One of the perennial questions we face is about our significance.
Does your life matter?
Particularly in the scope of the vastness of the universe, the movement of time, the complexities of life with billions of people occupying one small planet, it can be easy to feel insignificant. Does my one life really matter all that much?
If you’ve ever wondered that, you’re not alone. Psalm 8 wonders the same thing, and it was written by the great King David, someone so significant that we’re still talking about him thousands of years later. It begins and ends with the same praise: “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!” But in between, David finds himself feeling insignificant in comparison to how majestic God is. David marvels, “Your glory is higher than heaven! I look at the skies, the moon, the stars, and I am in awe that I exist amidst all of these things!”
If we’re being honest, I think we’ve had similar thoughts.
If you’ve ever hiked in the Rockies, at some point you stop to catch your breath — not merely because of the altitude — because you look at the vast beauty all around you and are filled with awe that you exist in a place like that. If you’ve ever laid back in a canoe in the middle of a small lake at night and looked up at the stars, you sense the wonder of it all. You hear the water slapping against the hull. You feel the boat gently rocking. You see the night sky, observing the constellations, the satellites, the planets, and if you’re far enough away from civilization, you get to see the Milky Way. But the stars you’re seeing, that’s light emitted years ago. You see it now, but it existed long before you did.
While he marvels, David asks a question that we all ask. “What are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them?” In the midst of all this jaw-dropping beauty, do we matter in any sort of way? Does the God who created all of this also care specifically about me?
The answer that the Bible offers is emphatic and clear:
Yes, the God who created all of this cares specifically about you.
Psalm 8 confirms the special place that God has given humanity within the whole creation. God made us “slightly less than divine.” Humans are to “rule” over the creation in the manner that God rules over it. That is, God has entrusted us to care well for it all — for sheep and cattle, for fish and oceans, for prairies and mountains, and for each other. That’s God’s will and plan, which results in the repeated praise, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!”
As Christians, we live according to the truth revealed in Scripture, and, according to Scott Hoezee, one of the most striking features of Israel’s theology is this, “As much as they praised God for how almighty, majestic, and just plain big God must be, their real wonder and the fact that wrung out of them their deepest doxology was God’s ability to notice us in our littleness. The idea that God stoops low to help us blew them away at least as much as all the stars whirring above our heads.”
So, this summer, I invite you to get lost in the wonders of the creation. Take time to observe complexities of the insect society in your yard. Marvel at the way light plays off of the water as you stroll by the Grand River. Sit silently as you hear the birds and bugs fill the evening with song. But then remember that God has a special place for you in the creation. God made you with a purpose and loves you.
That God-given purpose, however, does go beyond awe and praise. It goes beyond caring for the creation. As Jesus takes leave of his disciples at the end of Matthew, he gives them The Great Commission. These are words not just for those gathered with him on the mountain that day. They’re for all of us. Even us gathered here for worship in Grand Haven and online. Disciples are supposed to make more disciples. That’s God’s plan entrusted to us.
“What are human beings that you are mindful of us?” David asks.
I’ll go one further. “What are human beings that you are counting on us to continue the work you did through Jesus?” I mean, aren’t we humans pretty unreliable? Don’t we waver? Don’t we get discouraged? Don’t we sin and fight and hurt? Yet in God’s providence and plan, it is through us that this project continues.
The eleven remaining disciples have gone to meet Jesus where he said he would be. The way Matthew tells the story, none of these disciples had yet encountered the risen Jesus, so I am sure they have gone with a mixture of hope and doubt. They see Jesus, and their response is a mixed bag. They worship him, which is a huge deal for Jews who are staunchly monotheistic. Only God is worthy of worship, so worshipping Jesus is elevating him to that same place. But some of them also doubt. Is Jesus a ghost? They saw him die and get buried. The dead stay dead, and if he’s not dead, then everything is strange. But the word for “doubt” here does not mean that they didn’t believe what they were seeing. Rather it means to hesitate or waver. It’s like some of them saw Jesus and just froze, not knowing what to do with what they were witnessing.
But Jesus speaks to them both in their bold worship and their wavering, and he gives The Great Commission. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.” This is God’s plan. God is relying on these disciples to make more disciples. There are actually three elements to this plan as Jesus gives it.
They are to go and make disciples of all nations. It appears that, with the Spirit’s help, they did just that. The Bible and tradition share that these disciples went to all the world, although they needed some prodding. God’s plan is that disciples make more disciples. If you consider yourself a follower of Jesus, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s not something just for church workers. It’s not something only for particularly churches. It’s work for all of us.
What does it mean to make disciples? It means to teach others the way of Jesus both in our words and in our actions. The good news is that this is not merely an individual activity. God gives us each other to share in this. We strive to make disciples in our ministry.
When you are a storyteller at Young Children and Worship, you are part of disciple-making.
When you invite others to come to a study with you, you are part of disciple-making.
When you offer a listening ear to a friend who is hurting or visit someone who is lonely, you are part of disciple-making.
When you pray with and share Jesus stories with your children and grandchildren, you are part of disciple-making.
This is not the activity of a certain subset of Christians. It’s for everyone. God has uniquely gifted you to do that, and if you call yourself a Christian, others have helped disciple you too — pastors, friends, and family. So, how are you doing in making disciples? Because you need to know that you are significant to God’s plan for the whole world.
The second element is that we are supposed to baptize these new disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Today is Trinity Sunday. It’s a Sunday where the church marks its belief in one God in three persons. In Jesus’ words, we see that reflected. We baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We don’t do it solely in Jesus’ name.
Because we believe that God loved us before there was time, we offer even our babies for baptism to God, trusting that the act of discipleship continues on through the church and in our homes. But, we also understand that everyone who believes in Jesus as their Savior and Lord should get baptized. So, if you have not been baptized, I’d love to talk to you. It’s a vital part of publicly sharing that you understand who Jesus is to you.
The third element to this commission is that we are to teach disciples to obey everything Jesus has commanded. I find it so interesting that there is no moment where discipleship is complete. It’s tempting to treat baptism as an arrival. That’s a bit of how I received it as an 11-year-old who loved Jesus but was particularly scared about dying and going to hell. But baptism is a starting point, and then we spend the rest of our lives learning the way of Jesus, applying that into our lives, and re-learning how to live the Jesus way in our particular context. That’s really our work, so once again I ask, how are we doing?
God has said we’re all significant. God knows the number of the hairs on our head. God’s eye is on the sparrow, and yet you are even more significant that that lovely, little bird. You are so significant that God is counting on you to carry on what God has done through Jesus. Thankfully, we do this together. But don’t let the group-project nature of this mean that you can coast while others do the work. God thinks you’re so significant that you also have a role to play in making disciples of all the nations.
The church is designed around that belief in your significance. You are the hope of this weary world. God loves you and calls you to discipleship. You are the apple of God’s eye. You are significant.