Christ’s Church’s Commission
Gospel Reading: Matthew 28: 16-20
On the first Easter morning two women, both bearing the name Mary, but neither the mother of our Lord, went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. To their surprise they saw an angel who told them that the Lord was not there for He was risen from the dead. As they left the tomb, Jesus Himself met them. He told them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to meet me in Galilee, and there they will see me.”
As we read the Gospel accounts in relation with each other, we find that He appeared to them in Jerusalem on several occasions, including the evening after His morning resurrection. Later He met with them, as He had promised, in Galilee.
That is the appearance of which we read in Matthew 28. The eleven disciples went to a mountain in Galilee to await the appearance of the Lord. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him. They had come to understand who He was – the Son of God – and they gave Him the worship that is due a divine Person. But not all worshiped, because some doubted. We might wonder why they still doubted. Even doubting Thomas had become convinced of the resurrection and had called Jesus “My Lord and my God.”
But this doubt is not particularly surprising. Jesus’ resurrection is the first case of a man dying and then coming to life never to die again. It was a whole new category of thought for them. Moreover, while the Jesus who died is clearly the Jesus who also was resurrected, His appearance had been changed somewhat in the glorified state so that He was not immediately recognizable by them. So, as He approached, not all were sure that this was Jesus.
Yet when He came close His appearance and His words left no doubt. And it was in this situation that Jesus spoke these great words about the mission of the Church, words which have guided the Church through two millennia and will guide the Church until He comes again.
I. The Claim
When Jesus appeared to them, He made a stupendous claim: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
This claim to authority is not the claim that He could always make, as the eternal Son of God, to all divine power and sovereignty. This is a claim of something new – the authority given to Him as the God-Man who had done the Father’s will, walked through the dark valley of suffering, and had emerged victorious, having accomplished salvation for His people. As the conquering Messiah, this authority had been given to Him as His reward. Satan had offered Him the rule of all the kingdoms of the earth if He would worship Him. But Jesus refused, walked the painful path of obedience, and got the reward promised Him by the Father.
This is the fulfillment of Daniel’s vision in chapter 7.The Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days and is given dominion that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
He has all authority in heaven. All of the angels in heaven and all of the saints whose spirits have been made perfect are under His dominion. They do His will willingly.
But His authority extends to earth as well. He is the supreme authority on earth. Some submit to Him as in heaven; others resist Him. Nevertheless, all are under His control. He will continue to rule till everything has submitted to Him, till every knee bows and tongue confesses that He is Lord, till heaven and earth are one.
This claim and its reality are absolutely essential to the commission Christ is about to give. The Church has a worldwide mission, but it could not possibly begin to fulfill that mission unless its Lord possesses absolute authority. He exercises that authority by bringing people to submit to Him and receive His salvation. He exercises that authority by restraining those who oppose Him and His Church.
This authority also reinforces the commission or the commands He will give His Church. It is this Lord, who has all authority, who speaks to His Church and gives to the Church its assignment.
II. The Commission
The main verb is “make disciples” – it is an imperative. A disciple is someone who commits himself to a teacher and becomes a learner. This is what it means to become and be a Christian. Salvation is not by works, but the faith that saves in not a mere acknowledgement. Nor is it a bare profession. Nor is a matter or exercising one of two options – choosing to receive Christ as Savior only or as Savior and Lord. Saving faith so trusts Christ as to commit to Him, and follow Him, and learn from Him all one’s life.
Jesus says that in making disciples we are to go into all the nations. There is something new here. Before His resurrection Jesus confined His ministry with very few exceptions to the Jewish people. When He sent His disciples out He told them to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Now the whole world – all the nations – is their field of mission. It is a massive undertaking – not the small strip of land called Palestine, but the whole world and all the peoples of it. If this is going to happen, then the Church must go - it must send those who are set apart for this purpose. It is interesting to note how at first the apostles were slow to act on this command to go worldwide. But eventually persecution pushed the Christians out of Jerusalem. Eventually some made it to Antioch and there they made a critical decision – to proclaim the Gospel to Gentiles. And the Gospel was off and running to the nations. The reason we have a Missions Conference is to remind ourselves that this mission to go to all the nations in order to make disciples still stands as our mission. We come to be informed and challenged and to renew our excitement about and commitment to this mission.
How does the Church go about making disciples? The two primary means are given. Baptize them in (or into) the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see this in the NT pattern. When people believe they are baptized. Then their status with God becomes the same as at that of OT Israel. In other words, God enters into covenant with them and promises to be their God and the God of their children. We find in the NT the practice not only of individual baptism, but of household baptism. For those outside the faith, who become Christians, this is God’s seal to them that His salvation is theirs and their confession before the world that they are Christ’s. Then their children are baptized as God’s sign that the children belong to Him also and His seal that He will apply the benefits of salvation to them, too.
Then they are to teach to observe all things that Christ has commanded. This, of course, begins with the Gospel itself. But it extends to all that Christ taught – both doctrine and ethics are included. And the goal is practical response – that they will observe what they are taught – that the doctrines will make a positive impact on their lives and that the ethics will be followed by them as a way of life.
III. The Comfort
The word comfort to us sounds soothing. But somewhere J.I. Packer calls it a “bracing word” – that is, the effect of comfort is to give you courage to do your duty.
The comfort here is that Christ will be with us always to the end of the age.
This was the Old Covenant promise – “I will be with you.” It is the meaning of Immanuel – God with us. It is the final picture of God’s people in the heavenly city – they live there and God and the Lamb are in the midst of them.
It is a present reality. He does not leave us alone. Not even when we feel alone are we alone. He is with us always even to the end of the age.
How? The disciples were having to deal with this. He was not physically present with them always but only occasionally after the resurrection. Soon He would return to heaven and no longer be available to them at all in the body. So how? He is present by the Spirit who indwells us individually but also corporately. The presence of the Spirit is something we experience in fellowship with one another.
And what means does the Spirit use? He works in connection with the Word and the Sacraments.
My second visit to Ukraine was much better than my first. Main reason was my wife was with me. She comforts me by being with me. We can expect that Christ will be with us always, that He will never leave us or forsake us. He promised, and He died to make it a forever reality.
With the courage that comes from His always presence we go into to all the world and make disciples depending on the means He has given to His Church.
(Notes for a sermon preached on 04/02/2004)