READ : Matthew 28:1-10, 16-20
One of the most deadening things that can happen to a person is to lose his or her sense of purpose in life. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives a new and special purpose to everyone who believes in him.
A recent book that is popular in Christian circles in the United States is entitled “The Purpose-Driven Church.” Its thesis is that churches must not simply drift along in a course directed by unthinking custom, but should think about why they are here and allow that to determine what they do.
Jesus of Nazareth lived a “purpose-driven” life. He didn’t just drift along aimlessly, or dabble casually in a variety of hobbies and activities like some amateur looking for a meaningful career. Jesus knew from the start why he had come into the world. He understood what his purpose was in life and what he was here for.
Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. In that sense his purpose was unique. He came into the world intentionally. Unlike us, he had a choice about whether or not to be born. He voluntarily accepted his role in God’s plan to save people. Jesus came to be the sin-bearer, the perfect substitute, the representative man who offered himself on the cross in order to pay the penalty which humanity owed for sin. In this he was and is unique.
But Jesus also came for another reason: to offer the world an example – the supreme example – of what it means to be human. His life is the best illustration of how God intends life to be lived. Jesus himself regularly defined the purpose of his life in terms of obedience to the will of God. For him, this ultimately meant submitting to the cross. But it also meant keeping all the commandments of God’s word to the full. This was the main business of his life. And in this Jesus serves as a model and an example to us. He could summarize his purpose in life with a quotation from the book of Psalms: “I have come, O Lord, to do your will” (Psalm 40:8, niv).
One day when Jesus was traveling with his disciples they stopped to rest at noon. And while the disciples all went into a nearby town to buy food, Jesus engaged a local woman in conversation beside the community well. As his friends returned with lunch, they found Jesus deeply involved in talking to this spiritual seeker about God and about her own life. They urged him to break away and eat something, but Jesus put them off. “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32, niv).
What in the world did he mean by that, his disciples wondered. Did Jesus have some secret source of nourishment? Then he told them plainly what he had meant by his figure of speech: “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34, niv). For Jesus, obedience to God’s will and involvement in God’s work was more important than the food he ate or the air he breathed. It was what he lived for. It was his supreme purpose.
For Christians Easter is the most significant day of the year. It is the annual celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. What is it, though, about the resurrection of Jesus that makes it so important?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is what has created the faith known as Christianity. Without the resurrection Jesus Christ is just another dead teacher from the past. He might command your respect or even your sympathy for what happened to him, but nothing more than that. But with the resurrection Jesus Christ is the living Lord who commands the absolute allegiance of all. There are plenty of figures in human history who lived admirable lives and said noble things. There are many even who have died martyrs’ deaths as witnesses to truth. But there is only one who has risen again from the dead. It is the resurrection which sets Jesus Christ apart from every other person who has ever lived, and which validates his claims to divine status as well as to human perfection.
There is also another way of looking at it. From our perspective, the resurrection of Jesus confirms his identity and undergirds our faith in him. But from God’s perspective, Jesus’ resurrection validates his sacrifice and rewards his obedience. The apostle Paul, writing to the church in Rome, said that Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). The resurrection is God’s stamp of approval upon the life and the death of his beloved Son. When Jesus first appeared in public, a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased” (Matt. 3:17). But when the crucified body of Jesus was raised to glorious new life on the third day, God was saying in a way far more powerful than any words could express that he was indeed pleased with his Son and the obedience he had offered to the very end. It was proof that Christ has fulfilled his purpose completely.
AN ASTONISHING CLAIM
Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. It means he can no longer be viewed just as a simple teacher of ethics or religion. It means that he has been exalted to the very highest position of honor and glory. The Bible says that, having raised Jesus to new life, God “has seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21).
Stripping that language of its pictorial imagery, what it means is that Jesus Christ is now the highest and greatest. He is the mightiest, the most glorious. He is the ultimate authority in the whole universe. He’s not just “above” all other potential powers, he is “far above them.”
Whoever or whatever might claim to be his rival isn’t even in sight! Jesus rules not only over this world, but over any and all other possible worlds. Jesus is Lord not only in this age, but also in the age to come in time and eternity. And no one else comes close.
After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus gathered his followers together for one last time. He began speaking to them by making an astonishing claim. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). Authority is power plus legitimacy. It is power to rule which is exercised by one who is the rightful ruler. Jesus claimed that all authority has been given to him by God the Father in virtue of his perfect obedience. Because of that life of obedience, which went as far as death on the cross for the salvation of the world, God has raised Jesus to the position of highest glory and honor. He has given him all authority.
What an incredible claim! This is a preposterous thing for a man to say – if he is no more than a man. If I told you that all authority in the universe had been given to me, you’d either laugh at me or have me committed, or perhaps both. No mere mortal, not even the greatest of persons, could seriously make such a statement. Imagine, for example, the President of the United States standing before a joint session of Congress and solemnly declaring, “All authority in the universe belongs to me. Therefore go and pass these taxes and implement my policies.” How far do you think he would get?
But when the risen Lord Jesus says this it does not seem at all out of place or inappropriate. Perhaps the most astonishing thing of all is that so many people all over the world believe and accept this astonishing claim. Including me, for one.
MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS
One of the most deadening things that can happen to people is to lose their sense of purpose in life. A life without purpose, or a life lived for an unworthy purpose, is robbed of its meaning. Jesus’ purpose in life was constant and unswerving: he lived for the fulfilling of God’s will. But if his claims are true, if God really has raised him from the dead and made him Lord over all time and every place, then that has a very particular and practical implication for us. For it means that our purpose in life is now to obey him, just as he obeyed God the Father.
Jesus added a command to the claim he made after his resurrection. Here it is:
“. . . go 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 I have commanded you.”
Matthew 28:19-20, niv
What Jesus is doing here is giving his followers some final instructions before he leaves them. It reminds me a little bit of the first time we left our kids at home alone for a few days. As we were walking out the door, we couldn’t help but go over their instructions one last time: “Here’s some money for food. Don’t forget to turn out the lights and lock the doors when you go to bed. Be sure to keep mom’s flowers watered. Oh, and feed the dog, don’t forget that. And whatever else you do, don’t fight with each other!” The closer we got to actually leaving, the more intensely we focused on the most important things.
Well, these words are Jesus’ final instructions to his family. He knows he’ll be leaving them for a while, and the closer he gets to his actual departure, the more he too concentrates on the most important things. If you are a Christian, you don’t have to wonder much about what you are meant to do with your life. Jesus has made the purpose very plain:
“. . . go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them to obey everything that I have said.”
That sounds at first as though Jesus is giving us a whole laundry list of things to do. If you simply look at the verbs in his statement, you’ll come up with four actions: “go, make disciples, baptize, teach.” But the central command in all of this is the second one; all of the others depend on or develop it. The primary thing Jesus tells us to do is to make disciples of all the nations.
To be honest, this is a problem for many people today, including many in the church. Christian evangelism seems objectionable in a pluralistic world. What right do Christians have to try to convert others to their religion? Recently Pope John Paul II was widely criticized while traveling in India for saying that Christians must continue to evangelize throughout the world, seeking to bring non -Christians to faith in Christ. Others may not like to hear it, but for anyone who is a follower of Jesus, there’s really no other option. This is what he told us to do. We’re not free to disregard his final instructions. It is, after all, our primary purpose in life. This universal command to make disciples everywhere is rooted in the universal authority claimed by the risen Lord Jesus Christ. If he really did rise from the dead, if he truly is the Son of God and the Ruler of the universe, shouldn’t everyone everywhere be made aware of this truth? And shouldn’t everyone everywhere have the chance to honor and worship him?
Obviously, as we seek to make disciples – mature and obedient followers of Jesus who increasingly live the way he lived – we will do so in love, and with sensitivity and compassion for everyone. We will respect all opinions; we will reject no persons. We will never attempt to coerce anyone into believing. We will refuse to no one the right of freedom of conscience and belief. Christians aren’t really attempting to impose their beliefs or anything else on anybody. But we do need to bear witness to the truth about Jesus Christ, who is risen from the dead, who is reigning as Lord. We do want everyone to know about him, and have the opportunity of meeting him and sharing in his eternal life. By doing that we are fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives.
After all, that’s what we’re here for.