The simplest word in the entire Easter narrative is perhaps its most profound: “go.” It is Jesus’s first and only command to his disciples after his resurrection and just prior to his ascension: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:29). What makes this word so profound is the new logic implied in this salvific plan.
Prior to Jesus the logic of salvation had centered on Jerusalem. As the chosen nation of God, Israel had always existed to be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Gen 12:3). To this end, they had been given the law and the temple from which the glory and presence of God shown to the world. Therefore, if Gentiles wanted to experience the salvation of God, they had to come to Jerusalem and become Jewish. Even the prophetic visions of the great restoration of the nations followed this logic. To quote one of many such examples, the prophet Zechariah writes, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Come, let us go to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the Lord” (8:20-23). If you are picturing the ending of Field of Dreams right now, you have grasped the logic of this salvific plan.
With one simple word, however, Jesus upends this logic, for in the new salvific plan made possible by his death and resurrection, Jerusalem is no longer the destination, but the point of departure. Now, Jews and Gentiles alike will experience the presence of God not by coming to the Jerusalem, but by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit where they are and, most importantly for Gentiles, as they are.
The book of Acts is the story of the first Christians grasping this stunning and unexpected change. Not surprisingly, they are slow to understand. The disciples’ first question to the risen Lord, in fact, implies the logic of the old plan: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus’s response echoes the “go” of the First Gospel: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Incredibly, however, the disciples remain in Jerusalem for some time, even after they have received the Spirit. Not until a great persecution breaks out do they finally get about the business of going (Acts 8:1). But when they go, they take the good news with them, converting eunuchs who were thought unclean, Samaritans who were dismissed as half-Jews, and Gentiles who had always been excluded. The movement of the good news out of Jerusalem, then, inaugurates the new logic of salvation.
In a deeper sense, however, the outward movement of Jesus’s command to go is not new, but rooted in the outward movement of God. This movement begins at creation, when the mutual love enjoyed by the Divine Persons overflows to make a non-divine “space” in which creation can exist. God then moves toward this creation in a gracious and loving offer of covenantal relationship through the stewards made in God’s image. This movement of God toward creation continues through Israel’s story, even in the face of human rejection and the consequent introduction of death into a world God had created for life. It culminates in the incarnation, where God in the Second Person is born a human to walk among us. In the words of the ancient Christian hymn, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8). In this incarnational movement lie the salvation of the world and the divine justification for us to go.
In this season of Easter, then, it is worth asking whether we have remembered Jesus’s simple command. Do Christians still go to others with the good news, to meet them where they are, like the eunuchs, Samaritans, and Gentiles met by those first Christians? Or have we fallen back into the old logic, merely substituting our Bibles and church buildings for the law and the temple? Certainly, the work of missions continues in many parts of the world and bears the fruit of a gospel moving outward. Yet, if this new logic is correct, and if the words of the ancient hymn—“to have the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus”—are true, then the command to go is not something that can be farmed out to a select few. Rather, the call to go is a call to every person who has heard and believed the good news.
After all, we might not be here if someone else had not heeded that same call.