Here is an indisputable fact about you. I know with certainty, without any doubt, that you will die.
You may die today. It may be tomorrow. It may be in 50 years. I don’t know when. Most people don’t know when. A few people do know.
Victor Fournere knew when he was going to die, because the doctors told him. In 2011 he had used up four of his last five years.
He was reported by The Guardian newspaper as saying: ‘It’s not fair that I have to go so soon. I value life too much. I get the horrors. I’ll be sitting watching telly and suddenly remember that I’m dying. There are moments where my brain swirls and I think of things I’ve done and people I’ve hurt in the past. It’s a suffocating feeling, all jumbled thoughts – it’s 60 years of memories at once.’
Holly Webber was 25 and had just graduated from Brighton University. She said: ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m on another planet looking in on this one. I can’t relate to people stressing about work or getting the Tube. People are so wound up, but it’s such a waste of time and energy. Chill out! I hope that by reading this, someone out there will take a second to think, “I’m glad that’s not me. Maybe I should worry less about the things that don’t really matter.”
Peter White, 54, said: ‘I have never believed in an afterlife, but Josie and my youngest daughter are both practising Christians and I’ve been tilting towards their side of things recently. I’m also finding peace in art. I spend most of my time at the hospice painting ties and scarves.’
Sarah Ezekiel was 42. She said: ‘Within one year I was unable to use my hands. It was heartbreaking for me to watch carers do everything for my daughter and son. I want to hug and kiss them, but I can’t. I divorced my husband in 2004. He’d become abusive – I suppose because he was angry.’
Are you ready to die? What happens to people who die? These four people – Victor, Holly, Peter and Sarah – didn’t know what would happen to them.
Among Jews at the time of Jesus most rabbis believed that at the end-of-days the dead would be brought back to life, a view that some Jews still hold today. The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. In other words, the afterlife was seen by most as a place of sleep for the righteous until the end-of-days.
The Bible has very little to say about what happens after death. But we do have the example of Jesus, who didn’t wait for the end-of-days to be resurrected but came back in a new body straight away.
Jesus walked around and talked. He had a precious and valuable time on earth before he ascended. I assume from what he said that Jesus knew how long he had on earth. Just as did Victor, Holly, Peter and Sarah, Jesus knew he didn’t have time to waste. His final moments on earth were incredibly important.
When we know we have only a little time, we prioritise. We do the important things and leave the other things. As Sarah said, we stop worrying about work or traffic problems.
Jesus laid out all of the important beliefs in his Sermon on the Mount. At the end of his sermon he gave a warning to his disciples: “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.”
When you die, you will go to either heaven or to hell. That much the Bible does clearly teach us. That is a Jewish belief and it is a Moslem belief. It is a Christian belief.
There is not a tiniest doubt that we live beyond the grave. And there is not a smallest doubt in Jesus’ teaching that how and where we live beyond the grave depends to a certain extent on how we live now.
Jesus told us how to live in his Sermon on the Mount. He told us clearly that we have to live that way, not just agree that it is a good way to live. During the years of his ministry with his disciples, Jesus showed us how to live the way he taught.
And in the last precious days before he left this earth he had one final important message. And his final message, recorded in verse 19, was this:
“Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”
Ancients writings often summarized major themes in a conclusion, and Jesus’ words here summarize his teaching on his authority, commandments, identity and God’s interest in even Gentiles.
Jesus tells his disciples to make disciples. Making disciples was the work of a rabbi, but we are to make disciples not for ourselves but for Jesus.
There are three elements to this command from Jesus.
Going, presumably to the nations that are to be discipled. Many sought disciples outside Palestine, but few converts actually studied under a rabbi. The idea of making Gentiles into full disciples goes beyond the Jewish tradition.
Baptising, because baptism is the act of conversion. Gentiles were baptised into Judaism which meant they were initiated into the faith. But the Jews never baptised in the name of people. Jews had no problem believing in God, and in the Spirit. It would have been a shock to find the son named between them.
Teaching, because rabbis made disciples by teaching them.
Jesus, who has ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’, uses his final moments on earth to command us to do what is most important. He is not wasting his last few days on trivial instructions, or minor points. This is what is really important. It is important to God and Jesus. It should be important to us.
Does he come back to say study hard and get a good job? No!
Does he come back to say work hard and do good deeds? No!
Does he come back to say be nice to people and do your best to love them? No!
He says that the most important thing you can do is make disciples and teach them to obey his commands.
Is that what you are doing? How many of you are concerned that people you know are going to hell when they die. And that could be today. How many people do you tell about Jesus, the only one who can save them from hell?
How many people are you telling about becoming a disciple of Jesus and obeying his commands?
In John 5:39 Jesus said: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.”
Our job, the only job worth doing, is to bring people to Jesus so that they can receive eternal life. The only thing worth teaching is how to obey all the commands that Jesus has given us.
This is your job. Every time you meet a person, it is your job. Everywhere you go, it is your job. Whose job is it to make disciples? Is it the pastor’s job? Is it the job of the missionary? Yes, but only because it is the job of every disciple. All of us have been given the command to save God’s precious children from hell, and bring them to him.
Let’s do it. Let’s obey Jesus. On the last day, I don’t want to hear Jesus say, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’