Jonah was the only prophet called to people out of Israel.[i] That fact makes it easier to sympathize with Jonah’s resistance to God’s call to go to Nineveh. “I didn’t sign up for this,” Jonah must have thought. “No one else has ever been asked to do this!”
In his own book, Jonah is the anti-hero, a reminder of what we are not to do. God gives Jonah four directives in his book and Jonah (initially at least) rejects all four. The first two calls are coupled together. “Arise and go!” God twice tells Jonah. Last week we examined God’s call for Jonah and us to arise and we reflected just how difficult it is to swim against the cultural current and arise. But arise we must.
And Go. We must go into the mess. We’re called to step into the entanglements of lives around us. It’s easier to keep the lids on the trash cans, but you can’t get into the lives of those around you unless you start taking off some lids.
Some opt out because of the mess. Others opt out because they don’t think they’re qualified. We think that explaining Christianity is best left to the experts. Better to leave it to the pastor with the theological degree to explain it than mess it up myself.
For some of us we can hear those words, “Arise, go” and we immediately think about that in terms of vocational missionaries who are called to go overseas. And indeed, we ought to send, support, partner with, and champion those who are called. But Christ’s call to go isn’t merely a call to the professionals. It’s a call for all of us.
God never tells us to do what he hasn’t done. Because God cares, we care. Because God came, we go. Dozens of times in the gospels Jesus emphasizes that he was sent. The word “sent” occurs over 120 times in the gospels alone, almost all of those referring to the fact that Jesus was sent or that Jesus sent others. God didn’t just put out his shingle and say, “stop in if you want to experience life the way it was intended.” God came. Jesus came to seek out and to save those who are lost.[ii]
At the end of his life, Jesus calls us all forward with this purpose to go. Jesus concludes the gospel of Matthew with these familiar words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The central command is in the text is to make disciples with “go,” “baptize,” and “teach” hanging on that central command as participles.[iii] Christ has left us with a disciple-multiplying mission and his means for us to carry that out are by going, baptizing, and teaching. It’s like: “Clean the kitchen! Taking out the trash, sweeping the floor, and wiping down the counters.” Our going, then, is not an end in and of itself, it is a going directed toward making disciples, toward speaking the hope of Christ into the lives of those around us. And we do so in the power of our Triune God, who sends us, has rescued us, and fills us and is with us![iv]
We not only follow God’s heart, we also are promised to have him with us as we go.[v]
It is a call for everyone. A call overseas is the outlier. If God calls you there, you better follow, but his first call for all of us in where we are going in our lives already.
We’re called to build bridges from the gospel to the world. God is a bridge-building God. Pastor Robert Lewis, in his book, The Church of the Irresistible Influence says that a bridge is the perfect analogy for what we are called to be as the church: a lifeline of hope to a world in need. But building a bridge has consequences and danger. In Lewis’s book he shares the story of the first bridge built to Prince Edward Island, the bucolic setting for Anne of Green Gables. When the bridge was built it created the ability for locals to easily navigate their way to mainland New Brunswick Canada, but it also, for the first time, opened up the door for a flood of traffic to come to the island and impact the island. So it is with the church. It is our call to be those who build bridges from the good news of Jesus to the world. But those bridges are dangerous because traffic goes both way on a bridge. Life is not as bucolic when you get off Prince Edward Island and have to deal with those wild Canadians.
Let’s arise and go, friends. Let’s build those bridges and deal with the messiness that ensues. Because he commands it. And because he came first.
Photo credit: Carlos Alberto/Unsplash
[i] Elizabeth Achtemeier, NIBC "Jonah", 255. Most prophets spoke words of warning to other nations, but no one actually went to those nations.
[ii] Luke 19:55ff
[iii] This is a great article explaining the translation: http://thinktheology.org/2013/11/07/greek-geeking-the-great-commission-in-matthew/. See also Leon Morris, Pillar "Matthew", 746. The three participles all have the force of a command as well, but the emphasis is the initial command: make disciples.
[iv] Powerful also in verse 19 is the Triune command to baptize in the name (singular, not plural!) of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. See Morris, Pillar "Matthew", 748.
[v] Leon Morris, Pillar "Matthew", 750. The ministry of Jesus continues to today.