One of the great privileges of my week is on a Wednesday morning when I meet with people from a variety of backgrounds to discuss the Bible. Some are Muslim friends who are interested in learning more about Jesus. One reason I love this time of the week is that we are not afraid to be honest about what we think or about our differences, we each come to the Bible and try to let Jesus speak for Himself. We’ve had many discussions about the Trinity, sin, salvation, eternity, and much, much more!
Perhaps you’re on this website because you are a Muslim or from a Muslim background, and wanting to find out what Christians believe. If that is you then this post is written especially for you and you are so very welcome!
God meets people on mountains in the Bible.
On those Wednesday mornings, we find ourselves returning again and again to two key questions: ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘What is Church?’ and so I want to explore those questions by looking at Matthew 28:16-20.
Picture the scene. 11 of Jesus’ closest followers had made their way to a mountain near Galilee at the invitation of Jesus. What’s extraordinary about this is that only weeks earlier Jesus had been arrested, beaten, crucified, and buried. And yet, here they were waiting for Him to meet them on a mountain.
Mountains are important places in the Bible. God meets people on mountains. Take Moses, he is encountered by God in a burning bush up a mountain in Exodus 3 and then in later life receives the 10 Commandments there too. Hundreds of years later, the prophet Elijah met the LORD in a gentle whisper on that same mountain (1 Kings 19:12).
God meets people on mountains in the Bible.
So, when we read that Jesus asked to meet His disciples on a mountain that should at least give us pause for thought! What does this tell us about who Jesus is? Well, the scene continues and we read that the disciples see Jesus and worship Him.
They see Jesus – the same Jesus they’d seen arrested, crucified, buried – now alive with death behind Him, His nail-pierced hands as trophies of His victory, and they worship Him.
God alone is worshipped in the Bible and it is considered idolatry to worship created things rather than the creator. And so, when created things are worshipped in the Bible, the correct response is for them to put a stop to it! For example, there’s a fascinating moment in Revelation, the last book of the Bible, where a man called John is so awestruck by an angel that he worships him. Straight away the angel says: “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you...Worship God!” That angel was absolutely right because, as Exodus 34:14 puts it, “you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
Jesus'... opening words to them are “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That is quite a claim!
But notice, Jesus doesn’t stop the disciples from worshipping Him. If He is a creature, an angel, just another man, then He should immediately put a stop to what would be idolatry, but He doesn’t. In fact, He encourages their worship. His opening words to them are “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That is quite a claim! Once again, it’s important to read this with the rest of the Bible in mind. Imagine that statement of Jesus was a hyperlink, click it and it would take us to Daniel 7, part of the prophetic writings of the Hebrew Bible. There we get an incredible glimpse into heaven, the throne room of God. In verse 9, the Ancient of Days (God the Father) takes his seat surrounded by fire and at least 100 million angels (v.9-10)! Who could possibly approach Him? Someone does. We watch as one like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven approaches the Ancient of Days and is astonishingly given authority, glory and sovereign power and we are told that all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him.
On that mountain in Galilee, Jesus is saying that He is that Son of Man and He’s about to ascend to heaven and take His seat at the right hand of the Father, ruling as the King of all Kings. We recently witnessed King Charles’ coronation here in the UK and the whole service was packed full of reminders that there is a King above King Charles! The service began with a young boy greeting King Charles “in the name of the King of Kings” and at one point, King Charles received an orb and the Archbishop of Canterbury said to him: “Receive this orb, set under the cross, and remember always that the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ.”
Jesus is the King of Kings, the Son of Man who is the Son of God. As an ancient Creed puts it, Jesus is “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and was made man.”
Jesus is the God-Man. The eternal God, born to die as One of us to rescue us from a dying humanity and invite us into His new resurrection humanity. The disciples saw Jesus and worshipped Him.
But how do we do that? Well, that takes us to our second question: what is Church?
Having stated that He has all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus says to His disciples, “therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” Those disciples responded to this Great Commission by planting and growing local churches all over the world. That mountain became a launchpad for the global revolution that is Church. It was a revolution of sacrificial love that began in Jerusalem but that very quickly spread across the world. We may be used to kingdoms and regimes that seek to expand through blood taken, but this revolution was built on blood given by King Jesus Himself and that foundation would give shape to His sacrificial kingdom.
Every local church is an outpost of the kingdom of Jesus, planted within the kingdoms of the world. Church is how we live as disciples of Jesus; it is where we learn life from Jesus. It is His new humanity spreading across the world, sharing His good news, and serving others with His love.
Church is how we live as disciples of Jesus; it is where we learn life from Jesus.
Jesus teaches His disciples on that mountain how new disciples are made: baptism and teaching. Jesus says we are to baptise people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Baptism is a key part of discipleship to Jesus and it is a wonderful picture of what happens when we trust in Jesus – we die to our old lives and rise again to a new eternal life with Jesus. When someone is baptised, they are welcomed into God’s global family. Notice that it is a baptism into the Triune Name. Sometimes the doctrine of the Trinity becomes a stumbling block for Muslim friends of mine, but far from being a maths problem it is a beautiful truth that God is Triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit united in love, an eternal community who welcomes us into the family to bear His name.
And to be united to Jesus in baptism is to be united to Christians around the world and throughout history. I’ll never forget one day when some Kurdish men from Church wrote a letter to the Church and said that they’d lost their earthly families because of their faith in Jesus, but now Church was their family. In my own local Church, there are disciples of Jesus from Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Singapore, America, Colombia, Germany, Holland, Pakistan, UK, Hong Kong and more!
And in this baptised community we teach one another to obey all that Jesus commanded. We have a shared life full of shared beliefs and shared habits. You can explore more of those on this website. But Church is where we learn life from Jesus – we learn to live and think like Him. Christians don’t want following Jesus to remain on our to-do lists but to move into our diaries (and lives!). In other words, we don’t want to just think about following Jesus but actually follow Him! We seek to learn together how to live as Jesus lived (1 John 2:6) and together we learn to devote ourselves to prayer, fellowship, breaking bread, and scripture (Acts 2:42).
We don’t obey in order to be welcomed into God’s family. We obey because we have been saved and loved by God when we trusted in Jesus.
It’s important that we get things the right way round and hear what Jesus says here. We don’t obey in order to be welcomed into God’s family. We obey because we have been saved and loved by God when we trusted in Jesus. In other words, we don’t obey to be part of God’s family but because we are part of God’s family when we trust Jesus.
Finally, Jesus makes a remarkable promise at the end of this mountain scene. At the beginning of His ministry Jesus says, ‘Come, Follow Me.’ And now at the end of His earthly ministry He says to His disciples “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” That is a wonderful promise. It means that when we follow Jesus, He walks us through life in all its ups and downs, joys and challenges. It means that He walks us even through death into resurrection life. Nothing can separate us from Jesus when we are united to Him by faith.
Millions upon millions of people from throughout history and around the world have turned from old ways of living to follow the way of Jesus, including many from Muslim backgrounds. The fact you’re on this website shows that you have some interest in finding out more about Jesus. Perhaps you even want to follow Him but are worried about what others might think or the cost of following Jesus to your life.
Following Jesus can be dangerous and difficult. I am not going to say that following Jesus will make your life easier this side of eternity. However, I can say that He is worth it. In Hebrews 11:26, we are told that Moses “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value that the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.”
When Jesus returns He will establish a new creation free from suffering, tears, pain and death, and full of joy, feasting, adventure and life. And best of all, He will be there! But He promises to be with us now, especially in suffering and hardship.
I think of friends that have suffered for following Jesus. I know friends who’ve lost families, money, jobs, cars, homes, passports, for the sake of following Jesus but say that He is worth it. One Iranian lady said that in Iran she had family, a home, a job, but she did not have Jesus. Here in the UK she had none of those things but now she has Jesus and that is everything to her.
We end where we began that mountain scene. We need to see Jesus. That is, from Scripture and as we encounter His body the Church, cultivate a vision of Jesus worth living for and even worth suffering for, knowing that He is the God-Man who suffered for us upon the cross so that we might share His life and enjoy it both now in Church and for all eternity in His New Creation.