Date: Jun 7, 2020
Festival: Trinity Sunday
Text: Matthew 28:16-20
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Sermon Hymn: LSB #832 Jesus Shall Reign
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Here at the close of Matthew’s Gospel account, we also come to the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. After some 30-odd years living as a human being, Jesus begins His earthly ministry in Galilee as the light shining in the darkness [Matthew 4:16; Isaiah 9:1]. After three years of reigning in God’s kingdom by forgiving sinners, teaching His disciples, and illustrating His authority over creation by performing all kinds of miracles, Jesus obediently obeys His Father by dying in our place and being resurrected three days later.
After some time of more teaching and appearing to others, Jesus’ earthly ministry ends where it began: in Galilee. Yet His ministry is far from over: it is to continue in His disciples, and by extension the Church, whom He commissions to make more disciples in the waters of Baptism and teaching.
Doubt in the Text
Yet some of His disciples doubted. The first thing that comes to mind when we hear that someone “doubts” is that they’re doubting God’s existence or that Jesus is risen, but that is not what’s going on here. We know that when the Risen Jesus had first appeared to the disciples, they believed in Him, with some extra convincing on Thomas’ part. They still believe in this Risen Jesus as they approach this unspecified mountain in Galilee because, as the text says, they worshipped Him. If they doubted the Risen Jesus, they would not have worshipped Him. So, in what sense are they doubting?
They know Jesus will be leaving soon. We learnt this just before Ascension Sunday, that Jesus had told them He would be leaving soon with the promise of the Holy Spirit. Remember that Jesus’ words on His coming departure were troubling news for the disciples. I mean, put yourselves in their shoes: you spend three years with Jesus in His earthly ministry, you grieve for three days after the Messiah dies, then He rises from the dead(!); then after spending 40 days on earth after His resurrection He says He’s ascending to the Father in Heaven. At this point in our text today, they were not in doubt of who this Jesus is; they were in doubt of what lay ahead of them.
Perhaps the Eleven have their eyes on the troubling days that are to come. After all, not too long before this, Jesus told them the gates of Hell will not prevail against them and His Church [16:17-19]. The gates of Hell may not prevail against the Church, but still, a myriad of hostile forces, opposition, persecution, and coldness of heart will be coming out of those gates [24:12]. In other words, the gates of Hell are open, and they will not prevail against the Church, but the Church still has to face the darkness coming forth from the gates’ abyss. So, maybe they had doubts for the future.
This is why Jesus says what He says next. He gives them words of encouragement, purpose, and promise. He encourages them with a divine fact: the Father has given Jesus all authority on earth and in Heaven. Jesus is in control. With this authority, He gives them a purpose: make disciples of all nations—irrespective of age, gender, and race—by baptising and teaching peoples of all nations. And with that same authority, He gives them a promise: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Doubt in the World
Although this is a short text, there’s a lot I could talk about. Much emphasis is placed on what we call “the Great Commission,” but I won’t be talking much about that today. While a commission certainly takes place—and it’s a vital commission we all should take seriously—Jesus’ words here are primarily about Himself.
As I said, the disciples likely had doubts of what the future holds, and who of us cannot relate to this? I mean, where do I start? …How long will this pandemic last? Although significantly worse than the coronavirus, the bubonic plague lasted for 7 years and among the people of Eurasia, Africa, and Europe, it killed about 200 million people. Will the coronavirus threaten us for that long, or longer? As of the end of May, it’s already killed 360,000 people worldwide…
And how long will all this rioting and injustice against the Black community continue? When will things “get back to normal” so we can finally worship, work, go to school, and see our friends and family like we used to? The future seems doubtful.
In fact, even before this virus and its counterparts happened, the future already seemed doubtful—at least the future of the Church. We all know the Church is slowly “dying”—church attendance is decreasing and the youth are leaving the Church in masses. How long will the Church last before it dies completely? How long will God let all these uncertainties continue?
Jesus is in Control
It is true that Heaven and earth will pass away—which means sickness and injustice will also cease to be—but remember that the Word of the Lord will remain forever. Isaiah emphasises this [40:8], Jesus (who is the Word made flesh) echoes this prophecy just a little earlier in Matthew 24:35, and Peter repeats this same truth in his first epistle [1 Peter 1:22-25].
Because God’s Word is eternal, wherever it is preached will last forever—the Church will last forever even in times of persecution and decrease in attendance… In spite of these things, because the cornerstone is not man, but Christ, the eternal Word made flesh. Because God’s Word shall last forever, then all these doubts we have about the future are not merely doubts; they are lies. If Hell itself cannot destroy the Church, what can a mere virus or a time of unfaithfulness do against God’s remnant?
Because the Word lasts forever, Jesus’ words here are the answer to your lingering doubts. He says [moderately slow and emphasise}: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me… Therefore, go… and make disciples of all nations by baptising 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.”
Jesus has all authority over heaven and earth, and He still has this authority. Jesus is in complete control of everything. The reason why we doubt the future is because it doesn’t look like Jesus is in control. Why doesn’t it look like Jesus is in control to us? Because He’s not doing what we would do. Jesus isn’t ruling how we would rule. We would bring in an army to dispense justice immediately. While there will be a time when Jesus will descend with the army of His angelic hosts, right now He is instead reigning with mercy by relenting from His wrath.
So, because Jesus isn’t doing what we would do if we were given all authority over heaven and earth, we become doubtful of the future. With the lie that Jesus isn’t actually in control, we build upon that lie with more lies about the future, whatever they may be. We have no idea what the future holds, but we seem to be so certain that it will be nothing but our doom… Despite Jesus’ authority over the entire universe, we place more trust in this impending doom we’ve imagined than we do in the God who created the very fabric of the universe.
God’s Trinitarian Name
And who is this God? Well, what’s His name? As you might well know, God revealed His name to His Old Testament people as Yahweh who, in various places, is described as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” [Exodus 34:6; Psalm 86:5; 103:8; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:31; etc.] You might also know that Jesus’ name is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name, Yeshua (or Joshua), which means “Yahweh saves.”
Yet here, Jesus reveals to us more of God’s name: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three names, yet one singular name. Hence the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; not “names.” It’s an unsolvable mystery. And you have been baptised into this name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Remember that Jesus Himself was baptised, which is what shaped His humble ministry and His sacrificial Sonship with the Father, the Son whom God said He is well-pleased as the Spirit descended upon Him [3:13-17]. In that event, God’s name—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—began its work of salvation in the person and work of Jesus. This Jesus who has the name of God upon Him suffered death and was risen from the dead; and it is this Risen Jesus with the Triune name of God in whom you are baptised.
Like in Jesus’ Baptism, God’s Triune name has been placed upon you. Just as God the Father acknowledged Jesus as His Son with the Holy Spirit, so in Baptism God acknowledges you as His sons and daughters. This eternal God, whose Word remains forever, has placed His eternal name upon you. This means that for you, a child of God, there is no uncertain future. There is no reason to be doubtful of the future because you know what the future holds. It is the future that Jesus’ ascension points to—the way He ascended is the same way He will return to bring you into the future eternity of His Kingdom, the very future that has been promised as an inheritance in your Baptism.
The Trinitarian name of our God still reigns and controls the universe. It doesn’t look like He is because He’s not reigning like we would, and that is something to be thankful for!
When the Hebrews were in slavery for 400 years, it probably didn’t look to them like God was in control. And again, when Israel was in Babylonian captivity for 70 years, it probably didn’t look like God was in control either. But as we know from the Scriptures, God was in control. In each situation, and in many others, God worked out His salvation in His timing. He was doing His work of salvation the entire time.
Though it may not look like it now, this same God—the same Yahweh; the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is still in control. This pandemic and rioting may last for even more months, but truthfully we’ve been in the Great Tribulation since Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, the God who’s delivered His people from slavery, sickness, and injustice time and time again is the same God who has promised to deliver you from your great tribulations. This pandemic will end. Injustice will end. Tribulation will end. Salvation will come.
When will things “get back to normal?” What if I told you that things were never normal? If we were to rewind to a time back when there was no pandemic and racial injustice, things would still not be normal… because there would still be death, sin, and evil. The only thing that was ever “normal” was God’s perfect creation before we mucked it all up—when God looked upon what He had created and said it was good. Things have not been good for a long time. But the Good news is that there will be a new norm; it just doesn’t look like what you think it looks like.
So, when will things get back to normal? Ultimately, when Jesus returns. When He descends in glory to raise you from the dead. When? All in God’s perfect timing. That is the future that is bound to happen. Though it may seem like the future is uncertain, this is a lie… for your future—as God’s sons and daughters—is absolutely guaranteed. Your future is the Day of the Lord when He descends from the clouds to bring justice against all evil and bring you into the new norm of God’s kingdom.
Let us pray:
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who reigns forever and ever. Come, Lord Jesus. Deliver us from evil. Amen.