Being God’s Beloved: Reflections on God’s Love.
Yesterday and the day before we looked at two central messages of Jesus. The first, from Luke 4, spoke of God’s special love and concern for those who are poor and vulnerable, God’s desire for those who are rich and powerful to align with God’s mission and God’s rejection of vengeance. The second, from Matthew 22 and Mark 12, spoke of the deep Will of God, that we should love – love God and love each other.
Today we look at a third central message of Jesus, which is found in Matthew 28 – the last few verses of Matthew’s Gospel account of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. He writes:
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).
This wonderful passage is called the ‘Great Commission’ and has served for many generations as the primary text mobilising evangelical missionary work.
A somewhat similar commission is found in Acts 1:8:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus opens and closes this brief passage with grand statements about Himself. The opening words speak to tremendous cosmic power and authority that God the Father has delegated to Him. And the closing words speak to his omnipresence and eternity – His ability to be everywhere forever. Together, these remind us of the Kenotic U that we reflected on earlier this week, and specifically the top right corner of the U, which we talked about as Christ’s glorification. Having been raised from the dead and blessed by God, Jesus is now once again the King of kings and Lord of lords.
In this passage, Jesus speaks not as just the man of God that he had been during his brief time on earth, but as the Son of God. He is, indeed, a King. And he is King of the Kingdom of God or, to use Matthew’s terminology, the Kingdom of Heaven. The Greek word for ‘kingdom’, basileia, is used 51 times in Matthew, compared with just 18 times in Mark. Some scholars prefer to translate basileia as ‘reign’, to emphasise not so much a territory (which ‘kingdom’ may evoke for many of us), but rather the King who reigns. For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven was both in the future (something towards which we yearn and strive) and the present (something that is ‘near’ because Jesus is present). Wherever we find Jesus, we find the Kingdom. And because Jesus is present in Christians by the Spirit, wherever we are God’s Kingdom is present. And so we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
The Great Commission then, although not mentioning the term basileia, is nevertheless set against an extensive backdrop of the Kingdom of Heaven, which Matthew has developed over the previous 28 chapters and which Jesus’ words about authority and eternal presence reinforce. Jesus is commissioning the disciples, as He commissions us, to work in and for the Kingdom of God. This is a present work in the present Kingdom that centres on the person of Jesus Christ, but it is also work for the future, for that great and glorious Day of the Lord, when God will restore the heavens and the earth and all who dwell therein.
What is this work that Jesus commissions the disciples to do? It is to gather all people together in God’s Kingdom. Jesus commissions the disciples to populate God’s Kingdom with people of God.
Both grammatically and theologically, the central imperative verb – the primary command – is to “make disciples”. Although the word “go” comes first and appears to be an imperative just like “make disciples”, it is better understood as subordinate to “make disciples” and could perhaps be translated, “As you go…” or “While you are going…” The focus is squarely on “make disciples!”
A disciple is one who follows Jesus. A disciple submits to Jesus. A disciple adopts Jesus’ values, priorities and methods. A disciple seeks to further Jesus’ mission. A disciple ultimately seeks to become like Jesus.
Jesus’ twelve disciples did not, of course, embody such idealised aspirations. However, this was their aspiration and it was towards this that Jesus mentored and guided them.
So, to make disciples means to assist and support others in their journey of becoming a follower of Christ. And Jesus provides two methods to assist in achieving this: baptising them and teaching them. For today’s reflection, I wish to focus only on teaching. It is, however, important to note that the baptism incorporates a reference to the Trinity – “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – showing that the disciple-making work involves all the persons of the Trinity. It is important work!
The teaching that Jesus speaks of is “teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” Sometimes we think of teaching as the imparting of intellectual knowledge – teaching leads to knowing. But in Matthew’s Gospel, teaching is far more. “Jesus teaching is an appeal to his listeners’ will, not primarily to their intellect; it is a call for a concrete decision to follow him and to submit to God’s will.” The Will of God is something we reflected on yesterday, in relation to the Great Commandment. There we said that the Will of God, which is expressed in the Law, is for us to love – to love God and to love each other. Jesus said that all the Law and Prophets hang on this command (Matthew 22:40).
The Will of God appears many times in Matthew. We recall it in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus says of the Day of Judgement, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Matthew 18:14 expresses what is not God’s Will: “So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (NSRV). In Matthew 21:28-32, two sons are contrasted. Once the father has expressed his will that they should go and work in the vineyard, the one says, “I will not” and the other, “I will, Sir”.
Being a disciple means adopting the Will of God and putting it into practice. The Will of God is for us to love God and to love others, including the unlovely. Jesus is thus commissioning the disciples and us to cultivate a Kingdom in which everyone loves God and each other, not only in the privacy of their hearts, but also in their actions and interactions. Yesterday, we saw the correspondence between God’s love for us and our love for God and each other. Today, we see that Jesus wants us to spread this message to everyone.
This ‘everyone’ is expressed in the Great Commission as to “all nations”. Jesus really does mean all nations. This is good news for everyone. It is not just good news for the Jews, as it was in the Old Testament and, to some degree, even in Jesus’ ministry. It is also not good news just for Gentiles, as if the Jews have been cut off and forgotten. Rather, it is good news for every person and every community of people.
We recall God’s passion for all peoples in the commissioning of Abraham in our reflections on Day 6. The Great Commission is not a new commission. It is merely a re-commissioning. God had previously commissioned Abraham to bring God’s light to all peoples. Then this commission was passed on to all Israel. And now to all followers of Christ. God’s love has always been and will always be universal. God desires the salvation of the entire human population. And so Peter writes, “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b).
Today and over the previous two days we have reflected on three central messages of Jesus, perhaps even the three central passages that speak to Jesus’ mission. And we have seen a common thread through all of them. The Lukan Manifesto recounts God’s love for the poor and vulnerable, the Great Commandment concerns God’s intention that we should love God and love each other, and the Great Commission is a call to guide all people into a loving relationship with God.
It is no coincidence that all three messages centre on God’s love and our consequent love for God and each other. The messages all centre on God’s love, because love is at the centre of God. More specifically, love is the centre of God’s Will. It is God’s good desire and intention to love us and for us to love God and for us to love each other. And so, whenever Jesus speaks about what is most important, it will be about love.
Meditation for the Day
As a lover of God, we are called to draw other people into the love of God. It is God’s will that all should know God’s love. How are you doing in participating with God in this mission?
Prayer for the Day
Your love for me is wonderful, O Lord my God. Help me to shine forth this love in the way I interact with people around me. Help me to draw them to you, making them followers of your Son.
 France, pp. 1114-1115.
 These examples were identified by Bosch, p. 67.