(Acts 1: 1-9; Matthew 28: 16-20)
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 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 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The words of our Gospel lesson for this morning may sound very familiar to you. This passage of scripture is well known within our Christian faith as “The Great Commission of Jesus.” Dictionary.com lists two categories of definitions or meanings for the word “commission.”393 Each of them provides us with a relevant description of the way our risen Lord, Jesus, sent the Disciples out into the greater world to share the good news about him with others.
The first definition of commission is used as a verb or an action word. As a verb, commission is the actual act of entrusting or giving authority to someone to do something, such as sending someone on a mission to accomplish a certain task or achieve an outcome. As a noun, a commission is the power and authority, the authorization, order or direction itself that is given to a person to accomplish a task or achieve particular outcome. Thus, a commission is both the act of authorizing someone to do something, and the power and authority itself that is granted to achieve a desired outcome. If we now return to our lessons for this morning, we can understand just how each of these two definitions is appropriate to the story of The Great Commission Jesus gave to his Disciples.
As a verb, a commission is an actual act of authorizing upon someone for a particular purpose. Jesus surely did this, according to the text of our Gospel lesson. Jesus said to his disciples, his dearest companions and friends, “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 all that I have commanded you.” First, to satisfy any residual doubt about him in the disciples’ minds, even after they experienced Jesus’ compassionate healing ministry, his sacrificial death upon the cross, and his glorious resurrection from death and its accompanying burial tomb, Jesus declared both his authority over all things in heaven and on earth, and his rightful place as a member of the Holy Trinity to them—he is God the Son. Jesus then fulfilled the act of formally conveying this authority upon the Disciples, in order for them to complete a mission in his name, when he told them to go and to make disciples of all the nations. This manner of sending them forth as his witnesses was Jesus’ official act of commissioning his Disciples.
As a noun, we will recall a commission is the actual power and authority necessary to complete a task, and to achieve its desired outcome. To familiarize us with this aspect of Jesus Great Commission, we turn to today’s lesson from the Book of Acts. We recall that the author of the Gospel of Luke was also the author of the Book of Acts. Luke begins this second book about Jesus, the Disciples, and the activities of the early church by tying it back to his Gospel story found in Luke. Many scholars believe that Luke was hired by Theophilus, to whom he addressed his introductory comments in both the books of Luke and Acts, to provide a written account of all the events surrounding the life of Jesus and the ongoing work and mission of his Disciples. To accomplish this task, the Book of Acts picks up the account right where author Luke had left it in his version of the Gospel—with the risen Lord, Jesus.
In the introduction to the Book of Acts we read this morning, Luke briefly traced some significant events in the time Jesus spent with the Disciples during the forty days after his resurrection. While he was teaching them, he said to them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” There it is, church! Jesus promised his Disciples “power” to be his witnesses; and that power would be the power of the blessed Holy Spirit. That promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, as Luke recounted in Chapter 2 of the Book of Acts. A mighty wind entered the room where they were gathered, tongues as of fire rested upon them, and they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to praise God and to share the good news of God’s plan of salvation through Christ Jesus in many languages. And so, the Disciples received both forms of the word commission: they were given authority by Jesus to be his witnesses, and they were empowered by his promised gift of the Holy Spirit to fulfill this mission.
Church, we who believe in Jesus are the modern day Disciples of Christ Jesus to our world. You may ask by what authority we have been granted this task. I will share with you that John Wesley, who is credited as the founding father of our Methodist Denomination, was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church of England in 1728. The Anglican Church claims an Apostolic Succession of Bishops that leads through Paul, who was the Apostle to the Gentiles, directly back to Christ Jesus. Therefore, the United Methodist Church, that has continued this line of succession of our bishops through John Wesley, lays claim to the authority of this Apostolic Succession. Our Bishop, Rev. Tracy Malone, and those who have been ordained and commissioned by her and other Bishops as priests to serve in local churches, all have a claim to the authority of Christ’s Great Commission. These are the leaders and teachers who equip you for a mission in the faith. We each also have the gift of the same Holy Spirit, as believers in Christ Jesus, which the Disciples received on Pentecost day. So we are both authorized and empowered for our mission of making Disciples of Christ Jesus through sharing our own personal witness of faith. This is a critical aspect of our being the Church of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, in this very time and place. “How critical is this mission, this commission?” you may ask. It can change, and even save, a life, as I will now share with you.
It was during a Christmas Eve service, as I was sharing the evening message celebrating God’s love for us revealed in sending us Jesus, a woman we will call Donna came into the sanctuary and literally fell into the last pew. She had obviously been drinking. I continued with my message, keeping a close eye on Donna, who appeared to have fallen asleep. When the final Hymn was over, Donna got up and left. I hurried to finish the service, hoping to catch Donna before she left the church parking lot, but she had left as abruptly as she appeared. I said a prayer for Donna’s safe return home, expecting that I would not see Donna again. But, there she was on Sunday morning, looking much better than she had on Christmas Eve. I was able to speak with Donna after the service, but she was very shy and withdrawn, just barely answering the questions I asked her. I gave Donna the space and she needed, as she continued to attend Sunday morning services regularly. Several months later, Donna approached me after service with an envelope in her hand. She asked me to read it at home. I could not wait to read Donna’s note, and so I read it as Peter drove us home. Donna wrote that she knew she was an alcoholic. She had a fight with her husband on Christmas over her drinking. He threatened to leave her if she did not get help to stop drinking. Donna had stormed out and gotten in the car. Feeling desperate and alone, she drove around contemplating suicide when she heard the sound of a Christmas carol our church was singing. Donna came in that night just to listen to the joyful music she heard. What she received, was a message reminding her of how precious she was to God, and how God’s love sent Jesus to save her from her sins and offer her new life in him. Donna, hunched over with eyes closed, had heard every word of my message that Christmas Eve; and it touched her soul. Donna shared in that note that it was the good news in the message I shared that had saved her life, affirming her self-worth, and encouraging her to seek the help she needed. It was a struggle for her, but Donna was determined to stay with her program, and with her new-found church family. We had literally saved a life and made a new disciple of Jesus Christ, transforming a little piece of our world!
Friends, we are the church of Christ Jesus, authorized by him and empowered by the Holy Spirit to share his good news in a world that is sorely in need of it. We may not only transform lives in our world; but as you have seen, we may quite literally save them. So, as generations of Disciples have done before us, let us go forth today as Disciples of Christ who witness his love, mercy and forgiveness to transform a world sorely in need of them; for you have been commissioned! Amen.