"Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
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 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.
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. “I have revealed your name to the men whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”