Acts 16:16-34, John 17:20-end
May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight amen.
The passage we have heard from Matthew is known as the great commission. Or as we would say, a command or a role given to a person or a group. Interestingly, this important passage is only in Matthew and is not in any other of the gospels. This is surprising as it is such an important passage. The gospel of Matthew has five long speeches by Jesus ending in a sentence like, “when Jesus finished saying these things” The author is highlighting the idea that Jesus is the new Moses for example, by collecting the teachings into five speeches, parallel to the Torah or Old Testament said to be the teachings of Moses. Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels. The great commission is at the climax of Matthews Gospel.
It is said that Matthew was a Tax Collector and would have been an outcast as they were seen by some Jewish people as dishonest and given to greed. They were said to often skim money out of the taxpayers for personal gain, in collaboration with the Romans as they were not paid a wage for their work. But Jesus called him to follow him regardless.
Several years ago, I attended an Exploring Christianity Course where I, and three other students exploring the prospect of ordination, wrestled with this passage, no matter how much I tried to work out alone, what the passage was saying, I kept missing the point. When we came together to study the great commission it started to become clearer and there was so much, we discovered! When it was decided that I was going to talk to you today about this passage I felt a mixture of trepidation and joy as this is now one of my favourite Bible passages.
We are looking in on a scene that occurred between the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension to the father. Some of the disciples have seen the risen Christ, some have not. The women who first proclaimed that Jesus had risen to the disciples on Easter Day, were simply not believed by the eleven. Jesus is described a bit later as suddenly meeting with some of the disciples, being with them, with the words “Greetings. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, there they will see me.”
The eleven disciples travel from Jerusalem to Galilee. Only eleven of course as Judas as died and has yet to be replaced with Matthias. They do as they are asked. Jesus does not travel with them. I wonder what conversations there were between them. Were they anxious? Not all the disciples have seen Jesus yet, so I wonder if they think this is a pointless journey? Were they excited at the prospect at seeing Jesus again? What questions did they have?
They go to the mountain in Galilee. Scholars have argued, which mountain? but we are not told in the text. We do know however that important events in Jesus’ ministry happen up on the mountain side. The closest Mountain is the Mount Tabor, the sight of the transfiguration so they could have been sent there. So, they arrive, and Jesus appears and is with them. Some worship him and others doubted. I wonder why they doubted. It is of course a very human thing to do but Jesus is standing among them, they can see him. We remember previously in the gospel of John, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, but she does not recognise him. Jesus’ appearance had changed. The doubters could be simply unable to recognise the risen Jesus. The text does not tell us who the doubters were. But I am not surprised that some felt unsure, after all they had just witnessed the crucifixion and burial even if at a distance. This raises the question, How will we recognise Jesus?
Jesus says to them ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me’ This is a very strong statement. In other words.
‘I am here speaking with all the authority of God, who has commanded Me to give you this commission’ The voice Bible.
This is easier to understand. Jesus has won the authority through the victory over sin and death and will now use to take over the world through the disciples. The world the way Jesus wants it. He is now passing this commission to the disciples to fulfil. He then commissions them to Go and make disciples. This commission is ours too. To go out and tell the good news and encourage new believers and those who do not know Jesus Christ and help them come to faith, to go to dark places and shine Christs’ light. To be with people as Jesus was. He tells them to make disciples of all nations, they are being sent far and wide to baptise in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit. According to one scholar who says,
‘Not merely is the truth to be preached; Christ requires a confession of discipleship. He expects his people to be bound together in Church fellowship. ‘(Adeney, 2022)
Baptism is essential. This is a command to preach the gospels and to baptise from Jesus himself. Then to teach them, this is how the gospel is spread. Telling them to go out and tell others to baptise. What does this mean for us? How can we do that? It can be as simple as you telling your story of faith, the example of how you live the good works that you do. Planting a small seed in the minds of others for God to nourish.
This is a heavy commission, and should not be done alone, as I discovered on that previous course. The disciples went out in two or groups to teach later in The Acts of the Apostles and they are assured that God is with them. Jesus then gives his reassurance by saying ‘surely, I am with you’. They need reassurance as Jesus will ascend and leave them soon… for good. They needed his reassurance and so do we, to take on this exciting and daunting task. But we remember Jesus left physically but not spiritually.
In the nativity narrative, at the very beginning of Matthews Gospel, Jesus is called Emmanuel meaning God with us, Matthew now comes full circle to the ultimate end, where that promise is fulfilled with the assurance of an ever-present God, through the power of the holy spirit Jesus left with us, who will be with us to the very end of an age.
Whoever you are, and wherever you are in your journey, the most important message for me in this passage is the very last line. And surely, I am with you to the end of an age. Whatever we are going through in our lives currently, in the past and in the future, good or bad, God is with us, every single one of us. Even if we have turned away from Christ in the past, we have that beautiful promise, I am with you to the end of an age.
Adeney, W., 2022. Matthew 28:18 Sermons: Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.. [online] Biblehub.com. Available at: <https://biblehub.com/sermons/matthew/28-18.htm> [Accessed 17 May 2022].