Pentecost 1a - The Holy Trinity

Preached: May 18, 2008

Make Disciples with the Good News of Jesus
Matthew 28:16-20

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, our Counselor and Comforter. The Word from God today is Matthew 28

Now the eleven disciples came to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had commanded them [to go]. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Jesus came and spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go 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 keep everything I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.”

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed in the blood of our risen Savior:

Have you been making disciples? Don't you hear what Jesus is telling you? Make disciples! How many doors have you knocked on? How many testimonies have you given? Make disciples! How many prayers for the conversion of others have you prayed. How much have you given for missions? Make disciples! How many unbelievers have you brought to church or Sunday school? Make disciples!

Does something strike you as strange about the tone of those opening words? Sometimes Jesus' words, “Make disciples,” are used like a whip. They're lashed across the back of our conscience to drive us on. Guilt oozes from us when we see others claiming to do so much more in making disciples. And although we know we should do more, we lack the good cheer to do it, because we feel only the sting of those words: Make disciples!

But Jesus did not use these words like a whip. He is not a taskmaster. He does not treat us like donkeys who need to be beaten into obedience. And we are not to treat our fellow Christians like that.

Much to the contrary, Jesus' voice fills these words with his mercy. These words are not a whip but a gracious invitation, a blessed privilege, a sacred responsibility. In his good will he freely chooses to use someone like you and like me to share in this divine work of making disciples. Let's hear them with ears tuned into our Savior's grace and mercy as we focus on the theme: Make disciples with the Good News of Jesus.

A. Remembering what the Father has made you

1) What has the Father made you?

Our ears become tuned to the grace and mercy of these words when we,first of all, remember what the Father has made us. Take note of how the text begins, “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:16, 17 NIV).

The hearers are introduced as the eleven disciples. Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, was no longer with them. This is the time between Jesus' resurrection and ascension. Notice they're referred to simply as disciples, even though they are also the Apostles. But Jesus is not addressing them as those he has chosen to send out as the first witnesses in the Church. Rather he addresses them as disciples, as followers who have taken his words to heart in faith.

You, too, are disciples. Not by your own choice, but the Father has made you disciples of his Son, Jesus Christ. During his ministry on earth Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44 NIV). The Father made you a disciple of Jesus by making you a child of God through Baptism. The Father has adopted you. He has placed his family name on you, the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That's why you can call him your Father. Because of the Father, you believe in Jesus and follow him as his disciple. So these words are for you, just as they were for the other eleven disciples.

“But how could I ever be a Peter or a James or a John?” we ask ourselves. We know our struggles. We know how weak our faith is at times. We know how often we stumble and doubt.

But remember the eleven. They were common, ordinary, everyday people, not much different then you and me. Some fishermen, a tax collector, a nationalist, a skeptic, and many with unknown backgrounds, just as unmemorable as our own. Even at this time after Jesus' resurrection some still struggled with doubts. But just as the Father drew them to his Son to be disciples, so also through Baptism and the Word the Father has drawn you to Jesus and made you his disciples. What grace and mercy!

And what's more, it doesn't matter what your background is, what people, nationality or ethnic group you come from. The Father draws disciples from all nations, just as Jesus reminds us. “Make disciples of all nations”

Now to us, to you and me, no matter what our nationality -- to you and me, common, ordinary, everyday people whose hearts have been drawn to Jesus by the Father -- to us Jesus speaks these gracious words. He gives us, his disciples, the blessed privilege and sacred responsibility to share in that divine work of making disciples of all nations. What grace and mercy!

B. Relying on the Spirit's tools

1) What are the Spirit's tools?

And to do this divine work, he entrusts us with the Spirit's tools. Jesus reminds us what goes along with disciple-making. “Go 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 I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV). Baptizing and teaching. They are the Spirit's tools. Rely on them.

If we wanted one word to summarize the Spirit's tools, that word is Gospel. The Good News of what Jesus has done to save sinners. The Gospel proclaims that God the Son became man. He lived and died as our Substitute to pay for sins of the world by sacrificing himself. Then he rose from the dead because God has declared sinners not guilty based on the righteous life and innocent death of Jesus. That's the Good News. That's the only tool that makes disciples. Make disciples with the Good News of Jesus. Remember that's the theme today?

Now the Spirit's tool, the Gospel, comes packaged, you might say, in a few ways. It comes packaged in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments, which are Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Through the Gospel written in the Bible and connected with water in Baptism the Holy Spirit makes disciples.

2) Who makes disciples and how does he do it?

Think about the way I side that. The Holy Spirit makes disciples. Jesus is not denying that in anyway when he tells us to make disciples. And it's important, vitally important, for us to realize the proper place we take in making disciples.

We don't make disciples by our own power, We don't make disciples by our own persuasive techniques or programs, by our own efforts or hard work. Don't rely on yourself. The Holy Spirit makes disciples. He is the power. To use an illustration: We plant the seeds or water them, but God makes them grow. We spread the Gospel through our words and actions like a sower scattering seed, but only the Spirit's power makes it grow.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit has chosen to use tools to make disciples. Just as I might use a trowel and hoe to plant my garden, so the Spirit makes disciples through his tools. As we've already talked about, the Gospel in Scripture and Sacraments is his tool. Make disciples with the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. For the Spirit's power is in the Word of Scripture. The Spirit's power is in the water connected with the Word in Baptism. As true God, the Spirit could make disciples any way he chooses, but he has chosen and promised to do it through the Gospel in the Bible and in Baptism. Who are we to tell him to do it some other way? The Scriptures and Sacraments are his tools that he has entrusted to you. Rely on the Spirit's tools.

We dare never think that we have a greater role in making disciples than what the Scriptures say. The power comes from the Holy Spirit. He channels that power through his tools, namely Baptism and his Word. We are nothing more than his agents using his tools working by his power.

Yet what grace and mercy to be allowed to handle such powerful tools! What grace and mercy to share in that divine work of making disciples with the Good News of Jesus!

C. Resting secure in Jesus' promise

1) Why is it so beneficial to know that Jesus is with us?

Yet even though the power lies in the Spirit and his tools, we can become overwhelmed that God would use us in his saving plan. That's why Jesus' makes a wonderful promise to you. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NIV).

Who is the “I” that speaks these words? It is Jesus, who has loved you so much that he came from heaven and died for you. It is Jesus who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 NIV). This same Jesus is with you.

Think about that. When you feel alone and rejected, the one who loves you most of all is still with you. Rest secure in his promise: “I am with you always.” When you feel useless or see others powerful working against the Gospel you're speaking, the one who has all authority, power, and right, is with you. Rest secure in his promise: “I am with you always.”

So don't let those words, “Make disciples,” fill you with fear or whip guilt into you. Rather rest secure in Jesus' promise. Rely on the Spirit's tools. And remember what the Father has made you.

Here is a closing illustration that may prove helpful. Imagine a mother inviting your little daughter to help make brownies or a father asking his young son to help make a wooden dresser. Mom or dad could do it by themselves, but they want their child to share in the work with them. So also as Jesus says to you: ”Make disciples.” Hear that as a child of your heavenly Father and cheerfully use the Spirit's tools knowing that Jesus is with you. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313