Until the End of the Age
Unto the End of the Age
We continue our series on the Stained Glass Windows at St. Andrew’s. Today’s passage comes from the end of Matthew’s gospel where we find the Great Commission. The words that adorn our window are “I am with you always.”
Scripture: Matthew 28: 16-20
Unto the End of the Age
“There had been a change of rulers in Norway, Earl Hacon was dead and gone, but in his stead was come Olaf Tryggvi’s son … Along with that was heard that there had been a change of faith in Norway; they had cast off the old faith, but King Olaf had christened the western lands, Shetland and the Orkneys and the Faroe Isles…
“The spring after Thangbrand set out to preach Christianity, and Hall went with him. But when they came west across Lonsheath to Staffell, there they found a man dwelling named Thorkell. He spoke most against the faith, and challenged Thangbrand to single combat. Then Thangbrand bore a rood-cross (crucifix) before his shield, and the end of the their combat was that Thangbrand won the day and slew Thorkell.” – Excerpts from Njal’s Saga sections 96 & 97.
What I just read is an excerpt from Njal’s Saga, an Icelandic sage from the 13th century that talks about how Christianity came to Iceland. First, we see that King Olaf made the decision to christen the western lands. This means that the king made a decision for the nation to become Christian. There was no individual decision allowed, everyone was Christian. Belief was forced.
Later a missionary named Thangbrand went out to preach. In those days it seems that when you disagreed with someone you dueled them. Thangbrand used a shield which held a crucifix on it. Not the image that we have of missionaries today. I’m sure that Joy didn’t engage in any duels during her years as a missionary in Taiwan.
Today we return to our series on the Stained Glass Windows that adorn the sanctuary here at St. Andrew’s. We turn to the southern window on the east wall where we find the words “I am with you always.”
These are words that Jesus speaks to the disciples and they follow directly after words we refer to as the Great Commission. Jesus says to the disciples, “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.”
There is a lot going on here, but before we dive deep into the Great Commission and the words we have from Jesus I want to talk about what the Great Commission is not.
I read at the beginning from Njal’s Saga and I would argue that this is not what the Great Commission is about. The legacy of colonialism, slavery and the Residential School System all have their roots in these words from Jesus. I would argue that each of these is not what the Great Commission is about. The Great Commission has regrettably been used by Christians over the centuries to perpetuate horrible crimes.
It may not have appeared so then, but through our eyes today we can see the truth in that. Our task is to remember the damage that has been done and can be done when we attempt to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We must always be asking questions about our motives, why are we doing what we do, to what end are we trying to achieve? What damage might be caused?
Whenever we share the gospel of Jesus Christ we must do so in a way that does not cause harm to others. Our goal is not to force Christ upon others, but to see why the Way of Jesus Christ would make a positive impact on someone’s life.
But Neil, the words of the Great Commission aren’t on our window. Our window says, “I am with you always.” Why talk about it so much?
Context. If Jesus is with us until the end of the age, and these words come after the Great Commission then Jesus is with us as we go out and talk about the Good News. This is not new information, but when I think about how Christians have historically and in some cases still do go about sharing their faith I am often dismayed. The history of the church is messy and full of disappointing examples of how we have tried to share our faith.
There are some interesting takeaways from this passage. The first is the note that some of the disciples doubted. We don’t know how many doubted or who doubted, only that some of the disciples doubted. Other translations render this word hesitated. Sometimes we hesitate to follow Jesus, sometimes we doubt. When that happens know that you are in good company. Despite their doubts and hesitations Jesus still chose 12 ordinary men to follow him. So have no fear, do not worry when doubt and hesitation strike you.
For it is in those moments that Jesus gathered the disciples close and told them “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always to the end of the age.” Jesus shared those words with the disciples when some of them doubted, when they hesitated and stumbled. As much as these words are a command to go out into the world, they are also words of comfort to us.
N.T. Wright shares the following which comes out of this passage. Focusing in on those first words Jesus speaks to the disciples. He writes, “… Jesus has now been given ‘all authority in heaven and earth.’ We recall that in the temptations the devil offered Jesus this prestige, but without exacting the price that he has now paid… Despite what many people today suppose, it is basic to the most elementary New Testament faith that Jesus is already ruling the whole world… People get very puzzled by the claim that Jesus is already ruling the world, until they see what is in face being said. The claim is not that the world is already completely as Jesus intends it to be. The claim is that he is working to take it from where it was – under the rule not only of death but of corruption, greed and every kind of wickedness – and to bring it, by slow means and quick, under the rule of his life-giving love.” (N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part II, page 206).
Jesus is already ruling, working to bring creation as God intends it to be. Jesus was there at the beginning and he will be there at the end. How does Jesus hope to take the world from where it was, where it is and under the rule of his life-giving love? Through us, through the words of the Great Commission. But when we follow those words and violence results, forced conversion results, when harm occurs because of how we chose to follow those words. Well friends, at that point we are following Jesus anymore. Because violence and harm don’t result in the life-giving love that Jesus has to offer us.
When we are gone. When this building is gone. Jesus will remain. If that is the case then we need to be faithful to him. If he is with us unto the end of the age, then we must be with him in our whole being. That on a daily basis we commit ourselves to him and every day we relearn for ourselves what the Peace of Christ means. If we can do that, then others will see in us a peace that transcends understanding.
If we can do our level best to do that, even if we doubt or hesitate, then the world we love and live in will be a better place for Jesus sake. And Jesus will be with us always, even unto the end of the age. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.