Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 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 end of the age.”
—Matthew 28:16-20, NIV
This passage at the end of Matthew is very familiar to us. Most often, preachers use it in sermons to encourage us to witness to our Christian faith, or at the very least, to contribute to the support of missionaries. Right now I want to go over this passage slowly to examine the speed bumps.
The Disciples Worshipped Jesus and Jesus Accepted It!
We have 2,000 years of Christian history behind us. We have been praying to Jesus and praying in Jesus’ name for so long, we don’t notice how strange this passage is. It should send a shock through our system as we read it, for here we have the spectacle of Jewish men worshipping their rabbi, and on top of that, the rabbi accepts their worship!
The Law of Moses makes it very clear that God is the only proper recipient of worship and the penalties for false worship are very severe:
Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.
—Deuteronomy 6:13-15, NIV
Jesus regularly uses Scripture to outwit His opponents in debates. We also know that He is very much aware of the passage that I just quoted. In both Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8, Jesus quotes it to defeat Satan during His temptations in the wilderness. The powers of evil tempt us to worship them, and the powers of good refuse our worship, as the angel did when John attempted to worship him in Revelation 19:10. So if the disciples worship Jesus, and Jesus accepts their worship, we should be electrified! Matthew makes if very clear that Jesus is not in league with the powers of evil. So there is only one reason why He can accept worship…
Clearly, Matthew is teaching us the deity of Jesus Christ; that Jesus is the God who gave that law in Deuteronomy.
Some of the Disciples Doubted!
Now that we are reeling with amazement that Jews would worship their rabbi as God, and that the rabbi would calmly accept it, we immediately stumble over the next speed bump. Matthew says that some of the disciples doubted. Now that is quite remarkable, to say the least. These are the guys who followed Him and heard His teachings. They saw His miracles. They were convinced when He was crucified that it was all over and that He was quite permanently dead. They did not believe in the reports of His resurrection until they saw Him in person.
Now they stand in front of a man who rose again from the dead, after being publicly executed, and they still have doubts?
There are two things we can learn from this.
- The disciples did not have any special advantage over us!
- It wasn’t any easier for them to believe the miracles than it is for us. True, they were eyewitnesses, but being an eyewitness to an extraordinary event doesn’t make it any easier to believe it. You go away from such things wondering if it was the lighting, or if you were seeing things, or if it really happened the way you thought, or if you’re going batty—and there are always those ‘helpful’ people with their ‘logical’ explanations. So if you have a problem believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, take heart, because even some of the disciples had a problem with it too.
- Jesus didn’t care about their doubts!
- He gave the Great Commission to every one of them, even the doubters. The doubting disciples were loyal and obedient, and that is all that really mattered. So that means that our doubts don’t matter to Him either. Even if you aren’t a Bible whiz and you couldn’t preach your way out of a paper bag, you can still be a good Christian and the Great Commission still applies to you. While it is nice to have a well developed systematic theology and to know what all the verses in the Bible mean, you don’t have to have it all figured out before you start your career as a Christian, trusting and obeying the Lord Jesus. As Paul said, we know in part, so we will always have loose ends, difficult scriptures, and issues we can’t agree on.
Faith and knowledge are two different things. Faith makes us into obedient servants, but knowledge only makes us trivia experts. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Hold your questions to the end. Right now your primary task is loyalty and obedience.”
Jesus claims all authority in heaven and on earth!
Jesus’ claim to have all authority in heaven and on earth should give us serious pause to thought, for three reasons:
- He says it was given to Him. Who is great enough to give Him all authority that can possibly exist? Well, obviously, His Father, who is God.
- What authority is left for God the Father to possess? Well, if Jesus and the Father are two separate beings, there is no authority left over for the Father, and that would lead us to the absurd conclusion that God has no authority. If Jesus has all authority, then no one else has any authority, and that would include His Father, unless of course He and the Father were one. So this leads us again to affirm the deity of Jesus Christ.
- What authority is left over for Satan to exercise? Well, again, it is clear that there is none. Satan has no authority at all. On the cross, Jesus defeated Satan and emerged victorious with all power and authority.
I remember once I invited an aluminum siding salesman into my house to give me his sales pitch. Boy, was that a mistake, because this guy was a slick talker. He talked and talked. For each offer I turned down, he had another one to present. He nearly persuaded me to sign his contract, which was really a rip-off, but somehow I managed to resist. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it was 11:00 at night before I got him to leave by picking up the telephone and threatening to call the police if he didn’t go.
The salesman had no power over me at all, just the power of talk. As soon as I threatened him with the police, he left. That is how it is with Satan and his demons. They have no power, but they are slick talkers and they can persuade you to do and believe all sorts of crazy stuff. All you have to do to get rid of them is to threaten them with the authority of Jesus Christ.
If Jesus has all power and authority in heaven and on earth, then it follows that Satan and his demons have none. They want you to believe otherwise, but remember, they are liars and murderers from the beginning.
Satan says he has power in this world, but Jesus says He has all the power in this world. Who are you going to believe?
Jesus commands a Trinitarian baptismal formula!
Jesus commands the Disciples to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Scholars used to say that this verse was a late interpolation into Matthew, because they could scarcely conceive of a full-fledged Trinitarian theology in Jesus’ mouth. However, there is no textual evidence that Matthew 28:19 is an interpolation—in other words, there are no ancient manuscripts that omit this verse.
In 1873, Archbishop Bryennios rummaged around in the library of a monastery in Constantinople and discovered a large manuscript that included a little document called the Didache, or “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” He released his findings over time, publishing the Didache in 1883. It turns out to be an authentic document of the ancient church. Even ultra-liberal scholars, like John Dominic Crossan, date the Didache to the second half of the first century, within the time when people who knew Jesus personally were still alive and in the church. What is notable about the Didache for us is that it gives instructions for baptisms and in Didache 7:1 prescribes the same wording as Matthew 28:19. From this we know that the first-century church baptized, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Whether the Didache quotes Matthew or Matthew quotes the Didache is beside the point, the fact remains that this Trinitarian formula is genuine.
Matthew begins Jesus’ ministry in chapter 3 with His baptism by John and ends it in chapter 28 with the Great Commission. In Matthew 3:16-17, the Spirit of God alights on Jesus just as His Father’s voice proclaims that He is well pleased; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all simultaneously active. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands a Trinitarian baptism.
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ministry begins and ends with the Trinity!
Jesus commands the disciples to teach obedience!
Some people tell you that if you pray, “Lord Jesus, come into my heart,” the rest of your life is your free time to do with as you please, but at the end you will go to heaven. If Jesus agrees with this technique, He sure missed a good opportunity to tell us. As it stands, Jesus is not content just to be in your heart, He wants to be in your hands and feet as well.
Works do not save us, but that does not mean that works are never of any value. What Matthew is teaching us is that works do not lead to salvation, but salvation leads us to works. We are not saved because we work; we work because we are saved. This is also Paul’s message in Ephesians 2:8-10. It also follows, as it says in James 2:14-26, that if you don’t do Christian things, it might be because you are a Christian only in your imagination.
The difference between demons and Christians—which, I admit, is sometimes hard to see when you watch some of those television evangelists—is not in what they believe (as Matthew 8:29 tells us), but in what they do as a consequence of their belief.
So if you have asked Jesus into your heart and you proclaim Him as the Son of God, congratulations! That is the beginning of your salvation, not the end of it. It’s nice that you have faith with your head by believing; now you need to spend the rest of your life perfecting that faith with your body by obeying.
Ask Jesus into your hands and feet as well as your heart.
Jesus is with us always to the very end of the age!
Some people seem to believe that when Jesus ascended into heaven, He escaped to regroup for a final assault on Satan, who meanwhile has dominion over the world. Not so, according to Jesus. Jesus conquered the forces of evil on the cross, He is victorious over them, He has all power and authority in heaven and on earth, and He ascended, not to regroup, but to reign.
One speed bump for us is that we panic easily, and we start believing Satan’s lie that he’s the one in charge.
The real speed bump in this, however, is Jesus’ claim to be omnipresent—that is, to be everywhere at the same time. That is a divine attribute; so Jesus is claiming to be our God. If that’s the case, then we can sleep easy, knowing that Jesus has ascended into the control booth of the universe. We can have faith that whatever the appearance may be, He controls all things to our benefit, because He loves us.
Jesus is with us now and forever.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
—John 16:33b, NIV