Expository Sermon on Matthew 28
Bellevue SDA Church 1/6/2018
©2017 by Maylan Schurch

To hear the audio for this sermon, click the little white “play” triangle on the line just below.

 

Please open your Bibles again to Matthew chapter 28.

When I was a kid, I went to a Seventh-day Adventist one-room elementary school on the prairies of South Dakota, and I got a good education in Bible verses. And even though I didn’t know that they were called the Great Commission, I knew the last few verses of Matthew 28 very well.

The only problem was, as I read these verses about Jesus telling the disciples to go and teach all nations, and baptize them, and so on, it was hard to relate it to me. Here I was, a farm kid. I had barely traveled 50 miles in any one direction from my home.

I’d heard about people who had become missionaries and had really gone out into other parts of the world to teach people. My mom’s best childhood friend, May Palmer, went to Haiti as a young woman, and I think she spent all her life there in Wesleyan Methodist mission service. I just figured, “Well, if that’s what the Lord wants me to do, He’ll just have to let me know.”

But just a little bit, I dreaded that He might just do that. I never longed for far-flung adventures. I was more a “stay around home” kind of person.

During the last couple of weeks, I’ve been taking another look at Jesus’ Great Commission. And I’m not so much talking about the part of it that says go and be a missionary somewhere. Instead, I discovered that the word “all” shows up four times in this passage, when you include the Greek, and I believe that all four of those “all’s” can be tremendously powerful and encouraging ones to us, no matter what shape our discipleship takes.

Because this is about far more than witnessing, or giving a Bible study, or that kind of thing. These are opportunities we should welcome with open arms if we get a chance, of course. One of the neat things about our Wednedsay night prayer meetings is that from time to time we hear from people who have had these opportunities. But as I say, I think Jesus’ four “all’s” can give every one of us solid encouragement for the year ahead. Which is exactly what we will need.

So let’s take a look at those four “all’s.”

But first we have to set the scene. Let’s start with Matthew 28:16.

Matthew 28:16 [NKJV]: Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them.

I used to think of this journey as a happy “victory excursion” for these disciples. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and His friends have had a month and a half to meet with Him. And now they are going to meet with Him once more, on that mountain He told them about.

But think of the trauma these disciples have been through. First, now there are only 11 disciples, not 12. And the one who is missing was one of the most admired in the group. Judas was the treasurer, Judas was the one they went to when they needed funds to get food, or to help an unfortunate family get back on their feet. But it was Judas who had ended up betraying Jesus. I mean, if Judas could betray Jesus, it seemed like anyone else could too.

So I can imagine that, as they walked along, these men might have been searching their own souls. Remember how at the Last Supper when Jesus announced that someone would betray Him, they asked, “Lord, is it I?” What they were saying was, “Jesus, you know everything. You can look into our souls. Could it be that I will be Your betrayer?”

After all, Peter had betrayed Jesus too. And his betrayal might even have been on the same level as Judas’ betrayal. Maybe it was even worse. Judas had no problem with saying that he knew Jesus, but Peter denied ever having known the Savior. In a moment of terror, Peter blew off the 3 ½ years he had walked through Palestine with Jesus, and suddenly pretended that the Savior was a stranger to him. Cursing and swearing to conceal his friendship and his faith, he growled “I do not know the man.”

And if you glance through the verses just above, here in Matthew 28, you see how the chief priests had bribed the Roman soldiers who had guarded the tomb to say that Jesus’ disciples had come and stolen his body from the tomb while the soldiers slept. And verse 15 says that this “fake news” had been accepted as truth by the general population.
And that meant that the official news story was that not only had Jesus been a fraud, but that his followers had been deceived. And these followers might very well be dangerous fanatics, so watch out for them.

So walking toward that mountain that day, you have not so much a triumphant team of vigorously faithful disciples as you have a group of very jumpy men who were puzzled and perplexed about the future.

In fact verse 17 makes it clear just how perplexed some of them were.

Verse 17: When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.

I mean, just what is going on here? These are the 11 disciples, not a group of peripheral, vaguely interested hangers-on. These men met with Him in the upper room after His resurrection. And back then, even doubting Thomas had finally fallen on his knees and said, “My Lord and my God.” So who were the doubters here? Had Thomas relapsed? Or was it some of the others?

I think these disciples gravely needed what Jesus will now give them – His four “all’s.” And if you are at all worried or discouraged or apprehensive in any way about the year ahead, listen closely.

Verse 18: And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

Do you see the first “all”? If you’re taking notes, here comes Sermon Point One.

Jesus holds all authority, everywhere.

In the old King James version, Jesus says “All power has been given unto me.” But this is the Greek word exousia, which is the “authority” kind of power. That same word is used, for example, back in Matthew 7:29 where Jesus taught “as one having authority.” In Matthew 8:9, a centurion said to Jesus, “I am a man under authority.” In Matthew 21:23, Jesus’ accusers asked Him, “By what authority do you do these things?” That’s that same Greek word.

You see, even Jesus’ accusers recognized that He possessed real authority. It wasn’t simply that He had the talent to heal. There was authority involved – authority over Satan. And here, Jesus tells His disciples that He has all authority – authority over everything on earth, and even in heaven.

Notice – Jesus didn’t’ say to his disciples, “All authority is given to YOU.” He said, “All authority is given to ME” (speaking of Himself.)

If all authority were given to me – now I’m speaking of myself — I would eventually end up using it badly. I am certainly no expert on world events, but from what I hear, in countries struggling toward democracy, a sad pattern repeats itself with.

The pattern goes something like this. The country’s leaders are grossly corrupt. A strong revolutionary leader rises, and along with many enthusiastic followers, takes control of the country. This leader has the best of intentions, and goes to work fighting against that entrenched corruption.

But as the years go along, he assumes more and more power, and eventually becomes a dictator. I heard about one such country this week. Its leader has the citizens so terrified that they don’t even talk about politics, and they certainly don’t criticize their leader. And the country is plunging back into crisis again.

That’s why Jesus doesn’t give “all power” into human hands. Satan lusts for power, and in the Garden of Eden he convinced Eve that God was selfishly withholding from her some authority and status that she deserved.

The bad news is that Satan tries to get us to lust for authority. But the good news is that Jesus has all authority.

So, what difference can knowing this make for me in 2018?

For one thing, this reassures me that I am not all by myself, at the mercy of fate. If I am a disciple of Jesus, and if I have invited Him into my life, and if I have submitted my selfishness and my craving for authority to Him, then I can be sure that whatever happens to me will be overruled by His authority, either now or later.

Also, it is a huge relief that I personally do not have to puzzle out every detail of my life for myself. My parents early on taught me to ask the Lord to have His will in my life. So I would pray that. Sometimes I would pray it rather mechanically, by rote. Other times I would pray it with a great deal of earnestness. Because I knew the truth of one of the songs my dad used to sing or hum quite a bit:

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you!
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you!

God will take care of you,
Through every day o’er all the way;
He will take care of you;
God will take care of you!

Through days of toil when heart doth fail,
God will take care of you!
When dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you!

All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you!
Trust Him, and you will be satisfied,
God will take care of you!

Lonely and sad, from friends apart,
God will take care of you!
He will give peace to your aching heart,
God will take care of you!

No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you!
Lean, weary one, upon His breast,
God will take care of you!

My parents sang that song, and they believed that song, and they steadfastly put the Bible verses behind that song into practice every day of their lives. Their lives were not trouble-free, but they knew that since they had given Jesus permission to be the authority in their lives, they could leave the results to Him. What a weight off their shoulders!

Now let’s look for Jesus’ second powerful “all.”

Verses 18 – 19: And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . .”

Did you spot Jesus’ second “all”?

Not only does Jesus hold all authority, everywhere, but Jesus wants us to make disciples of all nations.

As I mentioned, when I was younger I was always a bit intimidated by this part of the Great Commission. But knowing that Jesus possesses all authority in heaven and on earth, it doesn’t seem so scary. This coming week several individuals from this congregation are joining a group that is going to Costa Rica on a project. As this SAGE group has done in so many parts of the world for so many years, they are going to be bringing their smiles and their love and their hard humanitarian work, and if they get an opportunity they are going to give an answer for the hope that they have within them.

This afternoon a group of us is going to the Evergreen Court Retirement Center after potluck to sing gospel songs—another way to remind ourselves and others of who Jesus is.

But for the most powerful proof that Jesus’ “all authority” has been dramatically effective, just look around you. Every person in this room is here because Jesus’ eleven puzzled and discouraged and even vaguely doubtful disciples followed Jesus’ command to go to the nations and make new disciples.

What’s so touching is that Jesus didn’t rebuke or banish the doubters right there. He simply gave them the Great Commission. And as they followed His commands, their faith grew stronger. That’s a good lesson for us today, isn’t it? If your faith is a bit wobbly, here’s what Jesus said about that, in John 7:17: “If anyone wills to do His [God’s] will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God.” In other words, just go forward step by step, following God’s revealed will, and your doubts will begin to evaporate.

These eleven disciples themselves didn’t go into all the world, but they went as far as they could, and those other disciples they made spread the message in wider and wider circles. And finally it reached into the hearts of your and my ancestors, or into our own hearts directly. In the 1840s it was a group of godly, Bible-believing Christians from many denominations who gathered to await Jesus’ coming, suffered the disappointment when He didn’t appear, and decided to walk still further into His will. They eventually founded the Seventh-day Adventist church in the early 1860s, and now Adventist churches and schools and hospitals circle the globe. And they’re still making new disciples as Jesus commanded.

So what do I do with the Great Commission right here at home? I need to remind Jesus that I understand His total authority, and I need to let Him open my heart to people of all cultures and races and status-levels. I need to remember that any person anywhere can become a disciple of Jesus. And I need to help that happen as the Lord gives me opportunity.

And, if an opportunity does come up where it seems as though I’m being called to serve far away, I shouldn’t just dismiss that idea without a lot of prayer. If it were up to my own limited understanding, I would still be teaching English at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. But the Lord had other and even happier plans.

Now let’s hunt for the third Great Commission “all.” Let’s pick it up at verse 19.

Verses 19 – 20: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; . . .

Not only does Jesus hold all authority, everywhere, and not only does Jesus wants us to make disciples in all nations, but Jesus wants us to teach others to observe all things He has commanded.

This is my cue to introduce our new sermon series. Last year, as you remember, I preached on passages found in each week’s Bible reading in the plan printed in the back of the Andrews Study Bible. In fact, this coming Sabbath I will be slipping back into the next-to-last chapter of Revelation to conclude that series.

But then, in subsequent Sabbaths – and I don’t know just how many this will take up – I’m actually going to take us back to the very words Jesus spoke to His disciples and to others. If we are to be His disciples, then it is our responsibility to not only influence other people to be Jesus’ disciples, but also to model for them, and if possible teach them, to observe the things He actually did literally say.

And in order to do that, we need to prayerfully review His words, and understand even more deeply what they mean for us, and how they can change us. Even right now, you and I are already teaching others in our lives what Jesus is like. We may not realize we’re doing this, but we are modeling what God would do in this or that situation. We just need to make desperately sure that we’re reflecting the true God and not a warped and deformed God we’ve created ourselves.

We’ve all known Christians who are humorless and grumbly and judgmental and legalistic. But these folks are this way because they simply have not prayerfully and humbly immersed themselves in what Jesus really said and did, and allowed the Holy Spirit to change them. That’s what we’re going to do for the next few months.

I’m going to try to keep you posted a week or so in advance of which passages we will be looking at. I can tell you right now that next week we’ll be looking at the first eight verses of Revelation 21, and the following week we’ll be going through the Beatitudes. After that we’ll be looking at the rest of the sermon on the Mount. So if you’d like to read ahead, that’s what we’ll be doing.

Let’s look at one important word in the verses we just read. Let’s look at verse 20 again.

Verse 20: . . . teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you

Do you see that word “observe”? That’s the Greek word tereo. It’s interesting how various Bible versions translate that word. The New King James uses “observe,” and the NIV says “obey.” The English Standard Version goes back to “observe,” and the New Revised Standard Version says “obey.”

And if you study how this Greek word is used in the New Testament, you find that it means far more than just mechanically following through on things Jesus tells us to do. This word does mean “keep,” such as in Matthew 19:7 where Jesus says “keep the commandments.” But in Acts 12:5, Peter is “kept” in prison. That’s this same Greek word. And several other times in the book of Acts, this word is used for someone guarding someone else in prison.

Here’s why think it’s important to remember the scope of this word. Because if Jesus told His disciples merely to go around telling people to mechanically follow through on His commandments, as though this were a way to gain salvation, this would not be correct.

You see, this word does mean to keep. It does mean to obey. But it also means to guard, to keep care of. In other words, when Jesus told His disciples to go and teach people to “observe” the things He said, He is telling us to carefully guard or keep or cherish these words and transmit their crucial importance to other people.

And now for Jesus’ final Great Commission “all.” This one is at least as encouraging if any of the others.

Verse 20: . . . teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen

Jesus hold all authority, everywhere. Jesus wants us to make disciples in all nations. Jesus wants us to teach others to observe all things He has commanded. And Jesus promises to be with us “all the days.”

That is what it literally says in the Greek. “Pasas tas hemeras.” “All the days.” In my study this week I discovered that there are several different Greek words for “always.” And Jesus could have used any of those. But as far as I could find out, this is the only place in the New Testament where He or anyone else uses this phrase “all the days.” This is the only time this phrase is used to mean “always.”

Why did He say “all the days” here, when He never otherwise used that phrase? Maybe He said it this way to emphasize that He will be with us no matter how each of our days is going. The disciples who first heard Him say this would have some good days, and some very terrible days.

And maybe this past year, you have had some bad days, some puzzling days, some discouraging days. We don’t know what kind of days 2018 will bring us. But Jesus promises to be with His disciples “all” those days.

So the point is, let’s continue being disciples of Jesus. The Greek word for “disciple” means “learner.” And that’s what we’ll be doing week by week in these sermons, learning to be better learners, and therefore better sharers, of the precious teachings of Jesus which He has committed to us.

How about you? Would you like to join me in this deepening of our discipleship this year? Let me see your hands if that is your wish.