The Courage for the Great Commission (Part 3)
Topic: Missions & Evangelism Passage: Matthew 28:18–28:20
Sermon from Matthew 28:18-20 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on September 15, 2013
Main Focus & Recap
Our only focus this morning is on the promise Jesus gives his disciples in verse 20, “behold, I am with you always.” That’s all we’re looking at today: Jesus promises his disciples, “I am with you always.” The first week of our global missions emphasis month we looked as the authority behind the Great Commission. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and reigning from heaven with universal authority: “All in heaven and on earth have been given to [Jesus],” it says in verse 18. That’s the authority behind the Great Commission.
Then last week we looked at the nature of the Great Commission. What is it exactly that we’re supposed to do in light of Jesus’ universal authority? And we say in verses 19-20 that our task as Christians is to make disciples of all nations. We go and we preach and we love and we give and we sacrifice and we teach until Christ is named among all the people groups of the world. But as one brother put it to me in an email last week, how do we ordinary Christians carry out such a lofty commission? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations!” Where in the world do we get the wherewithal to finish such a world-wide task, especially when the darkness is so thick and the rebellion is so great?
The answer is in the promise of verse 20: “Behold, I am with you always.” This promise—and everything bound up in this promise—is our courage for the Great Commission. That’s where I want to take us this morning, into the courage for the task of global missions. Let’s look at five truths regarding our courage for the Great Commission.
1. Our Courage Was Secured By the Passion of Christ
Number one, our courage was secured by the passion of Christ. Jesus says, “I am with you.” How is it that Jesus, who is no one less than God Almighty in the flesh—how is it that Jesus says, “I am with you,” a rag-tag bunch of weak and sinful disciples? Have you read about these guys in the Gospel of Matthew? Sure they follow Jesus wherever he goes, but how many times do we hear Jesus say things like, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (8:26), or “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (14:31), or “O you of little faith…Do you not perceive? Do you not remember [what I did]?” (16:18). Jesus also rebukes Peter for not understanding that the Christ must suffer first, and he does so with the words, “Get behind me Satan! You’re a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (16:23). And once we make it to Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, the disciples don’t stand at his side. The disciples “left [Jesus] and fled” (26:56). They forsake him and leave him alone. We even get an account of Peter lying about even knowing Jesus, in order to save his own skin (26:69-75).
And yet here in verse 20, Jesus says, “I am with you [Peter and the rest of the disciples who forsook him].” How is it that Jesus can just overlook his disciples’ sinfulness and their faithlessness and give them a promise as awesome as companionship with the Almighty God himself—the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth? The Bible says that sin against God and unbelief in the human heart separate people from God, to the degree that people can do nothing in their own power to mend that relationship. Isaiah 59:2 says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear…for your lips have spoken lies and your tongue mutters wickedness.” So, how is it that Jesus can just overlook his disciples’ sinfulness and say “I am with you”?
The answer is that he doesn’t overlook their sinfulness, but that he had just died for their sinfulness. When they were faithless and left him, Jesus remained faithful unto death, so that their faithlessness could be forgiven. You see, Jesus’ words, “I am with you,” recall the very language God uses with his covenant people throughout the Old Testament. For God to be with you was for God to be with you in a very special sense that differs from the way he is with the rest of the world. For God to be with you meant that he was present in your life in a very favorable sense that was far more personal and characterized by God’s own loyalty and companionship.
We get a feel for it in places like Isaiah 41:8-10: “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham,my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Or how about Isa 43:4-5? “Because you [Israel] are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.”
The only way that kind of covenant companionship with God is possible is if something happens to deal with the sin that separates you from God. And that’s why Jesus came and died—to deal with the sin that separates us from God and to secure for us God’s special, covenant presence forever. In fact, let me just point this out to you in a couple places in Matthew’s Gospel. Turn with me to 1:21-23: “‘[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” So Matthew begins his Gospel by saying that God is with us in the person of Jesus—and that the whole point of his coming is to save his people from their sins—and then Matthew’s Gospel ends with Jesus telling his disciples “I am with you,” which means something really important must have happened between his birth and resurrection in order for that to become a reality.
And we see that reality in Jesus’ passion—that is, Jesus’ journey to the cross and his sufferings on the cross. Turn with me now to Matt 26:27-28: “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant [remember that covenant presence we spoke of earlier—his companionship and loyalty to us], which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” He’s going to the cross and when he does, he dies for the forgiveness of sins—all your adultery, all your lustful thoughts, all your fist-shaking at God, all your lies, all your laziness at work, all your gossip, all your thankless attitudes, all your disobedience to your parents—forgiven through the death of Jesus. He can promise to be with sinful, faithless people like us, because by dying in our place he removed the very obstacle keeping us from fellowship with him, namely, our sins. He took away our sins to give us himself forever. That is how Jesus tells his disciples, “I am with you.” Every syllable in that promise is bought with precious blood.
And there is no greater relationship in all of heaven and earth that a personal relationship with the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus Christ. If you do not have a relationship with Jesus—if you are not trusting him and following him and learning to love what he loves and hate what he hates—then this promise does not belong to you. Your sins still separate you from God and you will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction in you refuse to become Jesus’ disciple. But if you believe that Jesus died for your sins, if you place all confidence in his death and resurrection life to forgive your sins and to bring you back to God, this promise if yours. God Almighty will be with you when you trust in the Son he sent to die for you—and that’s true for every person in this room. So that’s the first look at our courage. Our courage, which is bound up with Jesus being with us, was secured by the passion of Christ.
2. Our Courage Flows from the Power of Christ
Second, our courage flows from the power of Christ. Jesus says that no one less than “I am with you.” Who is “I” in the immediate context? Jesus of course. But as what kind of person does Jesus give this promise? Verse 18 reminds us that Jesus gives the promise to be with you as the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth. It is this Jesus who commits himself to you for the mission.
Just think about that for a moment. He has the supreme right and the infinite power to achieve all his purposes, and he’s promising a covenant relationship with you—if you’re his disciple. That means he has the supreme right in heaven and earth to make such a promise to you and the infinite power to ensure that promise to you never fails. None of us can make that kind of promise.
How many promises do you make to your children or to your employees or to your wife that end up getting scrambled or delayed by unforeseen circumstances? That never happens with Jesus’ promises. Even despite all appearances to be otherwise—like grey mornings that leave you wondering where he is, or trials that leave you wondering whether he’s really in control, or painful events spread across the news that test your trust in God’s wisdom—even despite all appearances to be otherwise, Jesus’ promise to be with us can never fail.
Satan did not have the power to distract Jesus from rescuing us and bringing us to himself (Matt 4:1-11). Your sin did not have the power to stop him in his commitment to you, as evidenced by his journey to the cross. Having to endure God’s wrath didn’t stop him from becoming a curse and suffering unto death in your place (Luk 22:39-46). Not even death had the power to hold Jesus in the grave (Acts 2:24) nor will death have the power to hold you in the grave on the last day either (1 Cor 15); Jesus conquered death once and for all to be with you. Moreover, Jesus has the ability to act in every situation of our lives with perfect wisdom and infallible execution, such that nobody or anything in heaven or on earth can sever his union with you or compromise his devotion to you (Rom 8:31-39). On top of that, the fact that he’s God means he never lies and he never forgets about his promise to you.
That means as we go out on mission for Christ, we can truly say with Paul in Rom 8:35-39, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” We’re not more than conquerors because of our devotion to Christ, but because of his devotion to us. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [which is Paul’s way of saying, you fill in the blank—chronic illness, oppressive bosses, financial insecurity, loss of a wife and son when you get on the mission field], will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s what it means when Jesus makes a promise to be with you. His promise gives us courage for the mission because it flows from the power of the risen Christ himself.
3. Our Courage Enjoys the Presence of Christ.
Third, our courage enjoys the presence of Christ. Jesus says, “I am with you always.” Not “I will be with you sometime in the future when I return.” Not “I will be with you every now and then along the way, popping in from time to time.” Not “I am with you over here with this people group in American but not when you go over there to that one.” He says, “I am with you always.”
There’s an expression here in the Greek that’s translated in most of your Bibles with the word “always.” The idea is that he is with us “the whole of every day, even to the end of the age.” The same idea is behind God’s promise to Noah never to flood the earth again. In Gen 8:22, God promises that “all the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” The whole of every day will be characterized by God’s faithfulness to the earth and its seasons, its days and its nights. The same idea is also behind a famous psalm that is likely very dear to many of us, Psalm 23. In verse 6 of Ps 23, David says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That’s what Jesus means here when he says, “I am with you always.”
Some of you might be saying, “Okay, but how is that promise really possible if Jesus is in heaven and I’m down here on earth?” The answer the Bible gives us is that Jesus is present with us through the Holy Spirit who dwells within and empowers Jesus’ disciples. One day, we will enjoy Jesus’ presence fully in the New Jerusalem—when the glory of God lights up the city and its lamp is the Lamb and the saints shine like the sun. One day we will enjoy Jesus’ presence like that, but now we enjoy his presence through the Holy Spirit.
I’ll just take you to one place, John 14:15-20. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” That is, the Spirit will be in you. Now verse 20: “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” That is, Christ in you. And if you ask Jesus which one it is—the Spirit in you or Christ in you—the answer is “Yes!” Jesus is present with his disciples through the mediating work of the Holy Spirit. That’s how he is with us in the mission.
So that means the Great Commission can never amount to Jesus saying, “Just do the best you can on your own!” Jesus’ command to make disciples is not like that of a boss who gives us an assignment and just walks away, leaving us to our own savvy abilities to figure out what needs to happen. Jesus gives us the assignment and then never leaves us throughout the mission. He remains our companion and our help and our strength throughout the work, even when the work is very trying. I mentioned the biography of John Paton last week. I thought it would be good to give you an example of Christ’s faithfulness to this very promise in John Paton’s life.
Paton was a minister from Scotland. He served for several years teaching in Glasgow before answering the Lord’s call at age 33 to take the gospel to the people that lived on a stretch of islands called the New Hebrides. The natives to these islands were cannibals. Now only would they occasionally eat the flesh of their defeated foes, but they also practiced infanticide and widow sacrifice to propitiate this or that evil spirit. So, with that sinking in to your head, get this.
One night, a few of these natives came to his hut with war paint on their faces and giant clubs in their hands, demanding that he give them medicine for a measles epidemic. And after a brief exchange, it became clear they wanted to take more than Paton’s medicine; they also wanted to take his life. The only thing that had stopped them was that when they went to attack Paton, Paton’s dogs pounced on them and chased them into the forest. Paton then says this:
After the danger was all past, I had always a strange feeling of fear, more perhaps from the through that I had been on the verge of Eternity and so near the great White Throne than from any slavish fear. During the crisis, I felt generally calm, and firm of soul, standing erect and with my whole weight on the promise, ‘Lo! I am with you always.’ Precious promise! How often I adore Jesus for it, and rejoice in it (Paton, 154).
On another occasion, Paton had to hide himself up in a tree alone while an angry mob of these same folks sought his life on the ground. And this is what he says about that night:
I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the savages. Yet I sat there among the branches as safe in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among these chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone!...I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship” (Paton, 200).
That’s Matt 28:20 on the ground! Our courage for the mission enjoys the presence of Christ. He is with us the whole of every day, never missing from any circumstance we undergo.
4. Our Courage Trusts the Provision of Christ
If Jesus has all authority not only in heaven, but also on the earth, then he has the ability to give us everything we need to complete the mission. Jesus’ promise is necessary for the mission not just because we need the encouraging reassurance of his presence—as crucial as that is—but also because we need his ongoing help and provision.
Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been trying to teach his disciples this very thing, to trust him to supply them with whatever they need as they spread the gospel of the kingdom. The disciples need understanding about living as kingdom citizens, and Jesus is present to teach them (Matt 5-7). The disciples need more laborers to join them for the harvest, and Jesus is present to send them out (Matt 9:38). The disciples need words to speak when they suffer persecution, and Jesus is present by his Spirit to give them exactly what they need to say (Matt 10:19). The disciples will face great fears in making disciples, and Jesus promises to give them courage with his Father’s sovereign care (Matt 10:29). The disciples will lose brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers and lands for the sake of following Jesus, but Jesus will give them a hundred fold and eternal life to go with it (Matt 19:29). Most of all, the greatest need, the disciples need their sins forgiven and Jesus even lays down his life for the forgiveness of their sins (Matt 26:28). At every turn, Jesus teaches them to depend on his provision, and not just his provision for themselves, but also his provision for all nations.
That means we can never let the needs of the Great Commission swallow up our passion to invest in the Great Commission. Do you ever deal with paralyzing fears related to Christ’s provision when it comes to evangelism and discipleship? Here’s why I think some of us struggle with investing in the lives of other people, especially people whom we perceive have much greater spiritual and social and material needs than us. We often do one of two things. Either we look at the vast amount of immediate needs they have and say, “There’s no way I can be involved here.” Or, we try to imagine how much time and energy and resources someone’s going to suck out of us in the discipleship process that we end up saying, “There’s no way I could do this. Look at all it would involve and the money it would take. I’m out.” Both of these are a failure to remember Jesus’ promise in verse 20 and are insulting to Jesus’ ability to provide for the mission at every turn, no matter how great the needs are in your mind. Who do you think he is in those moments of doubt? His authority hasn’t changed. His ability to provide remains infinite.
We are making disciples of all people groups of the world. Do you know how much that costs? Do you know how many language barriers the gospel has to cross? How do you teach biblical manhood and womanhood to a tribe that kills widows to propitiate their false gods? Where do you begin when the man in Mali with seven wives repents and trusts Jesus for salvation? How do you teach on justification by faith in a culture that has no concept of justice? How many years are you willing to spend discipling the nineteen year old girl, who has no home, no family, no money, no job, but only the desire to follow Jesus since you told her about him? The needs of the Great Commission task are incalculable, but are no problem for Jesus Christ. We can take courage that he who is with us in the mission will provide for the mission.
5. Our Courage Serves the Proclamation of Christ
Jesus’ promise is for disciples who make disciples; it’s for those who follow him in giving their lives to see the nations glad in God. We cannot receive the promise of verse 20 apart from the command of verse 19 or apart from the authority of verse 18. They all hang together; and that means that Jesus’ promise to be with us is not so that we experience his presence apart from the mission—as if to check our for things more comfortable in this world—but so that we experience his presence in the mission, a mission that often times leads to great hardships, suffering, and even persecution. Let me take you to just one more passage in 2 Tim 4:15-17, because I think we get a very tangible picture of what Jesus means by his promise and how that promise is in service of our courage to proclaim the gospel at all costs to our own lives.
Second Timothy 4:5-17: As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…[verse 14] Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!
So to this point we’ve seen suffering, being poured out as a drink offering, fighting the good fight, desertion from friends, great harm, opposition to the gospel, and more desertion. How does Paul endure all of that in the mission? Where is he getting his courage? Verse 17, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.” That’s where his courage comes from. It comes from the Lord who promised to be with his disciples always! And what did Jesus’ comforting presence lead to for Paul? Verse 17 again: “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” There it is. In the midst of the mission, Christ’s encouraging presence serves the proclamation of Christ to the nations.
Brothers and sisters, the presence of almighty Jesus is our courage for the mission. He dies for our courage; he rose again to give us courage; he sent the Spirit to make his encouraging presence known to us; he means to provide more courage wherever we go; and his courage should free us to open our mouths in whatever circumstances we’re in to proclaim his grace to others—whether that’s in a tree among an angry mob or at a park off Las Vegas Trail. Jesus is with you in your prayers at night. Jesus is with you when you rise in the morning. Jesus is with you as you care for and disciple your children. Jesus is with you when you do your work as unto the Lord and not to please man. Jesus is with you as you tell your co-workers about Jesus. Jesus is with you when you spend years building a platform for ministry efforts in an unreached land and a flood wipes it out overnight. Jesus is with you as you consider the costs of moving your family to Central Asia. Jesus is with you as you and your wife consider creative ways to show hospitality to the neighbors around you. Jesus is with you as you encounter various physical weaknesses that may call for sustained medical attention. At all times Jesus is with us, that we might bear witness to his excellence and his grace, that on the last day he might receive the praise from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. May he do his work in us all.
More in The Great Commission
September 22, 2013The Completion of the Great Commission (Part 4)
September 8, 2013The Nature of the Great Commission (Part 2)
September 1, 2013The Authority Behind the Great Commission (Part 1)