e.g. Galatians 2:11-14).
But that’s the heavy-lifting stuff right? At least the initial, one-time, stuff will be smooth-sailing, right??? Like baptism, that’s straightforward! Right???
Even if we leave the sundry debates about modes, babies, etc. aside for the moment, and simply zoom-in on what Jesus explicitly commands in the great commission, we’re still not exactly in “simple/straightforward” territory. Jesus says,
“Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[Matthew 28:19]
If the recipients (or parents of recipients) of baptism DON’T HAVE QUESTIONS about this NAMED TRIUNE GOD that they’re being baptized into, that’s problem. In other words, you don’t what people receiving baptism in an automated, absentminded, kind of way. So even the initial, one-time stuff isn’t precisely “straightforward.”
And then, of course there is the fact that baptism in the name of the triune God inescapably comes with a commitment to a local and particular church – for you cannot be in the body of Christ as an isolated, individualistic, organ …but rather, you must be irrevocably incorporated into, and committed to, a body. And bodies often have problems; like twisted ankles, high cholesterol, carpal tunnel, arthritis, baldness, snoring, kidney failure, etc. And all of these issues have to be endured, and treated to various extents [e.g. see 1 Corinthians, chapters 5 & 6]. And that takes time, and trial and error, and patience, and perseverance. And sometimes dramatic steps have to be taken. For example, sometimes limbs have to be amputated, and kidneys have to be removed. And sometimes organs have to be transplanted. And if organs are transplanted, you can’t simply put a relatively healthy organ in a body that needs an organ-transplant, but you have to run blood tests to determine if the blood type of the organ is compatible with the body. Because even if you put a healthy organ in a body desperate for that organ, if the blood type ain’t compatible then the organ will kill the body, and the body will reject the organ.
Bottom line, the nitty-gritty of the great commission is vigorous business.
Let’s sign-off with, and sit in the mystery of, the final words of the great commission,
“Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”– Jesus of Nazareth [see also 1 Peter 1:8 —> Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory].