Watercolor painting by E. J. Kirsch

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Jan 14, 2018

“The Task” 1-14-18

Matthew 28:16-20
January 14, 2018

It has been noticed that we have a rather brief passage as our second lesson today.  The reason for that is we are at the end of the Gospel of Matthew.  I have gotten used to Matthews longer explanations of the events of Jesus’ ministry, but in this passage, he tells us a lot in a few words, which is really not like Matthew.
I once read that the end of this gospel might seem truncated because Matthew was possibly at the end of his papyrus scroll and would need another one to continue on. 
The other gospels tell us about visits of the resurrected Jesus with ten of the apostles and others in Jerusalem in the evening of the day the tomb was discovered to be empty.  The gospel of John also tells of another visit one week later when Thomas was among the 11.
Luke tells us that Jesus ascended into heaven from the vicinity of Bethany, near Jerusalem.  John tells us that Jesus met the Apostles on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. But only Matthew speaks of a meeting of the 11 Apostles with Jesus on a mountain in Galilee.  No one can really figure out why Matthew had this insistence, unless, as I posted last week, Jesus was making clear that the worldwide headquarters of the church was not supposed to be Jerusalem, and even perhaps that the church was not supposed to have a worldwide, single headquarters.
After speaking of the meeting in Galilee, Matthew gives us a lot of information.  Some of the things he wrote about in these verses may have happened at that meeting in Galilee, but some of them may have happened on other occasions before Jesus Ascension 40 days after his resurrection.
So this morning, I want to look at each of the things Mathew wrote about in the last paragraph of his gospel, not necessarily locating them all on that mountain in Galilee, but understanding that these are things that occurred after the resurrection of Jesus and before His ascension.
Matthew tells us that the 11 remaining apostles worshiped Jesus.  They have now come to more fully realize that Jesus is God, and worthy and deserving of Worship.  He is not just their friend and adviser and leader, He is Almighty God.
This can be an issue that Christians can get out of balance.  The New Testament presents Jesus to us as a complicated being, one who is beyond our understanding.  He is spoken of as our savior, our counselor, our helper, our older brother in God’s family.  He is spoken of as one who understands us because he shares our humanity. These categories or qualities or aspects of Jesus work and nature inform our prayers and our relationship to Jesus.
But I have found that as I think of Jesus in these ways, as I picture him in my prayers, I need to remind myself that Jesus is God, and it is helpful to picture him also in ways that are informed by the images of Jesus presented in the book of Revelation, the ones where he shines brighter than the sun and has a sword protruding from his mouth and eyes like burning coals.  I need to picture Him in such a way that an awareness of his otherness and his divinity informs my attitudes as I pray.
Matthew also informs us that while the apostles worshiped the resurrected Jesus, some doubted.  But he does not tell us what they doubted or how long their doubts lasted.
But in introducing doubt in this context, I think Matthew is allowing us to say and think a few things.
One of which is that we can form a realistic view of the Apostles.  They had their doubts about the risen Jesus.  The gospel of John informs us that Thomas had to see the resurrected Jesus before he would believe that it had really happened, regardless of what the other 10 apostles told him.
The Gospels all record a disinclination on the part of the apostles to believe in the resurrection of Jesus at first, but the later histories and traditions of these men inform us that they all became so convinced of the resurrection and divinity of Jesus that they all risked their lives and defied commands to be silent in order to tell others about the risen, reigning Jesus.
When human beings are faced with some of the claims made about Jesus, we all probably have some doubts at some times in our lives.  We are human beings and it is difficult for us to understand and believe God.
That is why God places us in communities of believers. It is very difficult to stand in faith alone against the cultures and powers of this world.  And the New Testament book of Acts and the Epistles demonstrate that.  While the Apostles were in different parts of the world, preaching about Jesus, they kept in touch with each other and remained aware of what each other was up to and they referred to the work of each other in their letters.  Paul in his missionary journeys took others with him, so he brought his own church to help him start new ones.  As Christians we will have doubts.  We need to gather with other Christians for worship and fellowship and discussions about our doubts and our faith in spite of our doubt.  Being with other Christians is one of the cures for our doubts.
When the risen Jesus spoke to his apostles he announced that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him.  Do you really understand that as you live in this world? That you walk and live in the name of and with the authority of the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth?
We Christians living today, especially those of us in the USA are too timid.  We do not challenge the powers of this world with the authority of the risen son of almighty God. 
The first generations of Christians, at least some of them, were thrown to lions in the arenas in the Roman Empire because they stood up to the most powerful and oppressive power of their day and claimed to represent a higher authority.  Now, do not misunderstand me, I do not want any of you to be thrown to lions, but we do need to live and walk in this world with the realization that we serve the one who has the highest authority beyond this world and in it.
After establishing his authority, Jesus gave a command to his Apostles, and since they were the ones who would start or expand the Church, we have understood this as a command for all Christians of all generations.  The command is, Go out and make disciples.
Now in our time there are a group of people called evangelicals.  We as Evangelical Presbyterians are a part of that movement but not a part of all those who are in that movement.  I hope you have a question about that, and that you will ask me to speak about it, but I do not have time this morning.  But one of the great misunderstandings of some evangelicals is that it is our great duty to simply tell others about Jesus.  That is evangelism, publishing the good news about Jesus.
What Jesus is commanding here is much more than just telling others about Jesus.  He said we are to make disciples.  When we tell others about Jesus we are to do it to the purpose that they will believe in him and turn their lives over to Him and serve him and embrace the Salvation that he came to give.  We are not to be prejudiced or racist in our making disciples but we are to reach out to all nations, people of all races from all places.
The mark of these disciples is to be baptism.  All disciples are to be baptized, and Christian baptism is, according to Jesus, Trinitarian, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  According to Matthew, when in chapter 3 he recorded the baptism of Jesus, he informed his readers that as the Son was baptized, the Spirit of God came down on Jesus in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father was heard from heaven declaring Jesus to be his beloved son.  Jesus’ baptism involved all 3 persons of God, so does ours.
There are different ways of looking at this part of the passage involving Baptism.  If we see the words Making Disciples as the first step, then Baptism comes later, followed by teaching to obey.
But if we see the “make Disciples” as the title or category, and Baptism as coming before much of the instruction, that is the way we Presbyterians do it when we baptize infants.
The disciples are to be taught to obey.  Obedience is an important part of being a Christian.
Matthew ends his gospel on a comforting note. “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Actually, this is a rather unfortunate translation of the Greek in Matthew’s gospel.  The word translated “end” would be better translated “completion”.  Jesus has the authority to bring this current age to its completion, or to declare it finished, and start the new, eternal age of eternal life in the eternal kingdom.

Pastor David Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906