The Son of Man, His Kingdom, & His Mission
Passage: Matthew 28:18–28:20
Sermon from Matthew by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Disciples Making Disciples, Part 1 of 6
Delivered on June 14, 2015
Matthew 28:18-20—likely a very familiar text for many of you, a text often called “the Great Commission.” My plan isn’t to linger here very long, but to jump around in the Bible to set Jesus’ Great Commission in a larger framework. You know, there are times when it’s appropriate to look and study the individual trees of a forest, to gain a better appreciation of each one with its own uniqueness. But it’s equally good to step back sometimes and see the majesty of the forest itself. The forest I want to set before you from Matthew’s Gospel is that of the Son of Man, his kingdom, and his mission. And what I’m hoping is that this message gives you and I a framework in which to think about our role in making disciples.
Series Introduction: Disciples Making Disciples
As a church, we’ll be walking the next six weeks together through some messages on disciples making disciples. The elders have been praying for some time now, and evaluating where we as elders need to grow in our leadership of you, and evaluating where we as a church need to grow. And one area that we’d like to set before you for prayer and for further growth is that every member in our congregation embrace their calling to make disciples, no matter how young or old you may be in the faith. Now, what that looks like will play out in the coming weeks, but we see a need to nurture this community, so that all disciples make disciples.
You see, in our consumeristic culture, we’re used to paying other people for services they provide. And sometimes that mindset creeps into the church in unhealthy ways. While we certainly wouldn’t say this with our mouths, our actions sometimes reveal that we pay leaders in the church to make disciples while the others sit on the sidelines and watch. But the Bible sees all Christians contributing to the gospel’s advance (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4). The mission isn’t limited to those serving in positions supported financially by the church; the mission belongs to all in Christ.
It’s also easy—especially in a context like our own with colleges and seminaries so nearby—to think that only those with higher education and professional skills are qualified to make disciples. Without even knowing it, we begin to embrace a sort of perfectionism that says on the one hand, you have to reach this level to talk to others about Jesus, or on the other hand, I can’t talk to others about Jesus unless I reach that level. And yet the Bible only requires one thing for you to tell others about Jesus, namely, you’re born again. That’s not to say the Bible doesn’t have instructions about the spiritual maturity of those who lead a congregation. It certainly does (1 Tim 3; Tit 1). It’s only to say that it assumes that even the poorest of sinners can point others where to find the Bread of Life (e.g., John 4). Making disciples isn’t for professionals.
It could also be that you’ve wanted to make disciples, you just don’t really know where to begin. Perhaps nobody has ever shown you what’s involved, and so on the one hand you’re rejoicing at the theological vision from Sunday to Sunday—you’re cheering on the team—but on the inside going, “How? Can somebody help me out here? What does this actually look like?” And some of you may wonder what it looks like even here at Redeemer. Maybe you’re puzzled by the various structures of care. Maybe you’re puzzled by our own leadership and wonder how exactly your own efforts fit in to the bigger picture. Let’s gather around God’s word these next few weeks and see how he instructs us in the matter.
Or perhaps your own understanding of what’s included in making disciples is too narrow. If you’ve got any background in the church, you hear “making disciples,” you hear “Great Commission,” and your mind immediately races to how many converts you’ve tallied up in the back of your Bible, how many baptisms your church or denomination reports every year. Your Christian sub-culture has reduced “making disciples” to evangelism and conversion, and so then you often miss the opportunities right before you, say, to wash your own wife with the word, to shepherd your children, to strengthen one another, to help the weak in the church, and so on. You haven’t seen how those things are just as much part of the Great Commission.
Or maybe you hear “making disciples of all nations” and your mind immediately races to the pioneering, frontier, cross-cultural work that those special people called missionaries do. And you throw money at it occasionally and pray for their work to succeed—but largely apart from any efforts to reach the family next door, to speak with a coworker about Christ, to help the poor in your community. Does making disciples extend cross-culturally to all nations? Of course, as I hope you saw in the email I sent a few weeks ago, but making disciples also includes the people next door. So, maybe our understanding of “making disciples” needs broadening to help us serve Christ more fervently where you are.
Or maybe you understand “making disciples” perfectly. You even have a robust theological vision for discipleship and can even articulate the steps involved. You may not have the college degree that others do, but, hey, you’ve educated yourself by reading other books and listening to podcasts and going to conferences. When it comes to talking about what the church should do and should look like in making disciples, you’re the expert with just one problem: you’re not doing it. To use the words of James, you’re a great hearer of the word, but not a doer of the word. This, James says, is self-deception. But let it not be said of us, Redeemer.
Wherever you may be today, my hope is that these messages on disciples making disciples fan into flame the good work that God has already begun in you, Redeemer. I love you and the other elders love you, and we enjoy partnering with you in the gospel’s advance. We see the Lord doing good things in you already. And we give thanks for them very often, even as recent as Friday night’s Women Encouraging Women fellowship. Choosing to preach on disciples making disciples for six weeks isn’t to say that none of us are making disciples, or that none of us are contributing according to our gifts. It’s only to say that this is an area that we need to be more of one mind about—that there not be just pockets of folks making disciples, but that it characterize all of us, that all of us see and pursue our calling as Christians to make followers of Jesus. And where there be any damning hindrances to following the Son of Man in this, that we repent and seek his help together to live as we ought to live.
Matthew Proclaims the Triumphant King
So, with that said, let’s look now at the Son of Man, his kingdom, and his mission, and then see how we fit into the picture. We’ll begin by reading Matthew 28:18-20. And like I said, I plan to hop around quite a bit. So, don’t feel like you have to get all the verse references down this morning. It might be you just choose to listen now and grab the manuscript online later. Verse 18: “And 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.’
Matthew’s Gospel ends on a note of glorious triumph. Jesus was crucified and laid in a grave for three days. Suddenly, angels descend from heaven, shaking the earth. The stone rolls back to reveal the life bursting forth from inside. And Jesus now stands on a mountain with his disciples, possessing all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus is the victorious king. He has conquered his enemies—sin and death—and now gives command for his kingdom citizens to spread the word of his victory far and wide. That’s how Matthew’s Gospel ends. It ends on a note of triumph.
But not many of us are likely to say that Matthew’s Gospel also begins on a note of triumph. After all, we know how thrilling genealogies can be—so and so fathered so and so, who fathered so and so, who fathered so and so, who married so and so and then fathered so and so, and so forth, forty-two generations worth at the outset of Matthew’s Gospel (1:1-17). The first three paragraphs can leave us scratching our heads and yawning…unless we understand why they exist.
The gospel of Jesus doesn’t begin in a vacuum, rather Matthew picks up his pen where the Old Testament prophets set theirs down. God’s people had returned from their Babylonian exile, but the promises of God’s kingdom seemed to have stalled out (Ps 89). Sin still ruled the day. Foreign oppressors still scoffed the God of Israel. And since David’s house was pretty much lying in shambles, any hope for another Davidic king to take the throne seemed doubtful (Amos 9:11). But then in steps Matthew, giving us a bit of history, and tying in Jesus’ own life with the promises God gave to Abraham and David to bring forth a royal offspring—a Messiah who would save his people, a child destined to bring God’s final rule of peace on earth, thus blessing all the nations (Matt 1:1; cf. Gen 12:1-3; 17:6; 35:11; 49:10; 2 Sam 7:13; Isa 7-9).
In fact, it’s this one named Jesus at the end of Matthew’s genealogy who will finally put an end to this wretched exile (1:17). But the way he ends the exile isn’t by quieting foreign oppressors. Far more important than that, Jesus will save his people from their sins and give us God. He is himself “God with us” (1:21-23). And so even right from the beginning, Matthew is screaming at us the victory that comes through this Jesus, born of a virgin. It’s a perfect intro to the King-child. He is the child that all of history has waited for. He is the child on whom all God’s promises to Israel stand (2 Cor 1:20). He is the one who has come to lead us out of exile truly by taking away our sins and giving us the very presence of God in Immanuel—this one who at the end of the Gospel also says, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” God with us…I will be with you (1:23; 28:20).
And so whether we’re at the beginning or end of Matthew’s Gospel, we see that this Gospel is about a triumphant King. He will save his people from their sins, and he will establish his kingdom with universal authority, so that God is truly with us.
Looking at the Son of Man
Yet there are several more things to note about this King, Jesus. And many of them stem from what we learn when we find on his lips the very kingly title, “Son of Man.” Thirty times in this Gospel alone, Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. It’s a self-designation he uses more than any other. And we learn some things about him and his kingdom and the mission he’s on…
The Son of man is supremely powerful and building his kingdom
First off, we learn the Son of Man is supremely powerful and building his kingdom. Some of you will know the specific title—Son of Man—has roots that reach back to the prophet Daniel. The children at Redeemer love the prophet Daniel. In fact, some of our DIG servants can vouch that if you were to ask our children about the prophet Daniel, they’d likely have something to say about lions.
Daniel gets thrown to the lions for praying to God instead of to that human king, Darius. But then to everybody’s surprise, none of the lions even touch Daniel that night. And as the story goes on, it’s clear that it wasn’t because the lions weren’t hungry. No, it was because Daniel’s God saved him. So, Darius comes to him the next morning, pulls Daniel out from the den, and then makes this proclamation. Just listen to it: “[Daniel’s God] is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth…” (Dan 6:26-27).
But then the book of Daniel takes a sudden shift from real lions surrounding God’s prophet to some terrible beasts threatening God’s people: the first was like a lion that had eagle’s wings; the second looked like a bear devouring flesh; the third was like a four-headed leopard; and the fourth was worst of all, hardly describable with great iron teeth and ten powerful horns. These dreadful, mascot-like beasts, we’re told, represent various kingdoms that war against God’s people. Each evil kingdom simply defeating and replacing the one before it, but the last being by far the worst in terms of oppressing the faithful followers of Yahweh…until a different King takes his throne.
In the same way God delivered Daniel from the lions, he would deliver his people from these beasts. Daniel pulls back the curtain, so to speak, to show us what these evil kingdoms are really made of. Terrible as they may be, they have nothing against this one called Son of Man. “Behold,” Daniel says, “with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away [unlike the others], and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:13-14).
Returning now to Matthew’s Gospel, there’s a reason the people discern that Jesus teaches with such authority (7:29). There’s a reason the wind and seas obey Jesus when he says, “Hush!” (8:26). There’s a reason the lame walk and the blind see and the sick become well and the lepers become clean and the dead rise simply at Jesus’ touch (8:1-17; 9:1-8, 18-34). There’s a reason the demons and unclean spirits tremble at his voice and beg him not to punish them (8:23-27). He’s the most powerful King in the universe, and that should help us hear Jesus’ words in the Great Commission afresh.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” he says, “therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.” Why make disciples? Because the Son of Man has begun to reign. He has taken his throne, as Paul says, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion (Eph 1:20-21). And he is right now building his kingdom, a kingdom that cannot be defeated, a kingdom that will swallow the earth. He tells Peter in chapter 16, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18-19). The picture is that of Son of Man storming the gates of hell and building his church and plucking people from death and bringing them into life. And he’s asking Peter to join him as he does it.
He’s supremely powerful and building his kingdom, and get this church: he is with you to the end of the age. He isn’t with just anybody. He is only with his people, the church, because of grace. He is with you in the mission. If he can handle the nations, he can handle our growth in discipleship. If he can subdue the world, he can help us bring his word to others. He can tear down the strongholds in our city and in our lives.
The Son of Man is compassionate toward sinners in his mission
We also learn that the Son of Man is compassionate toward sinners in his mission. This is one of the things I love about God throughout the Bible. The Bible moves back and forth between these pictures of him as majestic king and compassionate savior. We see this in Jesus as well. For example, in Matthew 9:36, not too long after Jesus calls himself the Son of Man, it says this: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). Or, a bit later, before he feeds the four thousand, Jesus says, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry” (15:32).
This compassion Jesus has toward sinners even leads him to recline at the dinner table with many tax collectors and sinners (9:6, 10)—be like you rejoicing to treat the IRS to a meal on your tab, or to welcome the prostitute into your home. His compassion drove him to reach out to the broken, to invite the shady ones to follow him, to touch the woman bleeding and say, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (Luke 7:37; Matt 9:9, 22). And it’s so taboo to the religious leaders, that they tease Jesus about it. They make fun of him for being a friend of tax collectors and sinners (11:19).
But you see, it’s all part of his mission as the Son of Man. He came not to call the righteous—that is, those who think they’re Okay. He came to call only one kind of people, and that’s sinners (9:13). In Luke’s Gospel he says it this way: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). That’s the mission the most powerful man in the universe is on, to seek and save the lost, and I want to be right there with him.
Why do we make disciples? Because the Son of Man is compassionate toward sinners. We go to them, because the Son of Man came to us, sinners. He reached out to us with compassion. We do the same, no matter the background. Not to make disciples is to cease being amazed that we’ve been found by the Son of Man.
The Son of Man is our servant-Redeemer, giving his life in place of many
The Son of Man is also our servant-redeemer, giving his life in place of many. You see, as you read along in Matthew’s Gospel and get glimpses of the Son of Man’s power and glimpses of the Son of Man’s compassion toward sinners, you steadily begin to see what those two things lead him to do for sinners. His power coupled with compassion leads him to serve sinners like us to the point of death in our place.
One place this becomes really clear is in chapter 20. Jesus prophecies once again about his death, and says: “See, we’re going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death” (20:18). And then he tells us in verse 28 what his death will be for us: “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (20:28). What does that mean—“ransom for many”?
It means that Jesus gives his life as a payment to release us from our condemnation. The penalty of eternal wrath that we deserved—he paid it by dying in our place. He becomes our substitute, so that what should’ve happen to us—punishment under God’s wrath—happens instead to him…which provides yet another impetus for us to make disciples as we look at the Son of Man’s mission.
The Son of Man didn’t come because he needed anything. He didn’t need us to serve him. He wasn’t lacking anything. He already possessed everything. He came because people needed rescue. We needed redemption from our sin and from the wrath of God, and so he chose to serve us by giving up his life as a substitute.
If he has given his life as a ransom for many, then how could we not tell the many about it again and again and again? His mission is to win the many—the people he purchased with his life. We even see them standing before the throne on the last day in Revelation 5—ransomed for God from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.
If that’s the Son of Man’s mission, to give his life here to see them worshiping there, then what ought our lives be about till then? He told his disciples what they should be about: Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Our lives must be about dying to help the many see the Son of Man’s ransom, and dying to help the many live their lives by what that ransom implies. For example, in the context of chapter 20, that looks like living an upside-down kind of life: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” Why? “Well, the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
We live to serve others with Christ and like Christ, because we’ve been ransomed by Christ. That’s true for the world and for each other—we hold out his ransom, so that people fall in love with the Son of Man and start living like him.
The Son of Man is a returning King, who will finish building his kingdom
And we want them to love him now and follow him now, because there’s coming a day when he will finish his mission. The Son of Man not only gave his life as a ransom for many, he rose three days later. He rose and then ascended to heaven till at the appointed time he will finish his mission. The Son of Man will finish building his kingdom, his present reign in heaven will become his reign on earth, when he splits the skies and his feet stand on the Mount of Olives. And we want people loving him now, so that they will not be dreading him forever.
The Son of Man is also a returning King, who will finish building his kingdom, Matthew’s Gospel tells us. Matthew 16:26-27, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” Matthew 24:30, “Then 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…[verse 44] Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Chapter 25:31-32, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.” And they will then be judged by whether they served Jesus with their lives or not, by whether they loved others as Jesus loved or not. And the [goats] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (25:46).
Why do we make disciples? Because the Son of Man promises to complete his mission. Part of the completion of that mission threatens grave judgment for those who choose not to follow him. And this is where our compassion comes in: we don’t want them suffering that judgment, that condemnation. But another part of the completion of that mission promises great reward for those who did follow him. To them, the Son of Man will say, “Enter into the joy of your Master.” And that’s ultimately what we want people enjoying when we make disciples. We want them enjoying the reward of Christ. We want them experiencing his presence now, so that they will get it for all eternity.
Summoned by the Son of Man
All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus, the Son of Man. Therefore, go and make disciples, Redeemer. These are just a few broad observations about the Son of Man, his kingdom, and his mission, and I hope you are beginning to see a larger framework for the Great Commission.
Why make disciples? So that all people see the Son of Man’s rule on earth while he’s in heaven. There’s coming a day when he will return and rule from earth, but for now he reigns from heaven. People see his glory when we follow him and teach others to do the same. Going and baptizing and teaching—all point others to the Son of Man’s reign. Evangelism is essentially proclaiming the King’s reign, his coming kingdom, and how to enter it. Baptism is linked to the local church, and is the way people publicly express their allegiance to the King. It’s a kind of passport into his kingdom. It’s how you identify with his rule and his people. Teaching people to obey all he commanded—that’s how we show people to follow and obey the King’s orders. We don’t make disciples merely to keep an institution running, we make disciples to help people see the Son of Man in all his glory.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve been summoned by the King of kings to give your life to making followers of him. You were created and then saved to join the Son of Man as he extends his rule among all peoples. You’ve been called to reap the fruits of his victory over sin and death in people’s lives. How does that happen? By making disciples, making followers of Jesus. Certainly, he’s the only sovereign, extending his rule from sea to sea. Jesus doesn’t need our help in making disciples of all nations, and none of this will happen apart from sovereign grace. But the amazing thing is that he’s given us the great privilege of spreading the fame and the enjoyment of his reign through making disciples.
Some of you may be saying, “But I still want to know what this looks like, practically speaking! You didn’t spend much time on how to make disciples this week.” And I have two things to say in response: one, we have five more weeks together on this subject. I’m hoping to get to some of the practical outworking of this in terms of evangelism, the local church, teaching, cross-bearing, and prayer.
But more importantly, two, I didn’t spend much time on the how this week, because we’re so forgetful of the why. Discipleship doesn’t begin by telling you what to do, but by helping you fall in love with Jesus, the Son of Man. I can tell you what to do. But if I don’t give you Jesus, your doing won’t last. And even worse—hellishly worse—you’ll be doing it without Jesus. As others have put it, “The longer you look at Jesus, the more you’ll want to serve him.” And that’s all I’m trying to do with this first message on disciples making disciples—just get you to look at Jesus, get you to see his glory, to see his kingdom breaking in to the present and coming in the future, and to see his compassionate mission to save sinners before returning in power. To that end, let’s join together now in a song of celebration and hope of this Son of Man’s return for us.