Jason Free

The Right Tools

by Jason Free on March 13th, 2024
Matthew 28:18-20

I recently read an interesting, but not necessarily novel, way to figure out what drives a person in life, from their relationship choices, to their career, to where they choose to live, and even who they vote for, there is a simple question that you can ask, that will likely reveal all those things. Here is the question. “What do you consider to be the good life? What would make up your ideal life?”

That question is one we all answer sometimes consciously, other times not. In our minds and in our hearts, we entertain a vision of what we think is the ideal life, what a good life looks like. And you may not necessarily be living that life right now, you might never live it, but it’s there, and it’s the ideal. Deep down you wish you had it, that good life, and that desire pushes you and drives you throughout your life. It is part of your decision-making process, and plays a role in your emotional, physical, and even spiritual well-being. 

And often, then, to achieve that good life that you envision for yourself, what do you have to do? You begin with what you have and you build on it. For instance, if I feel I’m uneducated, I can enroll in classes, camp out at the library, listen to lectures and attend conferences, and gradually, I’ll accumulate knowledge. I will beef up my vocabulary. I’ll be educated. Likewise, if going up a flight of stairs leaves me winded, and I’m tipping the scales at an unhealthy weight, what can I do? I can get that gym membership and hire a trainer. And that trainer will have to work with what she’s got – me! – but she’ll get me, unhealthy as I am, into shape through exercise and diet. Whether you want to cultivate positive change in health, marriage, finances, your job, whatever, you work with what you have. And, with enough time and effort, you can become a better spouse, athlete, student, or person that you want to be. The way forward, the way to a good life, begins with what and where you already are. 

Yet, I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to achieve this “good life” that I pursue. A person can get in shape, but suddenly it’s the holidays and you gained 10-15 lbs. You can study up and gain knowledge, but suddenly you’re a bit older and your mind isn’t quite as sharp, in fact, you’re forgetting things…lots of things. One bad grade, one outburst with your spouse, one missed assignment at work, and suddenly the good life starts to slip from your fingers. And even if you do manage to hold on to your ideal good life, there is always that bad habit we have of wanting more. Which is why I love and truly appreciate the simplicity of Jesus’ words tonight. 

In Matthew 28, we are at the end of Jesus’ time on this earth, he’s about to ascend into heaven. But, before he does, he says this to his followers, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Take a look at these words with me. Jesus he’s about to ascend into heaven, he’s about to leave this earth but, before he does, he gives us his take on what will bring about a good life. And you’ll notice his version of a good life, it’s not very me centered. He doesn’t encourage us to pursue worldly power, wealth, health, or anything like that. No, he calls us to be a brother and sister not just to those who are familiar, but to all other people. He directs us to pursue people, to form relationships with others. Here is how he puts it, the very first words of our lesson, “Go and make disciples of all nations, “he says.

Pursuing people – in a non-creepy way – saving souls, that’s a good life, It’s a life that actually fits with what it means to be human.  It’s the life of Jesus. It’s what he did while he walked on this earth. It’s why he died there on a cross, for people, all people. And you are one of those people. But now tell me what did you do to deserve this salvation? What have you accomplished that earned Jesus’ sacrifice? That’s the beauty of it. A billionaire in New York City is no more worthy of Jesus’ love than the schizophrenic homeless man sleeping in an alley. Before you built your business, or earned that PhD, or became that rock star parent, or got divorced, or were kicked out of school, or lost your job –  before any of that –  all of us were equally loved by God. Our personal success does not attract God’s love, nor does our spectacular failure retract it. God, who is love, loves us indiscriminately, passionately, furiously.

And you know this. Do you know how you know this? Because someone told you. Someone taught you about Jesus and his love for you. Maybe it was a parent, maybe it was a friend or neighbor, a spouse or stranger, I don’t know, but someone did tell you. And if this is your first time hearing it, I’m the one telling you. You want a good life? Here is where it starts (point to the font). 

The good life in Jesus’ eyes doesn’t start with where you already are and with anything you’ve done, no it starts with a good washing, a baptism. God scrubs you down, he washes you clean. If you were here, what did we read a few weeks ago? That in baptism you are put to death with Christ Jesus. God is not in the business of making any of us better; his mission, his goal, is to make us dead. Dead to everything that defines us as frail, flawed, and prideful human beings. Dead to our misplaced aspirations, our selfish dreams, and our arrogance that somehow we have standing with him. So, think about this, when God gets his hands on us, he throws everything into reverse. He doesn’t size us up, diagnosis our strengths and weaknesses, and implement a program of self-improvement. No, instead he drowns us in these waters. Now, why does he do it? 

Because he knows our pursuit of a good life won’t ever lead to the good Life, that is Life with a capital L, eternal life. There is certainly glory, and joy, and happiness to be found on this earth. There are ways to find fulfillment and meaning here, but it all ends up being marred by the wages of sin, death. Death brings any life, good or bad to an end. And that’s why, in our passion reading, Jesus stood there silent. The king of the universe remained silent before a king (okay, a governor) of this world. Jesus didn’t say a word so that he could take that death in our place. So, that he could be “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) for us. He did it so that when those waters of baptism poured over you, you would truly be washed and brought into the “name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and, in this way, he gave you – we simply receive it – the good Life, eternal life. 

Now, now, what if you and I went and did the same for someone else? What if we told someone about this good life and what it all means and how they can have it through Jesus. But we might argue, “Lord, I’m not worthy, I’m not capable. I don’t know what to say. I’m scared.” And you know what he, what God, says to that, “Perfect. That means you’ll rely only on me.” And, that makes sense doesn’t it? That’s how we got here in the first place. That’s how God saved you, how he brought you to faith. He worked that faith in your heart. He worked through your baptism, and he’s working even right now through his Word. The tools of salvation have not changed, nor have they become less effective – you are proof of that.  You are a walking talking miracle of faith. What is more, in your current life, what does Jesus say? “Surely I am with you always.”

So, I gotta ask, what are we waiting for? God has given us everything we need, so “Go,” Jesus says. “Baptize and teach,” he urges. It’s really that simple. And it’s really that simple because Jesus, the King of all things, left the good life of heaven. He gave up his crown. He stood there silent as they cried out “Crucify” then he was; he suffered hell, but when the dust settled he lived. And he did all that for you. So, that we could have an actual lasting good life with him in heaven. 

What love…. love for you and me, but not just us, all nations. Jesus died for all. Who will tell them? Who will tell this world that their pursuit of the good life won’t end in life if they don’t know the giver of eternal life? We get that privilege, all of us. And, truly it is a privilege. Any earthly accomplishment will ultimately be forgotten. A surgeon can save ten-thousand people and that’s wonderful, but all ten thousand will die eventually. An architect can build the world’s tallest building, and that’s an accomplishment, but one day that building will be rubble. But this work, going into all nations baptizing and teaching souls, will echo into eternity. 

So, let’s go. Let’s live the good Life, a Life devoted not to getting ahead but to serving all. A Life full of faith and love based not on what we have done, or some personal worth, but on the riches of Christ blood, shed in drops of mercy to redeem us from a life of chasing after the wind, so that we are now free to chase after the hurting and the lost. For that is the good life we are all called to live. We baptize. We teach, and we look and long for the best life yet to come. Amen. 

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