I love this clip from the movie “Hoosiers.” Coach Dale wants his assistant coach, Shooter, the town drunk, to be ready to step up in case he ever gets kicked out of a game. So Coach makes a risky move: when the game is on the line, he puts Shooter on the front line, forcing him to make the calls needed to win the game.
This is no practice. This is the real deal. Shooter fails; team loses. Shooter succeeds; they get a ‘W.’
You can see almost see the thoughts forming in Shooter’s mind when Coach gets kicked out: “How can this be happening? Again? I can’t handle this. I failed miserably last time. I’m not Coach. I’m not able to do this.”
It’s almost identical to what I imagine was going through the disciples’ minds as they watched Jesus ascend to heaven. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives his disciples their final instructions: carry on his mission of making disciples. And then he leaves. He takes himself out of the game.
Why would Jesus leave the most important task in human history in the hands of… humans? We are unqualified and incapable of carrying out this mission on our own. We are the town drunk, sitting on the bench, afraid to speak, afraid to move, watching the final seconds of the game slip away, putting our head in our hands in defeat.
We may look in the mirror and see the town drunk, but Jesus Christ looks at us, His Church, and sees potential and promise. And he did not leave us on our own, he left so the Holy Spirit could come. The only thing that’s changed is then the disciples walked alongside God-in-the-flesh and now we walk with God-inside-us.
This is no practice for us either. This is as real as it gets. Success for us is walking in step with the Spirit, being obedient and faithful to what He calls us to do. Let us do our best to succeed because there is much more on the line than a simple basketball game.
Jesus Ascends into Heaven
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you: and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Sound familiar? Be fishers of men, make disciples, be my witnesses… in other words, share Christ with people and turn the world upside down!
But now Jesus explains how average, ordinary guys are going to be able to handle this large, seemingly impossible task: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”
This isn’t the first time that Jesus has mentioned the Holy Spirit to the disciples. In fact, in John 16:6 Jesus tells the disciples not to be sad that he is leaving them. In the next verse he says, “It is for your good that I am going away.” Then he goes on to tell them about the Holy Spirit, who will come in his absence.
The Holy Spirit changes everything. Jesus is comfortable leaving his disciples in charge of carrying out his mission because the Holy Spirit is coming to live inside them and is bringing his power with him.
These men, who up to this point have only been followers, become great leaders shortly after Jesus ascends into heaven. They speak with boldness in front of huge crowds and religious hot shots; they have steadfast courage in the face of imprisonment, beatings, and even death; they are able to do some amazing miracles. And it all happens after they receive the Holy Spirit.
And if you’ve put your faith in Jesus Christ, this same Holy Spirit lives in you! In his power, and only his power, we can succeed in this mission!
The Great Commission
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.”
This is one of the last things that Jesus says to his followers. So at the very beginning and at the very end of his time with them on earth, Jesus is totally upfront about his mission for them.
I think it’s safe to assume that Jesus is repeating himself because this is a very important thing to Jesus. But isn’t he going out on a limb to entrust this mission to these guys?
I don’t know how familiar you are with the Gospels, but these books really don’t portray the disciples as being a “dream team” that can change the world. It seems more like they’re a few fries short of a Happy Meal. One of their most common responses to Jesus’ teachings is, “Huh?” Over and over again you can see they just don’t get it.
And then in Jesus’ greatest hour of need, when he’s arrested and illegally put on trial, they abandon him. Not exactly the group of guys I’d choose to carry on my life’s work.
The one thing they’ve got working in their favor (and maybe this is the only thing that really counts in God’s eyes) is that they are always willing to place themselves under Jesus’ authority and leadership. Once, Jesus asks the disciples if they want to leave him because his teachings are so hard, and Peter says, “To who else would we go? We’re yours. We believe you’re God’s Holy One.”
But even though their hearts are in the right place, they’re still not the sharpest tools in the shed. So how can Jesus feel comfortable leaving this mission in their hands? Why does he believe in them? What does he know that we don’t?
That’s the next question we need to answer.
The Calling of the First Disciples
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Right from the beginning of Jesus’ relationship with Peter, Andrew, James and John, he is very upfront about what their mission is. It involves two things: 1) following him and 2) casting wide nets for the purpose of calling other people to follow him. Some describe this mission as “knowing Him and making Him known.”
The big question is whether or not this mission was just for those first disciples. Is embracing this mission an essential component of being a Christian today?
In other words, is this a negotiable aspect of life with God? Are all Christians supposed to be sharing their faith? If so, what are the consequences for those of us who choose not to? This week we’ll look at more of Jesus’ words on this topic, and see if we can get any insights on these questions.