As the conclusion to our series called “Fearless,” a series that has taken us all the way through the gospel of Matthew, we are focusing on Matthew’s account of Jesus’ resurrection. It is found in Matt. 28. Please turn to that text in your Bible.
Many writers in the New Testament tell us about Jesus’ resurrection. What Matthew tells us about it is surprising. He reveals this: Jesus’ resurrection is intended to impact our life before death not just after death. Other writers in the New Testament will talk of how Jesus’ resurrection impacts our life after death, how, since Jesus was raised, we too will be raised, how, since Jesus defeated death, we too can defeat death. But that’s not what interests Matthew. And since we’ve been listening to Matthew since last December, we’ll let Matthew tell us what’s important about the resurrection. And according to Matthew, the resurrection impacts our life before we die not just after we die.
Specifically, according to Matthew Jesus’ resurrection offers us purpose and presence in the here and now.
Let’s talk first about purpose. Jesus’ resurrection offers the purpose of being a disciple and making disciples.
Consider for a moment this question: Why did Jesus come back from the dead? When someone comes back from the dead, it’s for a purpose, right? In the 1999 film “The Sixth Sense,” Kyra Collins is a young girl who dies and who returns, in ghost form, from the dead. She returns from the dead to tell something to Cole Sears, the little boy who “sees dead people.” Kyra returns from the dead to tell Cole that her mother poisoned her to death. Kyra returns from the dead to make sure everyone knows this injustice.
Why has Jesus returned from the dead? To take revenge on those who killed him? No. To overthrow Rome and become a new Caesar? No.
According to Matthew, here’s why Jesus has come back from the dead:
18 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 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matt. 28:18-20 ESV)
Jesus’ return from the dead has to do with this issue of being and making disciples. Jesus’ resurrection offers the purpose of being a disciple and making disciples. Jesus came back from the dead so that he could continue inviting people to be his disciple and so he could enlist us in inviting others to be his disciple.
Now, that may not sound very exciting. That may not sound like it was worth coming on Easter Sunday morning to here. So, let’s explore what this means. What does it mean to be a disciple?
This word “disciple” literally means “one who learns.” In the Jewish world a disciple referred to one who studied the Law under a particular teacher. In the Greek world a disciple referred to someone who was an apprentice to a master.
But in the ancient world, being a disciple, being pupil, being a student, didn’t just mean showing up for a sermon or a lecture or a lesson. In his book Being Disciples Rowan Williams writes this:
If you said to a modern student or prospective student that the essence of being a student was to hang on your teacher’s every word, to follow his or her steps, to sleep outside their door in case you missed any pearls of wisdom falling from their lips, to watch how they conducted themselves at the table, how they conducted themselves in the street, you might not get a very warm response. But in the ancient world, it was a rather more like that. To be the student of a teacher was to commit yourself to living in the same atmosphere and breathing the same air…Discipleship in that sense is a state of being in which you’re looking and listening without interruption…You’re hanging around; you’re watching; you’re absorbing a way of being…You learn by sharing life…
That’s what it means to be a disciple. Not listening to a sermon every now and then. But absorbing Jesus’ way of being. Sharing life with Jesus.
Mark Scandrette lives in San Francisco. He runs something which he calls the “Jesus Dojo.” You may be familiar with the idea of a dojo as a space where people come to train in martial arts. The word “dojo” in Japanese means “place of the way.” It can literally refer to a place where you train in the way of anything that is designed to shape you into a better person. But any true dojo will be a place of active learning where participation is expected. At a martial arts dojo you don’t just go and sit for a lecture on martial arts. You go and do martial arts.
Scandrette argues that Jesus’ understanding of “disciple” involves active learning. So he invented the Jesus Dojo, a space, a group, a community where people participate in actively in learning the way of Jesus. The basic invitation is this: “Let’s practice the way of Jesus.” Each week they create experiments in which they take specific teachings of Jesus and try to apply them in real-life situations in the world. And they come back together to share how the experiments went and how they were shaped by their attempts to live out the way of Jesus in the world.
That’s what it means to be a disciple. To actively participate in a way of life shaped by Jesus’ way of life.
Kyle Idleman says it really comes down to this–many people think of being fans of Jesus. But what Jesus offers is the chance to be a follower. Idleman writes this:
“It may seem that there are many followers of Jesus, but if they were honestly to define the relationship they have with him I am not sure it would be accurate to describe them as followers. It seems to me that there is a more suitable word to describe them. They are not followers of Jesus. They are fans of Jesus. Here is the most basic definition of fan in the dictionary: “An enthusiastic admirer” It’s the guy who goes to the football game with no shirt and a painted chest. He sits in the stands and cheers for his team. He’s got a signed jersey hanging on his wall at home and multiple bumper stickers on the back of his car. But he’s never in the game.”
That’s what it means to be a disciple. Not a fan. But a follower.
Last Thursday I went down to LaRose Elementary. Highland is one of the official adopters of LaRose elementary. The principal told us it is located near one of the most impoverished and most dangerous neighborhoods in America. Last Thursday the school was celebrating the second Grade students who had participated in the Arise to Read program. Highland members and other volunteers tutor second graders in reading. This is critical because if students fall behind in reading by third grade they basically never catch up and their entire academic pathway is at risk. April Thompson from News Channel 3 spoke at the event. She described how her team had produced a 30 minute news report on Arise to Read. She had come to know intimately the problems that come from falling behind in reading and the solution offered by Arise to Read. But she said it’s one thing to produce a news report on an issue and understand an issue. It is another to get personally involved. So she did what so many of our Highland volunteers have done. She got out from behind the desk, put the microphone down and she signed up to tutor two kids and started reading every week with them at LaRose.
When Jesus talks about being a disciple he’s not talking about watching or listening to some 30 minute production on what it means to follow him. He’s talking about laying the microphone down and participating actively in it.
Jesus rose from the dead to give us this purpose. To become disciples. And to commission us to invite people around the world to become disciples. What Jesus did during his life was not simply pave a way for us to get to heaven. That’s a very short-sighted way of looking at Jesus. If that’s all Jesus did, then the only reason he came back from the dead is to usher us off the earth and into heaven. No, what Jesus also did during his life is teach and model a way of life, that is both the most fulfilling life a human can live and is the kind of life that has the power to radically change the world. And he’s come back from the dead to invite us to put that way of live into practice and to invite others to put it into practice as well.
In Matthew’s Gospel, this way is best summarized in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus says, if you practice his way of life, you become like the salt of the world–you add flavor to everything and you become an agent against decay. And, he says, you become like light in the world–you bring revealing, comforting, needed light in dark places. And this happens, as he illustrates in the Sermon on the Mount, by living out the following ways:
- ? Keeping your promises (“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’”)
- ? Not hitting hit back (“But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”)
- ? “Loving your enemies”
- ? Serving the poor without drawing attention to yourself (“when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you”)
- ? Praying because you really want to talk to God not because you want to look spiritual (“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites”)
- ? Not getting owned by what you own (“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth”)
- ? Living in the present and letting go of your worries about tomorrow (“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow”)
- ? Treating people the way you want them to treat you (“whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them”)
Jesus returned from the dead because he believed that purpose is worth everything. He wanted to continue to invite others into this way of life, to be a disciple, to practice following him in this way of life. And he returned to enlist us to invite everyone around the world to follow him in this way of life. Because this way, this discipleship, is life-changing, world-changing.
- ? Imagine what every hospital would be like if every nurse, doctor, administrator, janitor and security guard were practicing the way of Jesus.
- ? Imagine what every school would be like if every teacher, administrator, and parent were practicing the way of Jesus.
- ? Imagine what Washington D. C. would be like if every representative, senator, Supreme Court Justice, journalist, the president, the president’s secretaries, the White House staff, were all practicing the way of Jesus.
- ? Imagine what could happen to violence, to poverty, to sex-trafficking, to the refugee crisis, to racism, to gender inequality, to terrorism if all across the world more and more children, men and women were invited not simply to go to church, not simply to go to heaven, but to practice the way of Jesus, to become a disciple.
Jesus conquered death, he overcame the final enemy, so that nothing could stand in the way of inviting others to the greatest way of life. Jesus demolished death so that he could enlist you in the great mission of inviting others to follow the greatest way of living there has ever been.
He wanted to give every person this purpose. It is a purpose that can be experienced and lived out no matter what role you have in life. It can be lived out as you plant cotton in the field. It can be lived out as you go from geometry class to Spanish class at school. It can be lived out as you change diapers and cook dinner at home. It can be lived out by a retired person who lives alone in an apartment. It can be live out by a young adult just starting her career. It can be lived out by a grandparent traveling to see her first granddaughter.
It is a purpose that remains especially in those times when you feel like you’ve lost your purpose. When your company eliminates your position. When you’re two years into college and you still have no idea what to major in. When you are in the middle of a middle-age crisis. When a parent dies or a sibling dies or a best friend dies. Even when things happen in our lives to make us feel like we’ve lost our purpose, this fundamental purpose remains with us. We carry it with us throughout all of life. It is the purpose that has to do with who we are at our very core. Jesus was resurrected in order to give us the kind of meaning in life that weathers all the tough stuff of life.
Jodi Picoult wrote a book called Small Great Things. It’s about a woman named Ruth. She’s worked for twenty years as a nurse. But then she’s accused of negligence leading to the death of a newborn. Her license is suspended and she’s no longer a nurse. She wrestles with her purpose, her meaning. If she’s no longer a nurse, who is she? What is her purpose in life?
Still, she’s a mother. Her son Edison means the world to her. So, she swallows her pride, and takes a job at a fast food restaurant so she can make minimum wage and pay some bills so Edison can finish out his senior year in high school. But when Edison walks into that fast food restaurant and sees his mom behind the counter, he is dismayed. That night he presents his mom with two things: a huge jar filled with coins he’s saved through the years, and a checkbook to the account with his college savings. But Ruth won’t have it. “If I can’t take care of you, if I can’t be a mother to you and provide a house and meals for you,” she says, “then I don’t know who I am.”
Jesus came back from the dead to provide a purpose that transcends all of that. So that if you lose your job, even if you lose your role as a parent, you still have a grand purpose–living out the way of Christ. By living that way you become salt in the world, light in the world. And by inviting others to live that way, you invite them to a purpose that remains though all else gives way.
Jesus rose from the grave to give you this purpose: to be a disciple and to invite others to be his disciple.
And, he rose to give us presence. Second, Jesus resurrection offers us presence. Jesus came back from the dead not only to give us this purpose. He also returned from the grave so that we might have the gift of his presence. As we go about the practice of being his disciples and inviting others to practice his way of life, Jesus gives us this promise: “I am with you always.” There is nothing now that can keep Jesus from being with us, not even death.
In other words, you will never be alone. You will never be alone. Say this out loud: “I will never be alone.”
Many people struggle with loneliness—from the rich and famous to the poor and unknown. Here’s a list of some famous people who have been honest about their loneliness:
- ? Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway confessed, “Loneliness is my least favorite thing about life. The thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone who will care for me.”
- ? Joss Whedon, director of the movie The Avengers, said, “Loneliness is about the scariest thing out there.”
- ? Scientist Albert Einstein wrote, “It is strange to be known so universally, and yet to be so lonely.”
- ? Marilyn Monroe said, “Sometimes I think the only people who stay with me and really listen are people I hire, people I pay.”
Once you decide that being a disciple is your primary purpose in life, you enter a way of living in which you are never alone, because you enter into an apprenticeship with one who is always present in your life. He is one who has conquered death and come back from the grave and is therefore able to be a constant presence in your life. You will never be lonely. You may be without the presence of other people. You may be surrounded by people and yet not be truly connected with any of them. But you will never be alone. Because as one who is practicing the way of Jesus you have been given the gift someone who is present with you in all places at all times. And you get to invite others to experience that life of non-loneliness as well.
In Jodi Picoult’s book the nurse Ruth is talking to her lawyer Kennedy. Ruth has a childhood friend named Christina. Despite their lifetime friendship Christina recently asked Ruth to come over. Christina wanted Ruth to know that she has to end the friendship because Ruth had been accused of negligence at the hospital. Christina’s husband is running for a political position and can’t afford to have his wife associated with anyone who might have legal trouble. Just when Ruth needed Christina the most, Christina cuts those ties. As Ruth tells her lawyer Kennedy about this, Kennedy says, “That’s awful!”
Ruth replies by saying “It is, but Christina doesn’t know any other way of being.:” This is what Jesus has come back from the dead to offer us. A different way of being. Not a career. Not a skill set. But a certain way of be that we carry with us into any job or any role or any place. A way of be that enables us to be salt and light in a dark and hurting world. And the promise that we will never be alone as we live out that way of being. Because not even death can keep Jesus walking with us for the rest of our lives.