The Completion of the Great Commission (Part 4)
Topic: Missions & Evangelism Passage: Matthew 28:18–28:20
Sermon from Matthew 28:18-20 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, September 22, 2013
Missions Emphasis Month
To See Jesus' Glory Is Prized among All Peoples
This is now our fourth Sunday in a row to make these particular words of Jesus our chief meditation. I hope they’ve nourished you as we continue alongside each other for the advance of the gospel. One way Jesus’ words have nourished me is that they’ve fed my soul with something far more glorious than myself. You know, as Christians it’s right to do a bit of healthy introspection, where we take the grace we’ve been given and we look within to evaluate where and how we need to grow in likeness to Christ. We want to look more and more like our Savior, and so we check our attitudes and our motives and our affections with the word of God; and that’s all good and necessary. But there are times when I can become so fixated on myself and on what’s wrong with me, that I fail to see the very thing which produces the transformation I so much want—namely, I miss the glory of Jesus Christ being prized among all peoples. That’s what this world is about.
God created the world and he’s redeeming the world, so that his glory revealed in Jesus Christ might be prized, treasured, and enjoyed among all peoples. “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14; cf. Isa 11:9). That’s why God created the earth and that’s where God is taking the earth by saving countless multitudes as they hear of Jesus’ glory through the gospel. And the last three weeks have been for me God lifting my head off myself to see the authority of the risen Christ, the task of proclaiming his gospel to the world, and Jesus’ comforting and emboldening presence as we work to finish the mission. That’s what we’ve seen so far and that’s what’s been so edifying for my soul. Christ saved me to behold greatness, and that greatness isn’t found within Bret Rogers but in the once-crucified-but-now-risen Lord of the universe, who’s now gathering all nations to worship his glory and grace through the preaching of the gospel (cf. Rom 16:25-26).
And this morning I want to lift our heads even more off ourselves, off our church, off our agendas, off our paltry American dreams, by looking at the glory of Christ in the completion of the Great Commission. The first week we looked at the authority behind the Great Commission: “all authority in heaven and on earth have been given to [Jesus]” (28:18). The second week we looked at the nature of the Great Commission: our task is to make disciples of all people groups of the world (28:19-20a). Last week we looked at the courage for the Great Commission: Jesus promises: “behold, I am with you always” (28:20b). And now today, I want us to look at the completion of the Great Commission. So, that means all we’re looking at today is the very last phrase of verse 20, “to the end of the age,” and I want to set before you at least three truths bound up with that phrase and what they each mean for our lives.
Clarifying "to the end of the age"
But before I get there, let me just clarify that when Jesus says “to the end of the age,” he’s talking about his return to judge the nations and establish his kingdom on earth. There’s a span of time—an “age”—between Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and Jesus’ return from heaven. And during this span of time Jesus is seated at the highest place of authority, the right hand of God in heaven, where he is currently and gradually putting all his enemies under his feet. Jesus’ cross and his resurrection dealt the final blow to Satan, sin, and death, and now it’s only a matter of time before he brings an end to all his enemies. It’s like he cut off a dragon’s head through the cross and resurrection, and all that’s left during this age is a flopping tail that’s still dangerous but ultimately defeated and will cease at Jesus’ return. That’s the age Jesus is talking about: it ends at his return.
And I know that’s what he’s talking about, because back in chapter 13, Jesus explains what’s tied to the close of the age. He’s explaining to his disciples what he meant by the parable of the weeds and the wheat in the kingdom, and he says this in 13:39: “The harvest is the close of the age [i.e., same age he’s referring to in Matt 28], and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.” Now what’s associated with “the close of the age”? Verse 41, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” So at the close of the age, we see the Son of Man, his angels assisting in judgment, and God’s people saved. We get the same thing in Matt 24:30-31: “Then [after the tribulation of this present age] will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” That’s what Jesus has in mind by “the end of the age”—the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power.
So if you ask Jesus, “Okay Jesus, we know why you’ve given us the Great Commission—you have all authority—and I know what we’re supposed to be doing—make disciples of all nations—and I know how that’s going to even happen—you are with us always—but, one more question, ‘When do we stop?’” Jesus’ answer is basically, “You can stop making disciples not when you think you’ve reached the nations, not when missiologists tell you you’ve reached the nations, not when you’re tired of reaching the nations, not when you’ve retired from your career position, not when your own community has been “reached.” No, you can stop, church, when you see me coming with the clouds of heaven.” Now, you very well may die before then, but the point is this: as long as Jesus has not split the clouds to bring his kingdom to earth just as it is in heaven, the task of global missions isn’t complete. Our sights must be set on Christ and not the results of our labors.
Valuing Three Truths Together in the Great Commission
We’ll know the Great Commission is complete when Jesus returns to earth. But until that day, we should value three truths surrounding the completion of the Great Commission.
1. The Completion of the Great Commission is Certain
First, the completion [of the Great Commission] is certain. Our work as Christians in making disciples can never be in vain. Giving our money to support a missionary or buy Two-Ways-to-Live gospel tracts to hand out in White Settlement last week, or giving ourselves to following Jesus every day in our marriage and in our parenting and in our vocation and in our recreation—all that’s included in our own discipleship is never in vain, because the completion of the Great Commission is certain.
Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth; and that means he has the supreme right and the infinite power to finish whatever he promises he’s going to do. In Matt 16:18, Jesus promises “I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” He has the supreme right to talk like that and the infinite power to ensure the church’s growth and her victory over the grave. In Matt 24:14, Jesus promises, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The gospel might bring judgment to some and salvation to others, but the message of the King and his kingdom will reach the ends of the earth. All people groups will hear of King Jesus crucified for sinners and reigning in heaven coming from the lips of people like you; and that promise cannot fail! The nations hearing is as certain as the Christ returning. Or how about John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold [Israel]. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” He must bring them; the Gentiles will listen to his voice.
Jesus’ words carry no less authority than Yahweh when he says, “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’” (Isa 46:9-10). Jesus’ counsel shall stand, and he will accomplish all his purposes. So, the Great Commission is not a “maybe it will happen.” It’s not a “we’ll see what they make of it.” It has the absolutely sovereign, unstoppable power of the Lord Jesus promising its completion.
Jesus doesn't lose when we sit on the sidelines; we do
That means that if we choose to sit on the sidelines, ignoring Jesus’ command to make disciples, Jesus doesn’t lose, we lose, we miss out, we perish. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). If we ignore the authority of Jesus Christ, if we refuse to follow him with all our whole being, if we disengage from the mission he has called us to, if we just coast with the world while making Jesus nothing but a helpful little add-on to our life of vanity—then we will lose when Jesus comes to win. Jesus doesn’t need any of us to complete the Great Commission—he’s able to finish it without us. What should humble us is that, in his mercy, Jesus chooses to finish the Great Commission with us. Now, I know that not all of us are Christians in this room, but for those of us who are Jesus’ disciples, not a day should go by that you are not amazed at Jesus rescuing you from wasting your life on all things stupid and giving you a life full of all things certain.
O how many of our stories overlap with chasing after the fleeting pleasures of this world, all of them luring us straight to hell, before Christ saved us and brought us into his unshakable kingdom. Christ doesn’t need you to complete the Great Commission, but he has chosen you to complete the Great Commission and promised to be with you until the work is done. That’s one way this certainty applies: we give our lives to the privilege of making disciples, or we lose.
Keeping our love from growing cold in a hostile world
Another way it applies to the disciple of Jesus is that it keeps our love from growing cold in a world hostile to the gospel. Turn with me to Matt 24:6-14. This is Jesus explaining to his disciples what characterizes this present age that we live in: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” That’s the danger. “But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, tribulation, betrayal, apostasy, false teachers, persecution, lawlessness, and death—what keeps you going and preaching and serving in the face that kind of world? What keeps you among those who endure to the end? What keeps you going is a heart enthralled with the supremacy of Jesus Christ and the certainty of his promises. None of your sacrificial love, none of your evangelism efforts, none of your Christ-exalting efforts at work, none of your missions support is in vain, regardless of how the darkness taunts us. The completion of the Great Commission is certain; and Jesus will give us endurance to see that the gospel of the kingdom spreads to all nations.
2. The Completion of the Great Commission is Urgent
Second, the completion [of the Great Commission] is urgent. The reason I say that the completion is urgent is that one of the ways God has shown compassion to a rebellious world is by delaying his wrath, putting off his judgment for a time, giving people a window, an opportunity to escape God’s wrath by hearing the gospel and trusting in Jesus. If you’re not a Christian this morning, I’d invite you to consider something with us all for a minute.
The wrath of God is coming
The Bible teaches that everybody knows God, but that we all reject God and are guilty for our rejection and worthy of condemnation—that means we deserve to suffer torment under God’s wrath for eternity. Regardless of what you may or may not think about God, the world the Bible reveals—the real world—is a world in which everybody, even an atheist, knows God, but they reject him and are guilty before God for it. Rom 1:19 teaches us that everybody knows God, because what can be known about God is very plain to us. As God’s creatures, we can look at the things that have been made—from a subatomic particle, to a human eye, to the farthest visible supernova—and we can perceive God’s eternal power and his divine nature simply by looking at them (1:20). That’s true of everybody. The problem is that even though we know God and are able to perceive his worth and his truthfulness and his glory as the Creator, we reject him. By nature we don’t say with heaven, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11). We suppress the truth about him. We refuse to worship him as God or give thanks to him (1:21). And the conclusion the Bible draws is that we are all guilty for this rejection, so guilty that we deserve nothing less than to suffer eternal torment in the presence of the wrath of the Almighty God, who has every right to condemn us for our rebellion.
That’s the way all of us are apart from God’s mercy. God had every right to judge us immediately, totally, and eternally; but he didn’t. The Bible also teaches us that even though God will not overlook our rebellion against him, he is a God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He planned to delay his wrath on mankind. It’s still coming with Jesus’ return to earth. Isa 13:9-13 says, “The day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the [earth] a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless…I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.” So that day is still coming, but God has mercifully delayed the day of his wrath that we might find escape from it by trusting in Jesus.
God sent Jesus into the world to die on a cross in a very unique way. He wasn’t just suffering the pain of the Roman whips; he was suffering in the place of countless rebels under the wrath of God, so that they would never have to. By dying in your place, he took away the eternal torment you deserved, he bought you the forgiveness of your sins, and he provided reconciliation to God, should you believe in him. Jesus is your way of escape from the coming wrath of God; and he is all yours if you forsake your sins and give the whole of your life over to his lordship—and there’s not a Christian in this room who wouldn’t want to talk to you about that this morning. If you want deliverance from the wrath of God to enjoy the glory of God as you were created to do, then confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved.
The days of sinners are fleeting
For those of us who are Christians, this is the way of escape that we’re to proclaim with great urgency to a lost world, not only because the day of God’s wrath is coming, but because the days of sinners are fleeting. And if they do not hear about Christ, they will suffer eternal torment under God’s wrath. “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” Nobody will be saved who does not hear and believe in the person of Jesus Christ as he is proclaimed in the gospel. Nobody’s innocent; everybody’s guilty; and people must hear about Christ in order to be saved. God didn’t delay his wrath so that we dilly-dally around with the mission he’s left us. He delayed his wrath to save us, so that we might proclaim Christ to others with all urgency and vigilance.
Jesus is very clear that a delay in his return should not be abused by the church, but be used by the church to rescue the perishing. Look at Matt 24:45-51: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” What is evil? Wisdom is bound up with faithfulness to the master throughout the days he is away. Evil is using the master’s delay to do what you want instead of what he’s given you to do—in this case, making disciples of all nations.
God's compassion toward a rebellious world is great
The completion of the Great Commission is urgent because the compassion of God toward a rebellious world is great. He’s delayed his wrath and provided a way of escape for sinners through the Christ we’ve come to love and have now been commissioned to preach to the world. The compassion God has shown us in helping us to escape his wrath can only compel us to show the same compassion to the world by rescuing them from eternal fire and introducing them to the glories of Jesus Christ. Peter O’Brien puts it this way: “If we know the desperate plight of men and women under divine judgment—we ourselves had once been in that predicament—and that the gospel is the only hope for deliverance from the wrath to come, then we should be wholly involved in bringing it into the lives of others.” Brothers and sisters, Jesus didn’t die for just you, but for countless multitudes who will be represented before the throne of God on the last day, but who must also hear the gospel first in order to be reconciled to God before the last day. And we’ve been given the privilege of declaring the mercies of our God in Christ, that they might join us on the last day—and that leads me to our last truth about the completion of the Great Commission.
3. The Completion of the Great Commission is Glorious
Third, the completion is [certain, urgent, and] glorious. We might say that this last truth is even another reason why the completion would be so urgent: we really want to see the glory of Jesus Christ being prized among all peoples forever. We don’t pray “your kingdom come, your will be done” for nothing. We actually want to see the glory of Christ amidst all of his redeemed people. Consider this with me for a moment.
We are making disciples of all peoples because a countless host of redeemed from all peoples will be represented before the throne of God on the last day. We see them in Rev 5:9, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” We see them again in Rev 7:9-10: “Behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And then finally, we see them again in the holy city, new Jerusalem, when a voice from the throne of God says, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people[s], and God himself will be with them as their God” (21:3).
One glorious choir
The completion of the Great Commission is glorious because kingdom of God will not be characterized by racism or ethnic pride or economic division or social chaos or age preference or affinity favorites. There will be one choir of redeemed saints—as diverse as tribes, tongues, peoples, and languages can be with all their unique stories, but united through the blood of the Lamb as they tell each other of God’s glory and serve each other in God’s love. And, not only will this diverse choir of redeemed saints be united with God and one another, but there will never be any tension, or awkwardness, or fear, or envy, or strife, or anything that would cause their division, because no sinful impulses will be present in any of their hearts forever. Every day with each other will be love, kindness, peace, joy, gentleness, and celebration, because no sins in us will be hiding God’s glory or hindering the enjoyment of God’s glory as it’s reflected in his saints. Remember what we read earlier from Matt 13:43: “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” You know, Jesus says in Matt 5:16 “to let our light so shine before men, that people see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Nothing will be hindering that from happening perfectly forever. All of the works of this multitude of people will shine with the brightness of their Father’s glory with the Lamb who sits on the throne.
Ever-increasing enjoyment of God together
And, if that’s not glorious enough, our enjoyment of God’s glory shining from his saints can only forever increase, because for God to be God is for him to never be fully comprehended by finite creatures. So all of our days together will only be filled with further thoughts about and new discoveries of and more affections for God’s glory in Christ without distractions from Satan or self. The completion of the Great Commission is glorious because the glory of Jesus Christ will be finally, and fully, and completely prized in his redeemed people.
Now, if that’s what the Great Commission is ultimately about—the glory of Jesus Christ being prized and treasured among a blood-bought, multi-ethnic, glory-reflecting community, then why would we pursue anything less than that now? It won’t ever characterize us perfectly in this age, but we should pursue it with all our might by making disciples of all nations. We should never let the current state of any human being hinder us from working to bring them the gospel—whether that’s geographical distance, a particular ethnicity, an uncomfortable culture, a language barrier, social status, economic situation, age, mental development, whatever. Our Lord designed his gospel to spread in all the inhabited earth without distinction; and what should motivate us to bring it to others is the vision of what God can and will make them to be should they embrace the gospel we take them. Does that make sense? What I’m saying is that the vision of what God can and will make people should motivate us to preach the gospel to all people.
Some of us struggle to believe that for each other, much less the nations. We cannot underestimate the power of the gospel to transform sinners. The good news of Jesus’ return is that in an instant, Christ has the power to make all his Redeemed people into what they should be for his own glory and our great joy. Therefore, let’s labor to preach it often to each other and to the world. Moreover, let’s have the vision of the kingdom even shape our regular worship gatherings, so that Christ in all his glory unites us and not any one worship style, or cultural preferences, or age group, or social class, or ethnic preferences. Our gatherings should make the world scratch their heads, because what unites us here is what will ultimately unite us for eternity, namely, the glory of Christ. So let’s keep our eyes fixed on him; let’s help each others’ affections for him grow; let’s preach him to each other and to the world; let’s make disciples for Christ among all nations, for the completion is certain, it is urgent, and it is ultimately glorious.
More in The Great Commission
September 15, 2013The Courage for the Great Commission (Part 3)
September 8, 2013The Nature of the Great Commission (Part 2)
September 1, 2013The Authority Behind the Great Commission (Part 1)