My aim in this message is, first, that you would be filled with a well-grounded amazement at the absolute authority and sovereignty of Jesus Christ over this world and over his unstoppable mission to gather his sheep from all the unreached peoples of the world, and, second, that many of you would hear the voice of God calling you irresistibly to leave your home and go to a place of greater need for the everlasting good of lost people and for the fame of Jesus Christ.
And I do mean you. You in your 20s finishing college or beginning your career — married or single. You in your 30s and 40s approaching the apex of your strength and your achievements. You in your 50s and 60s who feel so entrenched and yet are restless and sensing that there must be something more for the next 25 years. And yes, you in your 70s and 80s who have been lied to all your life by the American establishment about what the final chapter of your life is for. I have been sent by God from Minneapolis to Greenville, South Carolina, so that some of you — some of the least expected of you — will hear the voice of God calling you to leave your homes and go to place a greater need for the everlasting good of lost people and for the fame of Jesus Christ.
And please, don't say to me in your mind right now, “Don’t you know that America is going to hell in a hand-basket? Don’t you know that people are lost and broken and needy right here in my neighborhood?” The answer is, “Yes, I do know that. And if you are called by God to bring an everlasting blessing to the people of your neighborhood, or your city, for the fame of Jesus Christ, nobody will be happier about that than I am.” Let's be done with that dichotomy! Okay? God delights in those who pour themselves out for the sake of his name anywhere! Anywhere!
So, I will say it again — in the hope that all the lovers of Jesus here might rejoice, staying or going — my aim is that you would be filled with a well-grounded amazement at the absolute authority and sovereignty of Jesus Christ over this world and over his unstoppable mission to gather his sheep from all the unreached peoples of the world, and that many of you would hear the voice of God calling you irresistibly, joyfully, to leave your home and go to a place of greater need for the everlasting good of lost people and for the fame of Jesus Christ. For there are places — and peoples — of greater need, by almost every measure.
And all of this under the banner of, “Thank you, Jesus, for my father, Bill Piper, who kept his hand on the plow of Bible-saturated evangelism for over 65 years, and who founded this remarkable ministry, Christian Discipleship International, that we are celebrating tonight, and who sowed the seeds of love for God, and love for the Bible, and love for world missions in the sinful heart of his son, John Piper.”
So let’s begin with a massive statement from Jesus about his sovereign rule over this world and over his mission in Matthew 28:18–20.
Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The courage to go, the audacity to make disciples for Jesus from followers of other lords and other religions, the authority to baptize in the name of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are all based on the rock solid foundation of the words — and the reality — “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
I have three questions to pose about this foundation: 1) Who gave Jesus this authority which he has today, and did he not always have this authority even in eternity past? 2) How much authority is included in “all authority in heaven and earth”? 3) What does this confidence in Christ’s total authority unleash in the lives those who really believe this?
1. Who gave Jesus this authority which he has today, and did he not always have this authority even in eternity past?
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me.” By whom? The answer is: God the Father gave it to him.
Matthew 11:27. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
John 3:35. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.
John 13:3. Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God . . . knelt down and washed the apostles’ feet.
Ephesians 1:20–21. God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
John 17:2. Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
That’s the closest parallel to Matthew 28:18 — “. . . authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” What a picture of absolute authority in the great enterprise of world evangelization! The Father knows his sheep and they are his. He gives them to the Son. He gives life-giving authority to the Son. And the Son gives life to all that the Father has given him!
So when Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” he means “has been given to me by my Father.”
To which we then ask, “Did he not always have this authority even in eternity past?”
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1–4)
Jesus was — always has been, always will be — God! He is with his Father the creator of the universe. He did not become authoritative at his incarnation or his exaltation. But here’s the distinction. Before the incarnation, God the Son existed, but Jesus the God-man did not yet exist. Before the incarnation God the Son existed with all authority. But the God-man, Jesus Christ, had not yet died for sinners, and the sentence of condemnation hanging over his people had not yet been stripped from Satan’s hand by the shedding of his Jesus’s blood. But it is precisely the God-man, Jesus Christ, and the crucified and risen Savior, triumphant over sin and Satan, and exalted to the right hand of God and installed as the Lord of the universe.
So, yes, the Son of God always had total authority in heaven and on earth. But when he had done the great work of redemption once for all, God exalted him as the God-man, the Redeemer, the Risen One to his right hand and now, as never before, put the rule of the universe, and the mission of the church, into the hands of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, Son of God.
2) So we ask now, secondly, How much authority is included in “all authority in heaven and earth”?
The first thing to say is that this authority is not the authorization of Jesus to potentially rule, but the authorization of Jesus to actually rule. Remember John 17:2, “You have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” He is authorized to act, not simply to enjoy the right to act. The authority of Jesus in heaven and earth is his authorized rule in heaven and on earth.
And the second thing to say is that what the Father has the authority to do, Jesus has the authority to do, because Jesus said in John 3:35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” So where we have statements in the Bible that God has the right to do something, we know Jesus has the right to do it.
So how extensive is that authority and that rule — “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me”? Here are ten biblical sightings of that authority.
1) We see the extent of the authorized rule of the Son of God, first, in his act as the creator of all things. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Jesus Christ is the Person who made the heaven and earth, and everything in them.
2) We see the extent of his authorized rule, secondly, in his sustaining the world — holding it in being by the word of his power. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). All the electrons, everywhere in the universe, maintain their path and their speed by the will of Jesus Christ. All the motions of the immaterial souls of men and angels are held in being by Christ., Without his willing, all the material world and all the spiritual world would cease to be.
3) We see the extent of his authorized rule not only in sustaining the natural world, but governing all of nature. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29). From the smallest bird, falling randomly from the branch in the jungles of the Amazon, to the most massive Tsunami, Christ rules. “Who then is this [the apostles cried], that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:25). The wind and the waves did not get a mind of their own in the 21st century. They still obey him. As does all of nature.
There’s not a plant or flower below, But makes Thy glories known; And clouds arise, and tempests blow By order from Thy throne. (Isaac Watts: “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”)
4) We see the extent of his authorized rule in his sovereignty over Satan and all his demons. Mark 1:27: “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Yes they do. They did then, and they do now. And Satan cannot touch the children of God without permission (1 John 5:18).
Everything Satan did to Job he did by permission from God. And that permission so embodied the design of God himself that the inspired writer at the end of the book wrote Job 42:11, “They comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.” Not even Satan in all his ugly designs fails to perform God’s holy purposes.
5) We see the extent of Jesus’s authorized rule in the oversight and governance of all the affairs of history. This is why John calls him King over all kings. “They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).
And what this means practically is that no king, no president, no chief, no sheik, no premier, no prime minister, no governor, no mayor, no congressman takes office except that God through Jesus puts him there. Daniel 2 and 4: “He removes kings and sets up kings; . . . The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. . . . He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 2:21; 4:17, 35). And when the rulers are in place God governs what they do: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
Every decision made by every ruler against the church and mission of Christ will, in time, backfire.
6) We see the extent of his authorized rule in his authority over all disease. When Moses objected that he was slow of speech and tongue, God said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11). And Jesus has lost none of his power to heal between this day and the first century when “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). God can lift any disease he please at any time he please. Therefore, diseases are present or not by his decree, even if Satan is the immediate cause, as he was in the case of Job:
Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. . . . Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:7–10)
Neither Satan, nor viruses, nor bacteria, nor broken chromosomes are sovereign in this world. Jesus is. No disease will stop his mission.
7) We see the extent of Jesus’s authorized rule in God’s sovereignty over the sinful acts of men. Human beings cannot escape the sovereign sway of God by darting down the alley of sin. Oh how crucial this is for world missions. Right at the center of the Christian gospel — the message Jesus commands us to take to all the peoples of the world — is the sovereignty of God over sin — the God-ordained, God-planned, God-governed murder of the Son of God. Acts 4:27–28 are two of the most important verses in the Bible to encourage missionaries that when the worst evil is thrown against the people of God, God means for it to serve his saving plan.
Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27–28)
Herod’s mockery, Pilate’s expediency, the Jewish cry to crucify him, the Gentile soldiers’ bloody crown of thorns and lash — all of it the plan of God: “. . . to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” And all of it, sin.
Do you have a category in your mind and heart for this biblical truth: God can will that sin come to pass without himself sinning. If you don’t, then what becomes of the gospel? The gospel, Paul says, is this: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). And all the sinful details are spelled out there: Judas’s betrayal, disciples deserting, soldiers gambling. All the ugliness of it was planned. Scripted. And Isaiah cries in chapter 53, “It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10) — at the hand of Herod, Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and the Gentiles. God saw to it that we would be saved — by the murder of his Son. And Jesus himself in that very hour was totally in charge: “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18).
There never has been, or ever will be, a greater sin than the murder of the Son of God. And if God could govern this sin without being a sinner, he can govern all. God is never intimidated by the sins of men. You don’t need to be intimidated either.
8) The extent of the Jesus’s authority is seen in his sovereignty over conversion. When the rich young ruler turned away from Jesus because he loved his money more, Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were astonished, it says, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:23–27).
With man it is impossible to stop loving the world and start loving Jesus. Nobody causes himself to be born again. Nobody raises himself from the dead. But what is impossible with man, is possible for God: “For all things are possible with God” — even the conversion of a million Muslims. I hope you believe this.
9) The extent of Jesus’s authority is seen in his triumph over death — your death.
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.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35–37)
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:54–58)
Don’t be afraid of death. Don’t fear those who kill the body and can do no more!
10) And therefore, when all is said and done, Jesus has absolute authority and power over the mission of the church, and it cannot fail. “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). This mission will not fail!
So my answer to our second question (How much authority is included in “all authority in heaven and earth”?) is: The risen, reigning, King of kings and Lord of lords reigns over this world and over his mission with absolute sovereignty. Nothing is outside his sovereign will. If he meets with resistance, he either allows it for his purposes, or he overcomes it for his purposes. His sovereign purposes are never thwarted.
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose. (Isaiah 46:9–10)
O that we might stand amazed and full of faith and unshakeable boldness at the authority of Jesus Christ over the world, and at his unstoppable mission of God.
Which leads to one last question.
3. What does this confidence unleash in the lives those who really believe this?
1) It unleashes a torrent of hope-filled prayer for God in Christ to do what only he can do: send workers and save sinners. As Paul says in Romans 10:1, “It is my heart’s desire and prayer to God that they may be saved.” Sometimes people say, “Why pray if Christ is sovereign?” To which I answer: “Why pray if he is not sovereign?” When I pray for the people I love most who are lost, or when I pray for the nations of the world, or for the Jewish people, I don’t ask God to make ineffectual suggestions to them. Do you?
No. We say, O God, save them. Take out the heart of stone, and put in a heart of flesh. Cause them to be born again. Raise them from spiritual death. Incline their heart to Jesus. Open their blind eyes. Take away the veil. Give them faith. Overcome all resistance, and make them your own.
That’s the way we pray, because Jesus is sovereign and has the right to do just that. O may God unleash in your heart and family and church a great spirit of bold and confident prayer to the all-sovereign Christ for the people of the world.
2) It unleashes hope-filled, bold and joyful evangelism, even among the hardest peoples of the world. Because nothing is too hard for God. No human heart is beyond the power of God to break. We are called to join God in doing what only God can do.
I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:17–18)
God sends us to do what only he can do — give spiritual sight to the blind. Don’t spurn this. This is a glorious calling, Christian. Go! Open your mouth. I, Jesus says, do — in my name, and by my power — what only I can do. “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal—his omnipotent, life-giving appeal — through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
This mission cannot fail. Why would you hold back instead of joining the cause that cannot fail?
3) Finally, the absoluteness of the words, “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me,” is designed by God in this message to unleash many of you to leave your home and go to a place of greater need for the everlasting good of lost people and for the fame of Jesus Christ. God is doing this. I will pray for you. Please pray for me. Our ministry is not done until we breathe our last.