Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.
We have come to the end of a year. Tremendous blessings as well as challenges have filled this year.
Each of us has faced our own personal challenges and victories, and I trust grown in our relationship with God.
At the end of the year and the start of a new year, we traditionally make resolutions. This serves as a time to review the past year and set goals for the coming year. Today, I want to do something a little different with you. I want to review the last days of Jesus on earth after the resurrection but before His ascension into heaven. I want to consider what He showed us as being most important. Then, from that perspective, I trust the Spirit will show each one of us what his or her highest priority should be for the coming year.
Of course, I say this fully expecting that Jesus will return any day now, and knowing that if He does not return, some of us may not have another year. Any one of us can be called home at any time. Therefore, we should live each day in view of these eternal implications.
We are told in Matthew 28:1-7:
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” Matthew 28:1-7, NLT
The disciples were in Jerusalem. The Passover had brought the nation together in Jerusalem, and it was during this festival week that Jesus, our Passover Lamb, was sacrificed for us. John 20:28 tells us that on the day of His resurrection, the disciples were gathered in a room with the doors locked and Jesus stood among them. This happened in Jerusalem.
Later, Jesus told them not to leave Jerusalem until the gift from the Father, the Holy Spirit, was given. (Acts 1) However, at this point He was sending them to Galilee, apparently for a gathering of the disciples. This makes sense if we consider that interference from the governing authorities and those who crucified Jesus would most certainly have accompanied any large gathering of believers in Jerusalem, and a sufficiently large space to accommodate a crowd of disciples would have been both hard to find and very conspicuous.
1 Corinthians 15:5-6 tells us:
He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 1 Corinthians 15:5-6, NLT
This reference to being seen by more than 500 disciples at one time is assumed to be a reference to the meeting in Galilee that Matthew talks about. Jesus had His disciples travel the long way from Jerusalem to Galilee, three to five days, just to meet with them in a safe, unmolested group.
What was so important that He needed this meeting?
This is what we are going to consider. If it was important enough for Jesus to arrange this meeting then, it is important for us now. In other words, this is the one moment when Jesus is going to communicate the message He wants all His followers to hear. The message He gives is known as the great commission. From this great commission we get our purpose of "making disciples."
A commission is a charge. It is the marching orders, responsibility and mission of those to whom it is given. Jesus called this meeting to give His Church her marching orders. As we consider our role in this and what our priorities should be in view of this, let's look a little closer at what Matthew tells us about all that transpired.
Matthew 28:17-18 tells us:
When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Matthew 28:17-18, NLT
First, we see the worship and doubt among His followers. This can teach us about our own hearts in relation to what Jesus says. Our faith does not have to be perfect before Jesus will speak to us. At one point, when the disciples asked Him why they could not cast out a certain demon, Jesus said:
“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”
Faith even as small as a mustard seed is enough, and yet Jesus is pointing out the lack of even this. Faith does not come naturally to most of us. Even the Apostles, who spent three years in Jesus' presence, had to be confronted about their unbelief. On the night that He was betrayed Jesus told them:
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me." John 14:1, NLT
If you are waiting until your faith is stronger before acting in obedience to Jesus, you will never get out of the starting blocks. The first thing is to meet with Jesus. Only the people on the mountain actually met with Jesus. Even though some had doubts, they were on the mountain. Jesus had said to go before Him to Galilee so they went -- doubts and all. Jesus still says to come to Him if we are weary and burdened. Come to Jesus -- doubts and all. If you have not done this yet, you need to do it now. As I said, not one of us is guaranteed another day let alone another year, and in addition, Jesus is coming back soon.
Coming to Jesus is the only way to be forgiven of our sins and to receive eternal life. It is the only way to become a part of God's family and one of His children. In addition, this is not difficult. We see this in how Jesus treated those on the mountain.
Our text says, "Jesus came and told his disciples...” (Matthew 28:18, NLT) This translation misses part of the emphasis of the original. The original word translated here as "came" means to draw near. Jesus drew near. He approached and spoke to them in a familiar way. The text is specific in the drawing near and in the familiarity of His speaking. It purposefully stresses the closeness and familiarity. It does not say, He preached, chided, rebuked or exhorted them. It says, “He spoke to them saying…” It is important for us to realize that Jesus is approachable. He is so approachable that Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds us:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV
In review, we have seen that we need to come to Jesus and now we see that we can approach God boldly because of Him. Notice, that we can do these things along with whatever goals we might set and whatever New Year’s Resolutions we might make. However, what Jesus says next requires more consideration.
Jesus said, "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth." (Matthew 28:18, NLT)
This is an incredible statement. He has been given all authority. He is exalted above all rulers, nations, principalities and dominions. He has the name that is above all other names. His is the final word in the universe. If He tells the sun not to shine, it will not shine. If he tells the stars to move around and mix it up a bit, they will move around and mix it up a bit. If He tells Mount Rushmore to move to California, it will move. He has that kind of authority. He has the authority to tell the angels what to do.
Isaiah 9:6 says of Him:
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6, NLT
Now with that kind of authority, what do you think His concern is? He does not say, "Therefore, go and get me the nicest chariot in the world and set up a throne in Jerusalem." Although that day is coming, that was not His first concern. Remember what Philippians 2:6-8 tells us about Him?
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8, NLT
Now, we are His disciples and followers. We are expected to follow His example. His first concern is that we should make disciples. Why is this?
Jesus told us:
"For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:10, NLT
Jesus expects us to do the same.
We live for ourselves, looking out for number one.
I have heard people say, "Surely, God wants me to be happy.” This is usually in the context of justifying some lifestyle decision that is disobedient to the clear Word of the Lord. I heard this from another preacher and I think it is worth passing on.
Let me see if I understand you. God sent His Son into the world to be spit upon, scorned, ridiculed and crucified, but YOU He wants to be happy. Is that about right?
Of course, God is interested in our eternal happiness. This is why James 1:2 tells us we can rejoice when we encounter trials. The Bible is clear. We can expect hardship and even suffering on this side of heaven.
Let me ask you something. If Jesus thought that others were important enough to die for, should we not also consider them important? I am shocked at how much our convenience shapes our relationship with God.
In calling us to make disciples, Jesus was calling us to live for others. In calling us to teach others all that He had taught, He is calling us to be like Him. His words are:
"Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20, NLT
I see in this a call to be like Jesus, to continue the work He started.
In summary, we have said we need to come to Jesus for life, approach God boldly because of Him, and finally Jesus has commissioned us to be like Him. In the coming year, I want to be more like Jesus. Join with me in praying for this.