Luke’s Great Commission
Many of us here today are probably familiar with St. Matthew’s Great Commission in chapter 28 of his Gospel and the words that Jesus spoke there before his Ascension. But, our passage from Luke today is very much Luke’s Great Commission. It records Jesus’ last teaching to his disciples before he Ascension. A page is being turned. A new day is arriving. The disciples are about to be swept up into something that is bigger than they could have ever imagined. This is the last lesson of the Messiah and the charter of his new Church, which includes us here this morning. Let’s see what the Lord has for us here today.
Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Disbelieving for Joy (vs. 36-43)
Let’s look first at verses 36-43. In Luke’s account of this Resurrection appearance, we’re told that the disciples “disbelieved for joy.” What a wonderful phrase – every Christian should recognize the reality that lies behind that saying. How could it be that this Good News is so real!? How is it that he is risen? How could it be that Jesus accomplished my salvation! How is that I have come to know him and be accepted by him?
And yet, it is. They marveled and disbelieved for the joy that was theirs. And what this phrase also reminds us of is that Good News of Jesus is solidly rooted in his Risen Body. This isn’t some kind of mystical, internal experience the disciples had. This isn’t a dream. This isn’t a wish. It’s the sure and lasting hope that is tied directly to Jesus himself. As I’ve been reminding us over this Easter season, faith is not faith in faith. Not faith in nothing. But faith in the rock-solid work and person of Jesus.
As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. …20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Do you ever find yourself “disbelieving for joy?” Well, don’t worry – you’re in good company. So did the first disciples.
Christ at the Center (vs. 44-47)
Now we look directly at Christ’s last teaching. Look at verse 44:
“Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
I wonder how you understand Holy Scripture today. I am convinced that much confusion about the Christian faith arises from a general lack of understanding about the Bible. As St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” It doesn’t help that we have leaders today who are saying things like, “Christians need to unhitch their faith from the Old Testament.” To quote Bishop John, if anything, “Christians need to REhitch their faith to the Old Testament.”
Jesus is the very fountain and center of the whole Bible. More than that: he is its author. Taking the New Testament without the Old makes the story meaningless, and taking the Old without the New makes it hopeless. In Jesus, the whole story fits together. It has to be read with Jesus at the center of the arch. As St. Augustine so wisely said, “In the Old Testament the New is concealed, in the New the Old is revealed.” So often, when I read or listen to the stories of deconversion that are frequently highlighted today, the common theme in them is heartbreaking failure to grasp that the entire point of Scripture is to give us Jesus so “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” (V. 47)
This morning, I want to encourage and exhort the parents in our midst to continue to doing to good work of teaching our children biblical literacy. This is so foundational and important. Use helpful resources like The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Radical Book for Kids to help your children grasp the Bible with Jesus at center. And, you have a partner in New Creation! Get your kids into Kingdom Story, which will be starting up again April 5, 9:00 am. We want to partner with you!
But not only is Jesus at the center of Scripture, he’s the power behind our understanding of the Scriptures. Look at verse 45: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” What this verse tells us is that without the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, we simply cannot grasp what is patently obvious: we need a savior, and Jesus is that Savior. Here, we’re reminded that the Holy Spirit is a far better evangelist than we will ever be. Here’s a question: how often do you let the Holy Spirit lead the conversations you have with others, including your family, about the faith? I’m not suggesting we simply be silent, but as much as we speak to others about the faith, we ought to all the more pray for their eyes to be opened. The Lord must do that. And we know, because he’s done it for us.
You are My Witnesses (vs. 48-49)
Let’s finish with verses 48-49. Here, the next great page of redemptive history is turning. “You are witnesses of these things.”
YOU are witnesses. The Apostles. Those gathered with them (probably the seventy-two that Jesus’ earlier sent out to the preach the Gospel). The whole church, down to this very day. The whole vocation of the Church can be summarized in this one word: Witness. What does it mean? Three things.
First, it means just that. The Apostles were witnesses to the ministry of the Messiah. They didn’t really make anything happen. They attested to what Jesus accomplished. He didn’t live and teach and heal with their help. He didn’t die with their help. He didn’t rise from the dead with their help. Their ministry is ministering Christ.
This is a beautiful thing. Brooke and I have been enjoying season 2 of The Chosen, a show I certainly recommend checking out. What The Chosen does is that it attempts to frame the Gospels from the perspective of the disciples’ backgrounds. So, you get a lot of back story and speculative imagination, while remaining true to the basic structure of the Gospels. The best thing that can come from this approach, is to help us remember that all of the early followers of Jesus were real people, just like us. They were just as sinful and limited as we are. They argued. They didn’t get it. They missed the point. But nonetheless Jesus chose them and made them his witnesses.
Friends, the power doesn’t rest with us. It rests with the One we know and give witness to. Amen?
But the word for “witness” means more than that. The Greek word here is actually where we get our word “martyr” from. There will always be some kind of cost associated with bearing witness to Jesus, yes?
In the Church’s intimate union with Christ, she will continue take part in the rejection, suffering, and death that Jesus himself experienced. Lest we forget it, all of the Apostles were martyred, save John. Arthur Just movingly writes, “Ministers of the Gospel [and by extension, all Christians] must be conformed to this pattern of rejection, suffering, and bearing the cross, since it is the shape of the one holy catholic and apostolic church – the body of Christ himself. Yet, at the same time, incorporation into this cruciform pattern of life is joyful.” (Luke 9:51-24:53, pg. 1036)
Joyful because her faith is indestructible. She will also take part in his great promise and triumph. There will be a Great Reversal, just as there was for Jesus. Christ will come again, and every corner of Creation will be rid of sin and death and will be made new! Heaven and earth will be reknit.
But lastly, to be a witness does mean to be empowered. Look at verse 49: “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
There is a double sending in these verses. Christ sends them out and he sends his Spirit to meet them there. More than that – to be IN them and UPON them. John Chrysostom writes, “As a general does not permit his soldiers who are about to confront a large number [of enemies] to go out until they are properly equipped, so also the Lord does not permit his disciples to go forth to the conflict before the descent of the Spirit.”
And don’t miss how Trinitarian verse 49 is: “I…send the promised Sprit…of my Father.” The Church’s mission, the life of each Christian, is wrapped in the power of the Triune God. As David Turner says, “There are no ‘batteries not included’ Christians.” Our witness to Jesus is an empowered and heaven-blessed witness. That is why it cannot and will not ultimately fail.
We’re talking this Eastertide about how the Resurrection of Jesus Interrupts our lives, changing this life and the next. Well, this last teaching of Jesus is the Church’s first launching pad. It has literally changed history and changed the world. May it continue to do so now in our community, our families, and each life present here today.