Sermon notes for 05132012 – Matthew 28:16-20
All authority is given to me… Go therefore…
The “Great Commission” as it is called is based in our acceptance of Jesus’ authority from the Father.
In Matthew 10 Jesus gives authority to the Apostles and sends them out with a similar mission: 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Here the mission is dependent on Jesus’ sending with authority. They are to go as he goes. Jesus goes in power and in humility – not an easy combination for us humans. We either shy away from power and fall into self-loathing and incapacity, or we embrace power and fall into self-glorification and go on an ego trip – either low self-esteem and impotence or grandiosity and aggressive abuse of power. Only when power is held in humility can it be held in faith and integrity by God’s children.
Just what is this authority?
In the first story (MT 10) they have authority to preach, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. They have power over situations and powers, not over people. Jesus never exercises power over people. In fact, he contrasts in Luke 22 the power exercised by the Gentiles with the model his own disciples are to follow: 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this. 24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The one in power must assume the posture and attitude, must treat the others, as if he were the youngest. The leader of the group must relate to others as though she were a servant. This is power held with great humility, for it is not our power, it is God’s power.
And notice again that it is not power over, but power for, people. The power is over situations, over spiritual forces and natural forces, not over people but on their behalf, and for the glory of God.
When Jesus gives this commission in MT 10, perhaps we are missing some punctuation as well. Perhaps it should read: As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’: Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” What if “cure…raise…cleanse…cast out…” are expressions and illustrations of “proclaim the good news” – they are proclamations of the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near?” The authority is over illness, death, social ostracization and demons – for the sake of proclaiming the gospel of the coming kingdom.
That authority still rests with the church to this day.
Prayer is an interesting and complex phenomena. People of all religions and no religion pray. It seems built into our DNA even if a uniform belief in God is not. And what people believe is accomplished in prayer varies as much as the people who hold those beliefs. I personally believe, from my study of scripture and Christian teaching, and from observation and personal experience, that prayer does not change God or get God to do something God was not going to do anyway. When we pray for healing for someone, we are not praying that God would heal them, as though we think God’s will or action depends upon our prayers. That is not what scripture teaches – certainly not the New Testament. When Jesus prayed for healing, he either spoke to the person, or to the sickness or demon, not to God. Jesus never said, “Father, please remove this sickness/demon from this woman.” He said, “Be well!” or “Come out!” and they were made well and set free. Jesus power and authority were over the sickness and over the spirits of possession on behalf of those who were troubled. And this is what we see Peter, Paul and others doing. They speak to people to rise above their illness, and to demons to depart. Acts 3:6 is the first instance of this after the birth of the church at Pentecost: Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” This miracle gave Peter and John opportunity to preach to the Jews, and even to the authorities who had them arrested. There was a discussion of where they got the power or authority (by what name?) to do this. With authority comes power – power to do the work of the one in whose name the authority rests. Jesus received authority from the father – all authority in heaven and on earth – and bestowed power and authority upon the church in Jesus’ name, as Peter rightly states. This is the pattern followed by all the rest of the miracles in the New Testament.
Remember there was an instance when Jesus’ disciples attempted to use the power and authority given them to heal an epileptic boy but were unsuccessful. After Jesus healed him they asked, why they could not. His answer: “This kind comes out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29) This is preceded by Jesus saying, “O unbelieving generation.” And “Everything is possible for him who believes.” To which the boy’s father replies, “LORD I believe! Help my unbelief.” The father misunderstands. The issue is not the faith of the father or the boy – rather it is a lack of faith on the part of the apostles, faith in their own authority to do that which Jesus has called them to do. Do they lack faith in themselves or in Jesus/God? Or is it simply that because their prayer is insufficient, they are not strong enough in the spirit to channel the spiritual power required to accomplish this miracle? By contrast, Jesus does have faith in his ability to do these things because he KNOWS that he has received power and authority (or authority with power) to heal. Remember his self-affirmation in Luke 4 in Nazareth: “18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This came after he hear the Father say, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased,” and after he had overcome the three temptations of Man – to self-preservation, self-glorification, and self-salvation. Because Jesus had experience of success in overcoming evil, and because he knew confidently who he was, he was able to live fully the authority and power that were his.
Jesus states that “everything is possible for him who believes,” (Mk 9:23) and “with God all things are possible,” (Mk 10:27) and “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20) This is certainly not our experience. There are ways of understanding Jesus’s statements as metaphor or hyperbole that let us off the hook and take the power out of these pronouncements. Jesus seems to believe what he says, and the writers seem to believe it, and the early church seemed to believe it at face value. So what is amiss? Again, we are up against a question of power and authority, its use, abuse, and absence or failure.
What is it that we lack in our lives so that we might live this authority and power in the world?
- We have to accept that our worth rests in God’s opinion, not our own or that of others.
- We have to release any attempt to cling to our own life as a personal possession.
- We have to resist evil with the promises of Faith
- We have to dwell in God as Jesus did. God already dwells in and around us – it is our lack of being fully present in response that hinders our experience of God.
- We have to pursue only God’s kingdom and God’s righteous justice for ourselves and for those we can impact.
We were talking about the Great Commission, remember. Jesus says, “All authority is given to me…therefore go…” We are being sent under Jesus’ authority with Jesus’ authority to “make disciples…baptize…teach…remember.” All of this is based, again, on the nature of the authority and power that come to us from/through Jesus by our faith.
We are to think of this work as an extension of the former discussion from Matthew 10 – it’s about proclaiming the kingdom of God, and now building the kingdom of God. And we have Jesus’ authority and power to do it. Remember, though, that this power and authority are not over others, but over the systems of destruction that work in the lives of those around us. We have no right to begin to try to speak to those principalities and powers until we have spent considerable time addressing the ones that seek to rule us. And once we do that, we move into the world as a servant to others – a slave to those we seek to set free. What would our ministry be, what shape would it take, if our lives were formed in this way? If we moved into the world with the full confidence and faith in the power and authority of Jesus at work in our lives to proclaim and build the kingdom, and then engaged with our neighbors as their humble servants.
What would we do? What would we say? What would we not?
What strongholds would we come against on behalf of others, but as their servants, being sure that nothing we say or do causes injury or harm to the very ones we are trying to help? If someone in your life is overcome by a destructive force, that person is not your enemy. They are you master and you are their slave, but this is in the authority and power of Jesus over the thing that is destroying them – the attitude, habit, thought pattern, addiction, belief, illness, injury, system, or spiritual force.
What kind of person would you be? What kind of church would we be, if we related to the people who drive us nuts in this way? If we related to the people we find it difficult to respect in this way? If we related to the people who are hurtful and hateful toward us in this way? If we related to the vulnerable and frail, to those who can’t help themselves, to those who should be able to (we think) but don’t (for reasons we can’t comprehend)? What if we related to others the way God relates to us. When we could do nothing to save ourselves, and when we couldn’t even look God in the eye because we were too busy looking ourselves in the mirror, God came to save us from ourselves and from all the destructive lies and myths that we tell ourselves and one another. What if we go to others as servants in the same way that Jesus came to us as a servant? What if that is our approach to making disciples? The very one that Jesus took from the beginning? What might happen then?