A Dry Tree

At the end of the story about Stephen, one of the most dominant characters of the New Testament makes his entrance. We are introduced to a man named Saul, who stands and holds the cloaks of the accusers while he oversees and approves the execution. While we will talk much more about Saul in the time to come, the next thing we see is this early church being persecuted and scattered throughout the land. At the beginning of Acts 8, we are told Saul continues to be one of the leaders of this persecution.

Nevertheless, it is the very next paragraph that assures the reader God’s redemptive plan for the world goes on unhindered. They continue to bring shalom to chaos and healing to brokenness. While the church gets pushed to different corners of the empire, Philip ends up in Samaria; he preaches to those in Samaria and the Kingdom of God advances explosively, just as Jesus taught them.

There is a sorcerer there who latches onto Philip and begins to follow him. When the church hears the news that people in Samaria are jumping in on God’s redemptive plan for the world, they excitedly send Peter and John to investigate. When Simon (the former sorcerer) sees them casting out evil spirits, his old self can’t help but want a piece of the action. But this early movement is not interested in cheap thrills, spiritual gimmicks, or economic advancement. They are wanting to grow deep roots and they exhort Simon accordingly.

I find the next story so inspiring to my walk as a Jesus follower. Continuing to follow the prompting of the Spirit, Philip heads down the road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. There he meets an Ethiopian eunuch who has traveled to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. It’s at this point where most of us might appreciate some context.

This Ethiopian eunuch is the treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopia; he’s an important guy.

He is on his way back from worshipping the God of Israel. We are not told he is a Jew, though it’s possible he might be. (I personally find it unlikely that Luke would leave such a detail out of his account.)

Even if he is a Jew, as a eunuch he will not be allowed to worship Adonai and would have been excluded from the assembly; he would have been forced to worship God as an outsider. The book of Deuteronomy explicitly excluded those with damaged (or altered) genitalia from entering the assembly of worship (cf. Deut. 23:1).

The guy is carrying around a scroll of Isaiah — this is unheard of. You may remember us talking about how an entire village would only have a few scrolls for the entire town of hundreds or thousands. The fact that this guy is carrying around Isaiah tells you he is obviously of incredible wealth (which is expected as the treasurer for Candace) and takes his Bible study very seriously. He knows everything we mentioned above — and he went to worship the God of Israel anyway. He is coming back from Jerusalem where he stood in the court of the Gentiles and caught glimpses of the House of God.

This outsider is content with what he is able to receive from God. And he’s serious about his Text.

Now, back to our story. Philip sees he is reading Isaiah and asks him if he understands what he is studying. Like a typical middle-easterner, the man responds with, “Who could understand by studying these words by themselves? How could I understand it without your help?”

I imagine, sensing this is the reason God had him on this road, Philip climbs into the chariot and begins to expound on the message of Isaiah. The passage tells us the eunuch is studying Isaiah 53. Being a holiday reading, it would make perfect sense for the eunuch to read this on his way to the Temple for worship and possibly still be thinking on it and studying it on his way back. This is the prescribed reading for his trip. Every Jew would be reading these words on that day.

But now watch what Philip does because HE KNOWS HIS TEXT.

What the passage says directly is that Philip tells the eunuch about Jesus, starting in Isaiah 53 (and the assumption is that he continues reading). You don’t suppose he got through the next few chapters, do you? Isaiah 56:
Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
    and my righteousness be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
    and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
    and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.”
No, that would be crazy if Philip went to THAT passage! Crazy brilliant.
But now wait. We need to look at the question the eunuch asked and Philip is answering, because I think therein lies the lesson. The eunuch had asked him: “Is this passage [Isaiah 53] talking about the prophet or someone else?”

You might remember that we talked about this entire ending to Isaiah as being a call for Israel to be God’s servant. Because they suffer, they will be building the future. For the historical readers of Isaiah, this is not a “messianic” prophecy. This is an exhortation to suffer for the LORD. My point is that the eunuch’s question has nothing to do with the Messiah.

His question is about himself.

His question is this: “Does this exhortation belong only to the prophet and the people of God? Does it apply to outsiders like me?

And Philip explains to him, using Isaiah (possibly chapter 56), that in Jesus, this good news and call from God is for ALL PEOPLE. While he may be excluded from the assembly of worshippers at the Temple, he is not excluded from the community of God and the invitation to partner with Him in putting the world back together.
And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.



At this point in the book of Acts, there is something that needs to be addressed. It won’t be a deep textual observation or Jewish hermeneutics. But it is one of the most profound truths I have experienced during my studies in the land of Israel and Turkey.

It doesn’t take long as you read the book of Acts to find that these early believers are taking an awful lot of heat from the world around them. Almost all of the early chapters contain stories of resistance and persecution. The most significant source of persecution seems to come from their own religious community. Remember, this corrupt Sanhedrin had already executed their leader; to continue to push this movement forward publicly is an incredible decision full of risk and danger for their own lives. But they do push forward. What strikes me as so significant is the manner in which they follow their rabbi.

Their rabbi had taught them how to do this. Back in the sermon on the mount, Jesus had given a teaching about responding to injustice. He told them that if they were struck on the right cheek to the turn the other. If they were sued for their outer cloak (tallit) they were to give their accuser the undergarments (haluk) as well. And if a soldier demanded they carry packs, they were to carry them an extra mile.

Many people hear Jesus’s words as purely pacifistic, but that’s not entirely true to context. When Jesus talks about the cheek being struck, he specifies the right cheek. In a world where all personal interaction is engaged with the right hand, to be struck on the right cheek would be a backhanded action. This was a demeaning strike meant for slaves and people of lower class. If you were struck on the left cheek, it would be with a fist. Jesus is telling his listeners that if they are treated like a lesser human being, they are to respond not with violence, but with a public display that shows the injustice for what it is. He is telling them to confront injustice by shining light in dark places.

“You just hit me like I am a piece of property. If you want to hit me, you can hit me like the human being I am.”

It’s not pacifism; but it’s not redemptive violence, either.

The same is true for the following examples. To sue someone for their cloak is incredibly unjust and breaks commands found in Deuteronomy. If someone wants to wrong you to that extent, Jesus says, just give them everything and stand naked before them — showing the injustice for what it is. A soldier was allowed by law to make you carry their pack for one mile; to demand more was against Roman law. Jesus says, if a solider wants to treat you like garbage, put him in the incredibly awkward position of volunteering to help him break the law.

Jesus’s first followers understood this teaching in a way that we, as twenty-first century American Christians, do not. Time and time again, I run into stories in Turkey of the ancient Church and the first Christians who were martyred for their faith. In the ruins of Heiropolis (close to Colossae and Laodecia) there sits a martyrium for Philip. According to church history, Philip was tortured to death at the city gates when he refused to denounce Christ. They hung him from the gate with a chain through his achilles tendons while they raped and crucified his seven daughters just out of his reach. According to the historian, the daughters died encouraging their father to remain steadfast and not deny Jesus.

In the book of Acts, we keep reading about the persecution of these first believers. Eventually, we run across the story of Stephen, who was stoned to death by the religious authorities. To be clear, the first Christians were not pacifists — they were confronting evil and shining light in dark places. But nor were they going to protect themselves and fight back.

To be clear, the apostles weren’t trying to obtain concealed carry permits. They were not fighting for their rights. They were not sitting around philosophically contemplating what they would do if someone broke into their house and began raping their children. Ask Philip; he lived it.

Now, please hear me, I’m not against concealed carry permits and I enjoy being able to own guns. But not for one moment do I think any of this is how the followers of Jesus went about bringing shalom to chaos. No, time after time, these forefathers of our faith modeled for us what it means to be a city on a hill and show what radical forgiveness looks like, because in the reality of the Kingdom of God, forgiveness has to win the day — not revenge, not self-preservation.

When John’s disciple Polycarp was brought to the arena in Smyrna, the soldier asked him to denounce Christ. In the famous story, Polycarp recounts how Christ has never let him down, so why would he repay such kindness with denial? As they begin to arrange the wood and nail him to the stake, Polycarp instructs them to stop, telling them that God will give him the perseverance to stand in the flames without being fastened. The soldiers lit the wood on fire and Polycarp was burned at the stake.

Philip and Polycarp were made out of the same stuff as people like Stephen.

Stephen did not start slinging stones back at his accusers in self-defense. Stephen was too busy praying that God would forgive them in their ignorance. Go ahead and read it in the Text (Acts 7).

One of the things I find so striking about the story of Stephen is found at the end of his life. As Stephen is being stoned to death, the Text tells us he looks up into heaven and says he can see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Initially, that’s not an odd image; there are numerous places throughout the Scripture where you can find the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God.

What is striking is that Jesus isn’t sitting. Jesus is standing.

This is the only place where Jesus is ever pictured standing at the right hand of God. While it’s possible I might be reading too much into this story, I see this as a picture of Jesus paying tribute to the first of his disciples who will take seriously the command to pick up their execution device and follow their rabbi.


Each One

**  This teaching was heavily influenced by my time with Ray VanderLaan.

Of course, stories like the last one ARE the exception, and the writer of Acts is quick to make that point. The very next record in Acts 5 (vv. 12–16) goes on to record the miraculous signs the apostles were performing:
The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
It seems like a simple enough passage, an innocent record of the things the followers of Jesus were engaged in. Of course, a skeptical reader might find this record a little dubious. In fact, if one takes a second look at the passage, they too might feel as though the details are a little over the top. Is this really what happened? Does the writer of Acts really need to tell the story this way? It seems like the record of some cheap magic tricks.

People are bringing the sick into the streets so shadows might fall on them?

I mean, even Jesus didn’t seem to go around doing miracles with this level of Jedi mastery. The picture that’s given seems to be one where the disciples are wandering through Jerusalem, minding their own business, and their shadows are magically healing people like a moving relic.

It seems, just as it used to appear in Genesis and all throughout our study, like I have some problems in the Text where the author is begging me to look again and start digging. It isn’t quite right, like there are details in the story that don’t need to be there. Peter’s shadow? Why Peter’s shadow? Is he the lead magician who has more supernatural powers than the others? And why do the details to push up against the boundaries of our common sense? Is there more going on here?

Well, let’s head out on a brief tangent about the messiah.

One of the areas where New Testament Christianity seems to have a misunderstanding of Judaism is the realm of the messiah. First, as we’ve pointed out in other places in this series, the prophecies we often associate with “messianic prophecies” are often not primarily messianic at all; they could (and often should!) be interpreted in a multitude of ways. Second, the Jewish faith is, generally speaking, not looking for a messiah in the sense that we understand messiah or talk about Jesus. In most of Jewish history, the idea of one messianic character who would come and rescue the Jewish people was not a prevalent idea and was often considered quite fringe and fundamentalist.

During the first century, this idea of a messiah was much more prevalent than it was at almost any other time in Jewish history. The writing of the book of Daniel and its commentary on the Roman Empire was certainly a major discussion in the rabbinical circles, but it’s worth noting they often didn’t interact with the idea of messiah in the way we think they did. As a side note, we should also remind ourselves that the concept of the messiah being God in the flesh simply did not exist at this point in Jewish history. They were not expecting the arrival of God in human form, and the idea of the Incarnation is still considered blasphemous on a lot of levels. (This is not to suggest that it is wrong at all; I have a deep love for the doctrine of the Incarnation. I simply find it helpful to remind myself that the Jewish people were not looking for the arrival of God in the flesh.)

Even in the discussions we’ve had surrounding the “Son of Man” and the coming of Righteous Abel or the judgment of Elijah, there was much discussion about whether these people would be literal persons or symbolic of other leaders. The eyes of the Jewish faith were not fixed on the coming of a person so much as the coming of an age. This was much more of a concern than the arrival of just one person; if there was going to be a person, he/she was simply going to help usher in the age. But the era of the olam haba and the “age to come” was the point. The messiah figure would simply be a passing detail.

Passages all throughout the Tanakh spoke of how the world would be in the age to come. For example, Isaiah 32:
See, a king will reign in righteousness    and rulers will rule with justice.Each one will be like a shelter from the wind    and a refuge from the storm,like streams of water in the desert    and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
This passage speaks of a day when all things will be made right, when things will be as they ought to be. If you look at the passage closely (even in the Hebrew), you will notice a few things. First, there is a king (singular) who will reign in righteousness. Second, there will be rulers (plural) who will rule in justice…

Wait… plural?

WE are the rulers. It is not the messiah in this prophecy who offers shelter and shade, refuge from the storm, and water in a dry desert. No, but each one (ref. “rulers”) will be a shelter from the wind. Each one will be a refuge from the storm. Each one will be a stream of water in the desert. Each one will be shade in a thirsty land.

I have a friend who is a Rabbi and a shop-owner in Jerusalem. His name is Moshe. Whenever you ask Moshe questions about Messiah, he will very lovingly remind you that he’s not looking for a messiah. But he will also admit that he could be wrong — he might have missed him/her. But he will say in his brilliant Jewish tenor, “But the Scriptures tell me what it will be like! If Messiah is here, there should be the healing of the nations! If Messiah is here, there should be peace brought to chaos! If Messiah is here, then the Kingdom of God should be here! Where is it? WHERE IS IT!? I don’t see it! So how could Messiah have come?”

Sometimes I think we get so hung up on trying to prove Jesus fulfilled prophecy that we forget there is prophecy left for YOU AND I to fulfill.

And the writer of the book of Acts knows this. We said earlier the book of Acts is like the epilogue to the narrative of God where we see the people of God grasp their calling to bring the Kingdom of God crashing into earth — to make the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven.

And so the writer speaks in very poetic words of the people bringing the sick into the streets so that even Peter’s shadow might fall on them.

Why? Because Isaiah 32 is being fulfilled. Because the people of God are ushering in the messianic age. Because olam haba has come, “rulers are ruling with mishpat,” and they are setting things right. Jesus has brought a whole new reality and announced that the Kingdom of God is, in fact, right under our noses and we have been invited to partner with God in making the world right.

And the sick and the marginalized are longing to sit in their shade, to find refuge from their storms, and to drink water in a parched desert.

“Why Peter’s shadow?” we had asked.

Well, with tongue-in-cheek, I see Luke mouthing the words to Isaiah 32 as he records Acts 5:
“…and the shadow of a great rock…”

“I will call you Peter (petros; ‘rock, stone’),” Jesus had said, “and on this rock I will build my church.”

May we take up the call to fulfill prophecy and be a kingdom of priests who remind the world the Kingdom of God has arrived.



Acts 5 brings us to one of the most disturbing stories in the account of Acts. It’s the story of Ananias and Sapphira and what appears to be a moment where God breaks out of character and loses His mind. I’ll admit that this story is disturbing to me, as well, and I feel as though it should be. (I would direct you back to some of the tension I felt in the story of the conquest; much of it is true here, too.)

And again, there are a few things that make me pause to be sure I’m stripping my assumptions out of my approach to the story. What does the Text say and what does it NOT say? For example, God’s voice is strangely silent in this story, while Peter does an awful lot of talking. While I’m not necessarily suggesting Peter is out of line or out of God’s will in his actions, it does seem strangely reminiscent of the story of Elijah and the chutzpah he demonstrates in his declaration that it won’t rain.

But such a suggestion may be a stretch, so let’s assume God is in fact behind the words of Peter’s condemnation. It would be wise of us to notice this isn’t the first time we’ve seen an action like this in the narrative of God.

Of course, it would also be wise to notice these stories are so out of character for God that it causes us to ask serious questions. This is not the default posture of God toward His people. When stories like these show up, they remind us it is by far the exception and not the rule. They also remind us God is not a character interested in fitting into any of our tight and tidy boxes we’ve created for Him.

I can count the stories that come to mind on one hand. I think of names like Nadab, Abihu, and Uzzah as examples. Let’s deal with a few of these. If this is not the default posture of God and such an exception to the rule, then why the exception? Hearing stories like these causes the reader to throw up their hands and cry, “Really?! Doesn’t that seem like a bit much?”

One of the first stories like this we run into is an odd story in the book of Leviticus (chapter 10) where two of Aaron’s sons try to offer “common” fire before the LORD. (This is the correct Hebrew translation; many translations of the Text will use “profane” here, and then translate the same Hebrew word as “common” only a few verses later.) Apparently the issue is Nadab and Abihu were not doing the work of discerning the “common” from the “holy” — the secular from the sacred. This is one of the first lessons God is trying to teach His brand new priests. Nadab and Abihu fail to take things seriously and God responds by setting a standard.

The entire mission of God will depend on His priests being able to teach the larger “kingdom of priests” (Israel) how to discern light from darkness in the world around them. If they fail to learn this lesson — if the story of God is corrupted before it even gets off the ground…

And that seems to be the crux of these stories. God’s reactions, which seem so out of character, come because these are critical moments in the history of His people. If the mission is lost before the first step is even taken, the result will not be the redemption of the world and restoration of mishpat, but continued disorder and chaos.

The next story is found in Numbers 15. After the story of the Golden Calf, the giving of the Law at Sinai, and the construction of the Tabernacle (which was a mobile reminder of the creation/Sabbath story), one of the first stories we are told is of a nameless character who refuses to observe the Sabbath. The community brings in the offender, not knowing how to handle the offense, and God hands down a judgment of capital punishment. Again, at a critical juncture for His people, God is serious about this Sabbath business. He’s setting a standard of holiness.

Again, later in the story, after the conquest of the city of Jericho, Achan and his family are stoned to death after refusing to follow the instructions of total dedication to the LORD. And again, the story comes at the beginning of a critical chapter in the history of God’s people.

In the book of Acts, I see the story of Ananias and Sapphira mirroring those stories in big ways.

As in the story of Nadab and Abihu, God just built a new Temple (the people of God).

As in the story of the Sabbath-breaker of Numbers 15, God just put the law in the hearts of His people in a Pentecost story that retold the story of Sinai.

As in the story of Achan, God is leading His people into a completely new kind of conquest.

And in come priests who don’t want to take it seriously. Here come people who aren’t going to tell the truth about the promises of God. They say they want to give it all to God, but they hide some of what’s rightfully His under their tents.

I guess I’m not really sure how to end this post. I have no eloquent line to make this all seem poetic.
But I do think we dabble in the mission of God. I think the curse of our brand of American Christianity is that we like to say one thing, while we do another. And I’m glad that in my life, I haven’t experienced the exception of the rule, because I certainly know I’m guilty of these offenses myself.

I want to realize God takes His mission to put the world back together very seriously. May God have the mercy to continue to teach us where we need to grow up and burn away the garbage in our hearts. May we be coachable students who have wide eyes, sitting on the edge of our chairs with attentive humility, ready to learn with a reverent awe for the work of God.

Far too often, I’ve been the slouching student in the back of the room staring at the clock.


Uncut Corners

One of the next stories we run into is the story of Pentecost. There are so many tantalizing aspects to this story when seen through the Text. Let’s pull out a couple of them.

First, the setting.

The story of Pentecost is set within the biblical festival of Shavuot. Shavuot (the Festival of Weeks) is the celebration of the harvest (more on that in a moment) and the giving of Torah on Mt. Sinai. When the Jews did the math of the Exodus story, they came to the conclusion that if the Israelites left Egypt on Passover, arrived at Sinai ten days later, and Moses spent forty days with God in the cloud, then the giving of the Law would fall on Shavuot — so they celebrated the giving of the Law at the Temple that day. If you go back and review the details of the story of Mt. Sinai, however, you will find some striking similarities between the story of Pentecost and the story of Moses and the Law.

In both stories, you have the people coming to the Mountain of the LORD (Sinai/Zion). In both stories, there is thunder/tongues (in Hebrew, the word for “thunder” in Exodus 19 is also the word for “tongues”). In both stories, God is going to establish His temple: the Tabernacle in Exodus and the temple of His people (made of “living stones,” as Peter will tell us) in the book of Acts. In the Exodus, fire will come out from the temple and consume the sacrifice as God dwells in the Tabernacle; in Acts, God’s fire will come out and settle on people as God takes up residence in a new temple.

In Exodus, Moses will come down the mountain with a message from God and find the people in sin at the Golden Calf. We are told Moses will sanction the slaughter of about 3000 people. Peter stands on the steps of Mt. Zion with a message from God and the people will find themselves pierced. And about how many were saved that day?


It’s in the Text! The story of Pentecost is the redemption of the Golden Calf story. Brilliant.

Second, the content of the celebration.

Not only are the Jews celebrating the giving of the Law, but biblically, the festival is put in place to celebrate the wheat harvest. In the biblical world, there are two harvests each spring. The barley harvest comes first; barley is often referred to as the “poor man’s grain,” with barley loaves being the bread for the commoner. The second harvest is wheat; this grain is much more desirable and fine than that of barley. In the biblical calendar year, God told you to celebrate the Festival of Firstfruits with the barley harvest. You would bring the first of the barley harvest and remember how God brought you into the Promised Land.

Then, fifty days later, God told you to bring “an offering in proportion to how the LORD has blessed you” for the festival of Shavuot. Not only this, but you were commanded not to cut the corners of your field during the wheat harvest, leaving it for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. What I love about that is God tells you to offer your best to those in need — even after you offer a gift to the LORD in proportion to His incredible blessing on you.

My teacher used to jump up and down and say, “If there are no uncut corners in your celebration of Jesus, you are not Pentecostal — I don’t care how many of you are speaking in tongues!” In the Jewish mind, it’s not Shavuot unless those in need are blessed. How does the story in Acts end?
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
They had true Pentecost. Not only this, but the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus play into this story, as well. Jesus dies on Passover, is resurrected on the Festival of Firstfruits (the “firstfruits” even for the poor man), and God saves the greatest harvest — the fine and desirable harvest of the wheat — to be the fragrant generosity of His people, partnering with Him to put the world back together.

Mmm. Delicious tidbits from the Text. It’s an epilogue of an early church that got it!

As the Jews continued to study the story of Shavuot over the centuries, they began reading the story of Ruth each Shavuot. The book of Ruth is basically written to encompass all of the principles we discussed above. There is the giving of the Law and Ruth reminding Boaz of the covenant he carries and the call he has to take care of the alien, orphan, and widow (of which Ruth is all three). There are the uncut corners she gleans from. We are told she shows up during the barley harvest and gleans through the wheat harvest. And we are confronted over and over again with the generosity of Boaz.

Will this movement of God-followers, set apart for the task of partnering with God on Shavuot, end up providing a home and a welcoming community for the mumzer — the outsider, the foreigner — and seize the call of Abram to be a blessing to all nations?

Will we see an example of a community of people who understand how to partner with God in putting the world back together?



So once the disciples arrive at “the mountain” in the Galilee, we are told the following:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.
I love that we are told some of the disciples doubted. Before one of the greatest and final commands Jesus gives in his early ministry, we are told there are still those who doubt. And Jesus commissions them anyway. He does not separate the sheep from the goats for the great commission. He does not put the doubters in one pile and the believers in another.

Apparently doubt is acceptable for commissioned disciple-makers of Jesus.

That’s good news, because I have some great moments of wrestling, don’t you? It’s okay to admit it. Nobody is listening (although you may look quite odd to your coworker if you are talking to your computer).

Jesus tells 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.”
Now, let’s unpack this piece by piece. In fact, let’s do it backwards.

Teach them. Jesus wants his followers to be teachers. One of our jobs is to open our eyes and assist others in opening their eyes to the truth and reality of God’s story all around them. We aren’t to bring them to some holy place where they can see God — no, we are to help them see God everywhere. We are to teach them about God as seen in the person of Jesus Christ. We are to pass on his teachings. As we’ve discussed before, I’m not sure how we will fulfill this command if we do not know his teachings…

Baptize them. If you remember, the act of baptism is an act of repentance. We are inviting people to “return home.” We are inviting them to come back to where God originally created them to be. We are bringing people “good news” about a far better Kingdom than the ones they are accustomed to. We are marking entrance into this Kingdom with a washing — a cleansing. It’s a putting on of a new self and a washing away of the old. This new reality is throwing the lights on for people everywhere, setting them free.

Make disciples. This is the portion that gets me in the most trouble. I say this because I do not believe the great commission is inviting us to make converts. I do not believe Jesus is inviting us here to call people into deeper spiritual formation or mentorship. I do not believe the great commission (specifically) is a call to spiritual growth or maturity. I believe that, like the rest of the Bible, I need to hear this command through the ears of context. The call to make disciples is a call to rabbinical, “Come, follow me” discipleship. It is a call to find people who are willing and able to spend their whole selves becoming like their rabbi. We talked earlier in this series about the process of discipleship, about how a disciple wanted to “know what the rabbi knows, in order to do what the rabbi does, in order to be just like the rabbi in his walk with God.” This is what the call of discipleship is. I would expound on this, but I’m not sure where I would stop. This is one of my greatest passions. I’m not sure why so few are making disciples the way Jesus made disciples; that seems like a recipe of foolishness to me. The call of discipleship is not for everyone, but it should be for someone. This is the reason I got into campus ministry; somebody needs to be finding ways to look at a student and say, “Come, follow me.”

And the best part of this whole thing is that Jesus doesn’t do the normal “rabbi thing.” Typically, rabbis would pass on their authority to at least one or some of their disciples so the story might continue. But we’re listening to a resurrected Jesus talk here. He’s very much alive — and he keeps all the authority for himself.

We are to go and make disciples. We are to make disciples the way Jesus made disciples. We are commissioned in the living authority of Jesus. And when the going gets tough and the mistakes happen and the fear is overwhelming…

…lo, he is with us always. Forever. To the very end of the age.