The Lofty Claim, the Last Command, the Loving Comfort
But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
My aim and my prayer this morning is, first, to speak God's word concerning cross-cultural missions in such a way that everyone who hears my voice will take the next step of engagement in God's great purpose to make disciples for Jesus in every people group in the world. And, second, my aim and prayer is that, for many of you, that next step will be a decisive step of preparation to go as missionaries to the unreached and less-reached peoples of the world. I believe that, for hundreds of you, God has been at work for days, weeks, months and years to bring you to a decisive point in your lives this morning. I'm not looking for impulsive decisions. I am looking for decisive turns or steps in a journey. The message will be short, and I hope life-changing and powerful in the hand of the Spirit. To that end, I want you to pray with me as we begin.
This text is divided into three parts by Jesus himself. And each of these three divisions is breathtaking if you allow yourself a few quiet minutes to meditate on it. There is a lofty claim, a last command, and a loving comfort.
The Lofty Claim - All Authority
First there is verse 18: "Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.'" This I call The Lofty Claim. Jesus claims that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.
He has died for sin, to triumph over guilt and condemnation. He has been raised from the dead to triumph over suffering and death. And in triumphing over guilt and condemnation and over suffering and death, he has also triumphed over Satan who can only destroy us with the guilt of sin and torment us with suffering and death.
And because Jesus has triumphed so gloriously over guilt and condemnation and suffering and death and Satan, therefore "God has highly exalted him and given him a name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11). Which is just another way of saying: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [him]."
All authority. He has authority over Satan and all demons, over all angels -good and evil - over the natural universe, natural objects and laws and forces: stars, galaxies, planets, meteorites; authority over all weather systems: winds, rains, lightning, thunder, hurricanes, tornadoes, monsoons, typhoons, cyclones; authority over all their effects: tidal waves, floods, fires; authority over all molecular and atomic reality: atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, undiscovered subatomic particles, quantum physics, genetic structures, DNA, chromosomes; authority over all plants and animals great and small: whales and redwoods, giant squid and giant oaks, all fish, all wild beasts, all invisible animals and plants: bacteria, viruses, parasites, germs; authority over all the parts and functions of the human body: every beat of the heart, every breath of the diaphragm, every electrical jump across a million synapses in our brains; authority over all nations and governments: congresses and legislatures and presidents and kings and premiers and courts; authority over all armies and weapons and bombs and terrorists; authority over all industry and business and finance and currency; authority over all entertainment and amusement and leisure and media; over all education and research and science and discovery; authority over all crime and violence; over all families and neighborhoods; and over the church, and over every soul and every moment of every life that has been or ever will be lived.
There is nothing in heaven or on earth over which Jesus does not have authority, that is, does not have the right and the power do with as he pleases. Both the right and the power. The scope and the magnitude of the authority of Jesus is infinite, because Jesus is one with God the Father. The Father has given him all authority not because the Father can give up being God, but because Jesus is God. And when deity shares infinite authority with deity, he neither loses nor gains anything, but remains infinitely full and triumphant and all-sufficient. This is the lofty claim. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, has all authority in heaven and on earth, because our Lord Jesus is God.
The Loving Comfort - "I Will Be with You"
Then skip verse 19 for a moment and go to verse 20b: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." This is The Loving Comfort. First there was the lofty claim; now there is the loving comfort. "I will be with you to the end of the age." Notice three things: identification, continuation, and duration.
By identification I mean: see who it is that gives this comfort to us. It is the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth. O, plead with God to open your eyes to what this means for you. This Jesus, with all authority over every enemy and every disease and every calamity and every futility, promises to be with you. O the preciousness of the new covenant bought for us with the blood of Jesus: I will be their God and they shall be my people (Jeremiah 31:33), and I will not turn away from them to do them good (Jeremiah 32:40). I will work everything together for their good (Romans 8:28). "I will help you, I will strengthen you, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness" (Isaiah 41:10). So that we can face the worst threats and say with the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:16-17, "Everyone deserted me, but the Lord stood by me and gave me strength." Who speaks this to us? The one who has all authority in heaven and on earth.
Then there is continuation in the loving comfort (verse 20b): "Lo, I will be with you always." Literally: "all the days." By continuation I mean "without break." The all-powerful, all-ruling Christ does not take breaks from his promise of always being with you. Hebrews 13:5: "Be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never fail you, and never forsake you.'" "Though he giveth or he taketh, God his children ne'er forsaketh, his the loving purpose solely to preserve them pure and holy" (from the hymn "Children of the Heavenly Father).
Then there is the duration of the comfort, namely, to the end of the age: "Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age." Not only is there no break in the continuation, there is no end to the duration in this world. As long as the world lasts, Jesus will be with us in this world. This is the loving comfort: the One who has put all his enemies under his feet and has died for us and risen for us and triumphed over sin and guilt and condemnation and suffering and death and Satan, and who has all authority in heaven and on earth - this one - comforts us by promising that he will be with us continually to the end of the age to do us good and to bring us safely to everlasting joy.
The Last Command - "Go and Make Disciples"
Finally, there is verse 19 and the last command. I take them in this order -lofty claim, loving comfort and last command, because the last command is built on the lofty claim and the loving comfort. Since all authority belongs to Christ, and since he will be with us always to the end of the age, therefore "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." That is Jesus' last command.
There is not a culture or an ethnic group or a society or a religion or a language where Jesus does not have the right to be worshiped as Lord. He has authority to be king and Lord and Savior everywhere, to everyone. This is the reason he commands us to make disciples in all the peoples of the world. The authority and supremacy of Jesus over every other religion and culture and society and over all gods is the basis of world missions.
Jesus Christ, the living, all-authoritative Lord of the universe, has commanded us to call every nation, every people (Somali, Maninka, Sukumu) and every religion (Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, animist) to repent and believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and the inheritance of eternal life with the one true God. (If you want to be on the cutting edge of which people groups in the world are the least reached, go to AD2000.org and see the lists and get the profiles of the peoples. Find "Guinea." Then find "Maninka." And you will see Bethlehem listed at the top of the list of those engaged with this people.)
Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples among every people. Christianity is a missionary faith. We aim to make disciples in every group and build up the church among every people. We do not spread our faith by war or by violence, but by the proclamation of great news and persuasion and by the demonstration of love.
Jesus said in John 18:36, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." And Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:4, "The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh." They are spiritual weapons. We make disciples with truth and prayer and love and sacrifice, not with swords or bullets or bombs. In Luke 10:3, Jesus said, "Go, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves."
Motivating Us to Act - the Next Step
So there you have the word of God from the mouth of Jesus. The lofty claim: "all authority is given to me." The loving comfort: "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." The last command: "Go make disciples among all the peoples of the world." What is clear from this final word of Jesus is that he is trying to move us to act. He not only says, "Go make disciples." He also gives us a warrant for doing it so that we can know it is a legitimate and right thing to do: all authority in heaven and on earth is his. And he gives us tremendous encouragement and comfort and strength to go, with the promise that he would go with us and never leave us. Jesus ended his earthly life with these words because he wanted us to respond. He was motivating us to act.
Now it is time to respond. My aim and prayer is that everyone of you will take the next step of engagement in world missions - a baby step or a giant step. For some of you the next step is a decisive step of preparation to go as missionaries to the unreached and less-reached peoples of the world.
I want to hold out to you six ways that you can respond this morning.
1. Set a prayer commitment for the rest of this year for a people or a missionary - for your own soul and vocational change.
2. Get a loose change can and let it remind you to pray as you give.
3. Buy a good missions biography or other book on missions. Get a book and begin to read. Be warned. It is one of the most wonderfully dangerous things you can do to undermine your addiction to the American dream.
4. Come to Missions in the Manse at my house this Friday at 7:00 PM. We will find out what God is doing among us and stir each other up to the fullest engagement in missions. Noel and I will pray for you by name each day the rest of the year.
5. Two hundred of you should register to take the Perspectives Course on the World Christian Movement to be offered here as part of TBI, Monday evenings, January 18-May 3. This course will give you certificate level or college level or graduate level credit. It gives Biblical, historical, cultural and strategic perspectives on the world Christian movement. Get the brochure as you leave or call the church.
[Commissioning of Kurt Swanson as Missions Director.]
6. Come forward to signify that you believe that God has been awakening in you both a willingness to go and a desire to take practical steps to be prepared to go - including being prayed for here at the front and filling out a card, so that Kurt Swanson can be in touch with you and help you think through the steps to take to test your calling and find your place.