November 15, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Saturday after the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 79, Lev. 26:27-42, Phil. 4
Evening – Psalm 65, Dt. 19, Mt. 28:11

Commentary, Matthew 28:11-20

The Gospels were not written to give a chronological biography of the life and ministry of Christ.  They were written to present the Saviour to us, to introduce Him in a way that invites us to believe in Him and be reconciled to God through Him.  They are written in theological order not chronological order, using events and teachings in the life of Christ to illustrate His power, Divinity, and teachings.  Thus, Matthew leaves out several events after the resurrection of Christ.  He leaves out the appearance of Christ on the Emmaus Road.  He skips over His appearance in the upper room, doubting Thomas, and His appearance to Peter by the Sea of Galilee.  Rather than dwelling on these appearances, Matthew moves rapidly to what has been called “The Great Commission” in 20:19 and 20.  Let us, however, consider the chronology for a moment. 

Finding the tomb empty, the women hurry to tell the disciples what they have seen.  As the women run to tell the disciples, Christ appears to them, telling them to send the disciples to meet Him in Galilee (Mt. 28:10).  Hearing the news, Peter and John run to the tomb. John, reaching it first and stopping at the entrance to look in, is passed by Peter, who unhesitatingly enters.  They find only the linen cloth in which Joseph had wrapped the body.  Jesus is not there.  Bewildered, not understanding that Jesus has risen (Jn. 20:9), they return to the upper room.  Mary Magdalene is now alone at the tomb weeping when Christ appears to her again.  This is His second appearance, both to women, neither to the disciples.  After this He appears to the disciples in the upper room and on the Emmaus Road.

Matthew 28:10 is an important verse, commanding the disciples to meet Him in Galilee.  It is probably here, where He conducted most of His earlier ministry, that He also conducted the majority of His post resurrection ministry, teaching the disciples how to understand the Old Testament and how to organize and establish the New Testament Church.  The mountain appointed as the meeting place is very likely the place where Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount; the same mount on which He had ordained the twelve, “that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach” (Mk. 3:13 and 14).  It is a place filled with sacred memories in the minds of the disciples.

Many believe the meeting in Galilee is the one Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15:6, when our Lord “was seen of above five hundred brethren.”  Whether this is correct or not, there may be more people present than just the eleven disciples.  We can easily think of several who would hear of this meeting and might make plans to go to Galilee and see again their Saviour, who was dead but now is alive. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Mary the wife of Joseph, Mary and Martha, Lazarus, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea would probably not remain in Jerusalem knowing the risen Lord will appear in Galilee.

Wherever this mount may be, and whoever was or was not there, our Lord makes a shocking announcement. These eleven doubting and fearful men are no longer disciples, they are the Apostles.  Our Lord Himself commissions them to build His Church.  He calls them to teach all nations to observe “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  Our Lord refers not only to the maxims of the moral law, which are always in effect.  He refers also to the entire faith He has taught, and will continue to teach them until His ascension into Heaven.  He refers to the Gospel and the doctrinal content of Christianity.  He refers to the Holy Trinity, the incarnation, the substitutionary atonement for sin, justification by grace through faith, the organisation and worship of the Church, and all the teachings recorded and preserved in the New Testament.  This is the faith given to them by Christ.  This is the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).  This is the faith they are called to proclaim and establish in the Church.

The new disciples are to be baptized into the Church.  It is worth noting that people are not baptized into isolation.  They are baptized into the people, the congregation, the Body and Kingdom of Christ on earth, which is the Church.  They were also baptized into local churches, which the Apostles quickly organized in the places where they preached.  The Apostles educated and ordained clergy in the churches, and gave them the liturgy and order.  The clergy, and the congregations committed to their charge, were not independent.  They answered to the Apostles, who ensured that they taught and lived according to all things Christ commanded.

Christ gives the Apostles two assurances, which are foundational to their calling.  First, “All power is given unto me in heaven and earth.”  He is telling the Apostles He has the power and authority to commission them, and to charge them with this ministry.  He has the power and authority to give the Christian Faith to them, and to require them to pass it on to others.  He has the authority to establish the Church, which is both the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament Israel.  The Apostles go in His authority, and He has all authority.

Second, He will be with them.  They do not yet understand that He will be physically returning to the Father.  They must return to Jerusalem, go with Him to the Mount of Olives, and see Him physically ascend before they understand that.  But after His ascension they will need to know He is still with them. His physical presence has been replaced by His spiritual presence through the Holy Spirit.  Through the Spirit He will dwell in them, and they will dwell in Him.  They will not be alone when they face unbelievers.  They will not be left to their own devices and persuasive abilities to win converts.  He will be with them. He will guide them.  He will empower them.  He will reach people through them.

He will be with them when they encounter opposition.  He who knows when a sparrow falls watches over them.  He who was a man of sorrows will be with them in their sorrows.  And when their earthly pilgrimage is over, He who died to open the gates of Heaven to them will receive them unto Himself, and they shall be with Him forever.  “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

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