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Whiteville Bapt. 4-1-18(2)

EASTER LESSON - Matthew 28:16-20 - The Great Commission

INTRODUCTION:  Today I'm not going to give you the traditional "Empty Tomb" Easter lesson but plan to focus on Jesus post-resurrection appearance to the eleven disciples in Galilee as recorded in Mt. 28, where He delivered what we call the "Great Commission."   But before I get into the lesson text, I would like to share of couple of interesting resurrection facts with you: 

1.  Differing Gospel Accounts:  Each of the four Gospels describes an account of the resurrection, and there are some noticeable differences among them. However, these differences do not contradict the Scriptures, but simply bring to mind the fact that the four accounts were written independently from different perspectives by different writers at different times, who all record Jesus' resurrection appearances to different people at different times, e.g., only Luke reports Jesus' encounter with the two followers on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35).    

2.  Earliest Account of the Resurrection:  The earliest (verified by date) written report of the resurrection didn't appear in the Gospels but in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 in 55 A.D.  However, it could possibly have appeared earlier, given that there been a lot of scholarly debate over the dating of Gospels, from 50 to 70 for the Synoptics and 80 to 90 for John.  But, all of that aside, none of the accounts describes the resurrection itself-Jesus actually getting up and leaving the tomb-but records eye-witness testimony of those who saw (1) the empty tomb and (2) the risen Christ.  Therefore, it's not too surprising that His bewildered and confused disciple thought him to be truly dead gone-I mean, that's what normally happens when people die, yes?        

INTRODUCTION TO LESSON:  The text for today's message will be Mt. 28:16-20, which is commonly referred to as "The Great Commission."  The various Gospels stress different aspects of this Great Commission, and from the beginning, the Gospel of Matthew emphasized Jesus' teaching.  In fact, the Sermon on the Mount in Jesus' early ministry, recorded in Mt. chapters 5-7, constitutes the largest body of Jesus' teaching in the NT.  In today's lesson, we will see Matthew portray Jesus' last act of ministry as we see Him teach His disciples the very basics of Christian ministry:  (1) Going, (2) baptizing, (3) making disciples, and (4) teaching.  This text has had had a significant influence of the church.  It stamps Jesus' approval on baptism as a key element of discipleship and supplies the Holy Trinity formula ("in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) that churches have followed through the centuries.  It also emphasizes the vital importance of discipleship and teaching.  So, when you move from the Gospels to the Book of Acts, you will see a church that takes on an evangelical, mission-oriented character that is a huge contrast to the disciples' behavior seen up to that point.  The explanation for this change in two-fold:  (1) they have seen the risen Christ and (2) they are responding to His Great Commission.  Please open your Bibles now to Matthew 28, starting with verse 16: 


16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

v. 16a:  "eleven disciples went to Galilee" - This reminds us of Judas' treachery-where there were twelve, based on the 12 tribes of Israel-there are now only eleven.  Although Acts 1:12-26 reports the restoration of the 12 with the elevation of Matthias as an Apostle, Matthew here reports the Great Commission falling on the eleven, an imperfect number.  The church that Jesus sends into the world is fallible (like all of us); Yet, Jesus uses such a church to accomplish His perfect work, and the same Christ who began the perfect work with eleven is continuing it with us.  They went to "Galilee." It has been referred to as "Galilee of the Gentiles" because it was home to so many of them.  And this area-which was so different from the more orthodox and less tolerant region of Judea-was where Jesus grew up and spent most of His ministry.  So, He returns "home," to commission His disciples.

v. 16b:  "to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them" - In this Gospel, important things happen on mountains:  the Sermon on the Mount, the Last temptation of Christ, and the Transfiguration.  We aren't told the name of this mountain, but its location really doesn't matter.


17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.

v. 17a:  "they worshiped Him" - This is the first time we find the disciples together as a group since Jesus was arrested and they abandoned Him.  In Matthew's account, only Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had seen the risen Christ thus far.  When the disciples did finally see the resurrected Jesus standing before them, Matthew says they worshiped Him.  This isn't surprising, is it?  They saw with their own eyes that their Lord, their leader, their teacher had exercised power even over death.  To see Him this way confirmed beyond any doubt that He was who He claimed to be-the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. 

v. 17b:  "but some doubted," he adds.  The Greek for doubt, distazo, can also mean to "hesitate." We are all familiar with the famous story of Thomas in Jn. 20:24-29, who, after being told Jesus had risen, declared he wouldn't believe it unless he felt the nail holes in His hands and the slash in His side, but here, the plural pronoun "some" strongly suggests that more than one doubted.  Despite having walked with Jesus for three years, nothing in their experience had prepared them for this-they had seen Him die, horribly. They could hardly comprehend in what they were seeing with their own eyes.  We are tempted to criticize the disciples for doubting-Jesus did, after all, tell them he would be raised on the third day (Mt. 17:23)-but we should not imagine that we would have done better.  These disciples-like us-were still a work in progress.  It should encourage us that Jesus chose to do His work through the original less-than-perfect disciples, which tells me and you He can do the same for us.  The disciples would grow into the task Jesus assigned to them.  They would press ahead in the face of great opposition and sow seeds that would take root all the way across oceans.    


18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and earth is given to me,"

v. 18 - Earlier, in Mt. 11:27, Jesus had declared to them, "All things have been handed over to me by my Father." This was a fulfillment of Dan. 7:14, which said of the son of Man, "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."  One of the threads that runs though Matthew's Gospel from beginning to end is Jesus' kingship, starting with the genealogy of His descent from King David (Mt. 1:6) and all the way to the sign on the cross, intended to mock Him, that read, "THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Mt. 27:37).  But now, as the risen Christ, His kingship comes to fruition, with His authority extending not only over the earth but over the heavens as well.  Clearly and without mistake, this authority establishes Jesus' right to command obedience from His disciples and His ability to empower them to do the work before them, and we can agree that this certainly extends to us and whatever spiritual gifts He has empowered us to use in serving Him and adding to His kingdom.  


19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 

v. 19a1:  "Go therefore and make disciples" - the command to "make disciples" is the only imperative verb of the phrase, which means that "going and baptizing" are secondary to it.  It's interesting that He doesn't command them to preach-to evangelize-to win a lost world but tells them to reproduce their own kind by creating new disciples, who will, in turn, make new disciples-new people of faith.

v. 19a2:  "of all nations" - The Greek word for "nations," ethne, from which we get the word ethnic, means all people, languages, races, cultures, etc.-people of every stripe.  To these Jews, it meant Gentiles-everybody else besides Jews.  As we know from the book of Acts, taking the Gospel to the Gentiles got off to a shaky start.  At first, they only accepted Gentiles who had become Jewish proselytes-i.e., converts.  Only after God intervened in Acts 10-when Peter shared the gospel with the Gentile Cornelius and his household, saw the Holy Spirit fall upon them, and baptized them-did they begin to admit Gentiles into the church, and the issue wasn't fully resolved until the Jerusalem Council settled it in Acts 15.  Today, in some quarters, even in some churches, Christians are criticized for trying to make disciples of all ethne-all people everywhere in the world.  They say we shouldn't interfere with the cultures and religions of other people.  But we can't allow this "political correctness" to hold us back from our responsibility to proclaim the Gospel-that salvation is by grace alone in Christ alone.  Just think about this:  if it were not for the early church's response to the Great Commission, few people-and that probably includes us-would ever have felt the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.  Brothers and Sisters, it is our responsibility to continue the work.       

v. 19b:  "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" - Although Matthew reports Jesus' own Baptism in 3:13-17, he never commanded His disciples to be baptized, and there's no record they ever were, yet the Great Commission commands its as an article of faith.   In the very early church, new believers were ordinarily baptized in the name of Jesus but the three-fold formula of the Great Commission began the standard.  Being baptized "in the name of" indicate a new relationship and adoption, so being baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit signifies a new relationship with all three persons of the Holy Trinity. 


" 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

v. 20a:  "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" - Notice that Jesus tells us to teach people all that He commanded, rather than our personal opinions.  It is very important, therefore, that we distinguish between Jesus' teachings, which are authoritative, and our own opinions, which are not.  In this Gospel, Jesus began His ministry with teaching (Sermon on the Mount) and concluded it by commissioning His disciples to teach all nations.  This emphasis on teaching is not incidental; it is entirely fundamental to the making of disciples.  Teaching is often a slow process and requires not only patience and preparation, but personal involvement and commitment on the part of the teacher.  The word "observe" used here means the same thing as "obey."  Our teaching is designed to do more that convey information: it's intended to persuade believers, new ones especially, that they need to obey Jesus.  What are we to obey?  Answer: "All I have commanded you."  For you and me and those we teach, this clearly means we can't pick and choose.  And for us today, our source of truth is God's Word, from Gen. 1:1 to Rev. 22:21.  We all need to follow the example of the righteous man in Ps. 1, who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night.  Understanding and applying God's Word is a big task, but I can tell you this:  I'm glad and relieved that God provides the answers to anything I need to know; I don't have to figure it out.

v. 20b:  "behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" - It's interesting that this Gospel opens with the word of the prophet, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us [Mt. 1:23]), and then ends with a last "behold" in which Jesus promises to be with us always.  When Jesus promises to be with us "to the end of the age," he's promising to be with us now-and in the future-and in eternity, where the whole idea of time becomes meaningless.  I ask all of you-is it possible for us to get any better news than this on a resurrection Sunday?

Closing Prayer:  Lord God, we in this church come before Your throne on this day and thank you that Easter is not about just one people, but about all people everywhere.  We thank and praise You, God, that Your love and Your salvation are for all who confess with their voices, hearts and lives that the TOMB IS EMPTY!  And the tomb is empty because Jesus is risen- so that we might know forgiveness -so that lives might be reborn-and so that Your name, Jesus, might be glorified for now and for eternity, AMEN.