In yesterday’s reading from Matthew it appeared that Satan had won and that the forces of evil of had actually triumphed, because at the end of yesterday’s reading from Matthew we see that Jesus is dead and buried, and that his disciples (at least the male ones) are in hiding. But you see the elation that Satan felt on Friday was changed to anger and frustration on Sunday, because Satan chose to ignore what he had been told all the back in the Garden of Eden, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). For you see Jesus’ willing sacrifice was the “crushing” of the head of Satan, even the death of God’s Son appeared to be a death blow to God’s plans; which was the “striking” of the heel talked about in Genesis 3:15. This all leads us up to the extraordinary events that take place in Matthew 28. And it all begins with the resurrection of Jesus as told in Matthew 28:1-10.
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
The resurrection of Jesus is one of the central truths of the gospel—the “good news” of forgiveness and eternal life through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Apart from the resurrection, Christ’s followers would have no hope and our faith in God and testimony about Christ would be useless. Jesus’ enemies recognized the potential effect the message of his resurrection could have so they went to great lengths to prevent his followers from being able to spread such a message (Matthew 27:62-66 and Matthew 28:11-15 which we will deal with later). But they could not stop a miracle. Even after the fact, they tried to come up with a plan to suppress the message of the resurrection. As we now know, their plan failed miserably. What is the importance of Christ’s resurrection to those who believe in him?
- It proves he is the Son of God.
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. John 10:17-18
and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead—Romans 1:4
- It guarantees the effective result of his death for our sins—that it certainly did provide the means of forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.—Romans 6:4
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.—1 Corinthians 15:17
- It verifies the truth of God’s Word.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.—Psalm 16:10
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.—Luke 24:44-47
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.—Acts 2:29-31
- It is proof of future judgment on the wicked.
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.—Acts 17:30-31
- It is the foundation for Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit and renewed spiritual life to his people and for his current ministry in heaven as the intercessor for all who rely on him.
- It assures Jesus’ followers of their future inheritance in heaven and of their resurrection when the Lord returns.
- It makes Christ’s presence and power over sin available in our everyday lives.
The text says in verse 9 that “Jesus met them”. Thus showing that the resurrection is well verified historically. After his resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days, appearing and taking to his closest disciples and many of his other followers. He is recorded to have appeared to 12 people of groups of people:
- Mary Magdalene
- The women returning from the tomb
- Two travelers on the road to Emmaus
- The disciples (expect for Thomas) and others with them
- All the disciples on Sunday night one week later
- Seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee
- Five hundred people in Galilee
- The disciples receiving the Great Commission
- Those who were with him when he ascended back to heaven
- The apostle Paul, who was a pioneer missionary who eventually started many New Testament churches and wrote many of the New Testament letters.
After all of this has happened Jesus’ response to the group of people who first encountered him after his resurrection was to tell them “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10) and the angel’s response tells us why this group of people did not need to be afraid: “for I know you seek Jesus who was crucified” (Matthew 28:5). The women that the angel was speaking to had remained loyal friends of Jesus, even though some of his closest followers abandoned him in his time of trial and the world at large despised and crucified him. When returns, his faithful followers will have no reason to fear since they also have remained loyal to him in a world that rejects his love, sees no need for his salvation and defies the standards of his Word. John expresses this truth in 1 John 2:28: “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”
And now we come to the middle section of Matthew 28, which begins in verse 11 and runs through verse 15:
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
This section of Matthew shows us two things. The first is that those religious leaders who were in power had so much to fear from Jesus that they felt they needed to make up an elaborate story to discredit the truth about Jesus. And the second thing is that in spite of all the evidence around them the religious leaders still chose to believe the lies that Satan was telling them. Which still applies to us today because we must remember that Satan does not want any part of God’s plan to succeed and he is willing to do anything to stop it for succeeding. Which leads us into the last section of Matthew, which runs from verse 16 to verse 20.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”
Jesus promises that his followers, being his representatives on earth, would have his authority and power to proclaim and spread his message throughout the world. But first they must obey Jesus’ command to wait for the Father to fulfill his promise and send the Holy Spirit to empower them, this promise was fulfilled at Pentecost. And we cannot expect the power described in Acts 1:8 (“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”) to accompany our efforts to take Christ’s message to the nations without first following the pattern of Acts 1:4 (“And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father”).
These words are referred to as Christ’s Great Commission, his primary command, instruction and task—along with the authority to carry it out. This command applies to all of Christ’s followers of every generation. In his final instructions Christ states the goal and responsibility of his church (all his faithful followers-individually, in local congregations and as a worldwide community). They are to take his message to people of all nations and cultures. The church is to go into all the world and spread the message of Christ as revealed in his own teaching and through the teaching of his apostles (those the personally appointed to establish his original church and message). This task includes the responsibility of sending missionaries into every nation.
The preaching of the gospel is centered on “repentance and forgiveness of sins”, the promise of receiving “the gift of the Holy Spirit” and the challenge to live in a way that is uniquely different from the spiritually corrupt world. We must also preach with an expectancy of Jesus’ return for his church.
The primary purpose of Christ’s commission was to make disciples-disciplined “learners” and followers of Jesus who live by his commands and are continually growing in their relationship with him. To make disciples is the only direct command in this passage (the word “go” could be translated “as you are going”). Many people take about the Great Commission as a call to evangelism (to spread Christ’s message of forgiveness and new life with the aim that people will respond positively and accept Christ). But Christ’s words here are really a commission to the deeper aspect of discipleship-which goes beyond evangelism and on to solid teaching and continual spiritual nurturing that produces growth and progress. Effective evangelism cannot be separated from true discipleship. Christ does not intend for his followers to simply make converts to Christianity; he wants them to train and mentor (train by teaching and example) other people who will faithfully follow Christ and lead others to him as well. If individuals who accept Christ do not grow beyond the starting point, they will almost certainly become spiritually hardened toward God. A church’s spiritual energies and efforts must not be focused merely on enlarging church membership, but in making true disciples-life-long followers of Christ who avoid evil, follow Christ’s commands and pursue his purposes with all their heart, mind and will.
Christ commands us to concentrate on reaching spiritually lost men and women with his message of hope, but this does not mean that believers are called to Christianize society or to expect that all of the world will become Christians. While we must strive to make a positive difference in the world, we also must understand that the world system will remain defiant toward God until he returns to earth for the final time to destroy evil and judge the wicked. Until then, God’s people must separate themselves from the corrupt beliefs, behaviors and lifestyles that surround them. Believers should devote themselves wholeheartedly to God and his purposes. Devotion to Christ includes not hesitating to expose the evil and shame in the world so as to encourage others to avoid it.
Those who believe in Christ-who accept his message by faith and actively yield their lives to him-are to be “baptized” with water. (The word translated “baptized” literally speaks of being immersed, or put completely under the water.) This act of obedience serves as a public statement of faith in Christ-a sign that a person is identifying with Jesus in his death, burial (going under the water) and resurrection (coming up out of the water). It represents a person’s spiritual pledge to turn away from sin and immorality, to die to one’s own sinful nature and, with God’s help, to be raised up to live a new life. In this new life, the believer is complexity committed to Christ and his purposes.
Christ will be with his obedient followers through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We will be able to fulfill our task to take Christ’s message wherever we go, even to all people and all nations, only after we are “clothed with power from on high”.
Matthew ends with promise “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This promise is Jesus’ assurance to his followers who are actively involved in reaching and “winning” those who are spiritually lost and teaching them to obey his standards of truth. Jesus has risen from the dead is now alive and active in his follower’s lives. God is personally interested in each one of his children and has promised to be with them in the person of the Holy Spirit. God is also with us through his Word. No matter what your status or condition—rich, poor, weak, humble, famous or relatively unknown—he cares for you and watches every detail of your life with loving care. He knows and understands your difficulties and struggles, and he will give you the strength to endure anything with his help. In fact, God’s presence can fill every believer with joy in any circumstances. It is both challenging and comforting to know that we cannot escape God’s presence. Jesus’ promise to be “with you” is the Christian answer to every fear, every doubt, every trouble, every heartache and every discouragement.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Exodus 39-40, Mark 1:1-28, Psalm 35:1-16 and Proverbs 9:11-12
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