With Us Always
Let me tell you where we are going in this sermon series on the windows of our church sanctuary. This morning I will preach on the window which is technically the last in terms of the order of Christ’s life. Why am I skipping the one next to it? Because your pastor got confused. Give me a break. Back when I was planning these sermons I was thinking…well, I don’t know what I was thinking. So we will do that window this morning.
Next Sunday we will have a guest preacher, and then I will preach on the window with Christ at the table with the two disciples and we will share Communion. The final sermon will be on the big window here in the front. I am saving that for last.
Debbie Maughan and I agreed that the window with Matthew 28:20 is the strangest image. We would probably have come up with something else. There is barefoot Jesus coming down from the clouds. His eyes are kind of intense. He has a yellow circle around his head which if you notice is true of all the windows. A circle behind the head of saints in images is a symbol of spiritual character and light. It means that they have completed their earthly pilgrimage and are now complete in holiness. Of course, Jesus is not like any saint. He is the Son of God. He didn’t have to accomplish holiness, but there you have it. His garments are flowing and the rays of light coming down are the glory of God.
I think this image is supposed to pick up the very last words of Matthew 28:20 about the very end of the age. Jesus will come again at the end of the age. But that was not his point in his words in Matthew 28.
The final verses of Matthew 28 are often called The Great Commission because Jesus gives a commission to his disciples. It is a commission that Christians throughout the centuries have taken to heart ever since our Lord spoke these words.
“…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus says this after his has risen from the dead. He told the women who were the first witnesses to his being alive again to tell his disciples to go to Galilee where he would meet them. God in his providence made the women the first witnesses to the resurrection because the male disciples couldn’t handle it. Right?
Galilee is about an hour to hour and-a-half drive today from Jerusalem. So it is a distance from where the events of holy week took place. Galilee was the scene of much of Jesus’ ministry.
The disciples meet him there. The risen Lord did not meet them one by one. He met them together. Notice what it says, “When they saw him some worshipped him; but some doubted.” Worship and doubt.
They worship him. Only God is to be worshipped. We do not believe in two or three gods but one God. Jesus is God come in the flesh.
But can Christians believe and worship and doubt at the same time? Yes. We worship and wonder. We trust and yet we question, don’t we? And who wouldn’t have some big questions about someone they saw laid in a grave now living, breathing and speaking to them? On the one hand we hold onto to our faith in Christ, and on the other hand we sometimes doubt whether he is present.
Jesus doesn’t chastise them for their doubt. No, he gives his Great Commission to these worshipping and doubting disciples. He will use even them. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to have realized some higher level of faith. God will still use us. “Our Lord takes disciples as they come. He can handle the rest if we only worship him.”
Before commissioning them, Jesus tells them that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. Jesus has all authority. He has executive power of the universe. Now, I know, and here is where our doubt sometimes kicks in. It doesn’t always look like Jesus has authority. So often things look very hostile to Jesus. It seems the evil one has more authority.
Jesus does not mean the world is already as he intends it to be. Jesus means that he is working to take it from where it was – under the rule of death, evil and darkness – to where he rules with his life and love. He is doing it slowly, in his way and in his time, which is often hidden from us. He has executive power and will use it.
The shock is that he is doing through us, his followers, with all of our weakness, fragility and unbelief.
Many today mock the claim that Jesus is working in this world just as his resurrection is sometimes mocked. And the church has often gotten things really wrong, made mistakes, let the Lord down, and looked so un-Jesus-like that people, including those who want Jesus, separate from it. But the Great Commission hasn’t ended. Those first believers certainly lived it as they spread the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ. And we are given the responsibility to make Jesus’ authority real in the world as it is. When we pray “thy kingdom come” aren’t we seeking this?
I have to remember, as the line in that old hymn says, “that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Assuring these worshipping and doubting disciples that he has authority he tells them to “go”. That is where the Great Commission begins. They aren’t to stand there. They aren’t to go to their homes and live comfortable lives until retirement. They aren’t to just hang out and wait until his comes again. No, they are to go.
Go and make disciples. Not church-goers but disciples. Make people who follow and live for Jesus Christ. The word is actually a verb “to disciple.” Disciples are students and learners, not those who have arrived. And being a disciples takes time. When we are discipled we discover, learn, explore, figure out, fail, succeed, but pursue the life of Jesus.
The second part of this commission is that it is for all nations. Jesus has commissioned us to disciple all nations. God told Abraham back in Genesis that the blessing he was giving to Abraham was a blessing to be given to all the families of the earth. In Isaiah, God says that his Messiah will not just be a blessing to Israel but “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This takes us back to our John 3:16 window. God so loved the world. Jesus Christ – his grace, mercy, forgiveness, healing, Lordship – are for the world.
All nations, and one of those nations include the United States. Remember the gospel started in Jerusalem and Galilee, not here, and was taken to the world.
The 10/40 window is a section of the world that runs across northern Africa and southern Asia. In that window are 55 of the least evangelized countries. Millions have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ even once. This is also the poorest section of the world. In that window are most of the Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus of the world.
Mongolia is one of those countries. In 1989 it was reported that there were only four known Christians in that country. Now it is estimated there are over 10,000. People went and made disciples.
The United States has been a Christian-influenced nation and many missionaries have gone from here. But here’s a news flash: we don’t have to leave to find the nations anymore. The nations are here. Just a few years ago there were more non-English speaking churches in Salt Lake City than English-speaking churches and that still may be the case.
Here’s another news flash, the United States is one of those nations that needs Jesus. The Great Commission to go and make disciples is to be lived out fully right here. There are people to reach right here. Ultra-liberal and Trumpers, bikers, immigrants, country-folk, city-slickers, business-types, teenagers, Gen. Z, old and young, straight and gay, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists and the super-spiritual. The whole world is material for disciples for Jesus. The people in our neighborhoods and communities are loved by Jesus.
The Great Commission begins with “go and make disciples,” and then Jesus says to baptize. This is the third part of the commission. We baptize because it is the sign of becoming a follower of Jesus. We baptize because Jesus said to baptize. We baptize because Jesus was baptized. If you are a disciple then be baptized.
We baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” “In the name of” means “into the possession of.” Baptism places us in possession of God, who is a triune God. Notice it is in the “name” of, not “names” of. Again, we don’t have three different gods, but one God.
The fourth move in the Great Commission is when Jesus says to teach people to obey everything that he has commanded. A large part of Jesus ministry was teaching. And he gave commands, not the least of which is the great commandment to love one another as God has loved us.
We are not just to learn and know Jesus commands, but we are to obey them. We are to obey Jesus commands to love. We are to obey Jesus’ command to pray. We are to obey Jesus’ command to forgive. We are to know what Jesus said about marriage, money, people, about himself.
We obey the one who is risen and has all authority in heaven and on earth. Obedience isn’t just about what we don’t do but what we do. Some people think they are obedient if they don’t kill, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t swear, don’t hurt anyone. Those who would reduce following the Lord to what not to do, don’t understand obedience.
Jesus said very little about what not to do. He came and spoke and showed what to do, how to live the way God designed us and intends us to live.
Some people find “obey” to be too harsh of a word. It is too restrictive. It limits my freedom. Someone once said that the first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master. Obedience is knowing who your master is, because everybody serves and comes under the authority of someone or something.
Obedience strengthens faith. Albert Edward Day said, “Every obedience, however small (if any obedience is ever small) quickens our sensitivity to him and our capacity to understand him and so makes more real our sense of his presence.”
It is when Jesus tells those eleven disciples to go, make disciples of all nations, baptize, teach everything he has commanded that he gives the words that are inscribed on our window: “And surely I am with you always to the end of the age.”
Jesus was really talking about bringing him to the world and giving his disciples confidence that he is with them as that happens. It is a word of assurance. “I am with you and will always be with you as you do this.” The words really aren’t about his second coming.
Literally “always” means “all the days.” Jesus is with us all the days, every day. Not just most days or good days or days we feel spiritually strong, but all days Jesus is with us. And the assurance isn’t just to us as individuals, but he spoke it to a group of disciples. As we carry out his commission to disciple, baptize, and teach we have his supporting presence. Jesus is our greatest resource. He did not say he will, eventually be with us but he said he is already present there with us.
God is a God of presence. He doesn’t keep distance. He said he would be with Moses as he commissioned Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. He said he would be with Joshua as Joshua led the people into the promised land. In Psalm 139 David realizes the inescapable presence of God when he writes,
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
When certain people got ready to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem after the first one had been destroyed, the Lord sent the prophet Haggai to the leaders with one simple message for their mission: “I am with you.”
Through Isaiah the Lord tells his fearful people, “I am with you.” God doesn’t call his servants to carry out his ministry and then leave us alone. He backs us
Sometimes we wonder if the Lord is with us. Matthew Henry said, “The God of Israel, the Saviour, is sometimes a God that hideth himself, but never a God at a distance." No, he is never far from us.
Reaching others for Christ is full of challenges. I think Jesus knows this and certainly knew it on that mountain in Galilee when he commissioned his disciples. That is why he speaks a word of assurance to them. “Surely” is the word, surely he is with us until the end of the age: until the consummation of time, when history ends, until the end of the world.
Let’s keep going. Just keep going. The Christian always has a purpose: to promote and take part in the mission of Christ. We have a mission. Have been given something to do. A task. And he is with us.
Isn’t it amazing that our Lord entrusted this whole thing to a little band of eleven people to take his name, his message, and his life into all the world. I wouldn’t have bet any money on them. And yet, look at what has happened. Jesus’ name has spread throughout time and the world. But, of course, there is still more to do.
American Fork Presbyterian Church, like every other church, has been trying to live into this Great Commission for over a hundred years. Like any church sometimes we have done it well and sometimes not so well. It is always good to come back to Jesus’ words to refocus our ministry and remember what Jesus has called all of his disciples to do ever since he left this earth.
There are many things a church can do: worship, have dinners, tend to its building, host community groups, do Bible studies. But we must always be going, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching Jesus. And, however we do this, let’s take assurance that he is with us always right up until the very end.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, we thank you that you are always with us as we seek to carry out your ministry. Help us to take heart in that. And to confidently go forward showing you in our lives and in this church. Continue to guide and lead us. Amen.