In our world today religious belief is seen as a matter of preference and opinion. Some people believe all religions, though varying in minutiae, are generally all teaching the same thing. Some believe religion is a crutch for those who can’t get through life on their own, or a crutch for those who are scared of death. Others believe that while all religions are different we will all end up in the same spot eventually. Still others believe that while religion may matter a great deal for someone personally it must never come out publicly. Yet amid all this we must remember, regardless of our opinion about a thing, truth reigns. One might believe chocolate cake is as healthy as kale salad but eventually one’s waistline will reveal the truth of the matter. So it seems while everyone does have their opinion, not all opinions are created equal, not all opinions are valid, and not all opinions are in line with the truth. And I think we all know this to be true. No one goes into their bank and says, ‘I feel like a millionaire today, I’d like to withdraw a few million dollars.’ Can you imagine the teller’s response? ‘I’m sorry sir, you may truly feel like that, but your feelings do not match the numbers I’m seeing in your account.’
Now we understand how ridiculous such an example is don’t we? Why then when we come to matters of religion and eternity do we lean so heavily on preference and opinion rather than truth? Perhaps it’s because we believe that, in regard to these things we can’t know the truth. To which I respond, ‘Really?’ I not only think we can know the truth about these things, I think we do know the truth and because we don’t like it we we try and push it down again and again to make us feel better about ourselves, which sadly shows how gifted we are at protecting ourselves from that which would do us the most good.
Why begin with all this today? Because today is Easter. The day where we rejoice over the greatest event in the history of the world, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And yet in spite of this great event there is still a large amount of opinion, objection, and opposition. So Today I’d like to clear the air and preach from a text that will lay the truth of the matter bare for us to see.
All this past Holy Week the elders have been leading us through devotions in Matthew’s gospel, this morning we finish with Matthew 28, where we’ll see five great things.
A Great Surprise (v1-10)
“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold,
He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
We again meet two women as chapter 28 begins. We’ve seen these two women before at the end of chapter 27 as Jesus was buried, now we see them coming to the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week likely to tend to the body. On their arrival to the tomb a whole host of unexpected things occurred. In v2 there was a great earthquake, caused no doubt by an angel that had descended, who rolled the stone away blocking the entrance to the tomb, and sat down on it. v3 mentions the angel’s appearance was like lightning and his clothing like white snow. Then in v4 we see it was not only the ground that shook but the guards as well. “…for fear of him…” they trembled and fell down as though dead. Ironic isn’t it? The guards assigned to watch over the dead fall down as if dead while the dead One is raised to life. Naturally then, the two women grow terrified, but it is here in v5-6 we find the great announcement, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” What a gift given to these two women to be the first to hear it and the first to come and see for themselves. After this the angel instructs them to go and tell the disciples, and that they’ll soon see Jesus in Galilee. So they left quickly with “…fear and great joy…” to tell the others. But before they could get to them Jesus Himself, now risen, meets them gladly saying “Greetings!” (literally in Greek ‘Rejoice!’) and the two women bowed before His feet to worship Him. Notice how Jesus responds to this? It’s likely the women are in a kind of stunned fear mixed with joy wondering if this is all true, yet responding as they ought, with worship. Jesus consoles them and sends them on ahead to be the first ones sent out to tell this great news to the disciples.
Remember years before it was angels who announced good news of great joy at the birth of Christ, now it’s another angel who tells them good news of great joy of the resurrection. To these women, it was a great surprise indeed!
A Great Cover Up (v11-15)
“While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.”
It seems the guards ‘came to’ once the women had gone off running back to the disciples. Immediately they go back to the chief priests to report the events at the tomb. That makes these chief priests the first ones, other than the women, to hear the good news of Easter. But in great unbelief, this was the worst of news to them. We read here of what they do, but do you notice what they don’t do? They don’t ask further questions about: the angel, the earthquake, the clothes like lightning, the stone rolling away, or his announcement that Jesus is alive again. No, here we see great unbelief and hardness of heart in them as they desperately determine to bring the whole Jesus movement to an end by any cost.They know their story is a lie but they don’t care, they simply do what they did before. They had lined the pockets of Judas to betray Jesus, now after some deliberation, they decide to line the pockets of the guards to keep their mouths shut about what really happened. And the guards, being made rich, went along with it. How ironic is it that on the very cusp of the giving of the Great Commission that will launch the good news of the gospel around the globe, we see a great cover up that results in a phony report being launched around the world, that the disciples stole the body while the guards were sleeping. And don’t miss Matthew’s comment in v15; this lie is still being told by the time he writes his gospel, just as it’s still being told today.
But pause and think how foolish this false news report is. First, these guards were well trained Roman soldiers, on duty in what has been a very active city. They were trained to not sleep, but to stay alert and vigilant making it highly unlikely for them to ever fall asleep on duty. Second, if the guards were asleep how could they know who or how the body was stolen? Are sleeping people reliable witnesses for anything? Third, and perhaps most pointed, if the disciples stole the body why do they soon preach that Jesus has risen at the cost of their own lives? Did preaching this message get them great wealth or prestige? No. Preaching this gospel didn’t get them any of that! In fact, it cost them their lives. Men may believe in lies, but no man knowingly dies for a lie. Church, the proof of the resurrection is this simple. A man can no more disprove the resurrection by denying it than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the wall.
Now after this there is a transition back to the disciples in v16-17, “Now the eleven disciples (first time their called that) went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshiped Him, but some doubted.” Do you find this a bit jarring? For the first time the disciples come face to face with the risen Christ and while some of them worship Him and rejoice to see Him, some of them doubt. As jarring as this is, I think it’s an honest account full of worship, wavering, hesitation, bewilderment and astonishment. It’s likely how we would respond to such an occasion, and therefore what follows after this is a great encouragement to those who struggle with doubt today.
Do not miss that it’s into this scene, into this mixed bag of disciples Jesus gives us what truly may be His most famous words, the Great Commission. See it in three parts…
A Great Claim (v18)
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”
Authority today has fallen on hard times. It seems the mere exercise of it is seen as the abuse of it. Yet, the authority of Christ is a large theme throughout the gospel of Matthew. For example we see Jesus in authority healing, casting out demons, teaching, as well as forgiving sin. So when we read here of the authority of Christ in 28:18 it’s not a new authority we see. We’ve seen His authority all along. But because of His resurrection He now has a new level of authority, indeed the highest possible authority. Jesus Christ can say here that He has been given all authority is because He alone is the resurrected Lord. He alone is the One who went into a grave and walked out of His own accord. When the stone rolled away from the tomb everything changed. We’re no longer free to say Jesus was simply a teacher or prophet, we must recognize and submit to Him as the very Lord of all.
Author and theologian Matthew Osborne rightly states that Matthew 28:18 is the highest statement of Christology in the entire Bible. All of the great Christological passages of the New Testament (Col. 1:15-20, Phil. 2:5-11, and Heb. 1:1-3), they all exist because Matthew 28:18 came first. Jesus has all authority. Therefore all men must humble themselves before Him. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, or perhaps you yourself have once said that ‘you made Jesus Lord of your life.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus isn’t made Lord over us by our approval and authorization, He is Lord. He doesn’t become our God when we give Him permission, He is God over us. Rather when one turns from sin and turns to Him in faith we are not accepting Him into our lives, we become acceptable to Him. Therefore in light of His authority we would do well to remember that one day all knees will bow before Him. Either we humble ourselves now, or be humbled by Him later. Presidents come and go, Jesus does not remain in authority because of our vote or approval, no. As the resurrected Lord, Christ holds all authority over heaven and earth.
A Great Commission (v19-20a)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Because Jesus holds all authority He has the right to do whatever pleases Him, and it pleases Him to command us to go to the nations. Remember, it was the first Adam who was commanded by God to exercise dominion and spread God’s image with his helpmate Eve. In this he failed, and plunged all mankind into sin, death, and misery. But, now the Second and Last Adam Jesus Christ is exercising His dominion by spreading His own image around the world through His helpmate the Church. And in this He has not, is not, and will not fail.
On this commission pastor David Platt says, “This is not a comfortable call inviting most Christians to come, be baptized, and sit in one location. This is a costly command directing every Christian to go, be baptized, and make disciples of all nations.” This means that the mission of the Church on earth is to be on mission to the uttermost ends of the earth. This involves going: crossing oceans, continents, and borders, going to hard places to bring the gospel to those who haven’t heard it. This also means ‘as we go’ or ‘as we’re going’ about our life we should be about the Great Commission wherever we find ourselves to be. Whether we’re in Kansas or Kathmandu, Tampa or Taiwan, New York or New Zealand…all who belong to Christ are to be about spreading the gospel of Christ. This isn’t something we clock in and out for. This isn’t something we leave to the ‘professionals’ as if missionaries/pastors/elders can do this for their congregations so they don’t have to. This isn’t the great suggestion or the great recommendation, no. The options are clear in this mission: go, send, or disobey. All of the Church, throughout all generations, in all the world is to be making disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching.
It never fails to astonish me how quickly we push this aside. Of all a congregation pray/fast about, strategize/budget for, and give themselves to why is it that this is often overlooked? Have we forgotten? The One commanding us to this mission has all authority in heaven and earth. Who He is and what He has done is the very message we’re to be spreading. He is worthy of worship and so John Piper is exactly right to say, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions…fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity.” Church, we should be concerned with going to the whole earth in order to teach the whole counsel of God. Some are irritated with how many churches there are, but with 7.8 billion sinners in the world, there ought to be a thriving and growing church on every corner of every street in the world? May it be so…more and more.
A Great Comfort (v20b)
On whom do we depend in this mission? How do we know this mission will succeed? Are we banking on our own ingenuity, our own methods, on our own stick-to-itiveness, or endurance to make it to the end? No, v20b shows us Who we depend on, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Knowing how fallen this world is, how hard it can be, and how much courage it takes to live in this mission, what a comfort it is to know His presence with us.
For Matthew’s gospel this is one of the bookends to see. His gospel began with the incarnation announcement of Immanuel ‘God with us’, and now His gospel ends with the promise of the presence of the resurrected Lord forever. But there’s another bookend to see. Matthew began his gospel with a genealogy of Jesus beginning with Abraham. And when Abraham is in view all the nations come into view. God promised Abraham that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). The point of the genealogy is to reveal Jesus as the long awaited Descendant of Abraham who will indeed bless the whole world. But as Matthew’s gospel unfolds we see the earthly ministry of Jesus largely being confined to one nation no bigger than the state of Maryland. Where then is the global scope of Abraham’s promise? Has it gone away? No. It comes in the Great Commission, where the promised Descendant of Abraham, Jesus Christ, sends out His Church to spread His gospel to all nations.
This commission is outward: it takes us out to the nations with His message. This commission is inward: it moves us in to examine our obedience to His teaching. And This commission is upward: it turns our eyes above to Him who is with us forever. All of His authority, to all of the nations, teaching all that He commanded, with all of His presence.
As we look out over the world today, especially in amid this global pandemic, we can easily believe the world to be a dark and dangerous place. And it is dark and dangerous, not mainly because of a virus but because of sin. And yet, we serve a Savior who lived for us, died for us, and rose for us who now calls us to go into darkness and death with His message of light and life! For millennia the Church of history has been faithful in this, risking all in obedience to this commission so we would know this God and love His gospel. Will we do the same? ‘But we might be persecuted. We might suffer. We might lose our very lives.’ If Jesus hasn’t risen and we live for this life only, I’m out, I’m done. But Jesus has risen for us, is reigning over us, and will return to get us. With such a sure future before us what do we ever have to fear?
 William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1977), 996.
 Donald A. Hagner et al., Matthew 14-28, Volume 33B – Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce M. Metzger, David Allen Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1995), 869.
 Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 895-898. This whole section is gold.
 Hagner et al., Matthew 14-28, Volume 33B – Word Biblical Commentary, 877–78.
 My twist on C.S. Lewis’ famous quote, applied to the resurrection.
 Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004), 950.
 Hagner et al., Matthew 14-28, 885-86.
 Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2103), 911.
 Ibid, 913 and 1036.
 David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew – Christ Centered Exposition Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2013), 374-75.
 John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1993), 15.
 R. C. Sproul, Matthew Saint Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 821–23.
 Wilkins, Matthew, 963–64.
 O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth, 918.