Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 October 30, 2016
“God’s Promise: His Precious Presence”
Text: Matthew 28:16-20
On Thursday, March 27, 2008, I stepped out long before sunrise into an uncommonly mild, sixty-five degree, central Arkansas morning. I arrived at then-Little Rock National Airport (now Clinton National Airport) before five-thirty, checked bags, cleared security, and strolled to my gate for the 6:20 flight to O’Hare Airport in Chicago—with a tight connection to Logan Airport in Boston. After former Gov. Mike Huckabee—then campaigning for the Republican nomination for President—boarded the plane, the rest of us boarded. The flight was uneventful, except for a tight connection in Chicago, and I arrived in Boston at ten-thirty to defend my doctoral thesis-project (in my case, essentially a dissertation) at Gordon-Conwell Seminary at ten the next morning.
I stepped out of the terminal toward the rental car area and realized two things: it was chilly (42 degrees), and I was hungry. An hour’s drive put me at a sandwich shop across the street from my hotel—and these about two or three miles from the seminary. Hunger thus relieved, and check-out time not yet, I went for a short drive—looking at spots I had enjoyed with my then-young family in still-earlier drives. It didn’t take long for me to realize, “I am still cold; I am tired; this is not fun.”
Hence, I returned to the hotel, checked in, went to my room, and could not sleep. Also, there were no sports (or anything else) on television once I determined I could not sleep. The rest of the day passed in similar fashion, and that was Thursday.
Friday was some better. I drove to campus, defended successfully my thesis-project, and drove to North Shore Mall’s food court for lunch amid a heavy wet snow. I wondered if I would get out of town the next day. I wondered if I could leave the mall. Yet while I ate, the snow stopped and the sky continued slate gray and the air continued just at freezing. I returned to my room, spent the afternoon waiting for supper time, and then returned for television and sermon preparation.
Saturday morning I drove toward the airport for my return flight. When I stopped to pump gasoline into the rental car, the wind threatened to freeze my earlobes off before I could get back into the car. I got an early lunch at Logan Airport, flew to Cincinnati, loitered for three hours in the airport, and flew to Little Rock. Near Little Rock, just after eight in the evening (and just after nine on my body, flying from Eastern Time to Central Time), the sky went thickly cloudy, and I never saw our runway until about five hundred feet above it. Once I saw it, we were on the ground in less than sixty seconds. Once on the ground, I went to baggage claim, got my stuff, started my car, and drove thirty-five miles home—on a sixty-five-degree night. Needless to say, it was good to be home—back to Karen and the children—and though preaching lay before me the next morning after big energy expenditure and short rest, I still felt good.
The wise and discerning know exactly my problem: I was lonely. I was acutely lonely, and the New England chill to cold felt worse because of my loneliness. Even though the loneliness and its side-effects pressed upon me those days, I knew then—and had known long earlier—that which I now declare to you. The truth of the matter is this: though I felt lonely, I was not alone. Here is more truth of the matter: Because of Christ Jesus, I am not alone, nor shall I ever be. The same is true for each of you who are in Him by grace through faith. Let’s look at this further in this portion of God’s Word—the very end of Matthew’s Spirit-led Gospel.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Our verse, Jesus’ very last words in Matthew’s Gospel, occurs in the context of His Great Commission. Our text begins with one of Jesus’ several appearances between His resurrection and His ascension forty days later. The eleven disciples (the Twelve, less, of course, Judas Iscariot) went to Galilee, as earlier instructed, and, when they saw Jesus, they believed, but some doubted. More likely this doubt rises from whether Jesus appears before them bodily or quasi phantasm rather than from whether He actually rose from the dead. In this context Jesus commissions His disciples: both then in that instant and through the ages by the Spirit’s work through Matthew’s pen.
Jesus grounds His commission in an incontrovertible fact: All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Him. He, therefore, rules over the scope and the efficacy of His accompanying commission. The only finite verb in the commission proper is the one translated make disciples. The Eleven, and their successor disciples in every age, are to make disciples while going; our going to other folk near and far is assumed. To make disciples (that is, student-followers), they are to baptize them in the Name of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and, thus, to note their inclusion in and admission to the visible covenant people of God. Furthermore, they are to make disciples by teaching them to observe everything Jesus commanded—especially the twofold love command: to love the Lord your God with all heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love neighbor as self (cf. Mark 12:30-31). Notice that Jesus does not commission us to save, or to convert, or something similar—for that is the Spirit’s work. True, we are to share the Good News of God in Christ with others as we have opportunity, but conversion is the Spirit’s work, not ours.
The commission thus concluded, Jesus ends with a precious promise, “And, behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The construction of the Greek here is emphatic; a more wooden translation of I am is, “I surely am with y’all….” He is with us to the very end of the age—and until then, and beyond then as well. Hence, we rejoice in Jesus’ infallible promise. He is indeed with us: as we serve Him, certainly, and eternally.
The Apostle Paul, writing by the Spirit to the Roman Christian households, writes this:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered (Psalm 44:22).’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans viii.35-39).
Here is an impressive laundry list of things threatening to separate us from God, yet we may be sure—on the authority of God Himself as expressed in His Word—that nothing on this list, nor anything else, shall separate us from God.
Here is another Scriptural support of today’s central claim—this time from the Spirit-led pen of the author of Hebrews, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). This confirming promise, originally uttered to Joshua after Moses’ death (Joshua 1:5), is uttered by the Holy Spirit to all who are in Christ Jesus. Hence, when tempted by the love of money, or to discontent, or to disbelieve God’s precious promise in His Word, we need but recall this—or have it recalled to our memories by the Spirit—and we shall have this truth confirmed again to our souls.
Forget not that one Name of our Savior is Immanuel. We learn of this in Isaiah’s Spirit-led prophecy, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His Name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). The name Immanuel, when translated literally from Hebrew, means God with us. Truly He is—and now let us see a wonderful facet of how this is true.
Jesus, upon His departure to Heaven, promised the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also said that the Spirit will be with us forever (John 14:16) and will both dwell with us and will be in us (John 14:17). A lady greatly used of God in my life, now in Heaven, provided me (with her husband) upon my graduation of The University of Georgia a large number of Christian books for my library. In one of them, now my copy of Catherine Marshall’s The Helper, to Mrs. Marshall’s question, “Can anything be greater than His presence?” she wrote, thrice-underlined, “NO!”
Therefore, God honors His promise: He is ever with us, and He never shall leave us. This is true at all times and in every circumstance. Let us recall this, then, at all times and in every circumstance—particularly when feeling (or actually) lonely. God’s Word assures you and me that we are never alone. May this encourage you today and empower your worship and service unto Him forever.