The Power of Presence

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.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NRSV)

Sometimes I’m asked what makes me tick.

I say, “I’m seeking a relationship with the God of the Bible which rests in His love and is lived out with integrity and transparency.”  This is much less of a statement than those of bygone days.  What about being a loving husband and good dad?  What about being a good neighbor and making an adequate living?  What about a life that helps create disciples?  What about building the Church?  While people are too kind to say it, I think I hear in their blank look and quiet turning away the words, “Dave, I’m not sure I can relate. Isn’t your life focus too selfish and narrow? Don’t you want to DO something that makes a difference?”

The reason for the change in my life focus from bygone days is this:  If my understanding of life, my personal values, and my experience of joy and peace aren’t first found in an authentic relationship with Christ, I have nothing but my messed up, and fearful self to take into the opportunities He gives me to serve and love others.

It isn’t just obedience to a command that’s needed to enter into the most exciting mission imaginable; it’s a love-response to wait on, and abide in an ever-present Lord Jesus Christ. The Great Commandment to love God with all that I am and have always precedes the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, or any other life pursuit I might deem worthy of my love and attention. There are so many reluctant disciple-makers, and why not.  Why would we ever want to pass on a mere form of godliness?  What’s exciting about that?

Let’s examine closely Matthew 28:18 & 20 of the Great Commission to discover how to move from a reluctant disciple-maker to one fully engaged in the mission of the Church. 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…therefore, as you are going disciplize[1] …teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Notice first of all that v. 20 is part of a “therefore” following Christ’s description of His absolute authority over everything in heaven and earth in v. 18.  We are to teach what we’ve received from Christ because He, the Lord of Heaven, wants us to do so.  The power of that teaching is discovered later in v. 20.  It’s not just what we’ve been given in the past that we’re to pass on to others, but what we’ve been given and adopted for our own life because we walk daily with Him.

The command to help create others into followers of Jesus is a direct result of the authority that Jesus has.  God gave Jesus His sovereign, all-embracing authority by virtue of who He is and the victory over Satan and death that He has won. He has risen from death to His position of absolute authority with great joy and anticipation of the final reconciliation of the entire creation to the perfect, good and eternal purposes of God.[2] Because He is Lord He has authority to send us forth on a mission to that end.

Jesus has the perfect right to exercise His authority from afar.  But does He?

If we believe Jesus is distant on heaven’s throne and from there demanding our obedience, but not otherwise directly engaged, don’t we usually come to depend on our own resources – the persuasive or controlling influence we exert on others through the personality or position we’ve taken on?

It seems to me that is the reason for burned out and reluctant disciples.  We naturally tend to create forms of godliness – forms that fill with dull routine and empty gestures of love, and forms fueled by unrealistic expectations of our efforts. By neglecting the last phrase of Matthew 28:20 in application of the Great Commission, in one way or another, we have too often asked people to merely work FOR God, not WITH Him.  We so often hear: “Do your best to follow my example and work hard for God – while I go away for a while to sit on the Throne.” But the simple fact is that we can’t follow very well from afar and we know it.  And whether it’s us who have drifted from God, or simply that we don’t really believe He is with us, the end is the same.  We fall short of helping to complete the Church’s (any church’s) reason for continuing to exist.

Jesus exercises His authority over our lives and the mission of our brotherhood from right here, not from afar.

Based on the last phrase of v. 20, I believe Jesus not only exercises authority from a distant throne, but from within us – as close as possible! He’s in the room, and we bow to His presence. Jesus is in the room, and we are moved to action because we believe it to be true that He is here with us in this very thing of teaching each other by word and example what it means to be His follower.  We get to be WITH Him in this life He’s laid out for us!  That is the Power of Presence, not the power of position or persuasion. It is the power of presence that communicates love and invites obedience.

It reminds me of the scene at the end of the Robin Hood saga (at least my favorite one starring Errol Flynn). In the end, all fall to one knee in the presence of King Richard who has come among them (even though he’d been reported dead).  From then on, they will not fight for him, but with him!

”…I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In disciplizing those we meet in life, what difference does it make that Christ is WITH us to the end of the age – especially in relation to teaching each other by word and example what it means to be His follower?

  • “Command” isn’t such a bad word is it, if it’s the power of a loving person who’s close at hand that moves us to respond positively to Jesus.
  • “All” isn’t impossible if it doesn’t mean checking off the list “everything” Jesus left with us 2000 long years ago (~125 commands![3]).
  • “Teaching” isn’t for leaders only if it means inviting others to understand and value for themselves what Jesus has been teaching me right now to live out in my walk with him.

Teaching the Gospel is always best life-on-life because the life of Christ, not mere words and empty gestures, we hope to see reproduced within the hearts of our friends and family.  When teaching is life-on-life instead of list-to-life it introduces the new believer to an authentic relationship with Christ and with His followers who believe nothing can come of the Christian mission without His overcoming, victorious presence.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5 (NRSV)

When a loving mom leaves a note on the counter instructing her son to eat some Brussels sprouts with his supper, it’s up to him and he probably won’t because it seems like the choice is his alone.  Besides, he figures, by the way those sprouts smell they’re probably nasty tasting.  But when a mom is there with her son, cooks the sprouts just the right way, and eats them with him, he’s compelled to eat with her because he loves her.  In the end, he may in fact learn to like the sprouts!

When Alison Krauss sings “you say it best when you say nothing at all,” she does so because her lover is near: “But when you hold me near, you drown out the crowd. Old Mr. Webster could never define what’s being said between your heart and mind…”  Let us hear Jesus’ last words as they should be heard in light of His promise to never leave us or forsake us and learn to love teaching others!  Hear Him say to you,

“Follow my lead, my beloved – as we all do this thing together.

Can you believe you and I get to do this together, my child?” [4]

[1]disciplize” – mathēteusate (μαθητεύσατε) Verb, Imperative, Aorist, Active, 2nd Person, Plural:  Matthew 28:19 is literally, having gone therefore disciple all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  The translation “make disciples” may create the impression that we can force others to believe or that through human ingenuity the mission proceeds toward completion.  This is unfortunate because the idea is simply that in our going forth as authentic disciples, by our lives and our witness to Christ we offer a compelling and loving invitation to others to follow Him.

[2] Ephesians 1:17-23; Hebrews 2:14-15; Jude 24-25; Revelation 12:9-11

[3] Lists of Jesus commands can be found at:

www.wowzone.com/commandm.htm

www.loveallpeople.org/pearl-thecommandmentsofjesus.html

[4]  Watch this video to help visualize Jesus’ invitation to join the mission. www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLSV1vyKNKU