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Sermon by Rev. Mark Covington, Pastor
First United Methodist Church
Quitman, Mississippi
May 20, 2012

Topic: Famous Last Words and The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)

[On Audio only: Brother Mark shares some famous last words from some famous people.]

Now what made me start thinking of famous last words? Well, Matthew 28 did: Matthew 28 18-20. These are the words that Jesus spoke just before His ascension into heaven.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
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 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Have you ever read a passage of scripture, one that you have read many times before, and suddenly something stands out that never had stood out before?

Well, it happened to me this week. I was reading something else and it referenced Matthew 28:18-20, so I looked it up as I have done countless times before.

We know it as The Great Commission. It comes at the end of the earthly existence of Jesus, just before his Ascension. The 11 disciples had gone to Galilee, to a mountain to which Jesus had directed them. Jesus appears to them, and we are told they worshipped him but some doubted.

Jesus says 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So what could possibly be there for me to see that I had never seen before?

First, let’s talk about this passage in general.

This passage is the central core of the purpose of the church. It tells us that there are three things they are to do. Go, Baptize, Teach.

Now let’s slow down and look at these one at a time.

Go. You know that I don’t do this often but on occasion, when I want to really parse a word, understand it’s meaning within the context that it was said, I go to the original Greek. One of the best sources for people like me, who don’t know the language, is Strong Lexicon. It lists the words of a text and references that to a number that is then referenced to a definition.

In this case I looked up the word GO, here is what I found. The Greek word is used to express motion in general, often confined to within certain limits, or giving prominence to the bearing (direction); hence the regular word for the march of an army. There is a synonym that denotes motion or progress generally, and of any sort, hence to “come” and arrive at, as well as “to go.” And there is a related word that primarily signifies “to walk”, or “take steps”.

So what does that all mean for us in our understanding of the command to “Go.” It means that the command does not necessarily mean that you have to leave home and family and friends, that is, become foreign missionaries, but that we are to make disciples as we move through this world. We are to be as an army marching on a bearing from us to God.

Some are called to travel to far off places. Some are called to ordained ministry.

But all are called to make disciples.

Next this call to baptize means literally to baptize but there is more to it than that. What is baptism and why do we do it? The act of physical baptism is the symbolic washing of sins away. It symbolizes rebirth, from the old self to a new self. For the church baptism is also the means of incorporating them into the “Body of Christ”, the church.

In some traditions, the Baptist, for instance, baptism and church membership usually take place at the same time. That is, when one makes the decision to devote their lives to Christ, they are immersed and that marks them as a member of that church.

In our own Methodist tradition we see it a little different. We practice infant baptism understanding that even before that child can do anything for God, that God has already done something for that child, namely giving himself as a sacrifice for all sin. At a later date, usually adolescence, that child makes the decision to accept the gift of salvation and become a part of the church.

Either way, baptism is a mark of the decision to follow Christ.

So why do we do missions? Why do we paint houses close to home? Why do we help families in need? Why do we go to other countries? Why do we go across this country?

The answer is very simple: Because Jesus told us us to! He told us to go, to teach, and to baptize. And then He gives us that great assurance. He says, I want you to know that I’m with you always, even to the end of the age.

  

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