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Matthew 28:16-20

Theology of the text Our passage must be heard in light of the entire passion narrative. Jesus’ resurrection will be the Good News and hope of the Gospel and the foundation for both becoming and living into the vocation of being a disciple. The beginning of Matthew 28 must also be seen as celebration and advocation of the faithfulness and apostolicity of the women. Matthew 28 is a clear example that the women are seen as the first and most faithful disciples of Jesus through the passion narrative. They remain at the Cross till the very end and they are the first to the tomb, while the men have fled and hid in fear, guilt, and shame. In fact their faithfulness is rewarded by being the first to encounter the resurrected Jesus and thus privileged to be the first evangelists of Jesus’ resurrection to the eleven. Clearly this should be seen as a text to support women serving in priestly ministry. Also the goal of being Christian is not reduced to mental assent to propositional statements, but discipleship is a lifelong journey of communal living and accountability.

Context of the text In Matthew the Great Commission text follows the resurrection story. The hope and celebration of the resurrection is the foundation and invitation. At the beginning of chapter 28 it is the women who were planning to attend to Jesus’ body. There was an earthquake caused by an Angel of the Lord. While the guards fled, the women were comforted by the Angel. In verse 7 the women are invited to become the first persons to fulfill the Great Commission that is given in our passage. They are commanded to go and tell the disciples “He’s been raised from dead.” As they began to fulfill their vocation Jesus meets them and again invites them not to fear but to go and tell the brothers to meet him in Galilee. In Matthew this text is the first time the Disciples have seen and encountered the risen savior. It is noteworthy that the Angel calls them Disciples while Jesus calls them brothers.

The scene then moves quickly to the terrified guards. The elders decided to bribe them to report that Jesus’ disciples stole the body. In many ways this calling given to the soldiers serves as a foil to the great commission Jesus gives in our passage.

This text is also the Gospel on Trinity Sunday in Year A. Clearly the baptismal celebration of the Trinity is a key reason this text was chosen. The early church’s liturgical triune baptismal name was a key practice that helped the church resolve that Father, Son, and Spirit were all equally divine. In other words, baptismal practice helped the church in its formation of Trinitarian doctrine. As is the case worship practice is the church’s first order theology.

Notes on the text Verse 16: The passage begins by demonstrating the effectiveness of the women’s great commission to the disciples. It is easily assumed the women both told the eleven effectively enough that they got them out of hiding to meet Jesus on the mountain in Galilee.

Verse 17: Without much fanfare or emotional drama the disciples encounter the risen Jesus. It is curious that among the eleven some were moved to worship while some still doubted. It is curious that in other Gospels Thomas is famously labeled as the doubter, but in other Gospels he was not present when the other disciples encountered Jesus. Yet in Matthew it is striking that Jesus is present and still some are not sure. What is also fascinating is that some believed the women enough to come, but in seeing Jesus they did not believe.

Verse 18: The Common English Bible notes that “Jesus came near and spoke.” While it is likely this speaks to a physical closeness, it is likely that coming near was also a spiritual means of reconciling those who had fled.

Jesus words celebrate the Father’s giving him complete authority in heaven and earth. It is important to note that Jesus is not made the Messiah with his resurrection, but the resurrection confirms Jesus is the Messiah, in whom all authority on heaven and earth must now be recognized as true.

Verse 19: One of the most well known verses of all Scripture. The greek tense and word order is helpful here. The imperative here is not about going, but in making disciples and baptizing. The verse could also be translated to read “in your going” or “as you go” “make disciples (command)” and “baptize.” Within all the great movements of evangelism, we must resist the temptation to think the great commission is fulfilled if someone simply gives mental assent to propositional statements. The making of disciples is a long journey that perhaps is never completed with punctiliar moments. The making of disciples is about the long intentional journey of formation that can only be done as lives are lived together.

The invitation for Christians is that God is sending them by the Spirit to go into all parts of the world to participate in God’s redemption of all peoples and lands. No one is to be excluded or left out.

It is also noteworthy to see the connection to making disciples to baptism. Baptism is one’s entrance into the Church and is a key beginning sacrament of initiation. There is long tradition is a Christian baptism is one where water is used and the Trinune name is declared.

Verse 20: After this charge to making disciples via baptism, Jesus again taught them to obey all that he had commanded. Then Jesus gives a final promise of presence until this age ends.

Preaching the text This text is often reduced to a mode of evangelism that often misses the main invitation. As noted above the connection to making disciples in your going must be grounded in the resurrected savior. It is in that hope that all “making disciples” must be imagined. It is also noteworthy that this call to make disciples is connected to the sacrament of baptism. In many evangelical circles baptism has often been marginalized to cognitive assent and personal decisions. While conversion experiences can become wonderful parts of the journey, the significance of baptism as a part of one’s discipleship should not be neglected. Furthermore, in those same evangelical contexts a “me and Jesus” Christianity is often a temptation, find more info on the Baptism is a sacrament of forgiveness and initiation into the church. This text also supports the notion that there is no salvation or discipleship outside the church.

Often persons feel a great sense of guilt for not evangelizing others. While the call for all protestants to be able to share their faith should not be ignored, this is a passage inviting persons to see that their one journey of discipleship should include a life where they can be used to share the good news of what God is going in their life.