Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sermon: Matthew 28: 16-20 The Great Commission

Over the coming days and weeks, we’ll be getting to know each other a lot better. But at the start, as you meet someone for the first time, there are a few questions that are always asked. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do?

Well, as you might have gathered by now, my name is Gary, I’m from Dromore (that’s the real Dromore in County Down and not the pretend Dromore in County Tyrone), and I’m a Church of Ireland minister. So now I just have to ask you all the same questions - but don’t shout out the answers all at once now! Some of you might be Richhillian by birth and heritage over many generations, but the rest of us, well, we’re blow-ins, ourselves the most recent of the batch. We’ll have a story of how we came to be here, and where our roots lie.

Answering those same questions - who are you? Where are you from? What do you do? - is why family history is such big business. It’s also why my doorbell in Fermanagh would ring frequently, with the latest Americans or Australians coming to try to find their great-great granda’s Baptism record. He had emigrated far far away from Fermanagh, and now they were back to trace their roots, to see where their family had begun. They were trying to work out who they are, and where they came from.

For us as a church family, our reading from Matthew’s gospel is a bit like tracing our roots, going back to where it all started, to help us see who we are, where we’re from, and what we’re meant to be doing. Just as the Americans returned to Aghavea, so we are going back to Galilee, to see the beginnings of the church.

In verse 16, ‘Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.’ The eleven disciples (because Judas is no longer around) go to Galilee. Now why did they go there? Because Jesus told them to go there. But why? If you glance back a page, you’ll see that in 28:7 the angels tell the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, and then in 28:10 Jesus himself emphasises the same message. Why?

In Matthew’s Gospel, Galilee was where it all began. Galilee was where Jesus had begun to preach (4:17); Galilee was where he called Simon Peter and Andrew, and the other disciples. But so much had happened since then. Peter had denied knowing Jesus. The rest had ran away, leaving him to die on the cross alone.

So much had happened since then - Jesus had died, but was now raised to new life. So he gathers the disciples back where it all began, and gives them a new start. He gives them a new mission - the mission that we are also part of, because this is where we came from - this is who we are; where we’re from; and what we’re meant to do.

Did you notice that when Jesus arrives, when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. They just weren’t sure. There is room here for the doubting; there is space to question; so ask your questions. Together we’ll work through the doubts, to come to the place of worship.

To the worshipping disciples and the doubting disciples, Jesus speaks. This is what we know as the ‘great commission’. But notice that Jesus doesn’t begin with what we’re meant to be doing. Instead, he starts with a word about himself.

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’

On Friday afternoon, Teresa May went to visit Buckingham Palace. She wasn’t there to sightsee; or to stroke the corgis; or just to have a cup of tea with members of the Royal family. Teresa was there to seek the Queen’s permission to form the government. She was granted authority to continue as Prime Minister - at least for the time being. As important as the Prime Minister is, in terms of authority, she’s nothing compared to the Lord Jesus.

Do you see what he says? He doesn’t just have a wee bit of authority, and not just over some places. All authority - in heaven; and all authority on earth. Jesus is the rightful ruler. Jesus is in charge, and in control.

Back at the start of Matthew’s gospel, the wise men came a long way to worship the one born king of the Jews. Then in Matthew 4, the devil tempted Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the world, if he would only worship Satan. But Jesus receives all authority in heaven and earth through his death on the cross and his resurrection. Jesus is the king of the universe. He has ‘all authority.’

Is this how we think of Jesus? You see, we might think that Jesus isn’t really very important. He might want to be our friend, but that might be because he needs us rather than us needing him. Or we remember the words of the hymn ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ and think that Jesus is weak, and powerless. Listen to who Jesus says he is - the one with all authority, all power, the true king of the universe.

Now why does that matter? Well, because Jesus has ‘all’ authority, he has the power to command us to do what he wants us to do. This isn’t the great suggestion, or the great optional extra for the keen ones. This is the great commission. It’s not like the tape began on the ‘Mission Impossible’ TV series and movies: ‘Your mission, if you choose to accept it.’ Jesus has a mission for us. So what does he command us to do?

‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.’ The command to make disciples of all nations flows from Jesus having all authority. From Galilee, Jesus sends the eleven disciples to go and make more disciples. And where? It’s not just in some places; it’s in all places. We’re called to make disciples of all nations

Now how do we do that? ‘Baptising 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.’ Disciples are to be baptised, and taught to obey the words of Jesus. Notice that we’ve got another ‘all’ word. We’re not just to teach and obey some of Jesus’ commands; it’s not like the old pick and mix in Woolworths where you could choose the things you liked and left the things you didn’t like. Matthew records for us the teaching of Jesus - for example the sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7). Disciples make disciples who obey everything (all) Jesus commands.

Now that might seem a bit overwhelming. So we’ve got to go to all nations, and teach them everything Jesus taught? And if it’s a command, it can almost make it even harder - there could be guilt if we feel we’re not doing our bit, if we’re disobeying the one with all authority. But before you run for the door; before you choose not to accept this mission, there is one last ‘all’. A word of promise.

‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

Jesus himself promises to be with us - when? On every other Tuesday and the fifth Friday of a month? For some of the time, but the rest you’re on your own? I am with you always - or all the time. As we step out to obey Jesus’ command, we’re not on our own - Jesus himself goes with us. As you prepare your Sunday School lesson, Jesus is with you. As you speak about Jesus to your non-Christian neighbour over the back fence, Jesus is with you. As you meet with a younger Christian; as you pray with someone in need; as you do any number of things to fulfil the great commission, Jesus is with you. You’re not on your own.

These words of Jesus might be the last words in Matthew’s gospel, but they’re just the start of our mission. Jesus is calling us to know that he has all authority; to therefore go and make disciples in all places; baptising and teaching them all of Jesus’ commands; knowing that Jesus is with us all the time.

So let’s recommit ourselves this morning to step up, and step out - disciples making disciples, as we obey the command of Jesus.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday 11th June 2017.

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