Sermon for Holy Trinity, June 11, 2017
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 28:16-20
Sermon Theme: “How Do You Make Disciples?”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Examples; original ideas; Francis Chan Jokes about Making Disciples, christianpost.com)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Francis Chan, former pastor of the enormously large Cornerstone Community Church in Ventura County, California, told his congregation that when he was a kid, they used to play a game called “Simon Says.” The game involved three or more players, with one of them taking the role of Simon, who would then give instructions to the others, such as “Jump in the air,” or “Tap your head,” etc., to be done only if prefaced with “Simon says.” The other kids would then jump in the air, or whatever the command.
Chan said this was such a contrast to “Jesus says” among Christians in today’s world. In today’s churches, if Jesus says something, you don’t have to do something, you just have to memorize the verse quoting Him. For example, Jesus says, “Go and make disciples” in today’s sermon text. How many people in our churches are actually making disciples? But they’ve memorized the verse from Matthew 28:18-20, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Chan uses his daughter as an analogy of many churches today. He commands her to go clean her room, and she returns later, saying that she’s memorized his statement, “You said, ‘Go clean your room.’” And she adds, she can say it in Greek as well. And then she says, “My friends are going to come over and we’re going to study what it would look like if I cleaned my room.”
So the members of churches like that will no doubt meet Jesus on Judgment Day and recite those verses from memory to Him. Do you think that’s what He had in mind?
In the short passage of 5 verses that’s today’s sermon text, John packed an enormous amount of practical theology. Here’s what happened: After Jesus was crucified, died, buried and rose from the dead, and was with His disciples for almost six weeks after the resurrection, He told His disciples to head back to Galilee, to a certain mountain, where He would meet them.
And when they saw Him there, the text says, they worshiped Him, — but some doubted. Now they’d been with Him for about three years, listening to Him preach and teach, and watching Him heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, and those with all sorts of diseases. Still, some of them doubted that He really was the Son of God.
We don’t know who doubted, but it is interesting to note that no one was chastised for their doubt. Faith and doubt are never completely exclusive one of the other. Even the most substantial faith experiences an occasional doubt. Otherwise, it would not be faith but sight. God honors, even the most puny faith, if it is acted upon.
As Pastor Chan was pointing out to his congregation, the Lord commands His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples. That was His Mission Mandate. Nothing is said about institutions, buildings, and programs. Spiritual replication is the main mission. Our reason for existing as a church can be summed up in five simple words: GO, MAKE DISCIPLES, BAPTIZE, TEACH. Baptism without teaching is pointless. If you baptize your child, and then don’t bring them to church to hear the Word, you haven’t really obeyed the command of Jesus.
There is a right way and a wrong way to obey Jesus’ command to “make disciples.” And it is a command. The wrong way gives evangelism a bad name. The right way proclaims and incarnates the grace and love of God, which we experience in Christ. The wrong way lays guilt, bullies, pressures or judges. The wrong way to witness occurs when we point to ourselves or our congregation, rather than to Christ, as the object of faith. It’s not about our church; it’s about the the Son of God, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
You see, Christ gave His church the copyright on the gospel. Our duty and delight is to transmit the faith in the RIGHT way, — to show the love of Christ, — to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Harm comes from sharing the gospel in the wrong way, but the greatest harm stems from refusing to share the gospel. I know of a well-meaning church lady who once was asked to leave a house she was visiting, and she screamed at the family as she left, “You need to repent and believe in Jesus!” That’s the wrong way.
So what’s the right way? Well, there’s an example of a couple who went into a restaurant for dinner. Their waitress came over to the table while they were saying grace. When they finished praying, she stood there and appeared quite embarrassed. After she apologized for intruding, the man told her it was okay, and as a matter of fact he was glad that she was there to hear some good news.
You see, planting seeds is the beginning disciple-making. It can take very simple forms, and sometimes we even do it without thinking. Salvation is by grace through faith, and faith comes through hearing the Word.
Here’s another example. After a pastor preached a sermon like this one I’m preaching today, Ron went up to the pastor after the service, and wanted advice. He said he believed he should make disciples, that he should witness to others, but one of his best friends was a Buddhist.
Ron told his pastor, “My friend is very serious about the teachings of Buddha, and I am very uncomfortable with the idea of trying to change him. Must I try to convert him to my faith?”
The pastor replied, “You can’t convert him; the Holy Spirit converts. But, by all means, continue to be his friend. Since the Spirit is obviously leading you to talk about your faith in Christ, do just that as the opportunity arises in your day to day life. Make no attempt to coerce him, and please remember that the Holy Spirit will guide you in this matter. Pray, have faith, and allow God to work! Sometimes God’s work takes a long, long time. Don’t give up.”
While memorizing today’s text is not the main task of a Christian, it certainly is a good thing, in that on the spur of the moment you will be able to sow the seed, that is, the Word of God, because it’s right there in your head.
There is a verse in today’s text we must not overlook: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Considering the tenure of the times we are living in, we must not let that verse slip away from us. So many people in today’s world believe that God is all right as long as He doesn’t make any demands which would infringe on our freedom. The Bible is no longer the authority, even for many who claim to be Christians. Pastors and other church leaders are looked upon with skepticism.
Right along with the clergy are the teacher, the policeman, and even the doctor, — as they, too, have lost their aura of authority. In many Christian denominations today, there is no sense of authority, because Christ’s authority as Savior and Lord has been rejected. In today’s world, I’m sad to say, there is an absence of authority in the institutions of society, in the family, and in the church. The result is that law-breaking and depression are becoming the norm.
As I said, there is a lot of theology crammed into the five short verses of our sermon text. The final point to be made underscores the fact today is Holy Trinity Sunday. There are even some Christians who have trouble accepting the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Three-in-One, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can there be one God, but three persons? Although the term “Trinity” or “Holy Trinity” is never used in the Bible, Jesus’ words in today’s text prove the existence of the Trinity, as Jesus commands that believers be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. If there were no Trinity, Jesus would not have commanded baptism in the name of the Trinity.
Even children can understand the Trinity. When Tommy, an elementary school child was asked to draw a picture of God, he drew a large, yellow sun-face and a smaller circle-face which was the earth. He connected the two with a large rainbow. The sun symbolized the Father, the earth was Jesus, the Son. And the rainbow represented the Holy Spirit. Tommy amazed his teacher who said the sun was God’s face, the earth, where God became human in Jesus was the face of Jesus, and the rainbow, which reflects the rays of the sun, and frames the earth with its beauteous glory was the Spirit.
This was the teacher’s explanation of the drawing, not Tommy’s, but I believe instinctively, intuitively, Tommy, by drawing the picture, grasped the concept of God as the Holy Trinity. It’s a concept we must share when we make disciples. Amen.