Matthew 28:16-20; “Go to the Ethnos” (10-5-14)

By the Rev. Bob Gochenour



First observed by the Presbyterians over 80 years ago, this day calls the church to be an inclusive and universal church.

This ministry of unity is seen in verse 2 of the hymn:

“The Church’s One Foundation”

Elect from every nation

Yet one o’er all the earth;

Her charter of salvation

One Lord, one faith, one birth;

One holy name she blesses,

Partakes one holy food,

And to one hope she presses,

With every grace endued.”

This morning we read from the familiar passage of the great commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”

This is a call for us to go to the entire world with the Gospel!

First, we are called to GO!

The church is not a static club of well-meaning believers.

We are not called to settle into safe & comfortable retreats.

We are not called to be an organization of self-interest.

We are called to GO:

       To be an active force for good in the world;

       To make disciples of Jesus Christ;

       To baptize them in the name of the Father/Son/HS;

       To teach them to obey Jesus’ commands;

       To transform the world!

The audience is the world: “all nations.”

We need to understand what Jesus actually meant by this great commission.

The word “Nations” is actually a modern concept—only about 250 years old.

The concept/reality of nations did not exist in Jesus’ day.

So we need to take another look at his great commission.

The word was the Greek word: “Ethnos”

“Ethnos” = ethnic groups, tribes, clans, families, etc.

Jesus said: “Go and makes disciples of all ethnos…”

Jesus is calling the church to be multi-ethnic: include all people.

The church is called to be universal and inclusive.

We are commissioned to go to every people: language groups, family groups, cultural identity groups, every group imaginable.

We are called to go next door and around the world.

We are called to local, statewide, national, and international ministries.

It is never a question of either local or international ministries; it is always both local and international ministries.

John Wesley knew this when he made his famous quote:

“The world is my parish!”

The early disciples help us understand the difficulties of this great commission.

Even though this is a noble quest, it is very difficult to accomplish.

The 11 disciples that were with Jesus on that mountaintop in Galilee were all Galilean Jews.

They had a distinct identity as God’s people, chosen by God to be unique among the world’s people.

They were chosen to represent God to the rest of the world.

They were never chosen to be God’s favorite people.

As pious Jews, they had been chosen to be a blessing to the whole world.

Over the centuries, their self-understanding changed.

Human sinfulness crept into their Jewish understanding and they became closed-minded.

Many of the Jews & people of Israel became ETHNOCENTRIC.

ETHNOCETRIC = the tendency to believe that one’s ethnic identity or cultural group is superior to all other groups.

This is the idea that your group is the center of the universe and all other groups are second rate and inferior to yours.

The Israelites decided that they were God’s favorite people.

The Israelites defined the rest of the world as outsiders.

They had a name for all these outsiders: Gentiles.

GENTILES = a dirty word for all non-Israelites who are under God’s curse.

Some insisted that God loved Israel and hated the Gentiles.

It is with this background that Jesus offers this correction.

He calls these 11 Jewish disciples to overcome their ethnocentric beliefs and go to the Ethnos (both Jews and gentiles) and makes disciples.

On this World Communion Sunday, Jesus is calling us to this same high calling: let go of your ethnocentric sins and build a multi-ethnic church.

Jesus is calling us all to open up and allow God to do a new thing!

Eric Law, in his book, The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb, tells us how we can achieve this high calling:

“The first step toward becoming a multi-cultural community is to recognize our own Tower of Babel—our ethnocentrism.

Each cultural grouping has a tendency to make itself superior, believing that its tower is better and taller and can reach the heavens.

In a multi-cultural community, we need to identify our Tower of Babel and decide to consciously stop building it. We need to come down from our tower and see others on level ground…As we climb down from our tower, we examine each brick and wall, learning how we got that high. When we finally land—with a fuller consciousness and acceptance of who we are—we are ready to encounter others who have also come down from their towers.”

Does that sound impossible?

Surely, it is difficult!

But if these 11 Jewish disciples can learn to do it, so can we.

Besides, Jesus promises all of us who follow him:

“Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”