The part of God’s Word that we meditate on today is found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel.
Matthew 28:16-20 (NASB)
16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, from our Master and Savior Jesus Christ, and from the Holy Spirit who has opened our hearts to see all that we have been given by the Triune God.
Perhaps you’ve seen this visual aid before. I’ve got a single wooden match here. Alone it is easily broken. (Pastor snaps the match in two)
But add a few more matches, and you’ve got a little bundle that is not so easy to break. (Pastor tries, but the bundle resists being broken).
When the eleven disciples met with Jesus in Galilee, they felt a bit like this match (Pastor holds up a single match again). Alone. Weak. Uncertain. Matthew says “some were doubtful”, even in the presence of the resurrected Jesus. And this shouldn’t be surprising.
The disciples doubted Jesus during His ministry. When Jesus suggested that the disciples should feed a crowd numbering in the thousands, Philip said,
“It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7 NIV).The disciples doubted Jesus when He spoke of His crucifixion and resurrection. When He told them He would have to suffer and die and rise back to life on the third day, Peter said,
“’Never, Lord! …This shall never happen to you!’” (Matthew 16:22 NIV).When the women returned from Jesus’ empty tomb and told the rest of the disciples that He had been raised from the dead – they simply did not believe them. They didn’t believe what Jesus had said would happen, and they didn’t believe what their friends were telling them.
Sometimes, doubt doesn’t make sense. But it’s part of the sinful human condition. Don’t we find ourselves doubting things or people in which we know we should trust?
We’re here today because we know this about ourselves. We know that if we separate ourselves from the Word of God and our fellow Christians, our doubt will grow. Left long enough, our doubt can displace our faith altogether. We don’t want this to happen. So we come here to gather around God’s Word. We come to hear again the simple message of sins forgiven through God’s Son. We come to listen for something we did not know about God revealed in His Word. We come to be comforted by Christ and to teach our hearts to trust in Him more fully.
Jesus doesn’t disappoint us in our reading for today. The same words He spoke to the doubting eleven, He speaks to us.
“…All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18 NASB).We’re not told exactly what the disciples doubted. But whatever it was, these words of Jesus were meant to lay those doubts to rest.
This is our first glimpse of God the Father in this reading. The authority has been given from someone to Jesus. Since it is authority over all things in heaven and earth, it must come from the Father.
We might wonder why the Son of God says that it was given to Him. But when we remember that the Son of God was born into the human race, it begins to make sense. In Jesus, the authority of God became the possession of a man. The God-Man.
No matter what doubts the disciples may have had, these two facts should have obliterated them. First, the eternal Son of God had become one of them, a human. That meant God was on their side. Second, Jesus wasn’t holding back any more with His divine authority and power. During His ministry Jesus did not use all the power that He had as God. But now that His suffering in our place was finished, He was once again exercising the full use of His power for the good of His disciples.
Perhaps it wasn’t Jesus at all that they were doubting. Perhaps it was themselves. If that was the case, their doubt was fitting. They were sinners. They didn’t deserve to be the disciples and friends of the Son of God! Their sins against each other, and others and against God deserved punishment, in hell, forever. But instead they had been given a Savior from sin. Instead they had been given the gift of forgiveness, and a special place in God’s house.
Surely that was what Jesus wanted these men to be most sure of – that His sacrifice had removed their guilt forever. They were forgiven in the sight of God.
And this is the same message Jesus would have you hold most tightly to today. He died for you. Your sins stand forgiven. Don’t be doubtful, trust in the resurrected one.
Now, even when we trust in Jesus, we can still experience uncertainty and doubt. I trust in Christ. I know He is my Savior. I know that nothing I screw up can take His love away from me. But each time I stand outside that door before service, I feel uncertain. I doubt. What if my sinner’s mouth says something foolish and wrong? What do I really know anyway?
I’d bet the disciples felt the same way when Jesus told them the following.
“19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 NASB).Really Lord? You want us to convert the world?! You want us, people who fail to keep your commands each and every day to go out and teach the truth?! And that was exactly what Jesus wanted them to do.
But here’s the comfort that Jesus gives them with this assignment – the disciples weren’t going out make people follow them. They weren’t going out to baptize in their own names. They weren’t going out to teach their own commands. They were going out with message that God’s own Son had revealed to them. A message that was powerful by itself because the Holy Spirit went with it. And Jesus Himself promised to go with them as they went out into the world.
This message could be brought by people who fail to keep God's commands because that's what this message is all about - our failure, and Christ's success in our place.
Now, I’d like to pause for just a second and talk about what the Bible says about Jesus here in a little more detail. Lately I’ve been approached either on the phone or online by people who want me to believe that the God of the Bible isn’t really three-in-one. They say that the Holy Spirit isn’t really a person, He’s just the power of God the Father. They say that Jesus isn’t really on the same level with the Father either. He’s more like a little god created under the big one.
Our reading today blows that idea away. Did you notice how our reading flips back and forth from the humanity of Jesus to the deity of Jesus? First it mentions Galilee where Jesus grew up. He’s human. Then it mentions that the disciples worshipped Him. He’s God. Then it flips back and says that all authority has been given to Him. Human. Then it flops back, saying that we’re supposed to baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. So, we use the name of the three-in-one God to baptize. So Jesus is God. Then it mentions that Jesus taught the disciples during His earthly ministry. He was obviously human when He did that. Then it says that Jesus promises to be with each of His followers even to the end of the world. Obviously, that’s something only God can promise.
For proof of Jesus deity and the three-in-one nature of God, remember the end of Matthew’s Gospel.
Jesus’ final words are full of comfort for His followers. Soon He will be ascending back into heaven, but He promises them that He’s only going to be taking His visible presence away. In truth Jesus will remain with His followers forever.
We hear about this same thing in other passages too. Like where it says,
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20 NKJV).God is with us, and if God is with us, who can be against us? When we are weak, God is there, and strong. In fact, when we are weak, that may be when we are truly the strongest, because we are forced to put our hope and trust squarely on Christ. Like Paul says,
“…Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV).It’s like the match thing, but better.
Sure, a group of matches is stronger than a single match. But what if you put those matches up against an iron bar? (Pastor holds a bundle of matches around an iron bar) What was hard to break before is impossible to break now.
Joined to Jesus by faith, this is us. We are impervious to any real damage. God is with us, come what may. And after we are dead, we know He will gather us to Himself, and to an eternity of peace and joy.
I had to come back early from Pastoral Conference this week. Fritz Peterson was sick, and it didn’t look like he’d last much longer. On the plane ride back I sat next to an atheist pilot. He we pretty talkative, and when he found out I was a Lutheran pastor, he let me have it.
It was the usual line. If God’s so powerful, how come he doesn’t use His power to fix everything? The pilot attributed everything bad in the world to God, because he figured if God is so powerful, He should just make it all better with a snap of his fingers. Since it isn’t all good right now, it must be God’s fault – if God exists. It was kinda a no win situation for God in this man’s mind. Either he doesn’t exist, He’s weak, or He doesn’t care about people.
Of course, I explained that God created the world perfect and free. I explained that God didn’t make the world evil, the choices of Adam and Eve did that.
But later I got to thinking, there's a better answer to that question of “Why doesn’t God use His power to make everything right again?” The answer is: That’s exactly what He’s doing.
God the Son became human to save us. God could have just wiped the slate clean and made a new universe, but He didn’t. He wanted you and me around. Instead of using His unlimited power to create a new universe, He used it to save this one.
And what does God want from us in return for salvation? Nothing. He says it’s a gift. He sent His Son to die in our place. We don’t do the work. Like Paul says in Romans 4,
“However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5 NIV).God IS using His power to fix everything. He’s just doing it on His own time table. The only way sinners are lost is when they push Him away.
Don’t do that. Instead, grow in faith by returning to Christ daily in prayer and meditation. Read the Words the Holy Spirit has caused to be written for you in the Bible. And know that the God of all power has given all authority to your Savior. And that immense force has been used to make you His own.