The Authority Behind the Great Commission (Part 1)
Topic: Missions & Evangelism Passage: Matthew 28:18–28:20
Sermon from Matthew 28:18-20 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, September 1, 2013
Missions Emphasis Month
September as Missions Emphasis Month
The elders have named September to be our missions emphasis month. After evaluating last year’s calendar, we saw it was a little overwhelming to stack our missions emphasis month on top of Care-Group-Leader Appreciation month on top of our Hold-the-Rope fellowship, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, a Thanksgiving Celebration, and the beginning of Advent. So, we made a bit of a shift this year to September. In whatever month it falls, having a time set aside to look more closely and more intentionally at global missions is something we want to continue at Redeemer—not simply because it’s part of our vision statement to declare God’s glory to our neighbors and the nations, not simply because it’s part of our DNA as Christians to live as God’s missionaries in the world, but primarily and chiefly because missions is the very heartbeat of God echoed throughout the Bible.
Missions Is the Heartbeat of God
We could think of his promise to Abraham in Gen 12:3, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” We could think of his ultimate purpose behind hardening Pharaoh’s heart and delivering Israel out of Egypt with a mighty outstretched arm—Exod 9:16, “But for this purpose I have raised you up [Pharaoh], to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” And then it’s not too much further in our Bibles that we see—as a result of the exodus—the fame of God’s name spreading all the way to Jericho to save a prostitute named Rahab (Josh 2:11).
Then, the prophets again and again promise God bringing his sons from afar and his daughters from the ends of the earth (Isa 43:6), of many nations joining themselves to the Lord (Zech 2:11), of people who have never been told of Jesus Christ seeing and of those who have never heard understanding for the first time (Isa 52:15). The Psalms break forth in song like this: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth” (Ps 67:3-4). “Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!” (Ps 117:1). “Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven” (Ps 148:11-13).
And then we land at a text like Matt 28:18-20 in our New Testament—which is our focus this morning—“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Missions is the very heartbeat of God echoed throughout the Bible, and therefore, we want to build healthy, regular avenues into our gatherings for equipping you to love what God loves—namely, his glory and grace in Jesus Christ being declared among the nations.
Understanding the WHY of the Great Commission
But here’s where we usually encounter a real weakness in our Baptist circles. We are very prone to pumping ourselves up about the task of missions without ever understanding what’s behind the task of missions—or worse, without ever knowing Who stands behind the task of missions. How many rally cries have you heard about the Great Commission that have left you understanding what you’re supposed to do—preach the gospel, give my money, go to the nations, lay down my life—but quite apart from answering the question of why you’re doing it? My goal today is to answer the why of the Great Commission, before ever taking you into the what of the Great Commission. Another way we might say it is that the “therefore” of verse 19 exists only because the authority of the crucified and risen Christ in verse 18 exists. So, I want to spend the next half hour helping you understand the authority of the crucified and risen Christ. We’ll discuss the nature of our task in missions next week, but today I want us to focus on the authority behind the Great Commission, and then tease it out a bit for our lives.
If you’re not a Christian this morning, you’re about to hear why Christians will talk to you about Jesus in an attempt to convert you. We really believe Jesus is alive with all authority in heaven and on earth and that every person must submit to his rule or perish. Otherwise, if Jesus doesn’t have all authority, what right do we have telling anybody that they should live their lives in accordance with his word—what right do we have telling you to surrender all allegiance to him? The reason we want you to believe the Christian message of salvation is that Jesus has authority over the entire universe and must be dealt with on his terms. So please join us this morning in considering the words of Jesus, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
To help us better understand what he means, let’s break down the nature of Jesus’ authority into three parts.
1. Jesus' Authority Is a Given Authority
First, Jesus’ authority is a given authority. Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Now, that is a remarkable statement considering the fact that Jesus is God. Even from the outset of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is the one conceived by the Holy Spirit, he was born of a virgin, and he was to be called “Immanuel”—a name that means God with us (Matt 1:20-23). And then the rest of Matthew’s Gospel is only confirmation stacked upon confirmation stacked upon confirmation of that very truth—so that whether we see Jesus teaching with authority or healing the sick or casting out demons or forgiving sins or walking on the water or being transfigured on the mountain or making some outlandish claim to be the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power in heaven, we can’t help but conclude that he is truly God with us.
So, if the whole point of Matthew’s Gospel is to testify that Jesus is God, who has come in the flesh to save us from our sins, we cannot say that Jesus receives authority in a way that would make him less than God prior to his resurrection? After all, he came to earth as the eternal Son of God. And as the eternal Son of God, his authority had no beginning. Even though his Father gives that authority to him, the Son’s authority has been so from all eternity. There was never a point where the Son had a beginning upon which the Father began giving him authority. God the Son has always existed with God the Father; and so even while he may receive authority in his submissive role as Son, his authority had no beginning and it had no stopping point when he became a man. We even see his authority confirmed again and again as he tells a paralyzed man to walk, as he opens the eyes of the blind, as he raises a little girl from the dead, as he rebukes the winds and the sea, as he feeds the five thousand with a kid’s snack-pack, as he tells people “Your sins are forgiven.” Only God has the authority to forgive sins.
So, if Jesus had such divine authority prior to becoming a man, can there be another sense in which he can still receive authority from his Father after the resurrection that differs from the authority he had prior to the resurrection? The Bible tells us there is, but not in the sense that makes him less than God before the resurrection. Here’s what’s going on. Prior to the resurrection of Jesus, the eternal Son of God had never reigned from heaven as a man. The Son had demonstrated his authority from earth as a man; but never had the Son demonstrated his authority from heaven as a man. That heavenly authority as a man awaited another work he had to achieve first as a man—his humbling himself unto death, even death on a cross, to pay the penalty for our sins.
This is the work his Father gave him to complete out of love for a bunch of hopeless rebels like us. The Son of God was to humble himself, enter history, conquer Satan, satisfy God’s justice, take away our sins, and deliver us from death through the bloody sacrifice of his own body on the cross. And the point of verse 18 of Matthew 28 is to say the Father approved every bit of his Son’s work; and by virtue of his victory over Satan, sin, and death he will now install him as heaven’s true and rightful King.
Never had the Son demonstrated his authority from heaven as a man, but now he would. It’s in this sense that God has given him all authority not just on earth, but in heaven and on earth. Jesus’ authority would be exercised no longer from what the church has historically referred to as his state of humiliation but from his state of exaltation. Phil 2:6-10 put it like this: “Though Christ was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”
So, he’s not more God after his resurrection; he’s just ruling now as the God-man. Heb 1:3-4 tell us that it was only after making purification for sins, that he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Prior to making purification for sins, the Father had work for him to do. It was only after he completed the Father’s work for our salvation that the Father installed him in heaven to rule as a man. Just think for a minute. This would be the first time that all of heaven would witness a man sitting at the right hand of the throne of God. It would be the first time that angels would not receive their instructions from an invisible divine Son, but from a visible divine Son who will forever keep his resurrected, physical body. It would be the first time that it could be said of any man to have all authority in heaven and on earth.
So, it’s in that sense that Jesus’ authority is a given authority. He never had authority in heaven and on earth as a man; because he had never reigned from heaven’s throne as a man; but now he would. Since he endured the cross, his Father rewarded him the crown, and even now he rules as the risen God-man. If you want some more verses to look up in this regard when you get home, you might consider Ps 2:6-8; 89:27; 110:1; Acts 2:36; Rom 1:4; 1 Cor 15:25-26; Eph 1:19-23; Heb 2:5-15.
2. Jesus' Authority Includes Supreme Right and Infinite Power to Achieve His Purposes
Second, Jesus’ authority includes the supreme right and infinite power to achieve his purposes. So this is the kind of authority the Father gives his Son. We’re looking now at what it means for Jesus to possess what the text calls “all authority”—not just “authority” or “some authority” but “all authority.”
In Matthew’s Gospel, for Jesus to have authority means that he has the right and the power to do as he pleases. Look with me at Matt 8:5-9. “When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’” And then Jesus commends his faith and heals his servant. What’s the point? The point—and this is what makes the man’s faith so commendable—is that the man believes Jesus has the right to speak a healing word and the power to ensure the results. The man is confident that what Jesus says will be done, because he understands the nature of his authority.
Now, turn to Matt 9:2-7. “And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’ And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? [And here it is…] But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home.” Again, in this miracle we see two things coming together to help us understand Jesus’ authority. He has the right to speak as only God speaks and he has the power to actually do what only God can do—forgive sins.
So, Jesus’ authority is his right and power to do as he pleases; and then verse 18 says he has all authority. That is, he has the supreme right and the infinite power to achieve every one of his desired goals for heaven and earth. That means nobody can call the will of Jesus Christ into question, nobody can ever thwart his purposes. There could never be a coup great enough to overthrow his lordship. No rebel forces can stop his cause. No political party can overturn his leadership or jeopardize his governance of history. Even the opposition is under his authoritative will to put the world to rights and bring everything in the universe under God’s final rule. All of his purposes for heaven and for earth will be accomplished without fail. That’s why in the book of Revelation, it is Jesus—the Lion-like Lamb who has conquered through his cross and resurrection—he takes the scroll and he breaks the seals and he tells everybody what to do in bringing all God’s purposes to pass. There is no higher position for Jesus to gain and no greater power for Jesus to gain. He has all authority and that means supreme right and infinite power to change the world into what he wants it to be.
3. Jesus' Authority Encompasses the Entire Universe
Lastly, Jesus’ authority encompasses the entire universe. So, now we’re looking not merely at the fact that he has “all authority” but that he exercises “all authority in heaven and on earth.” That means he has authority over all heavenly creatures like the angels and the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures before the throne of God and the seraphim that fly above the throne of God. Daniel 7:10 says that a thousand thousands of heavenly hosts serve the Lord, and ten thousand times ten thousand stand before him. And these creatures are no joke. I was reading 2 Kings last week and in 19:35 it says the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 soldiers in the camp of the Assyrians. You talk about a heavenly creature with some power. And he commands armies of angelic hosts. Get this, one man tells them all what to do and his name is Jesus.
The Bible says that when God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, he put him “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:19-22). Hebrews 1:4 says that “[Jesus has] become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
Jesus also has authority over all the cosmic powers of darkness like the devil and all his demons. Jonathan preached to us a couple weeks ago from Col 2:15 that Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [the cross].” And Heb 2:14 says that “through death Jesus destroy[ed] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver[ed] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” This is why the Christian can take such confidence in spiritual warfare: Jesus is mightier than all the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Moreover, Jesus has all authority on earth. That means he has authority over earthly blessings and natural calamities. He controls the winds and the seas, the rains and the droughts, and the days and the years and the seasons. Jesus has authority over all health and riches and times of peace; and he has authority over all poverty, fevers, sickness, disease, pains, epilepsy, leprosy, hunger, blindness, speech impediments, and even death itself as proven most pointedly by his own resurrection. Even all earthly peoples and political nations and corrupt kings and governments are ultimately under Jesus’ authority, so that not a single decision is made apart from his perfect wisdom and sovereign permission. Jesus has the right of ownership of all nations since he not only created them and sustains them by his word of power, but because he also secured a people for himself from every nation by his own blood. Jesus owns all lands, buildings, and neighborhoods, and will one day prove his ownership of them when he splits the skies to establish his kingdom over the entire earth. And—get this—Jesus also has the authority to forgive sins and free people from their bondage to sin as they cast themselves upon him for mercy. The power of sin is no match for Jesus when he chooses to save them. He has all authority, not sin.
Five Ways Jesus' Authority Applies to the Great Commission
I could go on, but the point is clear: nothing escapes Jesus’ authority. His authority encompasses the universe and everything in it, including you and me, which must lead us to ask one more question, namely, “What does Jesus’ authority mean for us?”
Jesus' authority means that we should worship him
How could we not begin by simply acknowledging that Jesus’ absolute authority means he is worthy of all my worship and adoration. He is the only man in the universe worthy of praise, because he is the only man who is also God and who reigns as the God-man over everything. My allegiance can belong to no other institution, or organization, or human being—including myself—but my allegiance must belong wholly to Jesus Christ. I take my ques from him and bow myself to his voice when he speaks. In terms of the Great Commission, Jesus’ authority means that our labors in missions should stem first from a heart of worship for the risen Christ. In fact, that’s precisely what verse 17 says some of Jesus’ disciples did—“when they saw him they worshiped him.” And even if others doubted whether they should prostrate themselves before a man, Jesus clarifies for them that he is certainly worthy of their praise. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. So we should never view our task in the Great Commission as mere work—though it is that—but as our spiritual act of worship to the One crowned with glory and might.
Jesus' authority means he can forgive anybody he chooses
Another way Jesus’ authority plays out for us is that he has authority to forgive the sins of anybody who accepts the gospel we preach. With humility and tears and great boldness, we say to all peoples without distinction, “Your sins have separated you from God. But God sent his Son into the world to reconcile you to himself. His name is Jesus. He lived a perfect life for you, died to take away your sins, and rose again triumphantly over death. Now he’s seated in heaven, commanding all men to repent, believe, and submit to his lordship.” And every person that opens their mouth and calls upon the name of the Lord, Jesus declares them forgiven! If you acknowledge his name before men—casting yourself on him for mercy—Jesus will acknowledge your name before his Father in heaven. That’s true for every rebel in this room today—which is all of us—and it will be true for anybody in the world who embraces the message of salvation we bring to them. Jesus has the authority to forgive rebels to submit to him. He has authority to change the world and he has authority to change you.
Jesus' authority means the mission does not stand or fall on our own faithfulness
Something else: Jesus’ authority means that the Great Commission does not stand or fall on our own faithfulness. The Great Commission will not be completed apart from our faithfulness. He’s chosen to use his own blood-bought people to announce his salvation to the nations. But, the task does not ultimately rest on us, but upon him. Jesus is the Lord of the harvest; Jesus is the one who will build his church; Jesus will be the one to adding to our number day by day; Jesus will forgive us and will make up for all our faithless efforts and poor motives and half-hearted attempts in spreading the gospel; and, if we are truly his, Jesus will spur us on with his Spirit and gospel-word. Our purposes often fail; our plans fall through; our hands grow weak. That’s never the case with Jesus. He is always strong and his purposes always come through. He works his purposes from a heavenly reign and with an unstoppable authority, and that should give us great hope that the business of the Great Commission will never fail. Even our faithless deeds and false motives are taken into account as he accomplishes his purposes. The success of our mission is ultimately the Lord’s work—he uses us in the mission, but he carries the weight of the mission.
Jesus' authority means we have no reason to fear the nations
Jesus’ authority also means that we have no reason to fear in bringing the gospel into the lives of others we don’t know or into cultures we are uncomfortably less familiar with. I remember learning how to do some door-to-door evangelism in a largely Hispanic neighborhood with George Haas. George was teaching me, of course, because all I had at the time was enough courage to knock on the door and then slip behind George while we waited for someone to answer. I remember that one time a lady answered the door and George introduced us as “ambassadors who have come in the name of the King of kings!” I’ll never forget that moment. The Lord used the absolute authority of Jesus to strengthen my fight against the fear of men (What might they think of me?), and the fear of death (What might they do to me?), and the fear of circumstances (What’s going to happen next?). The Lord reminded me that day in a very pointed way that George was right: if I am an ambassador for the King of kings—if Jesus is for me—then who can be against me? I should not fear him who can only kill the body, but him who after the killing can cast both soul and body into hell. And besides, they can only do to me what he gives them permission to do anyway, and I can trust it will be for my good, the advance of the gospel, and the glory of God. So in that deliverance from fear, I am really freed to love, even when love will mean death.
Jesus' authority means we should pray more often
One more point of application to consider: if Jesus has this kind of authority, then how much more ought we to cry out to him to bring down the enemy’s strongholds in this city and in every city we enter to preach the gospel. Because we breathe the air of anti-supernaturalism, we often think that the work of the Great Commission is merely a intellectual endeavor. I go to people; I preach the gospel; they do or don’t understand it; and then I move on—never once considering the moral opposition of the human heart to Jesus or the cosmic warfare blinding the minds of the unbelieving. Yes, we should certainly shod our feet with the gospel of peace as we penetrate the darkness, but we should also pray by Jesus’ authority that the Holy Spirit would make spiritually dead people alive and help spiritually blinded people to see. Because Jesus reigns in heaven, even over all spiritual darkness, he is our ultimate confidence that anybody will turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. So pray that he will come with power and exalt his name in every place you live, work, and play.
There’s so much more to say about Jesus’ authority and how it plays out in the Christian life and our mission to the world. It’s no wonder one of Paul’s prayers for the church was to have “the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph 1:17-18). We’ll hear more of it in the weeks to come, but for now let me close with a similar prayer for us.