Matthew 28 16-20: THE GREAT COMMISSION


Matthew's gospel ends with a very important short passage of five verses. Jesus gives his final instructions to his followers for then, now, and all the years in between.

(1) The persistence of doubt.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted (hesitated).

I do not think it credible that the disciples doubted the identity of the risen Christ. He had appeared to them 3 or 4 times at least. They had been with Thomas when Jesus showed him his hands and his side.

I think it highly likely that the eleven disciples were accompanied by many others to the mountain side in Galilee. I don't think they could stop the devout women from joining with them. Paul states in his letter to the Corinthians that Jesus appeared to more than 500 of the brethren at the same time, most of whom are still living. The Galilean hillside seems the most likely place that so many met with the risen Christ. It also explains the hesitation of some. What did they hesitate over?

The eleven disciples and doubtless several others including the women to whom Jesus appeared, worshipped him as God. Now it is one thing to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead but quite another thing to accept the deity of Christ and to worship him. So it seems that there were those who would claim to be followers of Jesus who hesitated to worship him as the one and only Son of God.

Today there are Muslims, Jews and Christians who admire Jesus as a great teacher but who will not acknowledge his divine nature. There are a surprising number of "Christian" groups who deny the divinity of Jesus: Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians and Unitarians. Members of these churches will not bow the knee to Jesus.

(2) The God given authority.

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

God the Father has given Jesus authority on earth and in heaven. He is King of Kings and Lord of All. Yet, many people do not accept what Jesus said about himself notwithstanding the evidence. Jesus said, "I am the way - no-one comes to the Father but by me." People who trust in Jesus are transformed, they are born again, their eyes are opened, their hearts are warmed and their lives change course.

There is a well known illustration that has relevance here. A battleship was engaged in manoeuvres on a foggy night off a rocky coast. Visibility was so poor the captain remained on the bridge. Soon after dark the lookout shouted, "Light bearing on the starboard bow."

"Is it steady or moving astern?" asked the Captain.

"Steady," replied the lookout - indicating that they were on a collision course with the ship showing the light.

The captain gave orders to the signalman: "Signal, we are on a collision course. We advise you to change course, 20 degrees."

Back came a signal: "Advisable you change course by 20 degrees."

The captain signalled back: "I'm a captain. You change course by 20 degrees."

Back came the reply: "I'm a seaman second-class. Insist you change course 20 degrees."

The captain was by this time seething. He spat out, "Signal, I'm a battleship. Change course 20 degrees."

Back came the signal: "I'm a light house."

The captain changed course.

If we are on the broad road that leads to destruction, we need to change course. We need to find the narrow gate and get on the narrow road that leads to life. Jesus is the narrow gate. We need to submit to his authority. We need to trust and obey him. If we ignore all the warnings and carry on our own way we shall end up on the rocks.

(3) The King's instructions to his subjects.

(a) Therefore make disciples of all nations.

This is a wonderful instruction. None are to be excluded from hearing the gospel. Salvation from sin is not the preserve of any special race, one particular nation, any privileged class or persons of outstanding intelligence, personality or gifts. The gospel message is for the world because in the well known words of John: For God so loved the WORLD that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jn3v16.

What a wonderful message this is. All need to hear it.

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the world-famous violinist, earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn't able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay it had been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owner's home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. "Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?" he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector's emotions were deeply stirred. "I have no right to keep that to myself," he exclaimed. "It's yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it." (Taken from Our Daily Bread, Feb 4th 1994.)

The news that God so loved the world is sweeter by far than the sweetest music. It is news that has been taken to the world in spite of bitter opposition to evangelism.

I have a friend who occasionally goes to the Ukraine. He likes to take gifts to poor families in that country. This year he let it be known that he hoped to spend time helping out in an orphanage. In publicising his trip to friends and well wishers, John indicated that he hoped to tell the orphans some stories about Jesus. One of his sponsors replied immediately: "I hope you are not going to impose your Christianity on those orphan children."

For goodness sake! What harm will it do children to hear about Jesus - Jesus who said, "Suffer little children to come unto me."

I read some time ago now about missionaries who took the gospel to aboriginal people on the Torres Straight Islands in northern Australia. They were criticised by anthropologists for interfering with the distinctive culture of the native people. But what do the indigenous inhabitants say about the arrival of the missionaries. They refer to that time as the COMING OF THE LIGHT. More than that, they have set aside a day to celebrate the coming of the light - a light that brought them so many benefits.

In my youth I spent a fortnight every summer for 20 years organising games at a Christian camp for young people. Our aim was to challenge the campers with the gospel. I am glad for those years as I witnessed many youngsters putting their faith in the only one able to save them from sin and give them eternal life.

It is very sad that today in Britain Christians are increasingly reluctant to speak openly and clearly about Jesus and his redemptive work.

(b) Baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Someone has said: Over the centuries Christians have debated what baptism accomplishes, to whom it should be administered and how much water should be used.

Baptism is clearly very important in so far as authorised and, indeed, promoted by Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As such it should unite Christians - but such has been the success of Satan that it now divides them.

It seems clear from its position between making disciples and teaching disciples obedience to Christ, that baptism follows belief in Jesus. Philip told an Ethiopian eunuch the good news about Jesus. Acts8v35. It is pretty clear that the Ethiopian believed because he asked Philip to baptise him. It is significant that they both go down into the water. This is a good indication that baptism involved immersion in water not just a little sprinkling.

No baby is by nature a child of God. Nor does a baby become a child of God by being baptised. Baptism is not the equivalent of circumcision. If that was the case baby girls would not be baptised.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, "No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again." Jn3v2. Spiritual rebirth is necessary because to quote the psalmist: Surely I was sinsful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Ps51v5.

Baptism is a rite of entry into the kingdom of God. It is an outward sign of cleansing from sin and a defiled life. Ananias told Paul AFTER his conversion: "Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name." Sins are forgiven by faith in the finished work of Jesus at Calvary. Baptism is just an outward sign that this is so.

Paul, in Romans6v1to4, describes baptism as a rite of entry into a new life. It celebrates dying in Christ to self and being raised to new life in him. Paul's remarks are only appropriate if baptism is by total immersion.

In his epistle to the Galatians Paul likens baptism into Christ to being clothed with Christ. Baptism is the outward sign of our faith in Jesus; a faith by which we become sons of God. See Gal3v26to29.

It is tragic that the rite of baptism has been corrupted. Sprinkling babies may be a pretty ceremony but it is far removed from the total immersion of believers, both men and women, by which to proclaim their new found faith in Jesus, their new life in him and their admittance to Christ's church.

Yes it is tragic that admired Bible expositors like William Barclay and Martyn Loyd-Jones just could not bring themselves to admit they were wrong about baptism. Only those who are poor in spirit are willing to admit to being in error. Pride is one of the biggest enemies of the truth. Below is a salutary anecdote about the rate objects fall to earth:

For centuries people believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time, and surely he would not be wrong. Anyone, of course, could have taken two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see whether or not the heavier object landed first. But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle's death. In 1589 Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he went to the top and pushed off a ten- pound and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant. The power of belief was so strong, however, that the professors denied their eyesight. They continued to say Aristotle was right.

Huge numbers of Christians continue to believe that infant baptism is right in spite of the lack of scriptural evidence for it.

(c) Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

New converts should be instructed in the teaching of Jesus with the objective of promoting obedience to him. We may be saved by grace and through faith but once we have become Christians obedience to Jesus is not an optional extra; it is a measure of our respect and love for him.

I can remember telling a fellow hockey player about my website. He promised to have a look at it - but didn't enjoy the experience. He said, "John, you keep telling people what to do." I am afraid that at the time I made no satisfactory response. My critic was a farmer. I should have said, "How is it you follow instructions from the Ministry of Agriculture and ignore the instructions of the Son of God?"

In my expositions on Matthew I tell the reader what Jesus expects his followers to do and to be. In so far as we love Jesus we shall obey him. We shall, for example, take the Beatitudes seriously. They describe the sort of people Jesus wants us to be. They are intensely practical and if implemented would transform the life of the church. Jesus said: "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." Jn14v21.

I like this anecdote told by John Kenneth Galbraith in his autobiography, 'A Life in Our Times.' It illustrates the devotion of Emily Gloria Wilson, his family's housekeeper.

It had been a wearying day, and Galbraith asked Emily to hold all telephone calls while he had a nap. Shortly thereafter the phone rang. Lyndon Johnson was calling from the White House.

"Get me Ken Galbraith. This is Lyndon Johnson."

"He is sleeping, Mr. President. He said not to disturb him."

"Well, wake him up. I want to talk to him."

"No, Mr. President. I work for him, not you.

When Galbraith called the President back, he could scarcely control his pleasure. "Tell that woman I want her here in the White House."

Emily Wilson knew who her master was - and his interests came first. She was the sort of person Johnson wanted in the White House. It's the sort of person Jesus wants in his kingdom.

(4) The promised presence.

Jesus said: "And surely I am with you always to the very end of he age."

A soldier's first article of faith is summed up nowhere more eloquently than in an eighteenth century letter from William T. Sherman to U.S. Grant: 'I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come - if alive.'

Moses gave that mighty warrior Joshua some good advice before he crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land: "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Dt31v8.

Jesus had comforting words for his disciples as he prepared to take his leave of them. He said: "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another counsellor to be with you for ever - the Spirit of truth." Jn14v15to17.

You might identify with the explorer in this story:

Two explorers were on a jungle safari when suddenly a ferocious lion jumped in front of them. "Keep calm" the first explorer whispered. "Remember what we read in that book on wild animals? If you stand perfectly still and look the lion in the eye, he will turn and run." "Sure," replied his companion. "You've read the book, and I've read the book. But has the lion read the book?"

The Kingdom of God is no place for cynics!