We are followers of Christ. Always – but especially this Lent. Week by week we’re working on sticking close to Christ through Scripture, through the body of Christ (the church), and through the Holy Spirit. And week by week we’re trying to better follow the example he set.
Today, we take that almost literally. We follow Christ by going.
Jesus makes it clear that we’re supposed to “go” through his last words to his disciples, what we in the church often call the “Great Commission.” The timing of these instructions reminds me of when my mom would leave me in charge of my younger brothers for a few hours. With her body halfway out the door, she’d lean back in just far enough to deliver some most-important final instructions, like, “DO NOT jump off the dock into the bay,” or, “DO NOT eat all the ice cream.” Here, in Matthew 28:16-20, we might picture Jesus as though he’s already halfway out the door of this world but is leaning back in for his own most-important final instructions.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
These final words are serious; they have big implications for our lives. But as serious as they are, all week long I’ve been thinking of the Great Commission in a pretty silly way: delivered by a red-capped, mustache-wearing plumber with a fake Italian accent. Like this:
Jesus and Mario are inviting us to do the same thing: “Let’s-a go!”
If you think this analogy is ridiculous, don’t blame me. Blame Zebra Gamer. I don’t know who he is, but I’d recognize his voice anywhere because my son has watched hours and hours of his videos. Zebra Gamer has made either a side-hustle or a full-on career – I’m not sure which – out of narrating and recording and publishing his game play. If you’re thinking, “Who would watch that?” – look, I don’t get it, either. But Zebra Gamer has hundreds of thousands of followers… my 6-year-old son among them.
And so, thanks to Zebra Gamer and my son, my world is filled with Mario… and when I think “Go and make disciples” I can’t help but also think, “Let’s-a go!”
And you know what’s even more ridiculous? Jesus and Mario give us similar examples to follow in terms of “going.” They were both constantly on the move.
If you’ve ever played the Super Mario Brothers games, you know that Mario wanders endlessly around the Mushroom Kingdom. From screen to screen, level to level, board to board Mario is chasing after Bowser and Princess Toadstool. This isn’t a game where you stay put and wait for enemies to come to you; from the moment you take the controls, you’re moving. Mario is always going.
So was Jesus.
Each gospel charts Jesus’ movements just a little bit differently, but they all describe him as being in constant motion. Let’s take Matthew’s account, chapter by chapter:
- Jesus is born in Bethlehem (Matthew 1)
- Flees to Egypt and returns to live in Nazareth (Matthew 2)
- Is baptized by John in Judea (Matthew 3)
- Goes into the wilderness and returns to Galilee (Matthew 4)
- Goes up on a mountain (Matthew 5)
- Comes back down, goes to Capernaum, and crosses to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8)
- Comes back again and wanders around “all the cities and villages” (Matthew 9)
- “Went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities” (Matthew 11:1)
- Through the grain fields and into a synagogue and out again (Matthew 12)
- Beside the sea and into a house and back to his own country (Matthew 13)
- To a lonely place apart, back to a crowd on the shore, up on a mountain, and then across the sea to Gennesaret (Matthew 14)
- To the district of Tyre and Sidon, along the Sea of Galilee, back up on a mountain, and across the sea to Magadan (Matthew 15)
- Back to the other side of the sea and into Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16)
- Up on a high mountain, back down again, and to Galilee, and to Capernaum (Matthew 17)
- Down south to Judea and the Jordan (Matthew 19)
- To Jericho (Matthew 20)
- To the Mount of Olives and into Jerusalem and back out to Bethany (Matthew 21)
- Back into Jerusalem (Matthew 22)
- Back to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24)
- To Simon the leper’s house in Bethany, back into the city of Jerusalem for Passover, back to the Mount of Olives… and finally, to Gethsemane and the beginning of the end (Matthew 26)
Jesus goes and goes and goes.
He didn’t have to. Once he began teaching and performing miracles, the crowds came to him. He could have set up shop in his hometown of Nazareth, or on that mountain in Galilee he seemed to like so much. He could have just let the people come to him until it was time to go to Jerusalem.
But Jesus came to find the lost… and you can’t find what’s lost by staying in one place. If you lose your keys, you can’t sit on the couch and wait for them to appear. No, you have to get up and dump out your purse and look under your dresser and in the pockets of the pants you wore yesterday. You have to GO. Or, as Jesus once said it (Matthew 18:11-14):
“What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”
Christ spent his life going in order to find the ones that were lost.
We, as followers of Christ, need to follow him in this way, also. We have to go – go to where the people are.
We know this already, don’t we? Especially those of us who have been in church a while. We’ve heard this “Great Commission.” We’re familiar with the whole “go therefore and make disciples” thing. We talk about it. A lot.
But talking about it and doing it… those are two different things. We can sometimes even talk about it so much that there’s an illusion of “going,” when in fact we aren’t going anywhere at all.
I learned this lesson long ago… and also, strangely enough, from Mario.
See, I can’t totally blame my son or Zebra Gamer for this kind-of-silly sermon about Super Mario Brothers. My son gets his love of Mario honestly, because Mario has been a part of my life since I was about his age.
The year was 1987. I was nine. It was summer, and summer in Florida is hot and long. One day, my father announced we were taking a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us, and the purpose of this trip would be to purchase a Nintendo Entertainment System for the family. I’m not sure what motivated this move – it wasn’t Christmas, and it wasn’t anyone’s birthday. Maybe it had been raining for weeks; maybe we were just all out of school and getting on each other’s nerves.
Whatever the reason, this was a day that would change the course of my childhood… because I was instantly obsessed.
I developed a love for many kinds of video games, but my first and truest love was for the Mario Brothers franchise. I knew every board, mastered every level. The boys in my neighborhood came to me for tips, and the girls in my neighborhood stopped inviting me for playdates because all I wanted to do was play video games. When Nintendo announced there would be soon be a Super Nintendo available for purchase, I knew I couldn’t wait or depend on Santa Claus for such a necessity. I saved my babysitting money for a year, and on November 21, 1990 I walked into Toys ‘R’ Us with a wad of cash and make the biggest purchase of my young life. I went home, plugged it up to our family TV, and plopped myself down cross-legged on the carpet to work my way through every level of Super Mario Brothers 3.
In all this, there was a very real feeling that I was going somewhere. I busted bricks, moved across boards, defeated bosses, and found new levels.
But in reality, I wasn’t going anywhere at all (as my mother would often point out). I was spending all day on my rear end about three feet back from the TV.
It felt like I was going… but I wasn’t.
Following Jesus can work a lot like this in the church. We study and talk about the Great Commission. We have committee meetings and small group conversations about how we’re supposed to “go” for Jesus. We even hear (or read) sermons about it. It really feels like we’re going somewhere.
But we aren’t going… unless we’re actually going. If all we do is talk and think and pray about it, we’re “going” just about as much as I was, logging hours playing games on the Super NES but not really going anywhere. Going like Jesus requires getting up, leaving the room, and being on the move.
It’s what Jesus did in order to find the lost… and it’s what we need to do, too. Not just talk about it – but do it.
The good news is that the “nations” that Jesus wanted us to go to includes the United States of America (or wherever it is that you live). You don’t have to go terribly far to follow Jesus’ example. Right near you are folks who are lost. Right near you are folks who need to be found by becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. They’re all around you, all the time!
But still – to get to them, you have to go. You won’t find them by sitting on your couch, or by sitting in the same seats in church every Sunday, or by talking to the same people week in and week out.
So friends: Let’s-a go.
Let’s go out of the church.
Let’s go across the street to visit our neighbors.
Let’s go across the room to sit with someone new.
Let’s go across the barriers of race and status.
Let’s follow Jesus. Let’s get on the move – really on the move.