When Marika and I were in our first year of marriage, we led a missions team down to Honduras for two months. While we were getting trained to lead this group, we had to attend a week long leadership camp, where they pushed us both physically and mentally. For the most part, I was fine, because most of the tasks weren’t out of the realm of my abilities. That is until we got to a challenge called the high ropes course.
Now, if you’ve never experienced a high ropes course, let me tell you it’s all in the name. It’s high above the ground with all you have to support you are the ropes, and it’s an obstacle course to navigate through. Personally, ropes and courses are fine with me; I’ll run a course, and play with ropes all day long. It’s when you take those two things and put them twenty feet high above the ground that I start to doubt my abilities. Because I don’t have a fear of high places, but of long drops.
In order to get me through the course, as I held on for dear life, Marika, who didn’t seem to have any trouble with the whole situation, spent the whole of the time encouraging me every step of the way. But the most harrowing part of the course, and the part that almost all of our group failed at, was this thing called the “X”. It was the final challenge of the course, and you had to accomplish it with a partner.
The challenge went like this: You faced your partner, put your arms out, and held each other’s hands in front of you. Then you made your way onto two ropes that gradually moved away from each other. The object of the challenge was to lean on your partner’s hands as your feet moved out from under you. You would eventually get to a position of almost being parallel to the ground.
I obviously had my doubts, but through Marika’s encouragement we were the only two from our group who finished the whole thing without falling. And that is why I will never do another ropes course for the rest of my life. I beat it, and so I will end as a champion.
But it’s this idea of doubting that brings us to a new series as we kick off this new year. We ended last year with our Ark series, finalizing it with the understanding that if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, then the Holy Spirit has been given to us, making us the ark of God’s presence in this world.
This is done through Jesus’ death on the cross, his resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God the Father.
Recently, I had a conversation with someone where the idea of apostleship and commissioning were brought up. Through that conversation and my prayer time following it, I was brought to a point where I understood God’s leading for us to talk about what it means to be commissioned by God. What it means for a believer to carry the presence of God in this world.
So for the next several weeks, we’re going to unpack one of the Alliance’s core passages, Matthew 28, the Great Commission. So if you have you’re Bibles, we’re going to be camping out in Matthew chapter 28 verse 16-20 for the coming weeks, as we dive deep into what it means to be commissioned by God and carry his presence into the world.
And as we open to Matthew 28, verse 16, I want to bring us up to speed on where we’re at in the passage and why we’re beginning where we are.
First off, let’s talk about the passage in it’s context. We’re coming at the end of one of the original twelve disciple’s Gospel account of Jesus. So as we read this, this commissioning is from an eyewitness account. Through the eyewitness of Matthew, we are given insight, not just of the words of Jesus, but of the state of mind of the disciples. Matthew’s Gospel is also undeniably focused on connecting Jesus with the Old Testament. So throughout his writing, we are brought back to Old Testament ideas. When we come to this passage, were coming directly after the resurrection, where we’re not told the number many days that have passed, just that Jesus is risen, and the disciples are to meet with him. Matthew ends his account of Jesus’ ministry here, because it’s where we see Jesus passing of the torch, of his work to the disciples. That’s the passage in context of where we find it.
The Second thing I want to point out is where we’re starting the passage. Though most translations start the passage in verse 16 with the heading, “The Great Commission,” when most people talk about the Great Commission, they’re usually only talking about verses 18-20. But for me, the situation that the disciples find themselves in, and that Jesus is speaking into, is just as important as the words that Jesus uses. Because as we’ll see, the words Jesus uses reflect the state of mind that the disciples are in. Therefore, I believe that we need to make sure we encompass verses 16 and 17 into the Great Commission to fully understand it.
So let’s do just that. We’ll read through the entire passage, and then go back and start to unpack it. Let’s start reading the Great Commission in Mathew 28, starting in verse 16.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Alright, a lot is going on this is passage, so let’s focus on verses 16 and 17 today. In these two verses, Matthew gives us the location and the state of mind of the disciples as they see Jesus resurrected.
First, let’s talk about location. Verse 16 reads, “16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.” In Matthew’s Gospel, mountain is mentioned twelve times. Nine of those are in connection to seven physical locations. The devil tempts Jesus on a mountain in chapter 4. Jesus delivers a sermon from a mountainside in chapter 5. Jesus goes to a mountain to pray in chapter 14. Jesus is transfigured on a mountain in chapter 17. In the end times, Jesus says that people are to flee to the mountains in chapter 24. And finally the mountain where the disciples are in this passage.
Why is this important? Because Matthew’s focus on mountains, is a direct connection to the Old Testament understanding that to meet with God, is to meet him on his holy mountain. Abraham meets God on a mountain when he is called to sacrifice Issac. Moses meets God on the mountain where he receives the commandments. Elijah meets God on the mountain where he is encouraged to return to ministry.
It’s where we get our phrase mountain top experience. The mountain being closer to the stars, is connected with the idea that the further up you go from the earth, the closer you are to heaven. Therefore, God meets you on the top of mountains.
So the fact that Matthew is pointing out that the disciples met Jesus on the mountain is significant. How significant? Let’s move into verse 17.
“17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” In verse 17 we’re given an action, and a state of mind. Let’s focus on the action first.
Matthew says that the disciples “worshiped him”. The word Matthew uses here is, proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o), which sounds a little like prostrating. And in fact means something similar. Proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) means to give reverence to someone by getting down on your knees and kissing their feet.
This is the same word that is used by both the devil and Jesus in their clash in Matthew 4:9 and 10. While on a mountain the devil says to Jesus, “‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and Proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) worship me.’ 10 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall Proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’””
So, when Matthew uses proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) here, he’s not using it lightly. Matthew is helping us understand the response of the disciples to Jesus. But what is more telling, is Jesus’ response to them. When we read the whole passage together, there is no rebuke, no correction from Jesus to the disciples. This points us to Jesus’ true identity of being fully God and worthy of our worship.
But let’s now turn our attention to the state of mind of the disciples. After the disciples worship Jesus, Matthew adds three words, “but some doubted”. The word distazo (dis-tad’-zo) is a combination of two greek words, “dis” and “stasis”. “Dis” means double, whereas “stasis” means stance. The proper understanding of the word then is a wavering between two stances, positions, or beliefs.
This word is only used one other time in the the New Testament and it’s by Matthew in chapter 14 verse 31. Listen to how it’s used in that context. Starting in verse 25 of Matthew chapter 14 it reads, “25 And in the fourth watch of the night he (Jesus) came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you distazo (dis-tad’-zo) doubt?”
Jesus speaks of Peter’s wavering between his trust in Jesus and his fear of the wind.
In the context of the Great Commission passage, the disciples are wavering in their belief of who Jesus really is. Sure they’re worshiping him, but they’re not sure about it.
And it’s here that I have to say, I love the intentionality and the honesty of Scripture. How many of us, if we tell a story about ourselves, try to leave out the most unflattering parts and embellish the parts that make us look better?
Growing up I used to tell this story of when I fell in a ditch. I was about seven or eight and I was riding my bike back from my friend’s house. We lived out in the county and my friend’s place was about two miles from mine. On my way back, I was practicing a wheelie, when a rattlesnake crossed right in front of me. When I tried to avoid the snake and I fell into the ditch along the side of the road. I hit my head, and when I came to, the sun was setting. I felt wetness on my scalp, and I thought I was bleeding, but when I went to move my arm to touch my head, I felt a really bad pain shoot through it, and I thought it was broke. As I was feeling the pain in my arm, I heard the faint rattling sound that is unmistakable for a rattlesnake. I sat there and thought of what I should do. I slowly looked around, but couldn’t see where the rattle was coming from. The grass had turned golden and was so thick, the rattle could be coming from anywhere. I laid there for a while, not daring to move. Then, I got up the courage to move slowly. With my hurt arm and pounding head, I pulled the bike out with my good arm and rode the half mile that remained to my house.
That’s a good story right? Let me add the unflattering details and bring back the embellishing. I wasn’t practicing my wheelies, I just hit a small patch of pebbles that had been thrown onto the road by a car coming off of a gravel road by my house. And there wasn’t a snake, the rustling sound I heard, was the wind through the grass. The wetness on my head was sweat, because it was summertime, and my arm wasn’t broke just really bruised. But when I told that story when I was younger, people would pat me on the back and tell me how brave I was. But the reality is, I wasn’t. I was just a shaky kid on a bike that didn’t want people to think he was such a bad rider. So I embellished the story, and got rid of the unflattering parts.
We tend to embellish the good and down play the bad, but the Scriptures don’t do that. They let us know the struggles of real people. Matthew could have easily left out the fact that all of the disciples where in this state wavering in their worship of Jesus. I mean, they were his inner circle, his eleven apostles, the first evangelists and leaders of the Church. But we’re told, that even after his resurrection, they were still doubting.
And I am so glad that Matthew lets us know that this was the reality of the disciples, because the words that Jesus uses, makes more sense when shown in the light of the disciples wavering, and it gives me hope as well.
These eleven disciples would go on to spend the rest of their lives being persecuted. These eleven waverers, would go on to be the first building blocks in Jesus’ Church. These doubters would go onto write the New Testament and give encouragement to those that would follow after them.
By letting us know that even these eleven wavered in their belief, and showing us that Jesus still commissioned them to carry out his work, gives me hope.
One of the things I struggled with when I was first called to ministry was, can I really do this? Am I really able to be a pastor? There are times when I waver even today with this question. But when I read about the wavering of these eleven disciples, and how God still used them, I realize that God can still use me when I waver.
Even in our wavering faith, God can use people like you and me. Peter wasn’t the brightest, Matthew wasn’t the most liked, John and James where hot heads, Thomas was a realist that needed hard evidence, Simeon and Thaddaeus were revolutionaries, Andrew was a simple man that stayed out of the spot light, Nathaniel was prejudice against those from Nazareth, Philip didn’t usually grasp the harder teachings of Jesus, and James the son of Alphaeus, well he got stuck with the nick name James Lesser, so yeah he didn’t do a lot.
These men weren’t the best in any regard, yet God used them to radically impact the world. That should give us hope, hope that even at our worst God can use us. Even in our doubts, in our wavering, God can use us. And when we understand that God uses common men and women of wavering belief, then we can understand how each of us is commissioned by God to accomplish all that he has for us.
Today, if you have put your trust into Jesus, yet you struggle in that trust, I want to encourage you that God can and will use you. You are commissioned to do his work, and let your wavering push you deeper into trust, deeper into the Scriptures, and deeper into worship.
I want to challenge you this week to write down where you struggle in your faith. For some it’s, how can a loving God allow evil. For others it’s, how do I love the unlovable. Still others it’s, I don’t have a response for the questions that non-believers ask me. Where do you struggle? How do you wavier? Bring it before God this week, and then re-read these two verses f those that came before you, who also wavered in their faith.
And through it, let us all become more humble before our God, bringing our doubts before him who still uses us, and worship him in truth. Amen.