"Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."


Religion

At the very end of the Gospel of Matthew the risen Jesus appears to His disciples on a mountain top in Galilee and leaves them with one great and crucially important commission. "Go and make disciples of all nations," Jesus commands His disciples in Matthew 28:19, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The disciples heeded these spiritually motivating words from their Lord and Savior and committed themselves to spreading Christianity as far and wide as they could.

Christianity spread so prolifically that by the year 635 AD it had reached China in the form of the Jesus-Messiah Sutra. The Jesus-Messiah Sutra was carried along the Silk Road by a determined Christian missionary known only as Alopen. Believed to have come from Persia, Alopen was likely the first Christian missionary to reach China. Despite being the first, however, Alopen clearly had an extensive knowledge of Chinese tradition and religion. This knowledge helped him present Christianity in a way that would be accessible to the Chinese people.

The Jesus-Messiah Sutra is an interesting a text which effortlessly blends key Christian ideas with Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian language. God, for example, is referred to the text as "Buddha," as this would have been an easy stepping stone towards helping the Chinese people understand who God really was. The text makes it clear, however, that God is not just one buddha among the many buddhas that the Chinese people believed in. He is often referred to in the text as the Lord of Heaven and as occupying a much more divine and loftier position than all of the other buddhas.

Despite that fact that the Jesus-Messiah Sutra made expert use of Chinese ideas in order to introduce Christian ideas to Chinese people, it must be stressed that the text never deviated from the core Christian message. It did not take beliefs or tenants from Buddhism, Daoism, or Confucianism, but remained a Christian text through and through. Though the introduction to the Jesus-Messiah Sutra was styled and fashioned in much the same way as a Buddhist sutra, the text almost immediately thereafter introduces the idea that Jesus Christ died for our sins. It then recounts the story of Jesus' birth, baptism, ministry, and persecution. Unfortunately, there are no surviving copies of the entire text, and so the story is cut short before the resurrection.

The Jesus-Messiah Sutra shows us the amazing extent to which early Christian missionaries took up the challenge of spreading the Good News. They recognized that cultural barriers would have to be overcome in order to bring Jesus' message to people living far away from where He had initially preached. They presented the ideas of Christianity in language which would have been familiar to the people they were bringing it to, but without harming the core Christian ideas themselves. The willingness to adapt and interact with different people and different cultures has always been one of the strongest points of the Christian religion.