SERMON ON MATTHEW 28
Then Jesus came to them and said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very and of the age.”
The Lord of all things entrusts His Church with the mission of proclaiming His cosmic sovereignty.
and sisters, can you imagine a more abrupt and radical change of situation than
the one faced by the eleven disciples at the time of Jesus’ resurrection?
He who a while ago was hanging on a cross, abandoned, vilified, held in
contempt, comes to them after His victory over death, to proclaim His
sovereignty upon all things, whether in heaven or on earth!
Shall we be surprised if we read that some “doubted”, as Matthew
records it? And still, the eleven
are there, those whom Jesus Himself calls “my brothers”.
Twice the women, the first witnesses of the resurrection were commanded
to summon Jesus’ brothers to go to Galilee, on a certain mountain, where He
would meet them. “Summit
conference” if there ever was one… For
the eleven, this is everything but a mere alumni reunion, filled with the
nostalgia of the good old times! During
this crucial event, which will mark their discipleship forever, Jesus-Christ
proclaims to them that a new era in the history of the world has started.
An era during which His authority, His sovereignty upon all things must
be and will be proclaimed, simply because He also has full authority upon this
Proclamation. Nothing will prevent
this Proclamation from going forward, simply because this Proclamation is rooted
in the irrepressible dynamics of Jesus’own resurrection.
ever since, brothers and sisters, the true Church of Jesus-Christ has understood
this mandate as her raison d’ętre, the very reason of her existence.
Through the ages, through times of prosperity or of persecutions, the
true body of the risen Lord has been animated, revived, pushed forward by the
Holy Spirit for this necessary Proclamation.
“Iesous Kurios”, “Jesus is the Lord”, was the rallying confession
of the early Church.
it might not always be so clear to each of us what the relationship is between
Christ’s proclaimed authority in heaven and on earth on the one hand, the
Church and the mission on the other hand. Our
Scripture text invites us to explore this relationship in submission to the
Spirit of God: for the Holy Spirit alone teaches the elects the ways of God in
His plan for the world. We could sum
up this relationship as follows:
The Lord of all things entrusts His Church with the mission of proclaiming His cosmic sovereignty.
1.The dimension of Jesus’ cosmic authority.
certainly all remember, brothers and sisters, that the content of Jesus’
preaching from the beginning, was the “kingdom of heaven”, “the good news
of the kingdom”. In Matthew 4:17,
we read: “From that time on Jesus began
to preach, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”.
And a bit further, on verse 23, we read again:
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching
the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the
people”. Mark, as for him,
records the reaction of the people who witnessed this teaching (1:27):
“The people were so amazed that
they asked each other, “What is this? A
new teaching – and with authority! - He
even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”
Jesus manifested his authority right at the beginning of his
ministry, he left no doubts about who possessed authority even on demons.
However, at the eve of departing from earth, Jesus stresses this
authority to his brothers, and makes of it the very theme of the Proclamation to
come. He is the King of the Kingdom,
He received from the hands of the Father the authority to reign, the Lordship
over all things. His victory over
the power of death confirmed His Kingship. And
this Kingship is permanent, nothing or no one will ever take it away from Him.
That, brothers and sisters, is “Evangelion”, Good News: Christ
then comes the so-called “Great Commission”, which the Church understands as
the missionary mandate entrusted to her by Christ to go to all the nations and
to make of them disciples. This is
our second point.
2.The Church in mission is born and takes her mandate out of this authority.
Great Commission, congregation of our Lord Jesus-Christ, is often understood as
the founding order of an important church activity, but an activity among many
others. However, our Scripture
passage teaches us much more about this Commission: here we have nothing less
than the founding declaration of the Church of the New Covenant, with all her
true marks. Therefore we should see
the Great Commission as entirely part of this founding declaration of the
Church, yes, we should not see the mission as a consecutive or parallel activity
of the Church! We have seen that
during the beginning of His ministry, Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom
of God. Through His resurrection,
and afterwards, He confirms His Kingship over this kingdom.
And now Jesus stresses that he gives the missionary order to his
disciples on the ground of His Kingship: “All
authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations (yes,
the Greek little word meaning therefore
is present in the Greek text of the Gospel according to Matthew, and has indeed
In other words, because all authority has been given to Him, His
disciples are commanded to go and make disciples.
On the one hand, brothers and sisters, we have the declaration of what is
a given fact: “All authority has
been given to Him in heaven and on earth”.
We could call this God’s indicative.
On the other hand comes the command to go and make disciples, what we
could call God’s imperative. But
this command, this imperative of God’s mission is not a mere option.
It is rooted in the indicative of “All authority has been given to
me”. Shunning away from the
command to go and make disciples of all nations would be nothing less than
denying that all authority has been given to Him!
But there is an irrepressible dynamics contained in the indicative of
Christ’s universal kingship. Is it
strange that this dynamics should be expressed by the command of the Lord to go
everywhere and to make disciples acknowledging His cosmic sovereignty?
Actually, Jesus stresses the fact by sending his disciples to all the
nations, not to a few only, precisely because His authority is universal and has
to be acknowledged as such. And
when, a bit later, Jesus ascends to heaven, He once more proves the cosmic
dimension of his authority upon all nations.
Now Christ reigns from heaven upon the whole universe forever.
After the Ascension, we eventually come to understand the deeper meaning
of what is written in Psalm 2: “I
will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my Son; ask of
me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your
possession. You will rule them with
an iron scepter, you will dash them to pieces like pottery”.
brothers and sisters, in the command given by Jesus to his disciples we find the
marks that constitute the true Church: the administration of the sacrament of
baptism and the teaching, or preaching, to obey everything
He taught them. Those are the
marks of the true Church. Remember
what article 29 of the Belgic Confession says about the true Church:
“The church engages in the pure teaching of the Gospel; it makes use of
the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it
practices church discipline for correcting faults.
In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting
all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head.”
And, brothers and sisters, according to the pure Word of God as we read
it in Matthew 28, verses 18 to 20, the disciples are constituted into a
missionary Church: it is indeed within the missionary Proclamation that the
constitutive marks of the Church are attributed to her by Christ: namely
administrating the sacraments and teaching the Word in its totality.
And, of course, among the things which the true Church must teach and
obey, there is the command to go to all nations and to make of them disciples.
Isn’t it the last command of Christ to his disciples before ascending
to heaven? How wonderful that the
very formulation of our passage gives a perfect account of that irrepressible
dynamics of the Kingdom…
is hard to believe, brothers and sisters, that in certain so-called
“Calvinist” circles, understanding the relationship between the Church and
the mission as Matthew chapter 28 teaches us, would be seen as a form of
Methodism, or Arminianism! As if our
understanding implied that men and women are saved by their own decision to
believe. First, those who call
themselves “Calvinists”, or “Reformed” and nourish such suspicions,
affront the memory of John Calvin, who all his life laboured for the planting of
faithful churches throughout Europe, from France and England up to Hungary and
Poland. In the midst of his multiple
labours, he even backed a truly evangelical missionary endeavour to Brazil,
among the Indians… Second, such
people simply deny what the Word of God teaches us about the Church, her
foundation and her dynamic mission within the Kingdom of heaven!
for us, Congregation of our Lord Jesus-Christ, we understand that not only are
we commanded to teach all the words taught by our Lord Jesus-Christ, but also we
are commanded to obey them, if we still want to be called His true Church.
The true Church joyfully obeys
her Lord while the unfaithful church lives in a cocoon, totally inward looking,
until she dies out because she denied the principles of her very existence, the
principles instituted by the Lord Himself...
This unfaithful church forgot the deep meaning of the great covenantal
promise made to Abraham: “all
peoples of earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).
It forgot that Jesus Christ fulfills this promise too, through His
faithful Church, which is His body. Yes,
obeying all the things taught by our Lord, and teaching them, such is the great
task of the Church. This, of course,
gives us the scope of our missionary teaching.
And this constitutes our third point:
3.The Church in mission teaches everything the Lord commanded.
Kurios”, “Jesus is the Lord”,
this is, as we have seen, the Proclamation of the true Church, amidst her
members and on the mission field. Jesus
is the Lord, because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.
But our missionary proclamation will not be satisfied to repeat this
rallying motto without expounding all its facets.
Jesus tells his disciples: “teach
them to obey everything I have commanded you”.
Our task will not be to expect a formal change of religion from the
nations, or to merely indicate to them how their souls can be saved.
We will have to teach true discipleship in all the aspects of the reality
created by God, the reality over which Christ reigns.
Have you noticed, brothers and sisters, how close to each other the words
“disciple” and “discipline” are? A
dictionary of English writes, as one of the possible meanings of the word
“discipline”: systematic training in
obedience. Do we accept for
ourselves this kind of training, before we want to teach it to others?
Do we search for this systematic obedience in the cultural sphere, in the
political or economical realm, in artistic or academic activities?
Do we live out a consistent Christian worldview which has, as its
foundation, the rallying motto “Iesous Kurios”, “Jesus is the Lord”?
Teaching them honestly to obey everything Jesus-Christ commanded will
require a necessary introspection from us. This
kind of introspection which confesses our own cultural sins (not our culture as
such, but all apostate elements in it), which questions our value-system at its
core. This kind of introspection
which asks forgiveness from our Lord whenever, in true repentance and humility,
led by the Spirit of Jesus-Christ, we come to acknowledge our own idols and we
destroy them. Animated by such a
spirit, moved by a deep love for those towards whom we address our Proclamation,
we can tackle the Great Commission. We
can tackle it with a joyful and peaceful heart, all the more as we have received
an extraordinary promise, the promise of our Lord’s everlasting presence.
And this is fourth point and our conclusion, brothers and sisters:
surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.
With these words ends the Gospel according to Matthew.
But is it really an end? Rather,
it is the expression of the fullness of God’s presence with His children, in
Christ. Remember, at the very
beginning of his account, chapter 1 verse 22, Matthew said:
“All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
“The virgin will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel
–which means, “God with us”. This
presence is now promised to the disciples who are sent in His mission.
They should not fear, for He who once calmed the storm on the lake
remains with them. Therefore, when
facing the difficulties of the missionary Proclamation -and they seem many and
insuperable at times- we should remember the words of our Lord to his frightened
disciples on the little boat: “You
of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
For in the mission which He entrusts to His Church, Jesus-Christ remains
“Emmanuel”, “God with us”. All
authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, and this authority
extends, of course, over the Proclamation of His Word.
Through this Proclamation, all God’s elects will be saved.
This too, brothers and sisters, is Evangelion, “Good News”.
Christ remains Emmanuel, “God with us”, when He sends His Spirit, the
Holy Spirit, at Pentecost. And what
happens at Pentecost? God Himself
brings to the disciples people from all kinds of nations gathered in Jerusalem.
Jesus commanded his disciples to go to all the nations, and God, in His
amazing Grace, brings the nations to them! And
the Holy Spirit enables them to communicate with all these people…
The great covenantal promise made to Abraham is fulfilled:
“All peoples on earth will be blessed through you”.
The Church, now empowered by the mighty Spirit of God, is ready to carry
out the Great Commission of her Lord. This
too, is Evangelion, Good News. Therefore,
today just like yesterday, we can go with a heart twice joyful and appeased for
the mission entrusted to us by our Sovereign Lord, in the assurance that He
always will abide by us.