…And Ascended Into Heaven (Matthew 28:11-20)
Christ has defeated death and now sends His disciples to conquer the world
11 Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. 12 When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
We have come to the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel presents Jesus as the people of Israel, He relived their history, and where Israel continually and repeatedly rebelled against her God, Jesus was obedient and faithful and righteous. Jesus experienced the testing in the wilderness that Israel failed, He gave the law with authority on a new Sinai in the sermon on the mount, He spoke in kingly riddles like Solomon when the people would not hear and obey, and He went right into Jerusalem and into the temple and rebuked the people and leaders of Israel, preaching and chastising them like the prophet Jeremiah. This obedience cost Him. Just as Israel was exiled from the land for her disobedience, Christ was exiled from life; but in His return from exile, rather than going back to rebuild the ruins of a destroyed Israel, this Israel instead inherits the earth and He sends His disciples to go forth and conquer.
Paying for a Hoax (v. 11-15)
In the passage right before this, an angel came down and rolled the stone away which was witnessed by the guards and by the two Marys. The two Marys went back to report this to the disciples and encountered the risen Jesus. Now, the other group, the guards goes back to their masters, the chief priests to tell them what happened. Just stop for one moment and think about what happened here. An angel with an appearance like lightning comes down, there is an earthquake, and the angel rolls the stone away and tells them Jesus has risen, and these soldiers go and report this to the chief priests. The chief priests do not argue with them “are you sure that’s what happened? It wasn’t a hallucination?” No, what does Matthew imply here? That the chief priests believed them. They believed Jesus rose from the dead. But that did not matter to them. They hated Jesus so much, that rather than repent and follow Him upon hearing of Christ’s vindication in rising from the dead, these men do what? They pay the guards to lie about it. Think about that. Upon hearing about Jesus’ resurrection they believe the story, but pay the guys who saw it off.
Like so many of the stories in the gospels that deal with human capacity to believe whatever you want despite the evidence, this one rings as true as any. How many times you see things like this in Matthew’s Gospel and think “Yes, this is exactly what people are like!’ And this here in particular is precisely what people are like. Confronted with the reality that Jesus really is who He says He is, the chief priests and elders who despised Him and murdered Him could admit they were wrong. But if they did that, they might lose their status and position; they might lose everything they cared about most. The irony here is that they are going to lose this no matter what. Jesus said blasphemy against the Son would be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit would not be forgiven. They had blasphemed the Son. In a few short weeks at Pentecost, many of their number would repent and be saved. Shortly thereafter a Pharisee just as bloodthirsty as them would encounter Jesus and believe. But the Chief Priests and elders of Israel would continue to blaspheme the Spirit for forty years until Jesus sent the Romans to destroy them. The thing they would not give up, the thing that Jesus threatened—their position as the leaders of Israel—He would ultimately take from them in the end.
The Mission (v. 16-20)
Contrasted with the first group, the soldiers and the evil Chief Priests and elders of an Israel of pruned branches ready to be burned, we have the disciples and Jesus Himself, the living olive tree and its branches, to borrow the analogy from Paul in Romans 11. The disciples go to Galilee just as the angel and then Jesus had instructed the women to tell them. When Jesus appeared the disciples, they begin to worship Him, just as the women had done, prostrating themselves at His feet. But Matthew tells us some doubted. Compare with the chief priests. Not one of the Chief Priests (apparently) doubted the account of the soldiers guarding the tomb. “Yep, Jesus rose from the dead (and we hate it!).” This wasn’t a problem for them to believe. It was a political problem for them they had to cover up, but not something that rocked their world because they did not want to believe it. The whole point of Jesus’ ministry is that Israel should have believed Him well before He rose from the dead. That was the point of all the miraculous signs, not to show off cool powers, but to confirm that this person is from God and you need to listen to Him. If they refused to believe Him then, and instead wanted Him dead, rising from the dead doesn’t change that. They believed the fact of the resurrection, but not the meaning. But for the disciples, it is the other way around, at least some of them. They understood what Jesus rising from the dead means which is why they had some doubts even though they could see Him in front of them with their own eyes. This is the other end of the spectrum of how people believe (or not)—this is way too good to be true, therefore I cannot believe it. But John’s Gospel shows us that, while it is nowhere near what the cynicism and wickedness of the Chief Priests is like, this is not good either. “Blessed are those who have believed without seeing.”
Jesus speaks on the mountain one final time. And notice the word that gets repeated again and again here: all. All authority has been given to me. All the nations should be discipled. Teach those nations to do all the things I have commanded you. Jesus’ authority is not limited. Most Christians in our country today believe that Satan has all authority over the earth. But that is not what Jesus says here. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. He doesn’t share that authority between Himself and the devil. 100% of it is His. Satan offered this authority to Him during Jesus’s temptation. And at that time, I don’t think he was bluffing. It was a real offer, forgo the cross and you can have what you want. Instead, Jesus fought him and won it. He bound the strong man and plundered his goods. Now authority over the nations belongs to the God-man, Jesus Christ.
And because of this authority, under this authority, He sends out His apostles to all the nations. He doesn’t just send them to some of the nations. He doesn’t send them to nice, friendly nations. He sends them to all the nations of the world. At some level, we get this. We send missionaries out and support them in foreign lands. But rarely do we think about “what happens if these missionaries are successful?” Our missionary efforts seem to be “we’ll pull a couple of people out before the world gets nuked” rather than “our goal is to make China, North Korea, Russia, Zambia, Colombia, Australia, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, etc. a Christian nation.” That is what Jesus is telling us to do with this statement. So often it is wrongly translated as “make disciples in all the nations.” That is simply not what the verse says. The word “ethne” (nations) is the direct object. The verb is “disciple.” It literally says make the entire nation a disciple. It may seem pedantic to break into Greek grammar like this, but this verse is incredibly important to understanding the mission of the church, and you can tell how important it is, because the American church has largely completely misunderstood it and we can see the results. So much of our evangelistic efforts are like we are in the coast guard pulling people off a sinking vessel. No, the church is Navy SEALs commandeering an enemy ship and making it and its crew ours. That’s the mission here. That is what the church is to be doing. The gospel is a gospel of conquest. There was this huge empire that ruled most of the planet, and over a few short centuries the people of God conquered it, and the only blood they shed doing so was their own. The mission Christ gives His church is one of holy war. It is not to quietly and discreetly try to maybe persuade a couple of people to possibly come to church and say a sinner’s prayer. No, it is the declaration that Jesus Christ is your King whether you want Him to be or not, and you should do the things He says to do!
This is the frame through which the Christian should understand everything.
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