Alfred Place Baptist Church

The Great Commission

Matthew 28:18-20 “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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.’”

The Lord Jesus Christ was a remarkable speaker. At the beginning of this gospel of Matthew we come across three chapters of Jesus’ teaching. We call it the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew, chapters five six and seven). It is the most moving and lucid sermon ever preached and it would be a tragedy if you never read those three chapters. And here at the end find more words of Jesus, not now three chapters but just three verses, but once again aimed at those who claim to be his disciples. “If you are following me then this is how you are to live,” Christ is saying on both occasions. The difference here was that our Lord spoke these words after he had passed through the experience of the cross and resurrection. Great trials leave their marks on all who suffer them. We read with intense interest the results of their impact. Last week we saw pictures of a rescued woman in Dhaka, India, who had been buried for 17 days in a collapsed factory in which 1,127 people perished. What is her view of life in the light of such an ordeal? What would be her message to reporters? What did Jesus say after rising from the dead? On what was his mind focused rising from the grave?

Jesus’ last words are well known words, and so our initial challenge is to reject our preconceptions about them, and come to them like a man digging a hole in a field stumbled across treasure. “What is this?” We are determined to listen to what the Lord says. Don’t think that you are already very familiar with the ‘Great Commission.’ You might miss out on their challenge. Be ready to be provoked at what you hear. We don’t want to come to church merely to have our affections stroked and our prejudices confirmed every Sunday.

JESUS DECLARES HIS AUTHORITY.

We meet some simply extraordinary words. If they are not the words of God the Son then they are the words of a megalomaniac. If they are not true then they have about as much influence and credibility as a wild-eyed man shouting in the middle of the town, “I am god. I am god.” Because the Lord Jesus Christ is claiming that, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Is he a lunatic? Then we should back off and quietly walk away now in pity, sorry that such a holy innocent could get such delusions of grandeur. Surely he isn’t trying to frighten and intimidate us as a power-grabbing tyrant? I don’t want a bully as my God. There are enough of those in the world. But what Christ says is not that he was glad to be alive again and for us to value life. Far more than that. He claims that he is the ruler of the universe; he is the Lord of time, the King of heaven and earth. There is no place in the cosmos which is not under his control.

You don’t need to be a rocket-scientist to realize just how radical are such words. Jesus is making an absolute claim about his kingship and lordship over all of reality, from the furthest recesses of outer space, to the sub-atomic world of the neutron and electron and those particles. You can’t avoid a sense of awe if what Jesus is saying is true. The organizing principle that holds together us and everything in space and time is Christ. It all coheres in him. Everywhere I look, in and in, or up and up, or out and out I see God the Son in control. He won’t allow you to say, “Well, I acknowledge that Jesus was a good man, or that he was a brilliant teacher.” There is more than that here, far more. You can’t make this Jesus into some warm, fuzzy buddy who has some neat ideas on how to improve our lives. Nor is he one who will share his authority with other gods. This Jesus sets himself apart from everyone else. He won’t be accommodated to being regarded as the chief among many. All authority is his alone. If you want to be in heaven with him, you can be there on his terms only. If it’s true what he’s saying, that all authority in heaven and on earth are his, then you bow before him and worship him. This attitude of Christ is totally unpopular in our day and age. It’s very incorrect politically, but that’s exactly what Matthew reports as the last words of Jesus.

What Jesus Christ is claiming is this, that it is God the Father who has given God the Son this authority. In other words before the foundation of the world, God saw the plight of man, sin and death everywhere triumphant, all the suffering in the world, all the activity of the devil was noted in heaven. Then God had enormous compassion. He determined to send his Son into this world as the Saviour to end this depravity, and the Son willingly agreed to come in love and save billions and billions of men and women and finally through Jesus Christ to make a new heavens and earth. In becoming the Saviour, and rescuing and redeeming all the people God would give him to have and hold for ever, that then God would place everything under his feet. And when God raised him from the dead he did it. He gave him all authority. God set him at his right hand, the mover and shaker of the whole of created reality. He gave him all power on earth and in heaven to bring safely home to his Father all his people and prepare a place for them in a transformed universe. Nothing would be too powerful to prevent Jesus delivering men and women from addictions, and threats, and torture, and ideologies, and cults. He has the authority to work in those circumstances. Christ can change the attitudes of kings, and bless even the deaths of his people so as to take all those he has loved from the foundation of the earth into the new earth where they will see him and be totally transfigured by him.

And Jesus is saying in our text, “I have delivered. I have finished the work my Father gave me to do. So I’ve received from him power and rank and influence over the angels of heaven and the people of the earth and the demons in hell. The hearts of kings are in my hand and I can move them as I choose.” It is he who determines when a mere sparrow falls; it is not a chance event. He cares for every hair on the heads of his children, he loves them intimately and powerfully. The winds and waves obey him. He is the first cause of every success and failure, every outburst of joy and grief that we experience. When we try our exams and go for our driving test and apply for a university and get our first job and go out on our first date then we are conscious in everything that occurs of Jesus’ wisdom and guidance. We never surf the web without being aware of the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth. He is that one who provides for us our daily bread by giving us health and capabilities and loved ones to support us so we can earn our living and purchase the food that fills our refrigerators and our shelves. Nothing may hit us by chance, every bug and every healing, the timing of every new life born and old life that dies does not happen by luck but because Jesus Christ is an omniscient and all merciful Sovereign. He is involved in every detail of our lives, of the chance meeting of a woman with the man being baptized tonight and the subsequent marriage that took place, and all the events that followed from that, all their tears and delights, all their falls and their risings again – not the devil, not chance, but a loving Lord has been in control. “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me,” he says. As we believe that these words are truth then the consequence of that reverberates right down to this meeting today, and my speaking on these words, and you being here to think over them, and all the dynamics of those claims and their challenge for your view of the purpose of life and the understandability of the world. Christ opens our minds very wide and he is making us think, “I must seriously consider this.”

You have heard of the word ‘providence’ and that it’s talking about the things that have happened to us when and how and why they occurred just as they did. We trace them all back to Jesus Christ, and that puts a certain colour on the events. Our Lord was involved; he wasn’t just a spectator. They didn’t come to him also as a surprise, even though we are not privy to the reasons why he allowed them to hit us as they did. What the claim of Christ in our text is saying to us is that life has a meaning and a purpose and that we discover that as we consider the character and the authority of Jesus Christ. He helps us to trust and find peace. So, for example, the dementia that happened to my mother during the last years of her life did not happen because of some celestial lottery. It was not just bad luck. It happened because of the fall of my father Adam, my federal head, in defying God and bringing sin and death into the world. That is one big reason, and the other big reason for Mam dying when and how she did was that my loving God permitted it to happen that way through his Son Jesus Christ whom he has given all authority to determine everything to happen as it does. The Lord was there in the last sad years of her life. He wasn’t surprised by it, and that is the greatest comfort to me. I know that my loving heavenly Father is not the author of evil, nor does he tempt us to evil, but he will allow nothing to touch me without referring to my Saviour, Jesus Christ. So in these opening words there is this extraordinary claim of Jesus.

2. JESUS TELLS HIS DISCIPLES TO MAKE OTHER DISCIPLES.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (v.19). In the light of who he is and what he can do for us then we followers of the Lord Jesus are to go and make others his disciples too. Don’t be selfish. Don’t keep such wonderful reality to yourselves. Tell others. Jesus is telling them that the promise made to Abraham that his seed would bless all the nations of the world was at last going to be fulfilled. In fact Christ was the promised Seed of Abraham, and the church going and making disciples of all nations was the way that the Gentiles were going to be blessed.

“Therefore” he says, as one claiming this eminence and irresistible influence, then it has such repercussion for ourselves. We are to make opportunities to speak about the magnificence of the Lord Christ. In other words we are under his commission to go and tell people about him, and the reason for that is that he is . . . he exists . . . he lives, and what he claims is actually true. When he said, “Before Abraham was I am,” he wasn’t talking in metaphors but factually. He always was. In the beginning was the Word. So the world didn’t come from a big bang. Only chaos comes from an explosion, certainly not the order and continuity we experience day by day. It came from him and without him nothing came that exists today. Although you might not be agreeing with me yet you are following me, even though you might have never heard me speak before. I am talking to you about the most profound of subjects, of the meaning of life and the place that God in Christ has in this scheme of things also and in your own life. Yet even hearing a different voice and personality yet you have a good grasp of what I’m saying, and you are thinking about it, and wondering “Could I agree with that?” The reason that this rational communication between us that we both understand exists is that we are both made in the image of our Creator. We have both been ruined by the fall, and yet we are both being addressed by the loving God in the Bible.

So why don’t you seriously consider becoming a disciple yourself, a follower of the almighty and loving Jesus Christ? He will tell you who you are. He will tell you what are the best, real, lasting values. He will tell you how to be a better mother or father, husband or wife, worker or boss. He will tell you how to treat men when they despise you and misuse you. He will tell you about death and what lies beyond it. He is mightier than the grave. He has overcome it. He will tell you about your relationship to the State, about the civil magistrates, and royalty, and the police, and the army. He will tell you what’s to be your attitude to money, and to sex, and to alcohol, and to drugs. He will give you all things richly to enjoy. He will also challenge you like this, “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loses his own soul? What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” He will give you such promises; “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you . . . I will take you to myself that where I am there you may be also.” As I said already, they are either the words of a lunatic or they are the words of God.

You have thought of taking some classes. One of my sons-in-law this autumn has been taking a course in the history of art and has enjoyed telling me about what he has seen and learned as a group of them have gone around small London galleries. Wouldn’t you think it useful to enlist in the school where Jesus Christ is the main teacher, and sit at his feet and become a learner, a disciple? If there was one person in history you would choose to meet and hear and learn from wouldn’t you think that Jesus of Nazareth would be one of your top choices? So my task is to speak on his behalf and do what he has told me to do, make everyone I intelligently meet, who will permit me to talk to them, become one of Jesus’ followers. I do not have as my goal that all of you join this congregation and give money to this church and get baptized. I am little interested in membership expansion. Rather I want everyone to become a disciple of the Lord Christ. I think that that is the most fulfilled life, and the happiest life, and the life that most honours God and achieves what is the chief end of our existence of glorifying our Creator by doing his will. It will do you and children no harm to become followers of the Lord Jesus.

3. JESUS TELLS US TO BAPTIZE IN THE NAME OF THE GODHEAD.

Jesus says, “baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He slips it in doesn’t he? He doesn’t give baptism a special emphasis. It is just a part of his commission and the reason for that is that it was already part of his ministry and theirs. He had a fore-runner, a herald who prepared the way for his appearance, by preaching to the people that they needed to turn from their sins in repentance. The way they confessed that they had turned and embraced his message was by being baptized publicly. So this man was called John the Baptist because his message energized so many people to be baptized. In fact the Lord Jesus himself was baptized in the river by John. He was identifying himself with sinners, although he had no sin to confess. He was there alongside them, helping them and showing that there was no contradiction or even tension between his ministry and John’s. He hadn’t come to call righteous people to follow him; he had come to summon people who had limped through life and were muddled and did things they regretted. He was inviting them to turn from all of that and begin to follow him.

Then during the course of Jesus’ ministry up to 500 people became his disciples and they were baptized, though none of them personally by Jesus, but by his disciples at his request. So he had told these same apostles a few years earlier to baptize the people who became his disciples and this is a repetition of that command, but with one major difference. You will see that. It is a very significant addition because it is another endorsement of Jesus’ authority with a similar claim that all the directing of everything in heaven and earth is his. These disciples were now to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He is up there alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit, on that level of equality with the Father and the Spirit. God has one name into which his disciples are baptized. He does not say, “into the names” but “into the name” of the one God who is three persons. Every other being of whom we have any knowledge is just one alone, but God is three persons and one God. He is different from us. And I can compare him to nothing in his creation because there is none like God.

Baptism is in that one name. Let me concentrate your attention on this little word ‘in.’ It means ‘into’. Your Bibles have a footnote suggesting the translation can be ‘into.’ In other words, baptism is a sign of the person who is being baptized being united to God. Baptism is about being joined to God. It is about being one with God. It is about the unique relationship there is between Christ and his disciples, that each true disciple has been plugged into or grafted in to his teacher. In other words, it means primarily this, that the follower of Jesus Christ is his possession. The Christian says, “Now I belong to Jesus.” He is God’s property. He is that in a dual sense, firstly, by right of creation. You remember the words of the children’s catechism, “Who made me?” “God made me.” “What else did God make?” “God made all things, for his own glory.” So God says, “All souls are mine.” But also, secondly, by right of redemption. Each Christian was not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver and gold, but the price of our liberty from pride and unbelief and sin, was the precious blood of Christ. That is why he become the Lamb of God to take away our sin, it was to redeem us, that from now on we would live under his Lordship as his happy servants, as those who have found real liberty.

So a person who has been baptized is saying, “I am someone who belongs to the triune God, to the Father who created me, to the Son who redeemed me and to the Spirit who applied to me the redemption of Jesus Christ.” I see myself – as a baptized follower of Jesus Christ – as belonging to the Creator of the universe and so feeling so at home in this world, and also as being joined to Jesus Christ who has shown me what God is like and loves me and delivers me from slavery to the fads and fashions of life today, and to the strength that the Holy Spirit gives me to follow Jesus. He enables me to dispose my time and my talents, and my property, and my energy as all belonging to the living God.

The baptized person obeys God in passing through the waters of baptism just as his Saviour did when John baptized him. The Lord tells the new disciple that this must happen and so, often with shyness and reluctance, he does this. Have you seen it? That because of receiving Jesus Christ your life is not your own, and that you have no sovereignty over it, and that you offer yourself as a living sacrifice to God? “I am not the captain of my fate. I am not the master of my destiny. I am not in control of myself. Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee.” That is the visible message of baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

4. JESUS TELLS US TO TEACH HIS DISCIPLES TO OBEY ALL THAT HE TAUGHT.

That is the next word that Jesus gives his disciples in this commission, “baptising 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.” I am sure we are all too familiar with people who talk the talk about religion but whose walk is very inconsistent with that. How such hypocrisy disgusts us! We long for integrity and something of God’s life in them. We say, “You claim that you have been joined to God, made a partaker of the divine nature, that God is in you, and yet . . . how shamefully you act.” We love to say of someone, “He’s a true Christian,” in other words, there is something of heaven and specially loving and kind and godlike about him. Every baptized person is to obey everything that Jesus has commanded. For us he can say no wrong. In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and so we consult him and take him our problems and ask his advice when we pray to him. “Lead me by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” We don’t consult horoscopes or communicate with the dead. We obey every one of his commands.

Is your life one of submission? What is controlling you as a baptized believer? By what standard, and what rules and norms do you live? Are you still doing things your way? Are you still making your own decisions? Are you serving self and selfishness? Or are you controlled by the will of God? Let me put it in the form of a concrete challenge. If you held today a conviction, or a prejudice and you discovered that it had no foundation in God’s word, then would you let it go, just because God said it was wrong? For example, supposing you believed that men had evolved over millions and millions of years from single cell creatures right through to animals and to homo sapiens but then you read the words that Jesus taught in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 19 and verse 4, “‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female’,” then would I believe that because Jesus believed it and taught it? My colleagues would laugh at me and think it incredible that I believe in Adam and Eve as historic people, but I am being controlled by the will of God. I am baptized into him, joined to him, every thought of mine is captive to Jesus Christ.

I am asking this, how do you really stand in relationship to God’s will? Are we not facing the constant peril that our thinking is only the rearranging of our prejudices? I seem to see at time in the professing church a scant regard for the will of God, though its members are baptized into God and profess to belong to him, and yet his will is not the one non-negotiable thing in their lives. It is not the great thing, the only thing that matters as of supreme importance. I see people pickin’ and mixin’ their ideas with some of Jesus’ ideas. I am asking whether we are really being controlled by God’s will or not. Suppose we saw that Jesus taught that Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days, would be believe it? Suppose we learned that it was Jesus habit each Sabbath day to go to his local synagogue are our minds open to alter the pattern of how we spend our week-ends? I beseech you by the mind and teaching and affections of Christ please consider you need to change! You have lived by wrong standards until now, but you realize your Lord Jesus is now telling you what you are going to believe and how you are going to live. We are into changing and improving ourselves. We are not going to stagnate.

You know that we believe that it is by the providence of God that you are here today, and you must accept your providence. Your inheritance in all your future is God’s providence and that can never be taken from you. Every day you are going to receive the providence of God, when you discover that lump, or when the man you love asks you to marry him, when you fail your exams (and many a godly person has failed her exams), or when you are left a generous legacy – all such things and everything far smaller – are the providence of God, and thus so is your being here today. I am asking you whether your life is one of submission to God’s will. Sometimes that will is going to contradict your prejudices, and contradict your background, and contradict your traditions, or God’s will may contradict your revolt against your background, and your revolt against your traditions. Here is your choice of a life of humble obedience to the Saviour who redeemed you by his sacrifice, giving himself for your life on Calvary?

If you are baptized in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit then are you doing the will of your Father in heaven? Maybe you are very envious of those people who are married and gifted, and successful, and active. They seem to have got on in life while you have not. Has it ever dawned on you that you may have the one thing that is needful and they may not? Let’s remember that all the gifts and stuff in the world are not worth one particle of saving trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour. Don’t be eaten up with envy of another person and all he or she may have. Just be sure that you have bowed the knee to Christ, that you belong to him and daily are doing his will. There are people who are going to be far richer and more famous than you, and so what? What if God is displeased with them and rejects them? The greatest thing in any life is to do the will of your Father in heaven.

An acquaintance is a minister, and he was taking a week-end with young people and on the Saturday night he asked them, “How many of you know that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life?” Almost every one of them raised their hand. Then he asked them, “How may of you are doing the will of God day by day?” A third of them didn’t raise their hands, and he then read to them these words of Jesus, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

JESUS PROMISES HE WILL BE WITH US ALWAYS.

You see his final words of such encouragement? “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” You see why he says this? These young men were only beginning the Christian life. They had had such little experience of preaching and teaching and pastoring and answering questions and facing opposition. How could they survive far from their own families and nation and language, going off into all the surrounding nations? They liked their own space, with their loved ones, working on the boats on the Sea of Galilee, having a brother as a companion, and to say good-bye to all of that, to tear themselves out of their comfort zone and go into the unfamiliar was heart-ache. How would they survive? What if they discovered it was all a mistake, that weren’t cut out for such a life? Don’t we have feelings like that as we contemplate the personal revolution of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ? We think that we wouldn’t be cut out for that, that we’ve never done that sort of thing, that we would be square pins in round holes, that we wouldn’t have the courage and strength to keep going, that we would give up and it would be embarrassing and a great mistake.

Then the Lord Jesus gives them this great assurance. “You are not going to do this alone. I am not sending you out and abandoning you. I am not going to pat you on the head and say, “Good luck! Now make your own way in life.” You will never be alone for a moment. He says in fact, “You didn’t think I would abandon you for a moment, would I? You can count on me there with you always. I will be in you and before you and behind you and underneath you and above you until the end of the age. When the world ends I will be there then, and through all the years that lie before that time. When the river you have to ford is deep. I will be with you. When the mountains you have to cross go up to the clouds then I will be with you every step of the way. When trials and temptations buzz around you like a swarm of bees then I will be with you, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish. Even death won’t separate you from me.”

That is the covenant promise Jesus Chrit makes to his disciples, to every one of them without exception. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Your best friend may leave you. Your mother or father will probably pass away before you, but I’ll never pass away from one of my little ones. I will stick by them and help them for ever. What a wonderful future lies before every single disciple of Jesus, living with the dearest friend who forgives and loves and never leaves his own people. I don’t understand how you can face a future by yourself without him and then death without him! Please think of this, if you have never thought of it before. Go to God and ask God to make himself known to you, and keep asking until you know he has answered you, and then what thankfulness. There are some people I know who heard for the first time this full gospel of discipleship, following this Lord, and the first time they heard it they believed it and began to follow Jesus by his given strength. Why not you? Why not today? You have heard, and saving faith is the obedience of trusting in Jesus. Come unto Christ all you that labour and are heavy laden and he will give you rest. Rest! After all the years of restlessness? Rest, the gift of Jesus Christ. Why not you? Why not today? You cannot say no to the gift of rest.

19th May 2013 GEOFF THOMAS