Sunday sermon 12 April 2015 – The Great Commission

Readings: Matthew 28:16-20


So what do you make of this great commission? The ending of Matthew’s gospel reaches this climax.

Interesting that Jesus does not call it great or a commission. He does use the word “great” in relation to a commandment. I wonder if you can recall the one. Yes it is also in Matthew.

Mat 22:34  Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. Mat 22:35  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: Mat 22:36  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Mat 22:37  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’Mat 22:38  This is the first and greatest commandment.Mat 22:39  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Mat 22:40  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Loving God comes first. The second is loving your neighbour. Those are commandments. This is a commission. It’s a sending-out. In Matthew 9:37 Jesus speaks about the harvest being plentiful, and the workers few. They were to ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers out! In Matthew 10 he sends them out – as part of the answer to their prayer – on a kind of practice or training run.

Now the real thing. It is a great commission. There is an expansive and all-pervading angle on this passage. A simple outline of the Great Commission could make use of the word “all”: all authority … all nations … all things (he had commanded them)… and always. There are all these “alls”!

Are they famous last words? I think so. We have to take Jesus’ words seriously here as a post-resurrection and last word instruction and a handing over of the baton, if you like..

And the amazing thing is that the eleven disciples took it seriously. Despite their previous jumping ship. They went to where they were told to go (as instructed by women!). They were obedient enough to show up as instructed by Jesus through the Marys after their visit to the tomb on Easter Sunday, if you recall last week’s sermon.

They took the commission seriously too. We know this from the extent of their mission in history later on. Ten of the eleven disciples gave their lives in time for this cause.

They are in Galilee – on a mountain as instructed. There are good and bad ones when it comes to mountain top experiences in this Gospel account. The Mountain of temptation (Matthew 4:8) is tough. (Mat 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour). Then there is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 onward), the transfiguration of Jesus on a mountain (Matthew 17), the final discourse or teaching on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24 onward), and then, okay, the cross on mount Calvary (Calvary is the Latin for Golgotha which is the Aramaic for skull) –  wasn’t a great time (Matthew 27).

Now (in Matthew 28) they were meeting Jesus again on this Galilean mountain. And Matthew writes this telling line: Mat 28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.


The word for doubt here is interesting. It’s Distazo – to duplicate, to hesitate, to “stand in two places” – could it be like the modern idiom of sitting on the fence?

It’s only used twice in Matthew – guess where the other example is? Doubting Thomas? No. have a look:

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:27-31)

This is doubting Peter!

So what was this doubt all about? Interesting observations can be made about doubt.

Their doubts –

  • – could have been about who he was in terms of identity (he had been dead after all, and others battled to recognise him)
  • – could have been about who he was in terms of divinity (it must have been hard for Jewish men to worship a man in the light of their upbringing in monotheism).
  • – or perhaps they were simply grieving and muddled up in their minds.

Despite that, they are still the eleven men he gives this commission too. Tom Wright in his commentary on Matthew notes that there is no other plan for this task. Jesus has “all authority.”

Wright writes this: People get very puzzled by the claim that Jesus is already ruling the world, until they see what is in fact being said. The claim is not that the world is already completely as Jesus intends it to be. The claim is that he is working to take it from where it was– under the rule not only of death but of corruption, greed and every kind of wickedness –and to bring it, by slow means and quick, under the rule of his life-giving love.

And how is he doing this? Here is the shock: through us, his followers.

It is a great commission! It is “great” in terms of the extent of the job given to them. It is all-encompassing. And life changing for all.


Actually – we need to look closer at the verses involved:

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 28:19-20

The most interesting word is the shortest. “Go!” Myron Augsburger says this: “Go there-fore,” under this authority, is even better translated, “Therefore, while going in the world, make disciples.” The emphasis in verse Mat_28:19 is on “making disciples,” this being the main verb of the verse; the others are subordinate: going, baptizing, teaching.

Yes- making disciples is the main verb. Do it while you are going. I would add wherever you are going! Augsburger continues: The word for “disciple” is mathēteuō, meaning a follower, a learner. As disciples we are always identifying with and learning from the Christ. Note that now they are not sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” but to the whole world, to all of the Gentiles, ethna, a universal mission of discipling. This is the beginning of Jesus’ reign, the sign that the Son of Man is in heaven.

I am curious about what would happen if we didn’t have Luke and Acts, that two-part work. Matthew does not speak about the ascension here. Simply about authority, and the commission. The task given to the followers of Jesus mean that he has done his bit – they are it! He has all authority – and therefore has every right to commissions us to do his work!

We are it! This is the first 11 if you like (using cricketing language). The All Blacks squad to play the world, if you like.

We are therefore to “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 we have the assurance: And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  It’s interesting that the Gospel in the very first chapter identifies Jesus as “Immanuel” – which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

The teaching is about obedience to the words of Jesus. In fact Paul speaks of obedience too in his discussion of the gospel in Romans 1, in the light of the authority of Jesus and his commission to his followers. Here it is:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—  the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures  regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. (Romans 1:1-5)

And we have the same apostolic mandate – we follow the teaching of the apostles.

Paul again in Ephesians says this:  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-22)

This is not just a commission for preachers, evangelists, elders. We are all part of it!  Paul spells out how it was to work in his letter to Timothy: The key discipleship verse is this one: 2 Tim 2:2: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

THE DISCIPLES HAD TO CHOOSE TO FOLLOW – despite their doubts – and they accepted the commission and challenge – ultimately giving their lives for this cause.


Today many in church still doubt – or sit on the fence – when considering what the implications are for coming out as a follower of Jesus. We have lots of doubters in the church today – in the sense of the meaning here of the word – being in two places.

THE PERSECUTED CHURCH – and there a lots of Christians being killed every day – has to have nerves of steel and great courage to declare that they are followers of Jesus. Disciples. Under his tutelage. They would know, as we know, this passage from Matthew 10:32-33 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Of course we know the bigger picture – in theory anyway. During these 40 days there were all these encounters with Jesus before his ascension – and of course his instruction to wait for the gift of the Father.

It was at Pentecost that the power fell – and the commission was launched with a bang – literal sound effects and fireworks. Tongues of fire and the sound of a mighty wind. We know this. This is the biggest part of the bigger picture.

We are commissioned – and empowered – if we respond to this today. And we are disciples too – learners who at the same time make other disciples and teach them as well.

Baptism is probably the public coming out signal and ceremony. In the name of God as we know him. And even into the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

How about it? Amen – you agree? Maybe. Depends. Well perhaps you need to get off the fence?



God of action, you sent your disciples into the world preach, teach, and make disciples of all nations. Make us instruments of proclamation, so that all might know of the love you have for humanity. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.


About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on April 14, 2015, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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