Disciples are not born (though they are born again), but they are made—by Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the “helping spirit” (thank you, Carl Ketcherside) in assisting Jesus in making more disciples; obeying Jesus’ commission gets the job done. But the reality of Easter is the main motivation to help Jesus make disciples. Seth Wilson (founding academic dean of Ozark Christian College) said, “The resurrection is not a matter of faith; it is a record of fact.” Faith (or the lack thereof) does not change the reality of resurrection. Easter changed Jesus’ stay in Joseph’s tomb; it also gave the disciples a new purpose in living.
The Impetus of This New Purpose
Pilate had told the guards to make the tomb “as secure as you can” (Matthew 27:65). But securing that particular tomb would be as effective as a spiderweb in stopping a steaming locomotive. Following the Passover Sabbath, at dawn (Luke 24:1 says—in a number of Bible versions—it was “early dawn,” and John 20:1 says it was “still dark”), Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb (Mark 16:1 mentions Mary the mother of James and Salome, and Luke 24:10 mentions Joanna and “other women,” as well).
Sometime in those predawn hours, a violent earthquake took place (this is the second earthquake mentioned by Matthew—the other was in 27:51). This was due to the direct power of heaven. An angel came and moved the stone in front of the tomb entrance. We are told four things about this angel: he sat on the stone, his appearance was brilliant (like lightning and white in color), he inspired fear, and he gave heaven’s sermon.
The content of the angel’s message was, in essence, Easter’s song. First was the pastoral note—“Do not be afraid.” Angels habitually say that. In fact, Jesus repeated it when he greeted the women (v. 10). Easter is scary. If he is alive, then we will deal with him some day. Second was the factual note—“You are looking for Jesus.” But “he is not here; he has risen.” Third was the apologetic note—“Come and see.” God does not expect us to kiss our brains goodbye. He invites us to apply our minds to see if these eyewitnesses are credible. Finally was the missionary note—“Go and tell.” Jesus also repeated this (v. 10).
The women became the first evangelists. The conflicting emotions of fear and joy propelled them to hurry and run to the disciples to tell them of the angel’s message. The good news of Easter will cause one to run. En route, the women met Jesus suddenly. Jesus greeted them very matter-of-factly by saying, “Greetings.” While desiring to hold on to him and worship him, Jesus redirected their zeal for mission. The women were to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. This northern area of Israel was the headquarters for much of Jesus’ ministry. From a mountain in Galilee Jesus ultimately gave his final marching orders to the disciples.
The Commission of This New Purpose
The soldiers, who “became like dead men” (Matthew 28:4)—in a cemetery no less—got bought off (Matthew 28:11-15). Matthew is the only Gospel that tells this part of the story. Disciple-making is the third major theme of Matthew’s Gospel (the first being Jesus’ kingship—“Son of David”—and the second being that of his kingdom—“Son of Abraham”). This passage is called the Great Commission because it is all-inclusive. It deals with all authority, all nations, all teachings of Jesus, and the all-encompassing presence of Jesus. Every Gospel, as well as Acts, has a commission statement (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:48-49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:6-8).
Matthew’s commission statement is filled with several important details. First the disciples were obedient to the angel’s message—they went to a mountain in Galilee to meet up with Jesus. When they saw him, they worshiped him. This would be expected. But some doubted. That seems most odd until we realize that the word for doubt means “hesitate.” Maybe they were still just awestruck.
The resurrection had enlarged Jesus’ authority in heaven and earth (cf. John 5:22-23). While the going, baptizing, and teaching all are participles, they share the force of a command to make disciples. So, none of the steps are optional. The going matters for geography, the nations matter for ethnicity, the baptizing matters for the trinity, and the teaching matters for biblical literacy. Obeying this commission also contained a promise—namely, Jesus’ presence. He lives out one of his names, Immanuel (Matthew 1:23), through the Holy Spirit (John 14:17). Our new purpose is joined to a new presence.
Dr. Mark Scott