One of the things my kids love to remind me about, pretty much every night of the week, is that different people have different tastes. They tell me this pretty much every night because it seems like every night we end up in this situation where the kids are not eating their dinner, especially their vegetables, and as I’m trying to convince them to eat, one of things that I end up saying, every time, is something like: “But it tastes so good!” — to which they reply, usually my oldest speaks up first, “But Dad we all have different tastes!”
And she’s right. We do. Which that has led me at times to come up with other incentives to get the kids to eat. And so one night a while back, same scenario at the dinner table, the kids were not eating, and I decided to mix things up a bit. So I told the kids, “Okay, whoever eats all of their green beans, after dinner, I will give you a body slam.”
Now my kids were excited about this, although they didn’t know what a body slam is — and in case you don’t know what a body slam is, it’s a wrestling move when one person picks up another person and then slams their body onto a wrestling mat. And, of course, we don’t have a wrestling mat at our house yet, but we have some couches, and after the kids scarfed down their green beans, they lined up in the living room to try out this body slam.
And I took them, lifted them up high, and then just dropped them on the couch, one by one, and they loved it. They would rather get body slammed now then have dessert. And so, on that night, we were doing this over and over again, and then there was this one time when it was Micah’s turn (he’s five) maybe his third time around — he’s light so I can lift him pretty high — I took him, lifted him up high, and just as I’m about to toss him I had this thought . . .
Everything to Do with Matthew 28
And you parents know what that is like. Sometimes, you know, when you’re spending time with your kids, you can have these “precious moments” — well, this was kind of like that when I was giving these body slams. And I had him right here, and that’s when I had the thought, and the thought has everything to do with Matthew 28, verses 16–20.
That’s the passage we’re looking at this morning, and I’m sure you’ve heard this passage preached before, but this morning, I want us to look at it “with fresh eyes.” I want us to look at this passage with a mindset that I think the Evangelist Matthew expects to have by the time we get to the end of his Gospel. There is a way of thinking about Jesus — a way of seeing Jesus — that we should have in Matthew 28. And I want us to get that.
And as far as this sermon goes, there are just three things we’re going to do: first, we’re going to get that mindset — I want us to see Jesus as we should; and then second and third, with that mindset we’re going to look closer verses 18 and 20 in this passage.
Let’s get started right away, first, with this mindset.
The Mindset of Matthew’s Gospel
Now when it comes to the Gospel of Matthew, the main thing that Matthew wants us to know is that Jesus is God. He wants us to know that Jesus is not just a prophet; he’s not just a teacher; he’s just the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, but Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is God.
And we can see this right away in how his Gospel starts. In Matthew Chapter 1, verse 23, we read that Jesus is called Emmanuel — which means, “God with us.” Which is a big deal! Right from the start Matthew says that Jesus is God and that he is God with us. That’s right out of the gate here, and so we should just have that mindset. We’re supposed to see Jesus for who he is. And Matthew shows us who he is from the start, and then again and again throughout the rest of the book. I’ll just mention a couple examples.
Jesus receives worship
Take first, Chapter 14, when Jesus walks on the water. In 14:33, after the disciples see Jesus walk on the water, Matthew tells us: “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
And now what makes this so amazing is that Jesus receives their worship. The disciples worship Jesus, and Jesus receives their worship — which is really important because back in Matthew Chapter 4, when Satan tempted Jesus to worship him, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 and said, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
So Jesus knows that the Bible says you only worship YHWH, the true God. Jesus himself is saying in Chapter 4 that you only worship the Lord God. And then in Chapter 14 when the disciples worship Jesus, Jesus receives their worship. Which tells us something. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is God.
Jesus said amazing things.
There are more things like this. For example, think about the amazing things that Jesus claims about himself. In Matthew Chapter 12 Jesus says, about himself, “Something greater than the temple is here.” And that’s a big deal because the temple was the center of Jewish life. The temple represented the presence of God with his people. And here was Jesus, in Matthew 12, saying that he is superior to the temple. And he was just blowing people’s mind when he said stuff like that!
Another time was Matthew Chapter 24 when Jesus said, about himself, “My words will not pass away” (v. 35). So this is Jesus saying that his words will not pass away. But that’s a statement that only one other person has ever made, and that person is God himself, in the Old Testament, in places like Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” And Jesus is here saying that about his own words.
So here’s the thing in the Gospel of Matthew. There’s no doubt about it. Matthew is showing us that Jesus — this baby born in Bethlehem, this teacher that the winds and sea obey, this fulfillment of ancient prophecy — this man, Jesus, is God himself in human flesh.
That’s what Matthew is showing us, and that’s the mindset we should have when we come to the end here of Matthew 28.
We typically call Matthew 28:16–20 the Great Commission. And some of you know, I love the Great Commission. It’s our mission statement at Cities Church. I love that we don’t have to scratch our heads about what the church is supposed to do, but that Jesus tells us clear as day: Make disciples. I love that. I love that Jesus tells us what to do!
And at the same time, though, in light of what Matthew has been showing us about Jesus, I think the Great Commission is actually less about us and what we do, and more about Jesus and who he is. And reading it that way will give us fresh eyes. So I just want to show you two parts here, verses 18 and 20, the first and last things Jesus says.
Verse 18: Jesus Has All Authority
First, look at verse 18. — again, we’re coming to this passage with the mindset, with the understanding, that Jesus is truly God — and 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.
Let’s do something for just a minute. Right where you are, quietly to yourself, let’s just repeat that truth in our minds. Say this truth to yourself: All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus.
We can’t even come close to grasping what that means: All authority.
Now, Matthew, the Gospel writer, I think he tries to help us, though, because there’s an important connection we should make to Old Testament. It goes back to the book of Daniel, Chapter 7, verses 13–14 — which is one of the most epic passages in the entire Bible. In that passage Daniel describes this vision he’s had about how God’s people will triumph over their enemies at the end of time. The prophet Daniel wrote this in the 500s BC, and he says, in the vision, that sees one like a “son of man” who is given eternal dominion over everything. And this is how Daniel says it. This is Daniel 7:14:
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 a very important passage in the Old Testament because it’s talking about an eternal, kingly redeemer — and it has something very unique to say about him. This person, this son of man here in Daniel 7, will have all dominion.
And then Jesus, in Matthew 28, when he says he has all authority, he’s claiming that dominion for himself. I think Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is the Daniel 7 “son of man” — Jesus is the one with the glory and the kingdom that will last forever and be for all nations. Jesus is the one who has that kind of authority — all authority.
Everyone Will Answer to Jesus
And to have all authority means to be in control. Jesus has the right and the power to order this world. He’s in charge, and therefore, he is the one that every human being must stand before. And we need to feel this.
Jesus is not some guy in the system you have to talk to. He’s not a step in the process. But Jesus is the one who one day every human being must answer to. Every human being. ISIS will answer to Jesus. Every Muslim will answer to Jesus — and every Hindu, every Buddhist, every Sikh, every Atheist, every Jewish person, every Christian will answer to Jesus. Every president of this country will answer to Jesus. Every ruler and king, every dictator and tyrant, every bus driver and mailman, every CEO, CFO, CPA, GOAT — every individual on this planet will answer to Jesus, and that includes every individual in this room. We will all answer to Jesus.
That is what it means for him to have all authority! He has that kind of power — he is the king and the judge over all.
His Undeserving, Unstoppable Love
And, because Jesus has all authority, it also means he has the authority to love. He has the authority to love us with an undeserving, unstoppable kind of love. . . . .
His love for us is undeserving in that he freely loves us because of who he is, not because of what we’ve done. We’ve not had to convince Jesus to love us. He has all authority — which means nobody can twist his arm to make him do something he doesn’t want to do. We can’t make him owe us love. But he loves us because he loves us. Because he wants to. Jesus has the authority to do that. Jesus, with the Father and the Spirit, freely loves us because he can.
And that love is unstoppable. It’s a love that will never fail. It will never meet its limit. It will never run out of gas. Nothing outside of God can ever restrict its power. Because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth then it means there’s nothing in heaven or on earth that can stand in the way of his love. Nothing can separate us from it. Which is exactly what Paul tells us in Romans Chapter 8: I am sure, Paul says, 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 can separate us from the love of God in Christ — because Christ has all authority over all creation.
Romans 8 is an amazing passage, and it makes total sense to us because we know from Matthew 28 that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. Of course nothing in this world can separate us from the love of Jesus because Jesus is sovereign over everything in this world.
Verse 20: Jesus Is Always With Us
And because of that authority, Jesus tells us in verses 19–20:
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.
Now in these verses Jesus is telling us what to do, which is important. He says makes disciples, and we want to make disciples. That’s what we’re about. But remember, this passage is mainly about who Jesus is, not what we do. So then notice again the last thing Jesus tells us in verse 20. This is the last thing Jesus says about himself in this Gospel. He says, verse 20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Central Promise
Now this is not the first time in the Bible where see we something like this. In fact, God’s presence with his people is a central theme throughout all of Scripture. It’s actually at the heart of who God reveals himself to be. He is the God who is there, and he promises to be with his people. And Moses understood this. Back in the Old Testament, in Exodus 33, when God commanded Israel to leave Mount Sinai to go the Promised Land, Moses prays to God and 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? (verses 15–16)
See, that was God’s promise. God said he’d be with his people. And there’s another Old Testament passage that shows us this in a powerful way, and I want to show you. It’s back in Genesis 28. This is story when Jacob had this dream about a ladder. He had been on the road traveling, and he was camping out, and then when he went to sleep, and he dreamed about these steps reaching us to heaven and there were angels going up and down the steps, and then God himself is at the top and he speaks to Jacob and says, basically, I am going to make the same promise to you that I made with your granddaddy Abraham. This is 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.”
The Threefold Connection: Identity, Nations, Presence
This is an amazing promise, and there are three pieces to it.
- First, God declares his identity. He says who he is.
- Then he mentions the nations — he says that because of his promise, all nations/families on the earth will be blessed.
- Then third, he makes the statement: “Behold, I am with you.”
So these are the three parts in Genesis 28, and right away, we can see the connection to Matthew 28. Matthew 28 includes these same three parts:
- First, Jesus declares his identity. He has all authority in heaven and on earth.
- Then he mentions the nations — he tells us to make disciples of all nations.
- Then third, there’s that same statement again: “Behold, I am with you.”
And these last words in Matthew 28, verse 20 are almost identical to the Greek version of Genesis 28, verse 15. Which is why I think this last verse is one of the clearest places in the Gospel where Matthew shows us who Jesus is. God had promised to be with his people, and here, in this last verse, in the same way, Jesus promises to be with his people. Because Jesus is God.
Jesus can say the same thing 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’s the resounding message of this entire book: Jesus is God and he is with us.
And he really is. Jesus means what he says here. What Jesus says here is true — he is with us! And so the question for us becomes whether that matters. See, it goes like this: Does the fact that Jesus has all authority and will always be with us really make a difference in our lives?
Jesus Is Real
One of the things that we say at Cities all the time is that Jesus is real. Just like that. Straight and simple: Jesus is real. We just want to come awake to that fact — that Jesus is not just some historical figure; he’s not just a character on a page. But Jesus is absolutely real. He is a real person, and he’s alive. He is more alive right now than every single person in this room. Jesus is more real and more alive right now than the person sitting next to you. We want to remember that and be changed by that.
But the problem, see — I’m afraid — our problem as the church in America, is not that we don’t believe Jesus is real, but it’s that we’ve created a brand of Christianity where he doesn’t need to be.
See, there’s a temptation for all of us to always gravitate toward what we find most comfortable. And when it comes to Jesus, we can change a lot about our lives but still hold him out here, at a distance. We give him the necessary things, but not everything, and so we tend to make him just a worldview. Or we make him just a value-system. Or we make him just a good idea — because worldviews and value-systems and ideas can stay pretty comfortable.
But Jesus is none of those things. Jesus is a real person.
Being Who He Is
Okay, so I had him up in the air . . .
Back in the living that night. I had my little boy, Micah, up in the air. I’m holding him up high with my arms, and we’re all laughing and having a great time, and I’m just about to drop him on the couch for something like his third body slam, just as I push him up and I’m about to let go, I look at him and have this thought.
I look at him and I realize that right here, in this moment, I am more real to my son than gravity — my strength to hold him up, my love for him that means I’m not gonna let him fall — in this moment with my son, I am more real to him than gravity.
And I thought: Jesus, could I wrestle with you like this? . . . Are you this real to me?
I think that’s the question we’ve all got to ask.
Do we really understand the realness of Jesus? Is Jesus real to you?
And if he’s real to you, what is it in your life that you can only do because of who 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, over and over again, you have to stop and you have to say: Jesus, You said you’d be with me. You said that. Jesus, I need you to be who you are.
We need Jesus to be who he is. Our churches need Jesus to be who he is. We need him to have all authority in heaven and on earth, and we need him to always be with us. And he is.
And he reminds us that he is here at this Table.
At the Lord’s Table, Jesus doesn’t just repeat his promises to us, but he shows us why we can trust him. By his spiritual presence, Jesus reminds us that he died for us. The symbol here of his broken body and shed blood remind us that Jesus suffered the punishment we deserved for our sins. Jesus died in our place, and he was raised from the dead on the third day — and this means that he will do what he has said. We can trust him. And so for all of us who do, this morning we get to receive this meal with glad and grateful hearts.