Matthew 28: 18-20 – Preaching from ChristChurch London’s Sunday Service
When I was 17, I was invited to a fairly posh New Year’s Eve dinner party in Wimbledon. And when I arrived I discovered that most of the other male guests were Swedish Naval officers. Anyway, as midnight approached and us Brits linked arms to get ready to see the new year in, in the traditional way by singing auld lang syne, it became obvious that the Swedish Naval officers didn’t know auld lang syne, and so with the seconds ticking away, we frantically tried to find a song that we all knew, but the only song we all knew was the number one song in the charts at the time, “The Final Countdown” by Europe.
So as the clock struck 12, we all joined hands and sang “It’s the final countdown, de de ler der, did a led der der etc.
Well guess what, as I look at my watch I see, we’re almost at the end of our time at the New Connaught Rooms. De de la der, It’s the final countdown, and I wonder . . . if Jesus walked in through those doors now and took this microphone, what would his final instructions to us be? If Jesus had just one crack at some parting words, what would he choose to say to us?
Well I think the Bible provides us with a fairly reliable answer. Today we’re finishing our series on Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, which we’ve been working through all summer. And we end our series, with Jesus’ final instructions to his followers.
After all the recruiting, gathering, team building, community establishing and teaching Jesus had done with his followers, these were his final instructions:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore 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.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Jesus’ final instructions to his followers were, “OK, enough training, enough preparation, now go, go and tell people the good news. You go, and get them in the kingdom, baptize them, disciple them. Lets start to grow this thing by bringing in those who don’t know me yet.”
By stark contrast, I’ve also been asking myself . . . if the Devil had the chance to address us, as we’re about to leave the New Connaught Rooms, what would the devil’s final words to us be?
And I thought of some words on a T shirt, I’ve never forgotten. I had a friend at university whose favourite band was Megadeth. And my friend only ever wore his two T shirts, he did have some personal hygiene issues. One of his T shirts was Motorhead, “No sleep til Hammersmith” and the other was the cover of Megadeth’s 1988 album: “So far, so good, so what?”
And I think the devil would sneeringly say to us tonight, after our eleven months at the New Connaught Rooms, “So far, so good, so what?” He’d say, Yes, you’ve attracted a lot of Christians, you’ve welcomed and integrated them into a great Christian community, you’ve got a great foundation on all kinds of fronts, but so what? I’ve still only lost a handful of people to you. You’ve not had many saved so far. You still haven’t really hurt me. My numbers are still holding up pretty well. The devil would say, ‘So far, so good, so what?’ Until I start losing people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, my attitude is, Christ Church. So what?
So whichever way you come at it, from Jesus point of view, or whether you come at it from the Devil’s point of view, as we go into this month, such a lot is a stake. Because this is the month where we’ll try to invite people to the Alpha Meals. And if they work and we get a lot of people sing up for the Alpha Course, in due course, we’ll see some of your friends and my friends leave the kingdom of darkness and enter the kingdom of light.
Through our life groups, we’ve done a great job at befriending those who don’t know Jesus yet, but now it’s time to ask the $64 million dollar question, “will you come to the Alpha Meal?”
I want to speak to you a message tonight, entitled “Where this whole thing’s heading” Because Jesus had spent three years, training these guys for this moment. Now he tells them, “OK guys, no more parables, I’m going to lay it on the line for you, here’s where this whole things heading . ”
Let’s work through it phrase by phrase.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”
Let me just give you a tip. If your flatmate is having a go at you because it’s your turn to do the washing up, don’t say this. Don’t say: “Well actually, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. So you, sunshine, can jolly well do the washing up yourself.”
Saying this only works when you’re the Son of God.
And Jesus was constantly saying things like this.
Some people collect stamps, some people collect Tesco clubcard points, I collect the outrageous statements of Jesus.
Because so many people have no idea Jesus ever made such outlandish claims about himself. They think he was simply a great moral teacher. They don’t think he was the Son of God, but neither, at the other end of the spectrum do they think he was a madman. No, they think Jesus was nice and safe, somewhere in between. That he was humble, wise and inspiring and that he remains today a great example, especially for primary school children.
Well I’m sorry but when Jesus says “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” unless Jesus is God’s Son, then Jesus is surely an ego-maniac.
But what if Jesus wasn’t an ego-maniac? What if this was just a plain statement of fact? Then it’s one of the most amazing things in world history, that a carpenter living in the Middle East was given all authority in heaven and on earth!
To think that God the creator of the universe, the one who dreamt up gravity, who imagined all the elegant equations of physics, and then breathed fire into them . . . The Lord of history, the author of life. God Almighty gave all authority to a 30 year old man living in Nazareth.
And as soon at Jesus left Nazareth and went to Galilee and started preaching, teaching and performing miracles the overwhelming reaction of the crowds was “Wow! What authority.”
The crowds could hardly believe that God had given such authority to a man, a human being. I mean quite apart from the miracles, even when he says stuff they’ve heard before, it comes with this ring of authenticity, as if God were speaking directly, live, in Galilee, through Jesus of Nazareth.
God had sent his Son to earth, as a person, As Paul puts it “all the fullness of the deity lived in bodily form.” Theologians call this the “incarnation.”
Now stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this, and I’m going to bring it on home in just a minute.
While it is very exciting that the Father gave such authority to Jesus, his Son – in a sense, it was hardly a risky decision for the Father to make, because Jesus is, I’m sure you’d agree a fairly safe pair of hands. He is after all part of the Godhead, part of the Trinity. Jesus had been around with the Father and the Holy Spirit in perfect community and harmony backwards through all eternity. Jesus is eternally uncreated. Jesus existed before the universe was made. So in giving all authority to Jesus, God the Father is still, keeping that authority in the Godhead.
But the staggering thing about you, is that Jesus has now given that same authority to you!
No, really, he actually has. Check it out, here’s what Jesus says to his followers . . .
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go
Jesus is saying. All authority has been given to me, so I’ve got it, and now I’m giving it to you. I’m sending you. And I’m with you always even to the end of the age. So, you’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s all sorted. Therefore go!
It’s just as clear when Jesus says to his followers in John 20:21 “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Here’s why this is so important. Most of us have no problem believing that the Father sent the Son. Once you’ve become a Christian, that’s a relatively easy thing to believe. What’s a revolutionary thought, and this really might change your life tonight, is to wholly believe, maybe for the first time, that in the same way that the Father sent the Son, Jesus has now sent you.
Jesus says as much, when we overhear him praying to the Father about us in John 17:18 Jesus says: “As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”
You see if it’s me against the world. Me with my Alpha invitation versus everyone else, and I don’t even want to do this, then I don’t stand a chance. But if on the other hand I’m as much ‘sent’ into my friendship circle with my Alpha invitation, as Jesus was sent into the world by the Father, then no kidding, I am going to have the full measure of Jesus’ joy within me.
And that’s the context here, Jesus knows in John 17 that he’ll shortly be returning to heaven, and then he plainly tells us why his prayer to the Father is being recorded. He says: “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” (John 17:13)
What a statement! I’ve got as much security in the Father’s love, as Jesus has. I can have as much joy in doing my Father’s business as Jesus has. You can have the full measure of Jesus joy inside you. So it’s not just me and my Alpha invitation, versus lots of people in my workplace or my social circle. It’s not me against the world, and I’m not very good at this. No, in the same way, and to the same extent that God sent Jesus, in the same way, Jesus has now sent you into your friendship circle, whether that be in your office, your college your school, your gym, your university friends or whoever it is that you’re connected to in London.
As much as the Father was with Jesus, the Father is with me. You see if I know my Father’s with me that changes everything.
When I was at primary school, something really cool happened. A famous footballer who played for Chelsea, sent his two sons to our school. But his sons were older than me and bigger than me, and one time I got corned by them at the park, this was when I was 7. So I got bullied by them. But the following day, even though I knew they’d be in the park, I went over the park again, but I wasn’t in the least bit scared. “Come on,” I could have said. Why? What was the difference? Simple, I had my Father with me.
And Christ Church is going to leave the New Connaught Rooms forever in a few minutes time, and we’ll leave this place holding this thing. Thinking “am I really going to get anyone to the Alpha Meal?” Well what Jesus is saying to us tonight is that you’ve got your Father with you.
And that changes everything. The full measure of Jesus joy is yours. Jesus says in Luke 15:7 that the thing that gets angels rejoicing is when one sinner repents. When one person becomes a Christian!
So I hate to be the one to tell you, but if England beat Australia and win the Ashes, the angels won’t celebrate. But when the first person who you and I invite to the Alpha Meal, finishes the course, repents of their sins, and trusts Christ as their saviour, all heaven will erupt.
There’s no joy like introducing someone to Jesus. There’s nothing else in the Christian life quite like it.
When I was at university I had one good friend, who in my opinion was the least likely to become a Christian.
But we devised an evangelistic event called “The Resurrection Trial,” that I reckoned might arouse his curiosity.
And so, we hired the university debating chamber, and get someone from the law department to act as a judge. Then I got Christian lawyer to present the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. And the idea was we’d put the evidence on trial and the audience would be the jury.
But I needed an anti-Christian barrister, So I phoned the British Humanist Association, and I said: “Hi, I’m a Christian, and I’m looking for someone who has a real problem with Christianity, and actually likes arguing against Chrtistianity, and they’ve got to be good at it. They’ve got to come up with all the best arguments against the resurrection and do a persuasive job of making Christianity look ridiculous.”
They said: “You’ve come to the right place, we’ve got just the man for the job.”
And so I arranged to meet their top anti-Christian debater in a pub, but I had no idea what he looked like. So I went round the pub sort of sizing people up, ‘do you look like a professional anti-Christian?’
Well I found him at the bar and to cut a long story short the great day arrived.
And the chamber was packed, and I reckon we won easily. I came away from that evening feeling pretty pleased that not only had the event been a success, but that this guy I started to tell you about, the most unlikely person to become a Christian, that I knew, had turned up.
I’d not spoken to him immediately after the event. But we lived in college and the following morning, I saw him at breakfast.
And I pictured what he might say to me: “Adrian, I never knew the case for Christianity was that strong”, he might have said.
“Adrian, the resurrection trial has shaken my agnosicism to the core. I can see that I need to seriously think about becoming a Christian.”
I was pretty excited as I buttered my toast as I sat next to him.
“So what did you think?” I asked him, trying to pretend that I was pretty laid back about his response.
He said, “Well, the thing that swung it for me, was when the non-Christian barrister said that when you’re dead you’re dead and that it’s folly on the part of man to believe otherwise.”
And in that moment, I’m ashamed to say something in me died. And do you know, I stopped praying for him.
Huh, not persuaded by my event?
And do you know what, I didn’t see him for ages after we left university, until a few years later, when we met up and he asked me for a book about the resurrection.
And I prayed for him again, and then two years ago, I got a phone call from him. We’re now both 34 years old. “I need to come over to see you” he says, and guess what, he’s at the end of his tether, and he wants to give his life to Christ.
And I sit there and I tell him the gospel, and we pray together, and now he texts me, and the texts says things like: “I’m sitting in the car, reading Mark’s gospel.” And that’s it. That’s the whole text because he can hardly believe what’s happened. Just think of the most strongly opposed person you know, and then imagine 14 years from now, them texting you about how much Jesus has done for them.
That guy’s going to go to heaven when he dies. His whole life changed when he met Jesus.
It’s because we want those kind of stories That we started this church. And it’s not just theory. Every week, I’m so inspired by the people in our life group, who, as far as I can tell, basically get their kicks in life, through witnessing to people about Jesus.
Jesus wants us to have the full measure of his joy within him. He wants us to know that we’re as sent by the Father as he is. He wants us to know we’re totally secure. I think if Jesus came in here tonight, he’d take each and every one of us and he’d do something like this . . .
SA, stand up please . . . Here is your mission should you choose to accept it. And this tape will not destruct in 5 seconds. Simon, the angels rejoice every time someone becomes a Christian. You are as much sent into your friendship circle as Jesus was sent into the world by the Father. You are now licenced to thrill angels, and depress demons. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, therefore Simon Go! Invite your world onto Alpha.
I had a mate at our church in Reigate in Surrey called Tim Johnson, and Tim was a civil engineer. He wasn’t an extrovert. He was a shy and retiring type, but he wanted to invite his world onto Alpha, so he started praying for the guy at the desk next to him.
The guy who worked next to him was called Rob Siddall. Rob described himself as a materialist. In other words, he only believed in what he could see, touch and feel. A fully committed atheist.
But two things happened to Rob, first he got interested in popular psychology, and secondly he married a French woman called Pascale who was heavily into the New Age.
Anyway, Pascale starts to work for the same firm as both Rob, her husband and my mate Tim.
But then Tim’s prayers and witness start to bear fruit, and the first I hear of it is one Sunday morning, at church, when Tim comes up to me and says, “Adrian, I’ve just got you the best sermon illustration ever.”
I said, “What is it?”
And he handed me a printout of an internal email that he’d received the previous day from Pascale and it simply said. “Dear Tim, I am looking for God, Can you help?”
Well Tim told me that he’d replied to this email saying, as a matter of fact, “yes, how would you like to come to this thing called an Alpha Meal?”
And the first time I ever met Rob and Pascale Siddall was when they sat opposite me at the Alpha Meal. They signed up for the course, and on week 7 of Alpha as I was finishing the talk, I said, “many years ago, I prayed a prayer, whereby I said, “God if you exist, and you’re real, then please show yourself to me.”
And Rob Siddall drove home from Alpha, and he prayed that prayer and he was converted in the car. Shortly afterwards, his wife Pascale became a Christian, and they both got baptized and they became pillars of the church.
And I’m here to tell you tonight that my mate Tim isn’t the most natural evangelist, but he has got clear on one thing. Here’s how Tim thinks: “I’m not in a pickle about this. God the Father has sent me into this civil engineering firm to invite the Rob and Pascale Siddall’s of this world onto Alpha. And if I’ve got all heaven on my side, and Jesus is with me to the very end of the age, I think I can do it.”
Tim was secure in that. To this day he enjoys evangelism, even though it isn’t his natural bag.
But Jesus isn’t simply after decisions, and neither are we, Jesus is after disciples.
Therefore go and make disciples . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you
All of us who are Christians here today can think of at least one person we know who started off in the Christian life, but who isn’t running the race today. They dropped out of the race, either because the going got tough, or maybe because something tripped them up.
And the tragedy is that if everyone who’s made a commitment to Christ were still going on with God today, the Christian church in this country would be two or three or four times the size that it is.
Why did our friend fall away? Lots of reasons, but probably at the top of the list is that they never became a disciple. They may have embraced Jesus as saviour but he never became Lord of every part of their lives. And we carry the responsibility for discipling people.
It’s fairly easy to get people to make decisions for Christ on an Alpha course, getting them to become fully-fledged disciples who join Christ’s Church is exactly the challenge Jesus presents us with here.
So here’s one way, we as a leadership team want to take on the challenge – all the guests who do our Alpha course starting in October, will be invited in January to go on a follow-on, Beta Course.
Why? Well, every time I’ve ever led Alpha, I’ve found that the group want to carry on, and they’re sad the course is ending. And so we’ll be saying in December, come back next month to the City Golf Bar and we’re going to carry on where we left off, with a 10 week Beta course. And that course will be all about helping those Alpha graduates to become disciples.
Next, Jesus says . . .
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
One of the amazing things about church history is seeing how often Christians have believed that being baptized is essential for salvation.
The reason that’s amazing is because it so obviously can’t be true, because Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “today, you’ll be with me in paradise” and Jesus would have been fully aware that the thief was being crucified at the time and therefore would die before he ever had the chance to be baptized.
So if you’re a Christian and you’ve never been baptized, don’t worry you don’t have to be baptized to be saved. However . . .
Time and again in the New Testament, believing and being baptized are linked together.
For example, Jesus says “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Matt 16:16)
And when Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost, and the crowd ask how they can be saved.
Peter replied: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:28)
And throughout the book of Acts, we see two key things, first baptism is for believers, and second baptism is immediate, as soon as people believe.
And the word baptize means to “plunge, dip or immerse” and so when a ship sank to the bottom of the sea, in Greek it was said to have been “baptized”.
Now we don’t have time today to go into the detail, but I’m sure you can tell where I’m going with this, if you have become a Christian and you haven’t yet been baptized, then you need to be.
So we’re going to hold our first baptismal service on 30th October. Now we already have some people who’ve become Christians who have asked to be baptized, but I’m sure there are others here today, and you know you need to be baptized.
Perhaps like me, you were baptized as a baby, and now you’ve come into a church which has the tradition of believers baptism, of baptizing adults, by full immersion. That’s how we’ll do it on 30th October, we’ll be putting believers under water.
Why? Because that was the New Testament practice.
It’s all to do with the significance of baptism:
Romans 6:3 says we were baptised into his death
Colossians 2:12 says we were buried with him in baptism
Now you might say, “well OK, I agree that the tradition of baptizing babies by sprinkling is not as biblical as the tradition of baptizing adults by immersion, but seeing as I’m now a believer, surely I’m OK.”
Well, I think you have to answer this question in your heart, “have you been baptized?” Was what happened to you as a baby really a “bapstism”? Are you happy that sprinkling unbelieving children is a real biblical baptism?
And perhaps you’re not sure about it. Do I really need to be baptized as a believer by immersion? Well if ever there was someone who didn’t need to be baptized it must surely be Jesus himself. He’d never sinned, so quite understandably John the Baptist said to him, “Look Jesus, I need to be baptized by you.” But Jesus insisted on being baptized? Why? Well, as he put it, “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15)
There is a public element in becoming a Christian. Believers baptism is in the New Testament the public act of saying before God and society, I’m following Christ. It’s proper to do it, even if it might seem like a technicality.
Now you’ll be pleased to know that we’re not totally on the warpath on this one, and you need to come to your own conclusions. You need to be convinced from the Bible that it’s biblical. But if you haven’t been baptized and you’d like to explore being baptized here at Christ Church, then in a few minutes I’m going to ask you to put up your hand and say yes, tell me more.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Now you may have noticed that when talking about making disciples earlier, I left out the phrase “of all nations” and that’s because in Matthew the discipling of the nations and the end of the age are tied very closely together. So I wanted to deal with them together.
Because previously, in Matthew 24:14 We have the most definite statement in the whole bible about when Jesus will return. Jesus says:
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14
Jesus will not return to earth until the good news is preached by people like you and me to all nations. There’s got to be a testimony, to all nations. And if you follow the line taken by a man called John Piper in his book “Let the Nations be Glad,” that is a local church in every ethnic language group in the world that is capable of evangelizing amongst that people group.
And so when Jesus tells us that he’s going to be with us always to the very end of the age, he’s saying that he’s going to be with us for however long as the job of world evangelization takes.
Some of us need to hear that tonight in closing. I am with you always. I am with you when you think you’ve blown it. I am with you, when you can’t feel me with you. I am with you whatever you think of yourself.
And here’s the good news, whatever becomes of us, whatever becomes of Christ Church, whatever becomes of our Alpha Meal, Jesus goal of all nations being reached will be achieved anyway. Even if we don’t play our part, God will raise up others who will. Here’s what John sees at the end of the age in heaven . . .
Rev 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9)
Every language group will be reached. They’ll be so many Christians that it’ll be impossible to count them. That’s how successful the church will be. Every nation, tribe and people will be represented, and we’ll all give our praise to Jesus, the one who made it possible, the Lamb that was slain.
On the first night of our Newday event in Notts County Football Ground, 161 people made commitments to Christ for the very first time. I can tell you that seeing that is just a snapshot of what this final day will be like, and, I believe it’s also a snapshot of what God wants to do through Christ Church London in the years ahead.