Sun, Jun 04, 2023

Not Made to Sit

Matthew 28:16-20 by Doug Gunkelman
Matthew 28:16-20
Duration:15 mins

Holy Trinity Sunday.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

God the Father asked a lot of questions in Scripture.  That always intrigues me.  He who has all the answers, asked.  Did you wonder why?

For instance, the Lord called out to Adam and Eve after they had sinned and hidden from His presence, “Where are you?”

Whenever I’ve read that portion of Scripture, I’ve wanted to tattle and call out, “They’re hiding behind the blaming bush!”

The bush must really have been a dandy hiding place if our all-knowing, all-seeing Father didn’t have a clue to their whereabouts.  I’m sure it was a big garden, but c’mon, we know God knew.  So why did He ask?

The Father questioned Eve in regard to her disobedience, “What is this you have done?”

Do you actually think God was stumped?  I wonder why He didn’t just dangle in front of her guilt-ridden face a Polaroid snapshot of her and the enemy dining on fruit forbidden.  Or run an instant replay of Adam’s eating out of his wife’s hand.

Notice Father didn’t stop asking questions in the garden but continued throughout Scripture. Curious response from a sover­eign God who can not only tell us what we've done, but also expose the content of our thoughts and hearts. Consider Hagar. . .

Hagar was in trouble. Death was knocking at her door, as well as at her young son's, when the angel of God called to her, "What is the matter with you, Hagar?"

Isn't it rather obvious, especially for an overseer like an angel? Hagar and Ishmael were a couple of crispy critters after crawling in the scorching sun. The only moisture was the boy's tears, and they evaporated before they could drip off his face.

Maybe the angel was wearing shades or was momentarily blinded by the sizzling sun. But wait, something even stranger happened next. Before Hagar could give the angel an update on her ordeal, the angel mapped out her future, answering his own question.

I'm getting more confused. If the inquiring angel knew the answer, why did he ask?

The story of Elijah doesn't help. Elijah had a fiery faith until Jezebel doused his flames. Jez Fed-Exed Elijah her plan to snuff him out. Elijah's faith flickered, allowing fear to flame up, and he fled.

We find Elijah headed for high ground in an attempt to control his own destiny. He was pursued not by the enemy but by the questions of God.

"What are you doing here, Elijah?" the Father probed. Not once but twice, He asked Elijah what He already knew.

Even in the midst of death, Father asked questions. We find Ezekiel in a valley of death, meandering among the corpses. The voice of the Father solicited what sounds like advice from Ezekiel when He asked, “Can these bones live?”

Excuse me, but He who formed our skeletons from the dust of the earth and breathed into humankind the Holy Spirit of life wasn’t sure if the bones could live?  Of course the Father knew his Spirit could breathe new life into the bones.

The Father and the Holy Spirit sent us His Son, Jesus.  The family connection is obvious, because Jesus, our Answer, came asking questions.  Like Father, like Son.

The Son asked impetuous Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”

Still later He penetrated Peter's heart with the words, "Do you love Me?" Evidently the Lord thought Peter was hard of hearing, because He repeated Himself, "Do you love Me?" Twice I can see, but the Lord pushed Peter a third time. "Do you love Me?"

This loving interrogation left Peter stumped. He responded as we might have, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You."

What I hear Peter saying is, "Why are You asking when You know me better than I do?"

If we truly believe the Lord knows us, we must realize these questions have a purpose. And it certainly isn't that the Lord is forgetful and needs us to remind Him. Nor is He stuck and in need of our feeble insight. I think He questions us so we might think—think through our choices, our responsibilities, and our beliefs.

Maybe, if we try to answer some of these questions in regard to our own lives, we will better understand their wisdom:

"Where are you?"

“What is the matter with you?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Who do you say that I am?”

“Do you love me?”

“Do you love me?”

“Do you love me?”

If you love me don’t spend your time sitting around.  Go out and get to work taking care of my sheep.

My aunt and uncle, Bob and Ellen, are faithful examples of staying busy as retired school teachers serving God’s people.

Ellen is the choir director while Bob is the handyman and woodworker who are always volunteering at the church or one of our Bible camps.  They live in my grandparent’s old farmhouse where Ellen can be found baking a pie for a church event and Bob is in his work shop creating something out of wood. I stopped in last Monday morning to help Bob cut me some shelves for our garage out of rough cut maple boards stored in the hay mow. We have many Bob and Ellen’s here at Divinity.

The other extreme is the man my age that is spending what little time he has left sitting in a chair in his house drinking beer and smoking cigarettes from morning to night.  We were not made to sit for long!

Consider the final verses in Matthew's gospel that section we usually shorthand as "the Great Commission."

Here, Jesus tells his disciples to "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 teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." And Christians ever since have understood these words as a call for the whole church. We can say that Jesus is telling us that we're not made to sit because he has work for us to do.

Jesus told them to do three very hard things, and they may have wondered how those could possibly be accomplished.

The first hard thing: Jesus told them to go and make disciples of all nations. The world of the disciples was smaller than the world as we know it.

They had no idea of the existence of North and South America, for example, but they also were limited by first-century modes of travel and communication, so even restricting their world to the geography they did know about, making disciples of all nations must have sounded like a daunting task.

But beyond the dimensions of the mission, a latent distrust of foreigners was a huge problem, especially for disciples who were neither well-traveled nor learned men. Even today, many of us have difficulty relating across cultural and racial lines. What's more, the disciples had no power base to start from (unless, of course, you count the Holy Spirit, but Pentecost hadn't happened yet). And, they belonged to an oppressed subgroup -- the Jews -- within the Roman Empire.

And yet Jesus says to these most unlikely of candidates: "Go turn the world upside down." It must have sounded like a monumental -- impossible -- undertaking.

Second hard thing: Jesus told the disciples that once they got moving on that first work, they were to baptize the people of those nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Of course, baptism was not the first step in making new disciples; baptism only took place after a person had been evangelized and was persuaded by the gospel message to embrace Christ as Savior and Lord. So what Jesus was telling the 11 to do was huge. He was telling them to share the gospel with strangers, to publicly identify themselves as followers of someone who had just been officially declared an outlaw and executed. They were to give personal witness to their faith (and we all know how hard that is!).

We do know that once Pentecost happened, the disciples found greater motivation to proclaim the gospel, but as we said, Pentecost hadn't happened yet.

And what about us? We live on this side of Pentecost, but still, not many of us find the evangelism process easy to do.

Third hard thing: Jesus told them to teach these new converts everything he had commanded them -- the 11 -- to obey. That, too, must have sounded like mission impossible. Even assuming a few of them had the gift of teaching, where was the curriculum? The gospels hadn't been written yet. The apostle Paul, whose letters would eventually become much of the New Testament, had yet to be converted. The church hadn't been formed yet, the doctrines hadn't even begun to be formulated and the creeds were still a couple hundred years or more in the future. What teaching materials there were included the Hebrew Bible -- our Old Testament -- and the disciples' memories of what Jesus had said and done while he was with them.

But those three hard things were their commission, and somehow, they pulled it off -- or at least the big start of it.

And then there's this: With the passage of time, that commission gets passed on to new generations of Jesus' followers. Each generation of Christians has the same Great Commission, telling us that his followers are not to be sitters. Rather they -- we -- are to be goers, movers, shakers, tellers, proclaimers, explainers, teachers, witnesses and more.

Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say -- just do it!

Thankfully, those 11 disciples who were present when Jesus gave the Great Commission didn't let the difficulty of the mission stop them from trying. They didn't sit on their butts. They got up, did what they could, and God did the rest.

Nor should we remain seated. We're not made for that. We're made to be up and moving for the glory of God, and if we're committed to following Jesus, then we need to accept that there'll be some hard things to tackle.

One of our seniors recognized today, Charles Parsons, tackled some hard things, after he was confirmed. He learned to play the bells as part of our bell choir.  Charlie became an Eagle Scout which reinforced “to take a Christian attitude with everyone I talk to in my life and treating folks with kindness, understanding, and patience.”

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will be with us while we do it.