You may also listen to the sermon podcast at this link:
Matthew 28:16-20 Marching Orders
16-17 “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
Today, twelve of our young people are going to Montreat to be with hundreds of their peers for a Christian conference. For a whole week, they will be present at worship services in the morning and evening, praising Jesus in energetic and amazing ways. They will participate each day in small groups where they can safely share their ideas, thoughts, and beliefs about their personal feelings and faith. They will make new friends and have terrific experiences. They will come back to us upbeat and uplifted. They will feel as though they are already making a difference in the world, our community, and especially our church. We are sending them as apostles of Erin Presbyterian and will receive them as ambassadors of Christ when they return. They are going on one of the greatest commissions in each of their young lives, so we will pray for them this week and be proud of them when they come back home.
Today’s Gospel passage is about a similar commissioning of the remaining faithful eleven disciples who return to Galilee about nine days after Christ’s resurrection. They have been told to head back there by Jesus, as well as the angels who met the women at the tomb on Easter Day. We don’t know exactly which mountain they were headed to, but it is probably the same place where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount and fed five thousand people with loaves and fishes. It was both a familiar and a safe place for them; it could also have been their usual rendezvous point when they came together each Spring after they had gone home to be with their families for winter, during the three years that they followed Jesus around Galilee.
Wherever it was, they gathered together, possibly with about five hundred others, to meet Jesus again and be taught by Him once more. They came to acknowledge Him as the Messiah and Risen Lord. They came to be with Him as their teacher and Savior. Most of them were ready to worship Jesus on the spot, but some still doubted it was actually Him. Their hearts wanted to believe it was Jesus returned from the dead, but their minds could not or would not accept such a shocking possibility. They were only people, after all, and for me, this confirms the credibility of the Gospel because it shows us the natural responses of human beings when faced with a supernatural event: it’s unbelievable!
18 “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has
been given to me.”
I love what Jesus does here to help those who have their doubts – He comes down to them, to see them personally, to meet them face-to-face. He reassures them with His closeness and presence. He doesn’t remain aloof on top of the mountain; He doesn’t condemn them for their doubts. Instead, Christ cherishes each of them and meets them where they are comfortable. They are scared to go near Him, so just like God in the Old Testament, Jesus takes the initiative and comes to them. In theological terms, we call this incarnational ministry and it is precisely how God operates throughout history, as well as in our own lives today.
For some of our young people at Montreat this week, they are going to experience the presence of Christ in a way they have never known. Within their hearts, they will feel a closeness to God that they didn’t know was possible. They may be slightly fearful of this spiritual experience and may not fully understand what is happening, but they have great leaders who will be with them who know what this feels like, so they can rely on them to be with them as their hearts as opened to the amazing and mysterious work of the Holy Spirit in their young lives.As Jesus meets with His worshippers and doubters, He says something that is very wonderful and really surprising. He tells that that all authority in Heaven and on Earth now belongs to Him. He’s letting them know that He is not just Israel’s Messiah – He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the absolute Sovereign of the entire universe. These are remarkable words and if they were spoken by a mere human being then they would have become null and void centuries ago. Jesus speaks the divine truth when He makes this declaration, but He does it in such a loving way that instead of being afraid of Him, His disciples and followers are drawn closer to Christ, just as we continue to do this very day.
What we are seeing here is that power, absolute power, is placed just where it should be placed – into the hands of someone who will use that absolute power graciously, lovingly, and gloriously. You see at that moment in time, all of those powerful attributes and responsibilities were claimed by the Emperor Tiberius. He was the undisputed leader of the Roman Empire and had grasped absolute power, as well as god-like status, to subdue and suppress millions of people on Earth. But just as Emperor Tiberius was maintaining a stranglehold of merciless power over the Empire, Jesus was claiming His Rightful place as the Son of God and the Ruler of the World. What happened on that mountain was the beginning of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, as well as the ending of Roman rule. As Christ and His sovereignty ascended, Caesar and Rome diminished. All authority in Heaven and on Earth was given to Jesus by His Heavenly Father, which is why the Church is called two things: the Church Triumphant for those faithful servants who are now with Christ in Heaven; and the Church Militant for those of us who serve Christ here on Earth.
John Calvin wrote about this event in several ways. He called it an act of commission when Christ’s disciples would be told where they should go and what they should do. Calvin also states that Jesus reveals Himself as the Governor of Heaven and Earth, which would inspire His followers to accept the commission He is giving them and face whatever the world would throw at them. They are to be empowered and regenerated by Christ’s words; they know that He is eternal, so His will, His words, His ways shall outlast any opposition. All they have to do is follow and obey His instructions.
19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
And so we come to what is known as the Great Commission. Jesus lets His followers and disciples know the reason why He has gathered them together, as well as expressing in simple terms the actual purpose of His Church. Jesus wants them to make other disciples of people from all nations on Earth. This is amazing
because it means that Jesus burst through the walls of traditional Judaism and took everything to a higher level. His Earthly ministry focused on His own people, but now the disciples are given an extended task – they have to go out into the whole world with the Gospel message and share the blessings of God with
foreigners. Christ’s ministry was being expanded throughout the entire globe. God’s mercy, compassion, and grace were not just favored blessings for His holy people, they were being offered and delivered to folks who didn’t even know anything about Jesus, Jerusalem, or Judaism.
About ten years ago, I started writing Bible devotions for our elders to help them become more knowledgeable about the scriptures so that they could feel more confident in their faith, especially as the spiritual leaders of our wee church. Some of them shared those devotions with their families and friends, so I had an email system set up to send out those devotions on a regular basis. At the same time, I started a blog where I could post the devotions on the Internet to anyone who wanted to read them. A couple of years ago, I put a counter on the blog to tell me how many people were reading the devotions and which countries they
came from – within the next thirty days, that number will reach 500,000 – half a million – readings from all over the world. In this week alone, Christians from the US, France, the UK, Germany, Philippines, China, Canada, Ukraine, India, and Romania have all been reading those devotions.
Why am I telling you this? Well part of the ministry that you allow me to do here is writing a couple of devotions each week, so Erin Presbyterian Church is doing its part in fulfilling that Great Commission which Jesus gave to His own disciples. From that wee study, we have influenced, inspired, taught, and encouraged hundreds of thousands of people all across the Earth.
Finally, let me tell you a story from Britain which took place during the Victorian Age. The Duke of Wellington, who was the British General that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, was once confronted by a parish minister who was against foreign missions. The pastor presented the usual arguments – there was more work to be done at home, so the money wasted on other countries would be better off spent in the UK. The expense of world missions was too high and showed very little return for the amount of time, talents, and money invested in international missions. The minister concluded that the Church would be far better concentrating on its own people and communities rather than evangelizing in other countries and places.The Duke of Wellington looked sternly at the minister and assertively responded, saying ‘Jesus said, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.”’ Those words, sir, said the general, “are the Church’s marching orders!”
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, Your Great Commission changed the world forever and is still changing millions of lives today. Thank You for allowing us to be a part o Your work on Earth. May we share our Christian faith with all of the people that we encounter and meet this week. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.