Matthew 28:16-20 English Standard Version (ESV)
The Great Commission
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This passage is on the great one of the great passages to learn off by heart. Commonly called the great commission. This is the church’s commission. In other words, this is our role given to us by the authority of Jesus.
To put it in another way; do you want to know why you are here? What is the point of life – of your life? Well, here is the answer. Now, to be honest with ourselves, we must ask the question can all of life, all its enjoyment and wonder be condensed into simply into telling others about Jesus.
Well, firstly it is not simply telling people about Jesus it is making disciples of all nations, and secondly yes, because of who Jesus is and the amazing claim that he makes.
So, let’s start off tonight with…
What Jesus says
Jesus makes the claim that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Himself. The Greek word has in its definition “power of choice, liberty of doing as one please (Thayer).” For us to truly understand this; we must comprehend the Jewish messianic expectation. We must understand what the expectation of what the Messiah would do when He came; from the perspective of th Old Testament.
Throughout the Old Testament God is presented as the King or Ruler of the earth. Mankind, however, has rebelled against this King and now lives in rebellion. The Old Testament paints in ever more vivid clarity that God is going to one day set His Messiah in Jerusalem to rule the world. Well, Jesus is the messiah, He has come. Therefore, according to the expectation of the Old Testament and with the coming of Jesus, God now rules the world through His Messiah.
Now, that makes sense according to what Jesus was saying. In other words, sure if He is the Messiah, and He has come then that Divine authority over all of creation is His. But, that is not what it looks like. Right?
In fact, the church faced horrific persecution and opposition for the first few centuries of its expansion. And still faces horrific opposition in China, the Middle East and parts of Northern Africa.
The question then is; if Christ has true authority, and this authority is all encompassing, why the opposition? Why the lack of success, in a sense?
Let us look at the movement of Christianity since Jesus spoke these words. It started as an insignificant sect of Jewish origin (a tiny nation – in an insignificant part of the Roman world). This tiny sect, spurred on by the missionary work of these early Jews started to spread out into the Roman world. It must be said they were despised and maligned within the Roman world. Early Christianity stood for everything the Romans hated.
Christianity stood for meekness, the Romans stood for fame and boasting. Christianity stood with the weak, Rome killed their weak. There are letter that have been discovered from writers of the time of the early expansion of Christianity and it was not feared it was despised. Somewhat like today.
It is not that Christianity is hated today it is more that it is sneered at. It is scoffed at more than it is attacked and it was the same in the Roman world. Yet the church expanded, unbelievably so.
In fact, throughout the history of the church people have been giving its obituary, predicting its inevitable decline, and yet, the church endures.
The church itself, throughout its history has been filled with corrupt people. Led by incompetent men, it has been split and abused from without and within, and, yet, she endures. It is almost as if a power outside of the church guides and sustains the church. Almost like there is an authority outside of its broken structures, a mind outside of its corruptible leaders, an energy outside of its weak members that continues the work of the church.
It is almost if a dead carpenter who came back to life might be who he claimed to be; King of the Earth and Lord of all creation. And He has chosen, rather than to simply Lord his power over creation, to use broken men and women to extend through invitation and education the benefit of his Lordship. To extend grace to those who don’t deserve it and make them a part of His work and willing participant in the extension of His loving rule.
Which leads us to…
What we must do
So the King is here, the extension of His reign is happening, what must we do? Well, Jesus says, “Go therefore 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 observe all that I have commanded you.
Go with the news of the King, disciple them, baptise them and teach them to observe. Note the language. We are not called to covert, or persuade. We are not called to conquer or enslave, we are called to go and make disciple. The Greek word for disciple has the idea of becoming a pupil. Go and make the whole world pupils of the truth that the King has come.
It was C.S. Lewis who said that Christianity by the nature of what it is, is an education. The reality of the gospel is something that you are going to have to become a pupil of if you are ever going to benefit from it. I have spent, now, 11 years now in formal tertiary theological education (four years of undergrad, 5 years at Masters and now over 2 years at PhD level) and I don’t say this to boast, I say that I have not scratched the surface of what there is to know. You could spend all the life that God gives you (70 years – three score and 10 – Psalm 90) and you will not gain all the knowledge that there is to be gained in the Christian faith. As you gain more knowledge it makes you more hungry for knowing Him.
But Jesus also says we must Baptise in the Name. Do you notice it is in the singular; yet there are three names. Why is Baptism important? As Baptists we teach that it is not the waters of Baptism that save you; Jesus saves you by faith. So, why does Jesus emphasise Baptism and why in the Name of three?
Well this is the second important reality of the Christian faith it is an education, but it is also a reorientation. Baptism represents the fact that you have died to your old self and are now living for Christ who is the Son of the Father, and you now live by the Spirit. There is a Trinitarian confession and new reality in your life.
It is similar to my wedding ring. My wedding ring does not make me married, like my baptism does not save me, however these serve as a declaration as a public statement of what has happened to me.
My ring serves as a declaration to the world that I am no longer my own, I belong to another – to my wife. Well Baptism declares to the world that I belong not to this world and its rulers and rules. Rather we belong to the Triune God; Father, Son and Spirit. It is an outward declaration a visible reality of an inward, invisible reality.
Finally Jesus tells us to teach people to observe his commands. Christianity engages the mind (become a disciple), it engages the emotions (be baptised) and it engages the will (obey the commands). It is a whole person faith.
All this means that we must be engaging ourselves and others with a whole person faith, because that is what it is. It is not good enough to simply be a Christian one day a week (a Sunday Christian) it has to, because of the implication of what it is has to be a whole being, whole life reality.
Now all this leads to the most important reality of all this…
Why we can do this
If Jesus was simply a king, or even a prophet who told us to do this we would be in trouble. But this is the final scene in the Gospel of Matthew; and the final line is, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Notice the certainty of the phrase, note the absolute reality of it. It is not “And behold, I will be with you, if…” It is an emphatic, I will be with you. It is this emphatic faithfulness of Jesus that I cannot get over. Why should he remain faithful to us? What have we done to deserve the love and faithfulness of this king? The answer is absolutely nothing. He did it all.
He will be with us, because He has already done everything to be with us. His goodness to us in not dependent upon anything but His unfailing love, therefore His faithfulness to us is again not dependent upon anything less.
Let me ask you this, was there anything good in you that caused Jesus to love you enough to die for you. No! “While we were still sinners Christ died for us!”
So, will he remain with you because of anything you do? Of course not! In the words of Galatian 3; Oh, foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you… After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?
In other words after starting by faith why do you think it will continue by any other means. Christ will be with us, always! Because He is for us now!
This means we have infinite capacity to endure. What if we are set back? Well, Christ is faithful. What if we face opposition, well, Christ is faithful. What if we fail, Well Christ is faithful. What if we face death and persecution? Well to live is Christ and to die is gain; and even in death Christ will remain faithful.
As Paul puts in Romans 5
“For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
Christ in His all-encompassing grace has decided to allow you to join in in His work to bring His good kingly reign to the Earth that is rightfully His. Not because you are particularly able, or brilliant, or wise, or strong or useful, but because He is good and He has chosen you. That should, if you get it, take off all the pressure.
Essentially you are not here to grow the church, we don’t exist to make a name for ourselves. It is not about how big we can get, or how much we can change the world, or make an impact.
All this, everything we can do – your whole life – is about how God has done it. Christ has come, we are witnesses of this event, we are now a part of that work that God has been doing since the fall of man; He is drawing men unto himself, and He is using broken vessels like us to do.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[i] knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”[j]
35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”[k]
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
So, in the words of Christ go, take the message, teach it, engage it in the hearts minds and will of all you can. Because He is truly with you forever, even to the end of the age.