The Disciples Didn't Get It at First
Please read Matthew 28:18-20 in your Bible. I used the NLT to write this message.
Whenever you find yourself not getting something right on the first try, don’t be frustrated, but know you’re keeping good company. For example:
“As a child, Albert Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow, and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. Most people would agree that he caught on pretty well in the end, winning the Nobel Prize and changing the face of physics.
“In his early years, teachers told Thomas Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Work was no better, as he was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough. Even as an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Of course, all those unsuccessful attempts finally resulted in the design that worked.
“Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip has had enduring fame, yet this cartoonist had every cartoon he submitted rejected by his high school yearbook staff. Even after high school, Schultz didn’t have it easy, applying and being rejected for a position working with Walt Disney.”
On these Sundays and Tuesdays in Lent, we’re going to take several looks at people who were around Jesus after He was raised from the dead and still didn’t get it. They didn’t believer or entertained doubts about what they were experiencing.
Though some of Jesus’ disciples had doubts, Jesus commissioned all of them.
1. Instructions followed: the disciples gathered in Galilee. (16)
The instruction to gather in Galilee was given in Matthew 26:32. On the way to Gethsemane, Jesus said, “BUT AFTER I HAVE BEEN RAISED FROM THE DEAD, I WILL GO AHEAD OF YOU TO GALILEE AND WILL MEET YOU THERE.” The passage implies that the warning and the instruction went unnoticed by the disciples.
The instruction was repeated in Matthew 28:10. After His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the women who had gone to His tomb. He said to them, “DON’T BE AFRAID! GO AND TELL MY BROTHERS TO LEAVE FOR GALILEE, AND THEY WILL SEE ME THERE.” After their non-response in chapter 26, a reminder was very much in order!
Only THE ELEVEN went to the unnamed mountain in Galilee. This is evidently who Jesus meant when He referred to His BROTHERS in Matthew 28:10. They were ELEVEN in number because Judas had already taken his own life at this point.
This was an appropriate meeting place for three reasons. One, all eleven disciples and Jesus were from Galilee. Two, those who’d gone to Jerusalem to observe the feast of Unleavened Bread returned home afterward in large groups. The ELEVEN could’ve travelled back among a crowd of returning pilgrims and gone unnoticed. Three, Jesus would use the mountaintop meeting to commission the ELEVEN to take the Gospel to ALL NATIONS. Galilee was known as “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Of all the provinces in the region, it was the place where Jews and Gentiles coexisted to the greatest degree.
We don’t know on which MOUNTAIN Jesus met them, but apparently this arrangement had been made in advance of His Resurrection. The location is not important, but it does remind us of Moses receiving the Law on Mt. Sinai and all the important things Jesus did on mountain tops.
2. The instruction was kept. (17)
I’m curious to know which of them WORSHIPED HIM and which of them DOUBTED, aren’t you? However, that’s the wrong question to ask. Taken as literally as possible, the text implies all of them offered worship of Jesus but some of them had doubts about Him at the same time.
This was obviously an unprecedented situation; a mixed response fits what we know about human nature. Still, how did they worship and doubt? Wouldn’t that be an act of hypocrisy?
The text doesn’t explicitly say so Jesus was the object of their doubt. Maybe they were doubting something other than the fact of Jesus’ Resurrection. It’s difficult for me to understand how they could continue to have any doubts about Jesus after this last and greatest demonstration of His divine power.
Let’s turn to the original language and the context of Matthew’s gospel for some direction. The Greek word for “doubt” (distazo) can also be translated “hesitate” or “waver.” It was last used in Matthew 14:31 to describe why Peter began to sink after he’d joined Jesus in walking on the water.
Comparing these accounts, we can theorize that all the disciples gave Jesus genuine worship because they were happy to see Him. However, after the excitement lessened, doubts arose. Peter was excited to see Jesus approach in the storm and stepped out in faith, walking on the water too. But then he saw the wind and waves and doubted it was real. It was then he began to sink. I think we’re seeing the same progression of emotions here.
Note the progression of the verbs: SAW => WORSHIPED => DOUBTED. All the disciples SAW Jesus. Their reaction was to WORSHIP Him. But then SOME of the worshipers DOUBTED.
While we’d like to see the disciples have more faith here, what we have is an unflinchingly accurate portrayal of human nature in an understandable way. I have no doubt we have all experienced a similar progression of emotions from happy surprise to exuberance to second thoughts as we cooled off.
3. The purpose of the meeting was to commission the disciples for a lifetime of service. (18-20)
Jesus had received ALL AUTHORITY and was delegating some of it to His disciples. (18) Surely He knew SOME OF THEM DOUBTED. He did not reject them for this, but graciously delegated to all of them AUTHORITY sufficient to the task of taking His message to ALL THE NATIONS.
Jesus knew their hearts. He knew they could and would overcome their doubts, not the other way around. Since Jesus demonstrated this kind of confidence in the disciples, so should we. More importantly, we should receive His confidence in US!
The mission Jesus gave the Eleven: MAKE DISCIPLES. (19) Remember the command God gave Adam and Eve? “Be fruitful and multiply.” As the first people were ordered to reproduce, so the first disciples were to reproduce their faith by making new disciples.
Much has been made in recent years of how the Greek literally says, “as you go,” implying that all of life – all our comings and goings – are to be opportunities for disciple-making. And yet, this is an intentional going, for Jesus commanded them to go to ALL THE NATIONS, not just their neighborhoods back home. His vision for them was global and tradition tells us the Eleven did eventually scatter across the ancient world.
The methods they were to use to accomplish their mission covered the beginning and duration of every believer’s life of faith. Representing the beginning of a disciple’s walk with Christ is baptism, a ritual marking conversion to our faith and initiation into the Church. The trinitarian formula for baptism distinguishes it from Jewish ritual and from John’s baptism. This is a new expression of relationship with God that marks the person as a participant in the New Covenant.
After a proper beginning, disciples are to be developed by teaching, cooperating with the Holy Spirit to sanctify and mature each follower’s faith. The focus of this teaching was to be obedience because obedience is the way we show Jesus we love Him (John 14:15+21). New Covenant teaching is not content to convey information; it demands change. It is a Scripture-centered ministry of love and truth.
Jesus’ promise was His abiding presence. (20) “BE SURE OF THIS” means to be certain and emboldened to speak the truth, knowing the Truth is in you. “I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS” means that, regardless of the degree to which we might feel His presence, He guaranteed He is with us at all times. The phrase “EVEN TO THE END OF THE AGE” removes all conditions to the promise of presence. The only limit to this promise is the one God the Father has set; Jesus’ Second Coming. There is no part of our earthly lifespan where Jesus will be absent from us. By saying it in this way, Jesus is clearly including all of us of later generations of faithful disciples. Also note the four times the word ALL appears in these three verses!
Though some of Jesus’ disciples had doubts, Jesus commissioned all of them.
The gospel writers did not white-wash the Twelve, even Matthew and John, who were part of them. The accuracy of the history of the Gospels is proven, in part, by this fact. A fabricated faith authored by these men would’ve sure glossed over all the times they misspoke, acted badly, exercised poor judgment, and didn’t get what Jesus was saying and doing.
That makes a guy like me hopeful. My greatest hope for this series of messages is that all of us will become more familiar with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and appreciate even more deeply what Jesus accomplished for us. My second greatest hope is that we will trust God to forgive the times when we don’t get it and mess up like the Apostles did. God used them to bring the mighty Roman Empire to heel, establishing His Church across the entire world. Our perfection has never been His qualification for service. We serve and He qualifies us.
Examples of short-term failures from https://budbilanich.com/50-famous-people-who-failed-at-their-first-attempt-at-career-success/, retrieved on 22 February 23.
Cornerstone Bible Commentary, Vol. 11, The Gospel of Matthew, 2005. David L. Turner