Jesus' Last words
Continuing the theme of Last Words... We have looked at two of the major authors of the New Testament: Peter and Paul. Each gives last words that are meant to point their beloved followers back to security... even if not safety. Both spoke of desperate times, perilous times... and the strong, urgent need to remain firmly planted in the truth of Scripture.
But there is One even more important to listen to... One who eclipses any Biblical character: Jesus!
There is a bit of a challenge in this, though... pinpointing Jesus' final words is awkward, if not impossible. I mean, are we talking about Jesus' last words as he gathers with his disciples around a table preparing for his death? ("I have earnestly yearned/desired to share this meal with you...")
Or maybe we look a little further to the words he speaks upon the cross: ("It is finished!" and "Into your hands I commit my spirit.") These are definitely final words!
Except that... they're not! Three days later, Jesus is walking around and speaking to people! He's telling Mary, "Do not cling to me." (!) He's telling disciples as he interrupts dinner, "Peace! Do not fear." (!) He's telling other disciples, (okay, one) "Do not doubt." (!!!)
But even here, these are not his last words, because after forty days, Jesus ascends back into heaven... and he offers these parting comments: “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”(Matt 28:18-20)
Or maybe we want to hear it from Luke's perspective: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”(Acts 1:8)
Here Jesus takes his leave of his disciples and returns to heaven... certainly these must be his last words?
But, what about the book of Revelation? It speaks of being the "testimony of Jesus Christ." Are these the last words of Jesus? in the 21st chapter of Revelation, Jesus says, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children." And in the final chapter, chapter 22,“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”
I think a great argument can be made that all of these constitute last words of a sort... but I might suggest that there is one statement that we should consider before all others: Matthew 28: 18-20.
“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”(Matt 28:18-20)
It is nearly the same statement as recorded in Luke, but has some important details for us to consider. Firstly, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth."
Jesus has been given authority. He does not merely point back to some other authority. And his authority cannot be questioned. All authority... in heaven and on earth... therefore, what Jesus commands stands firm. It does no good to point at some other document, or list some other creed. All authority rests in and stems from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Since Jesus has been given all authority, he commands, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
This is not a command to be passive. "Go!" "Make!" "Baptize!" "Teach!" These are active commands. And this is not a selective command, either. It is not, "Some of you, go. Some of you, teach. Some of you, baptize." Nor is it selective about to whom we go... No, it is very clear: "all nations." There is no dividing up the worthy and the unworthy; the simple and the difficult; the rich and the poor. "All Nations." This is a universal command. To a universal audience. Because Jesus' authority is universal.
To make disciples means to teach a way of life. To be a disciple means to seek to live as the teacher lived. and so Jesus says, "Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you." All the commands.
Can we be clear for a moment... Some will suggest that the only command given by Jesus is to love. This is an overly simplistic and facile reading of the Gospels. Some have suggested that Jesus gave over 1000 commands in the gospels. A better examination will show nearly 50 different commands, albeit some are closely related to each other. Certainly Jesus reiterated many of the already existing commands that the Jewish people followed in God's Law. But, for information, here are some other commands that Jesus gave:
Love One Another (John 13:34-35)Pray for your Enemies (Matthew 5:44-45)Repent (Matthew 4:17)Believe that Jesus is in the Father (John 14:11)Take up your Cross and Follow Me (Matthew 16:24-25)Go and Make Disciples (Matthew 28:18-20)Pray: He commands us to pray:at all times (Luke 21:36),not using vain repetitions (Matt 6:7-8),to the Lord of the Harvest for more laborers (Luke 10:2),so that we won’t enter into temptations (Luke 22:40, 46),to the Father in secret (Matt 6:6),for God’s will and kingdom to come, for forgiveness of sins, and for our needs (Luke 11:3-4),and, for those who spitefully use us (Luke 6:28).
Another important point to recognize about what we are commanded to teach... Jesus does NOT say "teach all that I have commanded..." Rather, Jesus commands us to "teach these new disciples to obey all that I have commanded." Remember, Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey my commandments."(John 14:15) There is a close relationship between love and obedience.
Finally, Jesus says, "And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Be sure of this! Find strength and hope and confidence in this! Find power and joy in this!
It is sad that for many, this is only a faint glimmer. I have had many people confess that they are not sure that Jesus sees them, knows them, or is with them. Oh, to be able to say with confidence: "This much I know is true! Jesus is with me!"
Jesus is with us... when we get up in the morning and are faced with more to do than we have strength to accomplish.
Jesus is with us... when the phone rings and the Doctor says the news is not good.
Jesus is with us... when the courier brings a registered letter from a lawyer.
Jesus is with us... when the pink slip is handed to us, and we know the mortgage is due, and the bank account is empty.
Jesus is with us... when lies are being told about us, and friends seem to leave.
Jesus is with us... when our spouse, or children, or parents, or relatives treat us harshly and unfairly.
Jesus is with us...
Once again, let us remember! Jesus, having been crucified and resurrected, gathers with his disciples on a mountaintop. He declares that he holds all authority, and therefore commissions them to go and accomplish a great and overwhelming mission... go into the whole world and make disciples of all people. And then, perhaps even as he rises into the air, he declares... "And I am always with you!"
Jesus is... the great I Am... And Jesus is Always with you!
So go... as Jesus commanded you... Go, in the sure knowledge that Jesus goes with you!