Christ's Great Commission in Trying Times
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 28:16-20
June 07, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. It is so good to see you and to be inviting you to draw your attention to God’s word in person today. It has been too long since we have been gathered here around Christ’s word and sacrament at His command and as the Spirit directs us.

I draw your attention to the Gospel reading from the last few verses of Matthew 28. It says: “And the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had instructed them. And upon seeing Him, they worship, and some doubted. And having approached them Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep everything I have commanded you. And behold I am with you everyday until the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).  

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

It is Holy Trinity Sunday. Today we especially acknowledge and worship God as Trinity. Trinity means that God the Father is God; God the Son, Jesus Christ, is God; God the Holy Spirit is God; and yet, they are not three gods but one God.

They are distinct in their persons. Yet, they are one in being. We know both their distinctness and the oneness of God from the Scriptures.

We see this oneness and threeness in Jesus’s command to baptize: baptize into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). One Name, three distinct persons. And the one Name is applied equally to the three persons. Each person has the one Name. Whatever is true of the Father as having the Name, is also true of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as having the Name.

And Jesus says that we are baptized into this Name, into this God. The Trinity is our identity. As children of God we are children of the Trinity. We have no other God. There is no other God. And we have our life, identity, and mission in this God. He is the God of truth, life, grace, and mercy in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is at the center of the Trinity. If He is God and there is only one God—and the Scripture teaches both things—then the Trinity follows. Jesus claims nothing less: “All power/authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). He asserted this with utter lucidity and in such a manner as if it was a matter of fact.

It is an astounding and utterly decisive claim. It leaves no room for debate or a middle position, a kinda sort a, or for riding the fence. Jesus couldn’t kinda have “all power.” The “all” eliminates the possibility that He could share all power with any created thing. I think C. S. Lewis was right when he commented that one can only regard Jesus Christ as the greatest lunatic for making such a claim, or one must bow the knee in utter obeisance before Him and worship and commend one’s entire existence into His hands now and for all eternity. The claim to have all power is absolute. It excludes all other claimants to the throne of absolute power and absolute commitment.

But Jesus earned this claim like no one ever has. He died for us, yes, for all people. All human beings are equal in His death, because He died for all. He was raised from death by God the Father. God the Father has made Him both Lord and Christ, He who was crucified pursuant to profound injustice; He who was crucified as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Whoever wants to dethrone Jesus by denying His claim to the throne of all power and authority, must also disregard His complete faithfulness to the Father like no one else has been faithful; they must disregard His profound love to sacrifice Himself for sinners, which no one who claims absolute allegiance has done; they must also deny His profound suffering under injustice.

His possession of all power on earth means that no one else, and no other teaching or master narrative has such power in reality or by right. They claim to, but they are wrong. For if Jesus has all power and authority on earth, as in heaven, then no other power or narrative or teaching could be absolute. Jesus’s enthronement to absolute power and authority relatives every other claimant to that throne.

So no human being, no government, no master narrative, whether of science, philosophy, history, or politics, has total power. By that power being vested in Jesus, it is not vested in any other human being or institution on earth. That is a mighty good thing. It is a mighty good thing that all mighty power is vested in Jesus who then took it to the right hand of God. For then no authority or human institution on earth has absolute power by right.

But the battle is on, for there are always claimants and contesters to the throne of absolute power. We see this in the situation in America today.

I have used the term master narrative. A narrative is generally a description or view of things. It can also not only describe but prescribe how things are supposed to be and how someone should respond to and address certain things. It provides identity and a roadmap, a course of action. Master narratives can come from philosophy, science, historical interpretation, economics, and politics.

The word “master” just means that the narrative is used as absolute, as lord, and as judge of all competing claims and as determining how things must be without regard to considerations that would get in the way. It then bulldozes those competing claims and ignores them, feeling fully justified in doing so because the narrative justifies itself as being absolutely right. Master narratives also never take their stand in something evil. They always take their stand in some right they also perceive to be obvious; public health and safety; national security; condemnation of racism. Master narratives bulldoze often with the threat of violence and usually with the threat of some sort of sanction from civil society for stepping outside or challenging the terms of the narrative.

And what days we live in. I am thinking of the situation with COVID-19. I am thinking of the aftermath of the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the police in Minneapolis.

Now let me say first that I think without a doubt that George Floyd’s death was tragic and horrifying. It should not have happened and was wrong. Let us pray for George Floyd’s family, that our Lord would strengthen them because of Mr. Floyd’s death but also because of what has happened since. But as things have developed, the tragedy of his death is not the end of the story.

The words of Jesus great commission are applicable. I have already applied His claim to all power. Already Jesus relativizes every master narrative devised by human beings. He has earned the right to do that, as I have said.

But He says more. Jesus commands the church to make disciples of all nations. With the words “all nations,” we should understand that there is not a shred of racism or any room for it in those words. Every nation, every people group, every human being, comes equally within the discipleship of Christ and is claimed by Him as a candidate for His kingdom. He died for that person. Every Christian should understand that every other human being of whatever color, ethnicity, country that accepts Christ, adheres to His teaching, and is Baptized into the Name, is a brother or sister in Christ. There can be no hatred or discrimination along racist lines in Christ’s kingdom. No one of one group is superior to another. No one of one group should receive special treatment because they are of one group or the other. The Gospel is color blind. Well, actually, I’m not sure that is true. For the Gospel embraces us in our uniqueness. But the Gospel does not embrace racism. Justice surely is color blind, as far as Christ is concerned, for there is no partiality with God.

But just how does this run? It runs in all directions, not just one.

Jesus commands us to keep everything He has commanded (Matthew 28:20). In light of the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, some of His words have come to mind. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12). Judge not so that you not be judged. With the measure you use it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:1). Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s ( Mathew 22:21). Jesus has not taken the sword away from Caesar. That is to say, He has not taken way from government the right and authority to maintain law and order and indeed the obligation to do so.

So, do I agree that the peaceful protesters have a right to protest? Yes. Why? Two reasons. First, that right is guaranteed them by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. I too want to claim rights under the First Amendment in relation to the Christian faith. Second, the golden rule affirms a basic principle of being American that goes to the very fabric of our culture and civil society. It is this. I support the rights of another person under our constitution to speak, assemble, protest, worship according to their beliefs and conscience, as they afford me the same rights, whether I agree with the other person or not. I hope they afford me the same right they want me to afford them.

Having said that, there is more. If anyone who is protesting requires me to agree with the substance of their protest and with their conclusions about the state of affairs that they think prompt their protest, and then vilify and disparage me or anyone else if they don’t join in, they are imposing a master narrative that goes beyond the right to protest, and that master narrative is becoming totalitarian.

Judge not, condemn not.

It is wonderful that you as a Christian can affirm words of Jesus that our society so sorely needs today to work through the pain and the anger and the issues involved in the death of George Floyd. We actually have a much better basis in the substance of our Christian faith to deal with these issues than secular humanism provides. It is a great tragedy of our educational system that it finds an enemy in Christianity that must be destroyed or marginalized in the name of secular humanism. Or think about this: How can evolutionary theory and God not being in the picture uphold the brotherhood of man? Or how can the physical sciences help us, which have no capacity for saying anything about the necessity of human values? I submit to you that they cannot.

Jesus words express essential justice, and this justice is enshrined in the fabric of our culture, even our Constitution. It affords the same rights to each other, whether we agree with each other or not.

To those who are rioting, what would we say? Would you want your store destroyed and looted? No I don’t think you would. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Engaging in lawlessness because George Floyd died from lawlessness under the color of law is no solution to the problem. Such actions bring immense destruction and suffering in physical terms to other humans beings; they bring destruction to truth and good government; they rip society apart.

So what about COVID-19? Jesus says all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. He commands those who follow Him, He commands us, to keep everything He has taught us. We can’t do that without assembling together as His people.

Government needs to realize that interfering with Christ’s people in the exercise of their faith in Christ is interfering with Christ’s authority over His people; it is interfering with Christ Himself. When state actors venture into regulating how Christians do things, they should tread very carefully, with utmost respect, and with as little interference as possible. We should demand this of them, even as we afford them respect.

Wow, things are a mess today, and there is great pain and anger, and deep, deep division in our society. In my view we are witnessing a losing touch with our society’s bearings. Those bearings are rooted in truth, commitments, values, and a framework and fabric of justice and government that is a profound gift of God.

We need to work against racism. We should make no mistake about it that racism is contrary to the will of God. But unfairness and violence perpetrated in the name of fighting racism is not the answer either.

We need to cooperate with efforts to deal with COVID-19 in reasonable proportion. But we also need to be able to recognize when government restrictions in those efforts have gone too far and resist that over reach, just as society embraces the right to protest the death of George Floyd.

In closing, let us hear these words of Christ with which the Gospel of Matthew closes, as we live in important and dangerous days for America. Christ, the Almighty, who died for us and rose again, is with us everyday with His grace and love, His forgiveness and peace. And He has all power. Sometimes it may not look like it, but He does. We look for what He is teaching us. We rest and hope in who His is and His abiding presence with us. May He lead us and our country in ways of peace, well-being, and love for our neighbor, even as we trust in His mercy and grace.

Amen.



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