So my family is at the dinner table: mom and the baby are here; my seven-year-old is here; my five- and four-year-olds are here, and the kids are not eating their veggies. Parents, you know how this go. It’s one of the most classic scenes in modern American life. And well, I needed to mix things up. So as a way to incentivize the three older kids to eat their vegtables, I said: “Okay, whoever eats all of their green beans, after dinner, I will give you a body slam.”
Now, my kids don’t know what a body slam is, which is why they were excited about this offer. And in case you don’t know, a body slam is a wrestling move when one individual lifts another individual and then proceeds slam their body onto the wrestling mat. Well, we don’t have a wrestling mat, but we have a couch, which works great. And so within five minutes, after the kids finished their green beans, I had them line up in the living room to each get their turn. [And come to find out, they love body slams. Sometimes now, during dinner, they ask if they can get body slammed instead of have dessert.]
So there we were that night doing the body slams. Please don’t try this at home. The kids are in line. One steps up. I can actually lift them over my head they’re so light, and then I discard them on the couch. And then, Micah, the four-year-old, the lightest of the bunch, who I can throw the highest, steps up for maybe his fifth turn, and I take him, and lift, and I’m about to throw him, and that’s when it happened.
Some of you, parents especially, might know where I’m going here, but trust me, it has everything to do with Matthew 28:18–20.
This is our text tonight and this morning, and it’s a passage that you’ve probably heard preached several times before. But this time, as we look at it, I want us do so with something really important in our minds about the Gospel of Matthew as a whole.
Gospel of Matthew Intro
Okay, so one thing to nail down about the Gospel of Matthew is that he is writing to show us that Jesus is God. And he wants to be super clear about it. He’s not trying to leave any questions. We see this, actually, in how the book begins. He tells us in Matthew 1:21, that Jesus is Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.”
From the start, we see that Jesus is God and he is with us here and now.
There are other high points in the book as well.
There’s chapter 14, when Jesus walks on the water, and the disciples respond in v. 33, “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” And that’s really big deal that they worship Jesus and he receives it, because back in chapter 4, when Satan was tempting Jesus, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
So Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, says you only worship YHWH. You only worship the Lord God. And then a few chapters later, in chapter 14, the disciples worship him, and he’s good with that — and this is not to mention seven other scenes in this Gospel where people come to Jesus in the posture of worship.
And then, of course, there’s the things that Jesus claims for himself like when he says, in Matthew 12:6, “Something greater than the temple is here” — which means that he himself is superior to the presence of God represented at the center of Jewish life. And then in Matthew 24:35 Jesus says, “My words will not pass away” — which is a statement that’s only been made about one other person and that is God himself in places like Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Jesus is saying stuff like that about himself.
Make no bones about it, Jesus is God, and Matthew wants us to know that. He wants us to know that Jesus is God and that he came here.
The Great “Commission”
And so we have this in mind when we look at Matthew 28:18–20, what we call the “Great Commission.” I love the Great Commission. I love Jesus telling us what to do. I love the clarity this brings for the mission of the church. In fact, at Cities Church, our mission statement is pretty much verbatim vv. 18–20. We want to make disciples! That’s what we’re supposed to do. So I love this passage.
But, knowing what Matthew is all about in his Gospel makes us realize that the Great Commission just might be less about what we do, and more about who Jesus is.
I think it is precisely that, actually. The main point here in these verses is the identity of Jesus. Matthew holds him up for us, down to the last drop, even to the last line, to say: This is who he is.
And as your preacher now, I wanna do the same thing.
Who Jesus Is
We just need to look at the first and last thing Jesus says here.
So let’s look first at verse 18. “And Jesus came and said to them . . .”
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus.
Could you do something for me, for just a second? Could you just repeat that quietly to yourself? Just say that in your mind: All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus.
Now this is a hefty claim, especially in light of the Book of Daniel, chapter 7, verses 13–14. There, in the Old Testament, in Daniel 7, we find this epic passage where Daniel describes for us a vision he had about the end time-triumph of God’s people. And in his vision, back in the 500s BC, he sees one like a “son of man” who is given dominion over everything. So verse 14 of Daniel’s vision. This is how he puts it . . .
“And to [the son of man] 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, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
This became one the most important passages in the Old Testament because of what it says about an eternal royal redeemer. It’s an amazing thing to say about someone — to have that kind of dominion, and here in Matthew 28, Jesus is claiming that for himself. He’s the Daniel 7 “son of man” — he is the one with the glory and with a kingdom, and he’s taking it to the nations. He has that kind of authority. In fact, he says he has all authority.
All authority means to have all control. It includes both the right and the power to call the shots — and Jesus says he occupies this role over the universe, in heaven and on earth.
Because Jesus has all authority, he is the one that every created thing answers to. Which means, he’s not just a guy in the system you have to talk to. He’s not just a hoop you have to jump through in the process. He is the one that one day every created thing must stand before. ISIS will answer to him. Kim Jong-un will answer to him. President Obama will answer to him. Everyone in this room, we will answer to him.
This is the incomparable power of Jesus. He is that great. His authority means this, — that he has the power to rule and judge, but it also means more. Having all authority also means that he has the authority to love. He is great and he is good, and an all-authority kind of goodness means that his love is both free and unstoppable.
The goodness of Jesus is free in that he loves us because he loves us. Nothing outside of him has forced him to do something he did not want to do. His love for us is a trinitarian prerogative, as Ephesians 2:4 tells us, the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. God in Christ freely set his love on his people not because we were more in number than any other people — not because of our righteousness or the uprightness of our hearts — but he set his love on us because he loves us and keeps his promises (which is how God puts it in Deuteronomy 7:7–8; 9:5). So Jesus loves us because he can, because he wants to — because he has that kind of authority.
And we have to see this in the face of Jesus. His love for us is not reluctant. His arm has not been twisted. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, and he does it because he wants to, not because I earned it, not because I’m great, but because he has all authority in heaven and on earth, because his goodness is free. Now I’m not a song writer, but let’s get that in there. So having all authority means that Jesus’s love is free — nothing outside of him can create it. Having all authority also means his love is unstoppable — nothing outside of him can restrict it. We know this, right? Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, which means there’s nothing in heaven or on earth that can stand in the way of his grace. You can’t veto his love for us. You can’t hold it back. In fact, you can’t even separate us from it. Remember? No angel, nor ruler, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ — because he has all authority over all creation. We have to be careful here, but there is a sense that when we read the end of Romans 8 that we’re both blown away by it, and we say, “Of course, Jesus said he has all authority.”
And having all authority in heaven and on earth, because of that authority, Jesus tell us, in verse 19, to
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.
There’s that second verse we should look at, the end part of verse 20. Remember, if this book and this commission is more about who Jesus is than what we’re supposed to do, what do we make of this statement? “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” he tells us.
You should know, and you do, that this is not the first place in the Bible where something like this is promised. In fact, God’s promise to be with his people is a central theme in all of the Bible. We can’t get into all of this now, but this is actually at the heart of how God reveals who he is. He is the God who is there, who promises to be with his people. You’ll remember how Moses puts it in Exodus 33, when God commanded the people of Israel to leave Mount Sinai for the promised land. Moses, speaking to God, says,
“If your presence will not with with me, do not bring us up from here. . . . Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (vv. 15–16)
That was God’s promise, to be with his people, and we see this very clearly in another Old Testament passage, back in Genesis 28, when Jacob has his dream of the ladder. This is kind of famous story. So Jacob had been on the road, and he’s camping out, and he goes to sleep, and then he dreams of these steps reaching us to heaven and there are angels going up and down, and then God himself is at the top and he speaks to Jacob to say, basically, the promise I made to your granddaddy Abraham I’m continuing to you. This is how he says it in Genesis 28:13–15.
And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.
Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
There are three pieces here to this promise. There is first a declaration of identity — God says who he is. Then there’s a mention of the nations — all the families of the earth are blessed. And then lastly, there is the statement: “Behold, I am with you.”
And right away, we’re starting to make the connection to Matthew 28. Because in Matthew 28, in the Great Commission, we see these three pieces again. There’s first a declaration of identity — Jesus has all authority; he’s the Daniel 7 “son of man.” Then there’s the mention of the nations — we’re to make disciples of all nations. And then lastly, there is the statement again: “Behold, I am with you.”
These last words in Matthew 28:20 are almost identical to the Greek version of Genesis 28:15. And here, I think, is one of the clearest places in the Gospel where Matthew shows us who Jesus is. God promised to be with his people, and here, in this last line, in the same way, Jesus promises to be with his people. Because Jesus is God.
Jesus can say the same things that the God of Israel has said because Jesus is the God of Israel. And that means he is the God with us. The Gospel of Matthew starts with Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us. And Gospel ends the same way, Jesus is God, and he is with us. That is the resounding message of this book: Jesus is God and he is with us.
And he really is. Jesus means it. It’s true. And so the question for us is whether that matters. Does the fact that Jesus has all authority and that he promises to be with us really make a difference in our lives?
Does It Matter?
One of the things that we say at Cities Church over and over again is that Jesus is real. We just want to come awake to that fact, simple as it is. That he’s real. That he’s not some historical figure like all the rest. He’s not just some character on a page. But Jesus is a real person. He really is. And he’s alive right now. More real than all of us in this room. More real than the person sitting next to you. Jesus is real.
But the problem, our problem, I’m beginning to see, as the church in America, is not that we don’t believe Jesus is real, it’s that we’ve created a brand of Christianity where he doesn’t need to be.
Again, this is the church in America at large. But we’ve created this thing where we just drive into a certain place for an hour, one day a week, with a group of people, worship together, leave, come back the next week, do the same thing, repeat for a few decades, and then we die.
And maybe we throw a small group in there, and a few big, key decisions, and we get some good theology, we call that “Christian maturity.” But the thing is, decent ideas cause people to do stuff like that all the time. Seriously. This is the age of the startups, of innovation — new businesses are popping up everywhere. A good idea can take you a long ways and get you a big following. Peter Thiel, in his book Zero to One, says that startups and their ideas are actually what is building our future. And people are making seismic changes in their lives to be a part of things like this, which is fine — and it just reminds us that there already is a crowded market of ideas that change the way people live. And the temptation for us is that is that we can make some changes in our lives and do some good, but still hold Jesus out here. Make him just a worldview, or a value-system, or an idea.
But Jesus is not an idea.
So I had him — my four-year-old — I’m holding him up with my arms, ready for this body slam. This is about the fifth time through, so I’ve had plenty of practice. I’m just getting ready to throw him again. We’re all laughing and having a great time. And just as I’m about to push him up and let go, I look at him, and I realize that right here, in this moment, I am more real to my son than gravity — the power of my arms to hold him up, my love for him that means I’m not gonna let him fall — in that moment, to my son, I am more real than gravity.
And I wondered: Jesus, could I wrestle with you like this? . . . Are you this real to me?
I think that’s the question we all should ask, and it’s the question I’m leaving with you.
Is he real to you? — is Jesus more real to you than the security of your job; is Jesus more real to you than the coziness of your comforts; is Jesus more real to you than the threat of your fears. Is he real to you? — and then what is it in your life that you can only do because he is?
What is it in your life that demands Jesus be who he says he is? What steps of faith might he be calling you to that means, every now and then, you have to stop and say, Jesus, you said… You said you’d be with me. You said it.
We’ve seen who Jesus is. We’ve seen he has all authority in heaven and on earth and he promises to be with us always. He is God and he is with us. He reigns right now at the Father’s right hand, and he has sent his Spirit to fill us and to be for us his abiding presence — so much so that we can say what Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:17, that “the Lord [Jesus] stood by me.”
He will. Jesus will stand by you. Because he’s real. Because he has all authority in heaven and on earth. And because he said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”