Meditation on Matt. 28:19–20 | Inspired by My Commissioning Address to the 2014 Regent University School of Divinity Graduates

Jesus’ disciples had just finished three years of intensive training. Their professor had shown them mystery after mystery; sign after sign.

He had already assessed their faithfulness. Sometimes they past and other times they failed. But, he extended mercy to them, especially Peter. In terms of attrition rates and retention, there was only one who failed the test.

In our passage today, Jesus has paid the ultimate sacrifice at Passover. Also, Easter has past. Jesus has won resurrection power over earth, death, hell and the grave.

The time has come for the Teacher to part ways with his students. Recently, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Papal Family, came to Regent University and shared a sermon for Chapel. Fr. Cantalamessa pointed out that two of the synoptic gospels, Matthew and Mark, highlight the last moments that Jesus has with his disciples differently than Luke. In these two gospels Jesus commissions them to “Go!” However, Luke says, “Stay in the city of Jerusalem until you be endued with power from on high.” I will return to what I see as Luke’s rationale for this variation.

For the bulk of this reflection, I will, moreover, ponder Matthew 28:19a-20b. But, I will not focus on what Jesus tells his disciples to do when they go. I wish to reflect on the portion of the passage where Jesus commissions His disciples, in other words, to go “Go! And, I am with you.”

Often, we don’t mind the task. But, we have a hard time feeling motivated. We are afraid that if we move forward; who’s got our backs when things are rough and the going gets tough?

Jesus says, “Go and Behold, I am with you!”

Indeed, the world is the landscape of our assignments. There are many opportunities. There will be many avenues to get there. We can follow a pattern or we can write the model. We simply need direction – divine leading.Along with many opportunities, there will also be oppositions. You will tread on scorpions and snakes. In the words of James Weldon Johnson\’s \”Lift Every Voice and Sing,\” \”Stony the road we trod; bitter the chastening rod.\” Many times, opposition can be incredibly overwhelming. It can take the joy out of ministry. It can steal our hope. It can destroy our self-esteem. It can drive us to forsake the vocation into which we know that we are called. But, it has been said many times, whenever you bump into the devil, you know that you are not going in the same direction.

The Christian faith promises that our God supports us. Contrary to many life-stories and family experiences, the Spirit of Christ is on our side; God is not against us.”  Psalms 124:1-3 declares,

If it had not been for the Lord who was on our side– let Israel now say– if it had not been the Lord who was on our side when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive.

In Matthew 28:19a and 20b, Jesus is saying, “I am with you! Now, Go!” The Wait is over, Go! The excuses are done, Go! It’s your time –Go!

Go do whatever God has called for you to do!

On my journey of vocational discovery, I would visit my dad’s church in Georgia. A mother at the church, Mother Juanita Carter would always tell me, “Antipas, take the Lawd (Lord) along with you, everywhere you go. Honey Chile (Child), you gon’ (going to) need Him.”

My meditation on Matthew 28:19-20 and message to you is this: “Take the Lawd along with you, everywhere you go. Honey Chile, you gon’ need Him!” You are going to need him when you can’t seem to find a ministry fit in your search for a church. You are going to need him when all of your friends seem to know that their next step is but you don’t yet know what you are going to do. You are going to need Him, when the people you stay up with at night, baptize them, dedicate their babies, bury their loved ones and give them your time, resources and your money. Then, they walk away from you. When you need them, they are nowhere to be found. You are going to need Him when you second-guess you own advice to others. You are going to need him when you pray and they still die. You are going to need him when you don’t know what to say.

When I was a pastor in New Haven, Connecticut, a young lady came to the Lord from drugs. She got a job and was doing well. Her mom was a mother in the church. The mother was so excited to reunite with her daughter with Christ at the center. So the mother offered to relieve her daughter of some of the stress of juggling work and caring for her two children during the summer. Grandma decided to take her daughter’s children with her on vacation to Florida.

The family came to church one Sunday and asked for prayer for their trip. I laid hands on them and prayed for their safe journey. By the next Sunday, the pastoral staff received word that the 7 year-old boy who I laid hands only a week before had drowned in the hotel swimming pool while on vacation.

What could mend a mother’s broken heart? What answers would bring sufficiency to the questions, “Why” and “Why me?” What does one do when you are no longer reading C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed but you are observing grief? As a pastor, what do you do when a mother who just came to the Lord with excitement now questions the very God that your helped her to get to know? What do you do when of all of the theologians that you have studied and the classes you have taken and the degrees that you have earned can’t help? What do you say when Greek and Hebrew can’t help? Knowledge about God seems to disappear in the anguish of the moment. What do you do when it seems that your prayers did not work? You feel overwhelmed with sorrow, grief, confused thoughts and anger. You try to pray but you worry if your own imperfections are prohibiting your prayers from reaching God’s ears.

Life looks so big that you can’t help anybody to cope with it. The problems are so complex that you don’t have an answer. Words don’t work anymore. Like the slaves on the plantation, moaning and groaning has become the best option. Where do we go? Who do we turn to?

A 95 year old lady, “Mrs. Rita Kitts from LaGrange Georgia was a precious lady who earned her Bachelors of Arts Degree along with me from LaGrange College. At that time, she was around 80 years old. She had the mind of a young lady and could get around just as well as a young person. Mrs. Kitts loved my family and kept in touch with my mom. She would also call me to encourage me along my vocational journey. Ms. Kitts died at 95 years old. He was never married and lived alone. About two weeks or so before Mrs. Kitts died, she called me and left a message of encouragement. It was not surprising that she called. She had done that many times before. But, her message was striking. She simply said, “Antipas, this is Rita Kitts. I have a word from the Lord from scripture to share with you.” With a faint voice on the voice mail Mrs. Kitts read what seemed to be the first part of this passage, “from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2).

Now, I understand that Ms. Kitts was prophesying to me as she was transitioning from this life to the next. The depth of her prophecy was profound and relevant to my hunger after God for life’s best. Life is hard, sometimes very hard. If we only look at life’s struggles and if we only watch the evening news, the ambitious among us will lose sight on who and what we feel called to do and to become. Mrs Kitts was an angel that day. She brought a message from the Psalms, the best message of encouragement. The Psalmist identifies with the overwhelming need for supernatural intervention when living seems to take the life right out of us. He gives us some guidance when we don’t know what to do in our distresses. He says, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Thank you Mrs. Kitts! In another place David says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills.From where does my help come?My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2).

As Mother Juanita Carter put it, “Take the Lawd along with you, everywhere you go. Honey Chile, you gon’ need Him!”

The ESV translates Matthew 20:20b. “And Behold!” Anglican Solitary Maggie Ross says that Jesus’ usage of the word “behold” in Matthew 28:20 is a recapitulation of God’s “behold” in Genesis 1:29. In other words, this is God’s first and final call to us, the heart of the contemplative call. When He said it the first time, Behold! He shows us our pre-mortal provision expressed in seed-bearing plants. When he said it the last time, Behold! He shows us ministry provision expressed in the seed of Abraham – that’s Christ.

The rest of the passage (Matthew 28:20b) says, “I am with you, always, to the end of the age!” I can imagine Jesus’ disciples thinking, “Now, if He is going to leave us, how will He also be with us?

  • Luke does not end his synoptic Gospel with “Go” because he was not finished. He has another volume. Before he got to the “Go” Luke needs us to stop by Pentecost. So, he ends his first volume with “stay” in Jerusalem. He knows that we need power to “Go!” So, before we “go,” we need to experience Pentecost!
  • In Acts, Luke sees Pentecost is where God comes among us be with us until the end of the age.
  • In his Moralia for all Christians, Bishop Basil the Great of Caesarea of Cappadocia says, “It is the power that is given to us by Jesus.
  • Just after the turn of the 20th century, Bishop William Seymour of the Azusa Street Revival calls it, “a real personal Pentecost, the enduement of power for service and work and for sealing unto the day of redemption.”
  • At the turn of the last century, Pope John Paul II said, “It is the consciousness of the Lord’s presence among us; by it we ask ourselves today the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech, ‘What must we do?’”
  • Biblical scholar D.A. Carson suggests that, “Jesus promises to bequeath his Spirit to us, and he kept his word.” It is the Spirit of Christ that he is promising to be with us until the end of the age.
  • Mother Juanita Carter said, “Take the Lawd along with you, everywhere you go. Honey Chile, you gon’ need Him!”
Dr. Antipas L. Harris
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