Going as Messengers
Passage: Matthew 28:16–28:20, Luke 24:44–24:49, John 20:19–20:23
How do we join Jesus' mission of rescuing people far from God? Because of the Spirit's power and presence, we go as messengers.
For a while now, there have been survey results floating around about what people are most afraid of. One of the interesting results was that most people were more afraid of public speaking than of death. Theoretically, if they had to choose either to die in a week or to give a speech in a week, they would rather die. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld makes a joke that for most people, this means if they were attending a funeral, they would rather be in the casket than upfront giving a speech about the person who died.
I think if you did the same survey of only Christians and asked them their greatest fear, instead of public speaking they might say “sharing my faith.” For many Christians, the thought of telling another person about Jesus creates immediate stress, anxiety, guilt, and fear.
Why? Comedian Jim Gaffigan jokes about Christians sharing their faith in one of his shows. He says, “I do want everyone to feel comfortable. That’s why I’d like to talk to you about Jesus. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not. Does anything make you more uncomfortable than some stranger going, ‘I’d like to talk to you about Jesus.’...You could say that to the pope. ‘I want to talk to you about Jesus.’ ‘Easy freak. I keep work at work.’”
It’s true. When we think about talking to someone else about Jesus, we get uncomfortable. And for many of us, we perhaps feel guilty because it’s something we know we should be doing but aren’t doing. As soon as someone starts talking about how we need to share our faith, our shoulders start to tense up, we cross our arms, feel the weight of guilt climbing onto our back, and just hope nobody asks us how telling others about Jesus is going for us.
Today, we are continuing our series called “Living the Good News Together.” As a church, we are learning how we can live in light of the good news about Jesus together.
Take a moment to flip to the graphic on the last page of your song book (the same graphic is on our What Are We All About page). This is the roadmap for what we are covering. First, we covered our mission: as a community we are surrendering all of life to Jesus and inviting others to do the same. Our mission tells us what we are doing. Our Community Practices answer how we are going to do our mission. How do we surrender all of life to Jesus? How do we invite others to do the same? By practicing Believing the Gospel, Living as Family, Loving as Servants, Going as Messengers, and Relying on the Spirit.
And why do we do all of this? Our vision at the bottom tells us so that as the family of God we can show and tell the good news of Jesus to every man, woman, and child. Today, we are focusing on our fourth Community Practice called Going as Messengers.
Our first Community Practice is Believing the Gospel and over the last two weeks, we’ve learned that when we believe the gospel - the good news about who God is and what he has done - we leave our old life behind and God now defines who we are. Because God the Father adopts us, he tells us we are now his family so we live as family together. Because Jesus is our king who gave his life for us, he tells us that we are now servants of our king so we love as servants. Today, we will learn that because we are given the Holy Spirit, we are now messengers.
The passage we are going to be focusing on is Matthew 28:16-20, but there are two other passages that are really helpful as we consider how God has made us messengers: Luke 24 and John 20. Nik read from Luke 24 at the beginning of our service and Laurel read John 20 just a bit ago. All three of these passages have what I’m calling Jesus’ rescue mission sandwich in them. I’m not sure if the ingredients are 100% organic or raised cage free, but here they are: the bottom piece of bread is Jesus’ resurrection; the meat is Jesus’ mission to his disciples; the top piece of bread is the giving of the Holy Spirit. Whenever Jesus gives his disciples their final assignment, it always has this sandwich: the resurrection; the mission; the Holy Spirit.
The big question all of these passages answer is this: How do we join Jesus’ mission of rescuing people far from God? How do we join Jesus’ mission of rescuing people far from God?
We are going to focus on Matthew chapter 28, verses 16 through 20, but we are going to keep the other two passages in mind. Let’s turn now to Matthew chapter 28. It’s on page 835 of the black bibles we’ve provided.
The scene we step into is Jesus speaking to his disciples after his death and resurrection and giving them what is famously called “the great commission.” Let’s pick up in verse 16.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16-17)
Jesus’ closest eleven disciples have already seen Jesus alive and they immediately worship him. But others are hesitant, wondering if it’s really him.
Then we get Jesus’ rescue mission sandwich in verses 18 through 20. Verse 18 is the bottom piece of bread. It says:
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)
In other words, he is the king of everything. There is no person, place, or thing that is outside of the bounds of his rule and reign. There is nothing outside of his jurisdiction. There is no one that can say to Jesus, “Sorry Jesus, you don’t have authority here.” Jesus can say to any person, place, or thing, “You’re mine.” He is Lord of the universe. His resurrection is what proves this is true. It’s because he has been raised to life that he now sits on the throne of the universe.
That’s the bottom piece of bread. Verse 19 gives the meat of the sandwich:
19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20a)
Because Jesus has all authority, he can commission his disciples to go anywhere in the world to make more disciples. They do this by baptizing people as a picture that their sins are forgiven and that they are committed to Jesus. They also are to show people how to obey Jesus as their king.
This is the exact ministry Jesus was doing and the same mission we hear Jesus give his disciples in Luke and John in different words. In John, Jesus tells the disciples that they are sent as the Father sent him. In Luke, he tells them they are to go proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins, just like he did.
Jesus’ authority is the bottom piece of bread. The mission of the disciples is the meat of the sandwich. The end of verse 20 gives us the top piece of bread:
"And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)
In other words, they aren’t doing this alone. Jesus will be with them. So based on his all encompassing authority and with the promise of his ever-abiding presence, they are to go and make disciples. They are disciples of Jesus who are to make more disciples of Jesus. They have surrendered all of life to Jesus and now they are to invite others to do the same.
As we consider this passage as well as the parallel passages in John 20 and Luke 24, the big question they answer is: How do we join Jesus’ mission of rescuing people far from God? All three can be summed up with this answer: Because of the Spirit’s power and presence, we go as messengers. Because of the Spirit’s power and presence, we go as messengers.
Jesus did his entire ministry with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus gives us this same Holy Spirit, we are able to join his mission of rescuing people far from God. So what does it mean that we have the Spirit’s power and presence?
First, the Spirit’s power means we have Jesus’ authority. The bottom piece of bread in Jesus’ rescue mission sandwich is his resurrection which shows that he has all authority on heaven and earth. This means he can send us to anyone anywhere. There is no place that the message about him doesn’t have relevance. There is no kingdom on earth that can say, “We don’t accept messages from Jesus here.” He is king over everything and everyone.
Why is Jesus’ resurrection so important? Why is it the bottom piece of bread in Jesus’ rescue mission sandwich that the rest of it is built on? Well, Jesus predicted both his death and resurrection. Claiming you will be resurrected from the dead is pretty wild, but Jesus also said some pretty wild things about his death. He said that his death would provide forgiveness for our sins. He said it would purchase us out of slavery to sin. Jesus said that his death would make it possible for every wrong thing we have ever done to be wiped from the record. It would pay the debt we owe God and clear our name of every transgression of God’s law. His death was going to repair our broken relationship with God. This is good news!
But what qualifies Jesus to do this? Jesus claimed that he was God in the flesh. This is what qualified him to provide forgiveness for our sins. Now, both of those are pretty wild claims and are pretty easy to make. Everyone dies, but why should we believe that the death of a 30-year-old Jew in 1st century Israel was anything special? And why should we believe that he is actually God? I could easily sit up here and tell you that I’m God in the flesh and predict that I will die and that my death will provide forgiveness for your sins. But why would you believe that? It’s crazy talk. And we could conclude that Jesus was crazy for saying it, unless his second prediction also came true.
Jesus did predict he would die for our sins, but he also predicted that three days later, God would raise him from the dead. That sounds crazy too, but if it happened, then it would prove that Jesus really was who he said he was and that his death accomplished what he said it would accomplish. It would prove that Jesus really was God in the flesh and that his death really did provide forgiveness for our sins. It would prove that everything he said was true! Forgiveness of sins is real! Salvation is real! His message of good news is real!
That’s why the bottom piece of bread in Jesus’ rescue mission sandwich is his resurrection because it proves he has the power to forgive people of their sins and save people. Jesus was sent into the world as a messenger of good news. News is about an event. News isn’t religious advice or spiritual principles. News is about something that has actually happened. News is based on something real. Jesus’ resurrection proves he is the real deal and that forgiveness isn’t a fantasy. Because Jesus has the power to forgive sins and gives us the Holy Spirit, we are now authorized as messengers to go and offer forgiveness in his name to anyone anywhere.
So first, the Spirit’s power means we have Jesus’ authority. Second, the Spirit’s presence means we have Jesus with us. The top piece of bread in Jesus’ rescue mission sandwich is that Jesus will be with us always. In all three passages where Jesus gives his disciples the monumental task of going as messengers into the world, he tells them about his presence with them. He makes it clear that we do not go about this assignment alone. In fact, we can’t do it alone. Jesus didn’t do it alone. He did all of his ministry with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and he gives us the Holy Spirit as well so that we are never alone. God is always with us.
The resurrection is what makes this possible. We can’t be sent with Jesus’ power and authority if he’s dead. A dead king can’t give you his authority to spread the news of his kingdom to everyone everywhere. Jesus can send us as messengers with his authority because he is alive! A dead king also can’t be present with you. A dead king can’t help you or guide you or comfort you or reassure you. But Jesus is alive! So he can always be with us. He can really be present with us because he is alive to reign and rule today and forever. Because we serve a king who is alive, we never go as his messengers on our own power or all alone. He gives us his power and he goes with us.
This is the task, assignment, and mission that Jesus gives to his disciples. If we call ourselves disciples of Jesus or followers of Jesus or Christians, then this same mission has been given to us. And it isn’t only something we do; it’s something we are. If Jesus has changed your life, then you are a witness to what Jesus has done. You have witnessed it yourself. If you have surrendered your life to Jesus, trusting in him as your Lord and Savior, then you have been sent as Jesus was sent. Jesus came with the power of God and with the presence of God because the Holy Spirit dwelt inside him. That same Spirit has been sent to dwell inside you - to empower you, to guide you, to give you the words to say, to give you confidence and assurance, to confirm to you that Jesus really is who he said he was.
Why does Jesus send us on this rescue mission? Why are we given God’s power and presence to go as messengers telling others about Jesus? It’s because people need to be rescued! It’s because without Jesus, everyone without exception is on a path to hell - to an eternity of separation from God; to eternal condemnation, punishment, and death. Jesus makes clear that there are only two types of people in the world: those who are on a path toward a godless, cursed, hopeless future alienated and estranged from God forever and those who are on a path toward a wonderful future with God forever. Everyone, by default, is on the first path. And the only way off that path is by trusting in Jesus - by surrendering all of life to him.
Imagine everyone who has ever lived is traveling down a highway. Everyone starts life traveling down this highway and will continue driving down this highway unless told otherwise. This highway is taking them to a future far from God. The final destination is an eternity without God.
Jesus sends us as messengers to the people traveling down this highway. He sends us to warn them of where they are going and to give them an opportunity to get off that highway and begin heading toward a different destination. We tell them about Jesus, we tell them about his death on their behalf, we tell them that his death was necessary because we all have sinned, we tell them that they can be forgiven because of what Jesus has done, we tell them that if they surrender their life to Jesus and trust in him that they can be free of their sin and have a future filled with God and spiritual life. When we do that, we are putting up sign for an exit. This is their opportunity to take an exit off the highway they are on and get on a different road. It’s their opportunity to get off the highway of sin and selfishness they are on to follow Jesus to a new and better destination.
But they have to make the choice of whether they will exit. We put up the sign, but they need to make the choice to get off that highway. And we are sent as messengers so that they have the opportunity to get off.
Forgiveness is a gift offered but gifts must be received otherwise they do us no good. The truth is, not everyone receives the gift of salvation that God offers them. That means they remain in their sin, condemned and guilty before the Judge of the universe and God’s wrath remains on them. They will go to hell.
Sin is like a spiritual cancer that kills us. The message we are sent with isn’t: your cancer has been cured! The message is: someone has created a cure for your cancer and you can be cured! But for people to be cured, they first need to believe they have this spiritual cancer and that Jesus is the one who can cure it. Many people believe there is something wrong and they are applying a cure, but if it isn’t Jesus then they are going to remain sick and die forever.
The big question that these passages answer is: How do we join Jesus’ mission of rescuing people far from God? All three of them say: Because of the Spirit’s power and presence, we go as messengers.
We are joining Jesus’ mission of rescuing people far from God because he is still alive and because he works through his disciples. We are sent as he was sent to do what he did and he gives us his presence through the Holy Spirit. He is working in us and through us. So if we are joining Jesus’ rescue mission and are sent to do what Jesus did, what did Jesus do to rescue people far from God? What did he model for us and what did he tell us to do? How do we join Jesus’ rescue mission? Here are four practices Jesus gives us.
First, know that you were rescued by Jesus. The gospel is the good news that Jesus came to rescue people far from God, and that includes each and every one of us. This is why our first community practice is Believing the Gospel. The good news of our rescue is what produces in us a desire to share that news with others. This is where Jesus started with everybody.
Now, sharing the gospel with people is a command that Jesus gives us, which means it is our duty and responsibility to obey. Jesus told us to do it so if we don’t do it we are living in outright disobedience to our king who gave his life to save us. We need to surrender this area of our life over to him and ask forgiveness when we disobey.
But I also believe that sharing about Jesus with other people can move from a duty to a delight. It can move from something that we have to do to something that we want to do. The reason is because we easily talk about great things that happen to us or great things people do for us. Jesus has done the greatest thing for us that anyone could do so it should be easy to talk about him. Jesus said out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. When our heart is filled with gratitude and love for Jesus, that is going to flow out to others.
Second, be a friend of people far from God. Jesus was called a “friend of sinners” because he was always hanging out with people whom others labeled as far from God. Those are the kind of people Jesus wanted to be around because he had good news for them. If we are to go as messengers like Jesus did, we need to be friends with people who are far from God and spend time with them.
Some of you might be thinking, “I don’t have time for that” or “I don’t know how to do that.” The key is to be intentional with what you are already doing. One of the great ways Jesus spent time with people was by eating with them. You have three meals a day, twenty one a week. Could you use one of those a week to spend with someone far from God?
Third, listen well to people and to the Spirit. If you read through the narratives of Jesus’ life, you will see that he had a keen awareness of what people needed to hear. Sometimes he asked questions and made thought-provoking statements to surface those needs, but he sometimes was just listening. He was listening to what people were saying with their words and with their actions and he was also listening to the Holy Spirit inside of him. This enabled him to speak into people’s lives in really specific ways that went to the heart. He was able to speak good news to people that didn’t sound off topic but truly addressed their real life struggles, sin, and unbelief.
We have the same Holy Spirit who was enabling Jesus to perceive people’s spiritual needs. Remember, in Jesus’ rescue mission sandwich, he always made it clear that we can’t go as messengers of the gospel on our own. We need the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. He’s the one who makes us into messengers.
Fourth, share what Jesus has done for you. Jesus often tells his followers that they are now witnesses. It’s like they are called to the witness stand in court to share what they have seen and heard. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are witness to what he has done in your life. He gave you a fresh start; he paid your debt; he pulled you out of slavery; he brought salvation to you; he reconnected you with God; he died for you; he came on a rescue mission from heaven for you. Going as a messenger is as easy as telling people what Jesus has done for you just like you’d tell people what your neighbor or friend did for you the other day.
I think we don’t share about Jesus that much because we don’t believe he has done that much. Instead of making the gospel about what Jesus has done for us, we are preoccupied with what we are doing to clean up our lives and make ourselves right with God. But if that is the focus in our lives, that is also going to be our focus in other people’s lives. Our focus will be on cleaning up their lives and making them right with God. But if we are impressed with how much Jesus has done for us instead of impressed with how good we are, we will be ready to tell others about what Jesus has done for us and what he can do for them. That’s why we always need to return to the gospel and be reminded that we were in desperate need of rescuing and Jesus rescued us.
Next I want to invite Brian and Emma to come up here to share a bit about how they are going as messengers. My hope is that the stories they share will give you a picture of what this could look like in your life. It’s one thing to give principles, it’s another to see those principles actually being lived out in someone’s life.
Interview with Brian and Emma (see the sermon audio for this interview)
Emma is a stay-at-home mom and she has been really intentional about meeting other moms in Woodstock. She figured that she has initiated with around ten moms - met them, gotten their phone numbers, texted or called them to see if they want to hang out or have a playdate. But she’s found that a lot of them weren’t initiating back or making their relationship a priority and she has felt a lot of freedom to focus on the moms who are actually wanting to spend time together. There have been two with whom she has built a close relationship.
Emma, can you share with us how those relationships started? Where were you and what were you doing?
How have you shared about Jesus with them or brought up God or spiritual topics?
How have they responded?
What are you celebrating that God has done?
Brian is in a much different situation than Emma. Emma is an extrovert which means she desires lots of people contact and is energized by meeting new people. Brian is an introvert which means he is energized by spending time alone or with people he knows well. Emma is also a stay-at-home mom while Brian is commuting to work every day. But there has been one person with whom Brian has been able to build a deep relationship.
Brian, can you share with us how that relationship started? Where were you and what were you doing?
How have you shared about Jesus with them or brought up God or spiritual topics?
How have they responded?
What are you celebrating that God has done?
I want to close by hearing their answers to three questions that I think will be helpful to all of us.
What’s a lie or fear you have to fight against when sharing your faith with others?
What’s a truth about God that encourages you to do this?
What part has community played?
With what you have just heard in mind, here is how you can put it into action in your life. First, who has God put in your life who is far from God? A coworker? A neighbor? A family member? A friend? Who is that person? Second, how can you be more intentional with that person? Could you share a meal with them? Could you get coffee? When could you pray for them?
I wanted to end with the last question that Emma and Brian answered about what part community has played as they have gone as messengers because so often we think that going as messengers to tell others about Jesus is all up to us. Yes, everyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus has an individual responsibility to share their faith, but notice that this is one of our Community Practices. We are doing it as a community. Just like Living as Family and Loving as Servants are community practices, so is Going as Messengers. You can ask others for help and you can do it with others.
Living as Family and Loving as Servants support Going as Messengers because they give people a picture of the gospel that makes them thirsty to hear the gospel. Like eating something salty makes you thirsty, there is a saltiness to seeing a community treating people differently that what they are used to. How we live as a community makes the message of the gospel credible and gives opportunities for you to share. People will comment: “Why are you guys doing this? Why are you always hanging out together? Wow you help each other a lot.” Those are all opportunities to tell people: “It’s because of Jesus. Here’s why.”
So as you go as messengers and as we go as messengers, let’s not forget that God doesn’t send us alone. We have his personal presence because the Holy Spirit dwells in us and we have each other.