2021-4-18 “On the Galilean Mount”

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          April 18, 2021

“On the Galilean Mount”
Matthew 28:16-20

            We gather again today to confess that glad confession—Jesus is risen, as we noted pointedly in our sermon of two weeks ago (Matthew 28:1-10).  We also, with apologies to Gertrude Stein, confess that a ruse is a ruse is a ruse—and we noted a doozy of an attempted ruse in last week’s text (Matthew 28:11-15).[1]  Now we come to the final verses in Matthew’s Gospel.  In these verses (16-20), Jesus both meets His disciples in Galilee and utters in their ears what we know as the Great Commission.  Let us, as well as the eleven disciples of old, give our ears to what Jesus says through His inspired penman, the Apostle Matthew.

            (HERE READ THE TEXT)

            Note, in verse sixteen, what the disciples did.  They went to a mountain in Galilee, according to Jesus’ command (not to mention that of the angel at the tomb)—and they went to that mountain likely more than a week after Jesus’ resurrection.  There, from somewhere up the slope of the unnamed Galilean mountain—if not at the very top—the eleven remaining disciples saw the risen Christ (17).  The disciples, upon seeing Him, worship, of course, but some doubt—either with reference to doubt days earlier that Jesus stood risen before them or with reference to being unable to identify Jesus conclusively until He drew nearer.  In either case, worship wins the day over doubt by God’s grace.  Now let us, as did those disciples of old, attend closely upon Jesus’ word.

            What the disciples heard, and what we hear in the retelling, is the Great Commission.  Jesus begins by asserting (rightly, of course), “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”  This is no throwaway sentence.  Nor is it mere boast.  Rather, Jesus’ assertion forms the ground and scope of all that follows.  Jesus, after His assertion, commands His disciples, in effect, “Make ye disciples.” (or, much more colloquially, “Make disciples, y’all.”)[2]  We understand that Jesus’ disciples, in every age, shall make disciples while going.  Hence, going to peoples who are not yet disciples of Christ is assumed as normative for the Christian.[3]

            Jesus then instructs us, who constitute His holy society, the Church, to make disciples of all nations.  We do this in two ways.  First, the Church, through her lawfully ordained pastors, baptizes those who receive Christ—together with their households—in (or into: Greek eis [eiV]) the Name of the triune God, which both initiates the baptized one into the covenant community and identifies him with the covenant community.  Second, once new converts and their households are admitted to the visible Church via baptism, Jesus’ followers are to teach them to observe all that He commands.  This teaching occurs in two spheres.  First, we teach cognitively.  We teach the content of what Jesus taught, and we lead them to think through the implications of what Jesus taught.  This is the realm of Scripture knowledge, theological understanding, and so forth.  This teaching and learning leads to our second sphere: We teach experientially.  That is, we who walk in Jesus’ ways are in good stead to help others walk similarly.  Here we do things like teach how to pray, how to participate with other believers in regular, faithful worship attendance, how to share the hope that we have in Christ with others, and the like.  A disciple of Christ is a student-follower of Him.[4]  This is what disciples do: They make other disciples.

            Jesus has asserted His authority and commanded His disciples to replicate.  He ends this address, and the Gospel of Matthew, with a promise: “I am with you always.”  Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, is present with us.  He is present with us in the discharge of this commission—and that is good news, for fulfilling it is not always easy.  Moreover, Jesus is present with us until the end of age—an age ended by His glorious return.  Yet He does not depart from then—nor ever.  Hence, by extension, He is with us forever and ever—and this, to judge from the Scripture record, is His ardent desire.

            Let us close today with some encouragements to our souls as we aim to discharge the Great Commission in our day.  Recall that all authority belongs to Jesus.  He exerts over all things generally (we call this providence), but, in particular, He wields His infinite authority for the good of His covenant people, His Church.  Note also that Jesus empowers our service unto Him.  He first makes disciples of us, and then He gives us us the will and the skill to make disciples of His.  More than this, Jesus pre-ordains the Gospel fruit which we shall reap.  He knows those who are His, and He calls them to saving faith in Himself at the right time and in the right manner.  Then He leads them sovereignly to those who will help them the most to become faithful, reproducing student-followers of Himself.  Finally, the Lord Jesus is with us—always.  Scripture tells us that He will never leave us, nor forsake us (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5)—and this rings especially true in our Great Commission work. 

            May the Lord, by His grace, either make you His by saving faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, or continue to hold you fast in His saving love.  May He also, by the same grace, make you a joyous, contented, faithful, reproducing disciples of Jesus as well.

                                                                                                            AMEN.

[1]     My quip owes its existence to a close equivalent, that of Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), who penned the words, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” to indicate that a thing is at it seems—as I intend here.

[2]     This is the only finite verb (matheteuo [maqhteuw]: follow or make followers) in Matthew’s Greek rendering of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20—and it is in the imperative mood.

[3]     Most English translation rendered the participle translated by me as while going with imperatival force (e.g., Go).  See James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979), 152, for a discussion, with examples, of the imperatival participle.

[4]     This was a favored working definition of discipleship used by my campus minister, Rev. Dr. Tim Hudson, at Christian Campus Fellowship, The University of Georgia.