Matthew 2820 by decree

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									Matthew 28:20

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.

The closing remarks of the Gospel of Matthew are some of the simplest, and yet
most profound of the Bible. It is what we refer to as the Great Commission. To
my mind, it seems like an incredibly abrupt finish to a gospel which is so full of
detail. If I had been an eye-witness to the earthly lie of Jesus, I like Matthew,
would have started with a genealogy of His birth, and would have described it in
detail from accounts I would have taken from His mother, Mary. However, I
would not have finished at the same point. To my mind, the logical place to
finish the account of Jesus’ earthly ministry would be at the Ascension…… and
yet Matthew does not mention this.

Note that Mark starts his account by talking about John the Baptist’s ministry and
ends it in a similar way, with the Great Commission, but he adds on two more
verses:

Mark 16
19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven,
and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached
everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the
accompanying signs. Amen.

So Mark, the writer of the earliest gospel, did mention the Ascension.

Luke of course, the meticulous doctor, starts like Matthew with a genealogy,
except he starts not with Abraham, through which Matthew established Christ’s
Messianic Jewish credentials, but with Adam, through which Luke established
that Jesus was the long-awaited “last Adam” (remember that “Adam” means
“man”). He finished his gospel with the Great Commission and an account of the
Ascension also.

John is the odd one out. Whilst the other gospels are refered to as the synoptic
gospels in that they give a synopsis of the earthly life of Christ, John’s emphasis
is on Who Jesus is and what He did. It is the gospel of intimacy, written by the
disciple who was most aware of Jesus’s love. John starts his gospel prior to


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Adam, establishing not only that Jesus was a descendent of Abraham, not only
that He was a descendent of Adam, but that He was (and is) the Word, with God
from the very beginning, prior to Creation, so that He would be the Agent of
Creation.

John 1:3
3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that
was made.

Like Matthew, he finished his gospel without mentioning the Ascension, but
instead using these words:

John 21:25
25 And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were
written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the
books that would be written. Amen.

The question has to be asked; why did Matthew and John not mention the
Ascension, when Mark and Luke did? After all, neither Mark nor Luke saw the
Ascension – they were not among the eleven disciples who witnessed it
according to Mark’s account. However, Matthew, the Tax Collector, referred to as
Levi elsewhere in the accounts, and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, both
did see it.

Why did they both leave off this incredibly important point?

I believe there are two reasons. The first is that the Ascension was witnessed by
eleven disciples, and therefore, anyone who wanted to ask about it could verify it
from an eye-witness. Note that the writers did not anticipate that 2,000 years
would elapse before Christ’s return: they were writing gospels which they
thought would be needed only for the next fifty, a hundred or perhaps 150 years
at most. Indeed, most people thought that John would still be alive when Jesus
returned. On this basis, they wrote with the purpose of preserving information
that might otherwise have been forgotten, including information from Jesus
mother.

The second and more important reason, I believe, comes back to what we have
discussed in several sermons over the last few months: why do writers record
particular things first or last? Yes: they do so in order that we will remember it.

Matthew, Luke and John wanted you to remember Jesus for His a) Jewish
lineage, b) Adamic lineage c) Divine lineage and hence recorded these things
first. Mark recorded first the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In each case, they
recorded first, the thing which occurred first which was of greatest importance.


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Similarly, they all finish with what they think is most important. Mark, Luke and
John finished with what they thought was the most important last event: the
return of the Christ to the right hand of the Father…. The completion of the
mission to earth, having accomplished all that the Father had assigned to His
Beloved Son.

We must conclude then that the reason Matthew does not finish with the
Ascension is that He thinks there is something more important than the
Ascension to be discussed.

Matthew 28:20
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.

It is the fact that Jesus is “with you always, even to the end of the age”.

Perhaps he felt that if his last words were about the Ascension, it would detract
from the message about the eternal presence of Jesus Christ in the lives of His
followers. Personally, it is more important to me to know that Jesus is with me
always, than that He is sitting at the Right Hand of the Father. I’m not saying
that it is not important to know that; but it makes a big difference to me
knowing that Jesus is right here with me, rather than far away in heaven,
watching my life as a spectator rather than as a participant.

I believe also that the Holy Spirit permitted this information to be omitted from
the account because a) it was already being recorded in the other three accounts
and b) He too, wants us to understand the deep desire of the Father, the Son
and the Holy Spirit for intimacy with His followers.


As we look at Jesus’ last words, we realise that we are hearing from a very
different Jesus, from the one the disciples had known for so many years. These
are the words of the risen Jesus and there is much to be understood about what
changed at the resurrection.




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First, we need to recognise that during His ministry, Jesus operated from a
position of submission and servanthood. Jesus, Who at all times was God, gave
up all the aspects of His deity in order to live like the rest of us.

In heaven, Jesus had all authority, because He is God. When He came to earth,
He laid aside that authority. If we don’t grasp this point, then we will miss an
important aspect of His ministry. Jesus did not perform amazing miracles
because He was God. He performed them because He was sinless and there was
therefore no barrier between Him and the Father. The miracles were an
outworking of the power of the Father expressed through Jesus.

We understand that Jesus experienced pain, as we do. We could hardly consider
the Cross to be agony for Jesus if His body were anything other than a mortal
body like ours. He experienced fatigue and hunger and emotional stress,
because when He laid aside His majesty, He took up a mortal body.

That body, however, was put to death. On the day of resurrection, Jesus arose
with an incorruptible body, no longer subject to decay, nor subject to fatigue,
pain, hunger or stress.

Don’t take my word for it: have a look at what the Bible says:

1 Corinthians 15:51-54
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be
changed – 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For
the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be
changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must
put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this
mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is
written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."


This is a complex passage and has to be understood in the context of other Bible
teaching that Jesus is the firstfruits among the dead:

1 Corinthians 15:20
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those
who have fallen asleep.

Hence when St Paul tells us that we shall be raised with incorruptible bodies, we
must understand that Jesus was raised before us, with an incorruptible body.
Yes, the Ascension is important information: Jesus has returned to heaven in
body, but we must not forget His words that He is with us always.




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Similarly, St Peter tells us of our own resurrection to incorruptibility according to
the incorruptibility of Christ’s body following the resurrection:
1 Peter 1: 3-5
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His
abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection
of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and
that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the
power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

The incorruptibility of Christ’s body, is for us a goal. A process of purification of
the soul occurs as we submit to the authority of the Holy Spirit during our
Christian walk. Our soul is made incorruptible through submission to the Spirit,
whilst our bodies will be made incorruptible at the resurrection.
1 Peter 1: 22-23
22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in
sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23
having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the
word of God which lives and abides forever,

Many people have pictures of the crucified Christ, and they hold on to
descriptions of Him as the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). What they forget is that
this description was of the Jesus of the frail, mortal body; the one that
experienced fatigue, weakness, pain, suffering and the emotional turmoil of the
cross due to separation from the Father.

No more is Jesus the Man of Sorrows. He is the risen Christ, the One Who,
having accomplished all that was assigned to Him, has had all authority formally
returned to Him. The resurrection changed everything: it changed His body into
an incorruptible body. It changed His status, from the submissive servant who
would willingly go to the Cross, to the conquering and victorious LORD.

The Jesus Whom we will all one day meet will still be the joyous, loving, kind
person we read of in the gospels, but no more will He tolerate the evil that is set
before Him. When He comes, it will be on the clouds of heaven with power and
great glory. (Matthew 24:30).

Similarly, we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 Then we who are alive and remain
shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Our LORD Jesus is coming back again, yet still we must hold on to the verse “lo,
I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. It is a reference of course, to
His Holy Spirit.




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John 16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go
away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I
will send Him to you.

Jesus has not left us alone. Whilst in His body, He has returned to heaven, It is
His Holy Spirit He has sent to us to be our Helper. When He said that He would
be with us always, that is exactly what He meant: there is never a time when
Jesus Christ is not with you, because the Holy Spirit is the third member of the
Holy Trinity. Jesus said, (John 10:30) "I and My Father are one." The Third
Member of the Trinity is also one with them. Through Him, we have the
continuing presence of Jesus Christ in our lives.

The question is, how does this change the week ahead of us? If Jesus were
walking beside you, in His body, every moment of the day, how would this affect
what you choose to do or say? That He has taken His body with Him to heaven,
and sent His Spirit to be with you every moment of the day, how does this make
any difference? Do we assume that because we cannot see Him, that He cannot
see us?

My hope is that we too will grasp the importance of Matthew 28:20, in the way
that Matthew himself did. He clearly thought that the most important thing to
finish his gospel with, was the fact that Jesus would be with us for every second
of every day. If we can grasp that truth, then it changes our decisions about
what to say, what to do, how to behave, and even what we mutter under our
breath. If we would not do something in front of Jesus if He were there in body,
then we should not do it, knowing that His Spirit is there at all times.

Within the Church, are all our actions those that can withstand the scrutiny of
the Holy Spirit? And that is the one time in the week when we think we are being
good! What about the changes that we need to make this week to be the sort of
people Jesus is comfortable residing with, always, even until the end of the age!




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