By What Authority?

Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus Christ is risen today. This is good news. This is our guarantee that the payment made on the cross was accepted by our Heavenly Father.

But now what? How shall we respond to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Is it enough that we come to church on Easter Sunday and consume large portions of turkey in the evening? Surely, that is not enough. But I suspect, for many of you, your Easter celebration will end when you wake up Monday morning.

Friends, this should not be. Just as the cross of Christ calls for a response, so does the Resurrection of Christ call for us to do something.

I maintain that if our celebration of Easter does not overflow into Christian service, than we have not properly honoured Christ.

Beloved, it won't belong before this congregation is devoid of an ordained minister. Some of you are already asking the question, "How shall we succeed without a minister?" Some will answer this question by saying we must "work harder", but what good is hard work if we work on the wrong things? Some will say we must "depend on one another", but how far will that get us if we do not depend on God?

I reckon that the answer to our question is found in Matthew 28:18-20. In these 3 verses, Jesus gives instructions to His disciples that we must be committed to following if we desire to bear fruit in this church.

The resurrected Jesus, in one of His final statements to His disciples, says to them, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you all the days, even to the end of the age."

You will notice in these verses four amazing universals, each marked by the word "all": "all authority", "all nations", "all that I commanded you", and "all the days". Some of you might know that these verses are commonly referred to as "The Great Commission"; this is where Jesus gives His "marching orders" to His disciples. I want you to notice, however, that before Jesus tells us to do anything, He tells us what He can do for us in verse 18.

Jesus begins by stating, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." The word "authority" means the right and power to do something. And so for Jesus to say that "all authority" has been given to Him "in heaven and on earth" is to make an astonishing claim--it is a claim only God could make.

But why would Jesus, as God Incarnate, say that this authority "has been given" to Him? As our mediator, there is a sense in which Jesus gave up His authority for a season. The apostle Paul comments on this in Philippians 2, verse 6, "although He existed in the form of God, (He) did not regard equality with God something to be held on to" at all cost. When Jesus hung on the cross, He was forsaken by God as a penalty for our sin. But now, having finished His work, the Father honours the Son by restoring to Him "all authority . . . in heaven and on earth."

It is this authority that empowers us to follow the "Great Commission". Without this declaration of Jesus' authority, how can we have any confidence to make disciples? Sure, the cross of Christ motivates us to go make disciples, but how do we know if we have any chance of succeeding? "All authority has been given to Me", Jesus says. That's how.

If Good Friday provides us with the motivation to serve, then Easter provides us with the power to serve. And so you see, to go no further than an Easter cantata and a turkey supper would be tragic--it would be poor stewardship of the power made available to us in Christ Jesus.

Jesus gives us a commission, but He also gives us the power to carry out the mission, "All authority has been given to me . . . Go therefore and make disciples".

The promise, and its connection with the command, seems simple enough, but I have seen at least 2 distortions of this.

Some mistakenly think it is their job to go into all the nations in order to get power for Christ. No, all power, all authority, belongs to Christ already. Some say it is our job to go "win the world for Christ", but I reckon that, in the strictest sense, it is His already. Jesus is the King of Kings, He is Lord of all, at this very moment. His boundless authority extends to both heaven and earth.

The second distortion I have seen is quite common in Presbyterian circles. This distortion reads one verse and ignores the other. Some who know God is sovereign, some who know God will surely execute His will, conclude that our job is simply to be still. But that is not what Christ teaches. Christ does not say, "All power has been given to Me, so get out of My way." No, Christ says, "All power has been given to Me . . . Go therefore and make disciples".

Easter requires that we do something. Easter requires that we "Go . . . and make disciples of all the nations . . . teaching them to observe all that (Jesus) commanded (us); and lo, (He) is with us all the days".

The second universal statement calls us to "make disciples of all the nations", reminding us the following Christ must not be limited by geography or ethnicity. Jesus was a Jew, but here He announces that His Lordship extends over the entire globe. Without this declaration, how could we ever justify proselytizing Christianity all over the world? It is because of the boundless authority of Christ, that we are constrained to admonish others to follow Him.

And what shall we say? What shall we teach them? Jesus says, "teach them to observe all that I commanded you". This command, the third universal, is perhaps the hardest for the modern ear to hear. Jesus gave the disciples some very difficult commands to follow, and some difficult doctrines to teach. As a result, some well-meaning people, have done some editing with the teachings of Jesus. Wanting to see as many conversions as possible, many in our day have watered down the gospel by preaching grace without judgment, preaching love without justice, preaching salvation without obedience, and preaching triumph without suffering (Boice, The Heart of the Cross, 122). But, as the late James Boice reminds us, "Disciples are not made by defective teaching"(Boice, The Heart of the Cross, 122).

In order to be faithful to the commission given by the risen Christ, we must be certain to teach others to observe "all that Jesus commanded (us)". Nothing more is necessary, and nothing less is acceptable.

And finally, we come to the last universal, "Lo, I am with you all the days". Jesus, I think adds this as a qualifier for what He has said before. I hear Jesus saying that, "It is not enough to go into the nations to preach and to baptize; it is not enough to bid them to obey My will; but you must also have Me at your side. Apart from Me you can do nothing (Jn.15:5). Your success in these matters depends on your having perpetual communion with Me. 'Lo, I am with you all the days.'"

Friends, it is good that you came to worship today. And it is good that you will be gathering with family for your evening meal. But do not let your application of Easter stop there. All authority has been given to Christ and is available to you that you may serve in His name. Go forth then in His name, for He is with you always. Amen.