"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Life After Life After Death

Matthew's account of the Resurrection is rather terse.  It deals simply and briefly with representatives of two groups of people - the faithful and the faithless - and many elements found in the other gospels are missing.  In this account, though, the purpose of Christ after His resurrection, and indeed of His own church, are well revealed. 

Matthew's treatment of the faithful after the Resurrection includes the angel instructing the women at the tomb to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where Jesus will meet them.  A short moment later, Jesus Himself appears, is worshipped, and reiterates the same command.  In Galilee, He is worshipped by the disciples; He delivers the momentous Great Commission, and the gospel abruptly ends.  So we see the urgency in getting the disciples to the place where they will receive their marching orders, and those order ring in our ears as the book closes.  Might we suppose that Matthew perceived this matter to be of vital importance?

This idea is reinforced by how Matthew, in the very midst of this narrative, accounts for the chief priests, who artfully concoct a ruse to explain away the Resurrection.  What does Jesus do with these traitors?  He does nothing, although He might have done much, had He desired.  Our Lord could have appeared in their midst and declared, even as He said to His disciples, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth."  Do you see how this would have been as terrifying to the chief priests as it was strengthening to the disciples?  Yet we see that He does nothing of the sort.  The silence of the Lord is a deafening judgment.  There is nothing left to say to these perennial naysayers, these grasping murderers, and their schemes, like the kings in Psalm 2, can do nothing to hinder the powerful workings of the risen Lord.  Jesus therefore sets about the task of building His church through His disciples. 

The Great Commission was Christ's concern after He arose, and it was Matthew's concern as he closed his gospel.  It also must be the church's continual concern.  The temptation is, at times, to relegate the Great Commission to the realm of good examples:  something from another time and place for the church to admire, to be aware of, and to make part of its purpose, alongside other separate concerns, such as social justice, political activism, or benevolence apart from the gospel.

As the Great Commission does not seem to last long when it is forced to stand alongside lesser concerns, it seems good to recall a few reasons why the Lord's command at the end of Matthew persists even to this day, and why it did not die with the apostle John.

1.  The Extent of the Imperative.  It was patently impossible for a mere dozen men to make disciples of every nation.  Discipleship is a long and winding climb, in which salvation is but the first of ten thousand steps.  Of course, we understand that this is why Peter and Paul and the others worked to raise up others, their spiritual teknoi - to propagate and carry on that work.  We note that these spiritual descendants did not end their work of discipleship in the twilight of the first century; this commission has been carried and passed as a spiritual heritage through a score of centuries.

2.  The Enactment of the Imperative.  This command accomplished the building of the church.  A few scant months after Jesus delivered the Great Commission, the church sprang up in response to the obedient work of the disciples.  The ecclesiology that the disciples laid down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit sought to fulfill the Great Commission (look at the purpose of pastors and teachers in Ephesians 4:12, for instance), so that is how we define the purpose of the church - the same church of which we are glad partakers even today.

3.  The Endurance of the Imperative.  All this is all well and good, unless perhaps there is a countermanding order for later believers in the church age?  If the church endures, and if indeed the church was created for the work of discipleship, then the only reason we might suppose our mission has changed would be if the Lord of that church, the Alpha and the Omega, has changed it Himself.  There is not the barest scent of change in His Word, though, and it is mutinously arbitrary for anyone else to decide that it should be changed. 

The purposes of the resurrected Lord continue to this very day, and we labor, by His grace, in the long shadow of the Great Commission.  May this world not distract us to lesser objects!


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