Date: April 28, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Scripture: Matthew 28:16–28:20
Last words matter. They echo in our ears.
Think of friends or family that have died or moved away. I’m sure you go back to some of the final conversations you shared with them? You turn over what they say and why they’ve said it.
Often times death or a departure will provide us with the providential clarity we need to say what might not otherwise have the urgency to say.
Last words matter.
Last words matter for a writer too. Here at the conclusion of his account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew concludes his work with these five verses. The final words after twenty-eight chapters.
Why did he put this here? What is he saying? As we look at this Scripture I think it becomes clear.
Matthew’s point, which is what I hope to persuade of this morning, is this, the risen Christ has work for us to do.
We’ll see this through Jesus’ three instructive statements for his church.
We would do well to note that these reminders extend all the way until he returns until he comes back again. First he’s in charge, second, get to work, and third, you’re not alone.
Authority is an interesting concept for us. On the one hand, we seem to really dislike it. People are generally very suspicious of authority and tend to resist it when we can. This is true in politics, local government, law enforcement, and even in places like churches. We like to question people’s right to say that anyone can do or cannot do anything. It’s probably not a surprise that the town requires us to get permits for events that we hold on the lawn, like the upcoming carnival. Or signs that we want to put on our building for Christmas or Easter. We understand the town’s authority on this matter while at the same time we’re not overjoyed with the requirements.
But at the same time we also really like authority. It’s very popular for us to express our own authority. Many today like to express an authority to make moral judgments upon what others say, think, or do. While people like to resist others’ authority we also like to assert our own authority. We do this by speaking about our rights.
But what’s so interesting is what happens when everyone is an authority to themselves they actually don’t have any real authority. We are asserting a perceived authority but not any actual authority. To truly act upon something we need to have a source; none of us here are actually an authority of ourselves. This is because all authority is derived authority. It comes from somewhere else. The police officer acts on behalf of the police department, which acts on behalf of the town, which acts on behalf of the state, which works in concert with the federal government—which then functions with accountability to the people they represent. Nobody truly is the source of authority, it’s all derived.
This is what makes Jesus’ statement in verse 18 so astounding. Notice what he says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Jesus is saying that he has all authority. He is not saying he has some authority or even a lot of it, but rather all of it. He lacks nothing. It’s an expansive authority. Notice the boundaries of all authority—heaven and earth. This led Abraham Kuyper to make the profound and true statement that there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign, does not cry, “Mine.”
That sums it up. Christ has all authority.
But you’ll notice that it says this authority was given to him. Who gave it to him?
Well, it was his Father. God gave him this authority.
And this is right because God is the source of all authority. All authority is derived from God. Whether simply perceived or actual, it comes from God, the source.
“And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)
When did he give him this authority? It was at the resurrection. In Acts 13:33-34 we read that God fulfilled the 2nd Psalm by raising Jesus. It was here that this was declared to be true.
“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”” (Psalm 2:6–9)
“On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:16)
I’m sure you can begin to see why Matthew put this here at the end of the book. He has been trying to show us that Jesus is the true King. He told us in the very first verse of the book and then throughout. Listen to the first words, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1)
Jesus is the king who has all authority. He is the unrivaled King. He has the ultimate authority. He is the source of authority. He does not simply have a derived authority. His authority is not simply perceived. It’s ultimate. He is the source.
What do you suppose the effect of this statement might be upon the first readers of Matthew’s gospel as they were facing persecution? Jesus is in charge.
What do you think the point would be for us today? Friends, we need to see that he is in charge. His words matter. They are binding. They are authoritative. When we hear the Word of God is as if we are in the King’s chambers watching his lips move and hearing them in our ears. We need to hear what he says and we need to heed it.
Now that we are sure that he has our attention, let’s see what else he says.
We read in these verses that the risen King has work for us to do. What does he want us to do?
Well, notice first that it’s intentional living. We read here that there is a response to the fact that Christ is the resurrected King. The text says go, therefore. We might get the idea here that it’s a one time “Go”…but I think it takes the sense of going. It’s your life. You could say, “as you are going…” See we are all going. The command is not to simply live. But live intentionally. It does not just keep breathing but breath intentionally.
How so? We see it right away in verse 19, “make disciples.” What is a disciple? It’s a follower of Jesus. Okay, so how do we make disciples? How do we make followers? The Scriptures teach that disciples are those who have been born again. We don’t come out of the womb following Jesus. Instead, the Bible says we are actually born spiritually dead or separated from God. We not inclined towards God’s Word. We don’t submit to his authority. We don’t desire to worship him. We are, according to the Word of God, enemies of God, separated from him, hostile towards him, we are rebels. We need to actually be converted. We need to be made alive, reconciled to God, and there needs to be a peace treaty signed. How does this happen? We are converted by God’s grace (that is a gift) working powerfully through the Word. First Peter says that God causes us to be born again. So we hear the gospel and believe it. God gives us eyes to see and ears to hear and taste buds to taste his Word. We go from death to life through the Word of God.
How do you make disciples? You tell people the word. There’s a lot in this book, what do we need to tell them in order for them to become a Christian? We need to tell them the gospel. If you have been coming to RFC for the last 10 weeks you should have this clear. But if you haven’t, let me tell you the gospel this morning friends. The gospel is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and then he rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
Is there a prospecting list? Who should we tell? Jesus says “all nations” This means all people groups. It’s not a statement primarily of recognized flags as much as it is all people groups. We need to bring the gospel to all kinds of people. This makes sense then that this King over all the earth would send his people into all the earth to make disciples or converts to his church.
But there is something else that his to be done. In verse 19 we read that once these disciples are made they are to be baptized. What is baptism? Baptism is a transliteration of a Greek word that simply means to immerse or dunk in water. So baptism is an act of publicly being immersed or dunked in water. Why? It symbolizes the reality of being born again. Going into the water and out of it symbolizes the reality of being raised to a new life in Christ. The water itself does not save anyone but it does preach a message. It says to all who are watching and listening, I am with Jesus and I am with his people. It is a public identification with Jesus and his church. This is why we as a church baptize people who have believed the gospel. We do not baptize infants because they can’t profess their faith in Christ. We believe this is the pattern throughout the book of Acts, believe and then be baptized.
This is what Jesus wants us to do, go make disciples and then bring them into the church as members through baptism. Then what?
He says in verse 20, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” There is a training aspect involved here. This teaching is comprehensive, notice it’s teaching all that I’ve commanded you. The church is to be a place where people are equipped to know the Word of God.
But not only this, there must be a context where it is applied. He didn’t simply say that he wanted us to drop a bunch of doctrine on people. Christianity isn’t simply a content download. No, he wants us to observe all that I commanded. This means obedience. There is a need to apply what Christ has commanded. This requires community life so we can live out what Jesus has called us to be and do.
Let’s think about this together and apply this.
First, there are many things that churches could do and even can do but we can never do less than this. In other words, what we read here is what every single church must do. In order to be a church, we must be people who make and train disciples.
Second, think about the type of people Jesus is calling to be on mission with him. This weekend is the NFL draft. The coaches and management of teams have spent hundreds of hours evaluating talent, analyzing players mental aptitude, and combing through their personality tests to find the best fit for their organization. They want to draft the best players they can to represent them. Isn’t it interesting in contrast to considering the types of players Jesus picks to be on his team? Pretty ordinary, everyday, run of the mill type people, like you and me (cf verse 16-17, 1 Cor. 1).
Third, I want you to think about who this is for. It’s for every single Christian. Every disciple is called to be on mission, working to make and train disciples. Working to evangelize and equip people in the Word. Some people push back and say, “This is only for the Apostles or those gifted in evangelism.” I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind. You know why? Because he says as much. He says to make disciples and then teach them to obey everything that he commanded. This is a command itself and it falls under this category.
Fourth, how do we participate in the great commission? First and foremost, we do this as a church. This is church work. So, church membership is a priority for the great commission. As we covenant together we do so in order to protect and proclaim the gospel. We commit to one another that we will work to spread the gospel here and abroad together. And we will work to train disciples together. This involves us using our gifts in various ways. Think about how what we do works to serve the mission. Everything we do on Sunday morning involves this (whether in the nursery, cleaning, handing out bulletins, coffee, singing, prayer, security, preaching, everything). We need to think about our ministry together as great commission work. After Billy Graham died, an evangelical author was asked who the next Billy Graham was. He answered, “Jane the Uber driver.” What did he mean? He relayed the story of being evangelized by an Uber driver. He talked about how the next Billy Graham will be people like this making an impact. People like you and me living on mission to take the gospel to people where God has sent us.
Fifth, think about the privilege we have. The king has called us and enlisted us in his service. We have the privilege to represent him here and preach his word!
Sixth, I want you to think about the need for this work. Obviously, the world needs to hear the message. There are still people who do not know the gospel. We need to prayerfully consider if God might be calling some of us to go and serve God abroad in the mission work. But, we are also here. We need to realize that we live in a mission field. New England in general and Boston, in particular, would classify, by mission organizations, as meeting the threshold of an unreached people. Less than 2% of our area is evangelical. This means that it’s extremely likely that you are the only Christian in your neighborhood, workplace or on the bus. We are here for a reason.
Seventh, consider the outcome of this work. Faithful great commission work leads to training which leads to planting and revitalizing churches. It looks like training pastors and sending people out to start or strengthen churches. We need to pray and work toward this end.
Eighth, consider the sacrifice required here. There are matters of comfort that must be sacrificed. We will sacrifice our time, reputation, financial resources, and ease in order to fulfill.
When we look at Jesus’ words here to his church we realize that he has given us an unfinished task. But it’s a glorious task. We are involved in populating heaven through the message of the gospel. The King with all authority has work for us to do.
Jesus concludes his commission with an abiding promise. Look at what he says a the end of verse 20, “and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In what sense is Jesus going to be with his followers? We know that in just a few short weeks from this time Jesus would ascend into heaven. Physically he would be separate from his disciples. Even today we gather but he is not physically with us. So how is he with us? We know that in a big picture sense God is omnipresent, nothing escapes him. But, in a particular and gracious sense, God is with his people through his Spirit. I am not saying that he is simply with us in spirit, in the sense that he agrees with us. No, it’s more than this. He is with us spiritually. Jesus says in Revelation that he walks amongst the lampstands. In Matthew 18 he reminds his church that when two or more are gathered together as a church he is there with us. This is a spiritual reality. We could all use to be reminded that Jesus is here with us when we gather. He is with his people, even us this morning.
But also as we go about our lives we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That is the Spirit of God lives within the child of God. So even in this sense, the Spirit comes to live within the believer. He also is with us then.
How is this received?
I suppose there are two immediate responses.
The first would be comfort. God is with his people. He will never forsake his own. Whatever you are going through he is there with you to protect, defend, and encourage. He will keep you even when you can’t keep him. In the context of difficult evangelism or discipleship or serving, he is there with you.
The second would be conviction. Do you remember when Peter denied Jesus? Luke tells us that Jesus looked at Peter and his heart melted. When we are thinking about the great commission we have to think about the temptation to fear man and cower. Instead of being active in making and training disciples we might instead prefer something a little less difficult and more inclined toward our preference for ease. But the King with all authority promises that he is with us. This is convicting, isn’t it?
So this promise meets us wherever we need it, to comfort or convict. He is always with us.
Two thousand years ago Matthew ended his gospel with these words.
Why? Because the risen Christ has work for us to do.
I am so thankful so many disciples throughout the centuries have believed his words and obeyed him. Aren’t you.
Now it’s our turn.
Remember he’s in charge, we’re not alone, and let’s get to work.
The risen Christ has work for us to do.