Matthew 28:11-20 The King: Given All Authority WC McCarter
The Quran is the only historically claimed document that denies that Jesus actually died on the cross. Every other document acknowledges that Jesus did in fact die by crucifixion on the cross. The Quran, of course, was written hundreds of years after Christ. One of my favorite people, an internationally known Christian apologist, scholar, professor, evangelist, and philosopher, Ravi Zacharias tells of a time that he sat down and had a conversation in Damascus, Syria with the leading Shiite cleric by the name of Sheikh Hussein. He says that when the over three-hours-long conversation had ended, the Muslim leader looked at him and said, “You know, Professor, I think that the time has come for us in the Islamic world to stop asking if Jesus Christ died and to start asking why.”
Everything about the Christian faith rests on the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day. Matthew has reported to us the narrative of the resurrection from the viewpoint of the disciples, and in today’s text Matthew gives us the story of what the chief priests and guards did about the resurrection. The guards were bribed by the chief priests to tell the people that they fell asleep, and the disciples of the Lord stole His body. The question that Matthew leaves us with is, Who will you believe? Which story do you find true? If you believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, then you will be compelled to submit to His Lordship and His commission to make disciples.
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A Fallacy is Fabricated (11-15)
Remember that everything took place just outside the city gates in a garden that was near Calvary. As the group of women went into the city to report to the apostles what had happened, the guards were also heading into the city to report to the chief priests what had happened. The stories are somewhat similar in the beginning but come to drastically different ends. Surely, both groups report the appearance of the angels and their subsequent fear. At that point the men passed out, but the women received a message from the angel and also encountered the Risen Lord.
These guards were apparently Roman guards delegated by Pilate to the Jewish rulers. This is probably the case because the Jews asked Pilate to secure the tomb (Matt 27:64), there was a Roman seal placed there (Matt 27:66), and the guards ultimately had to answer to the governor for what had transpired in the garden (Matt 28:14). If these were Jewish temple police, the Jewish rulers would not have had to bribe them but could have simply exercised authority over them and even threatened their lives.
We see that money can be an evil enticement. If a man has enough of it, he can do whatever evil he wills to do. The Jewish rulers paid 30 pieces of silver to Judas Iscariot to find the location where they could arrest Jesus. They bribe the Roman guards here with a large sum of money. They are confident that they can appease Pilate if the story gets back to him, presumably with money. Also notice the power of lies. When a man begins to lie, he must continue to the point that all he knows are lies. A person gets to the point that he/she is telling lies simply to cover up previous lies. The rulers set up false witnesses in Jesus’ trial, and now they seek to spread another lie about the empty tomb. When does it end? As God told Cain back in Gen 4:7, “Sin is crouching at the door, and it desires to dominate you.” These Jewish rulers were dominated by sin. They were full of corruption, lies, bribery, and rebellion. A heart full of lies and hands full of money are a catastrophic combination.
Is it not ironic that the very lie that the guards are told to say is the very thing that they were sent to the tomb to prevent?! Now, let’s think about this false report for a moment. If the disciples did plan to steal the body of the Lord, (1) they would have risked the threat of the Roman guards who would have put them to death for attempting such a thing. By the way, (2) the guards would have risked their own lives by falling asleep because sleeping while on watch was punishable by death. Not only would the disciples have had to deal with the guards, but (3) they would have risked their lives by breaking the seal on the tomb. Breaking a Roman seal was punishable by death. It was an offense against the Empire. Even if the disciples could get past the guards and risk their lives by breaking the seal, (4) there would have needed to have been a few men in order to open the stone door of the tomb. (5) They would not have taken the time to unwrap the Lord’s body and neatly fold the cloths to lay them in place. (6) What is the incentive for claiming the Lord was risen if you knew He had not? (7) What would the disciples have died (and many did) for what they knew to be a lie? (8) Why record that women were the first eyewitnesses and messengers of the Good News if women were not thought to be credible witnesses by the Jewish culture? When all of the facts are considered, THE BEST explanation is that JESUS was RAISED from the DEAD.
Although the facts prove that the lie is implausible, the Jewish rulers found themselves with only this option remaining. They do not even consider that what they were hearing may be true, that Jesus of Nazareth may have actually been raised from the dead. So, their utter rebellion forces them to immediately forge a lie to explain away what actually happened. This lie became the oldest alternative to the empty tomb known to man. It was circulated immediately after the tomb was found empty; it was known several years later when Matthew was recording his Gospel account; and it is even claimed today. Therefore, we are left with the question, Do you believe that Jesus was literally raised from the dead, or do you believe that His disciples stole His body? Consider the evidence and determine a conclusion. The body of Jesus was gone. We only have two options as to what happened.
The Risen Lord Meets His Disciples (16-17)
Matthew challenges us to make a decision about what happened to the body of Jesus, but his conviction is plain and certain. He knew Jesus to be alive. So, he picks up the narrative where he left off with the women telling the disciples that the Lord commanded them to meet Him on a mountain in Galilee. Verse 16 tells us that the apostles left Jerusalem, headed north to Galilee, and arrived at the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. We cannot know which mountain is referenced here. Mountains are seen in Matthew, and the whole Bible, as a place from which divine revelation comes forth and communion with God takes place. A special and significant thing takes place. The life and ministry of Christ has now come full circle. The Lord was raised as a boy in the region of Galilee, the majority of His earthly ministry took place in Galilee, and now He meets His followers one last time in the hill country of Galilee. This is significant because that region was known as “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Christ’s life and ministry have been showing all along, and now His commission makes undeniable, that what He has achieved is for all the peoples of the earth. Christ’s accomplishments are to be shared with people near and far, even to the end of the earth.
Jesus appeared before them, just as He said He would. When they saw Him, they worshiped but some doubted. The word “doubt” does not refer to unbelief. Many scholars translate this word as “hesitated.” As one commentator says, “[The word] refers not to intellectual uncertainty but to the disorientation produced by an unfamiliar and overwhelming situation” (France). Can you imagine how impressive and overwhelming this scene would have been? How do you respond to the Risen Lord when He appears to you on the mountain?
The Risen Lord Commissions His Disciples (18-20)
Jesus does not only show Himself, but He speaks. God has been speaking since the beginning of time. He wants to reveal Himself to us, and He wants to have a relationship with us. In keeping with the other resurrection appearance to the women, Jesus gives a command in this passage. The Risen Christ is seen as a Commissioning Lord. His command to the women was, “Go and tell. . . .” His command to His disciples on the mountain was in essence the same thing, Go and tell, that is, “Go and make disciples. . . .”
But notice what Jesus says first, in verse 18. Do you remember how the Bible starts in Gen 1:1? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is an idiomatic phrase that refers to everything. Jesus says that all authority has been given to Him for all places. It is because of this authority that Christ can then command that His followers make more disciples of all the nations.
I fell into the trap of thinking that Jesus meant, As you are going into all the world, make disciples as if we only have to make disciples if we go or I’m only responsible for disciple-making right here where I am. That is not what Jesus said, and that is not what the original language conveys. There are two chief commands here, Go and Make; both are important and both are necessary. To fulfill the Great Commission, as it were, both must be undertaken.
The chief end of these two commands is that there may be more disciples. The Lord wants to see, and we do too, more and more folks coming under the power of His saving work and under the authority of His Lordship. The two chief functions of fulfilling this commission are baptizing and teaching.
Baptism, we learn from the New Testament, is what a person does when they repent of their sins and put their full faith in Christ for salvation. Baptism is what unites a person with the death and resurrection of Christ. We are united with the Triune God when we are immersed, which is why we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. To be united with Him is to come into a relationship with Him, and it is to receive His accomplishments as your very own.
Teaching, we also learn from the Bible, is the primary business of the church. We are a people of the Book. Christ has made the leaders of the church “pastor-teachers” and “elders who labor in word and doctrine.” We are disciples, that is, learners. God is a speaking God, the God who reveals Himself. Therefore, we listen; we study; we meditate; and we grow. We devote ourselves to the detailed study of Scripture. We are equipped for life and ministry through an education in the things of Christ. The Lord commanded His disciples to teach all peoples, “to observe all things that I have commanded you.” All Scripture is God-breathed and has come from the Lord of glory. We do well to obey His commands and continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ promises to be with us every step of the way, every moment as we Go and Tell. He wants us to make disciples, so He will empower, embolden, and equip us with everything we need to do so. Through it all, He will be present.
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) Sin is crouching at our doors. We must deny it and put our trust in Christ. Let me finish the quote I started before as God spoke to Cain. He said, “Sin’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
(2) What will you do with the resurrection? Do you believe? Do you know why?
(3) If you believe that Jesus is Lord and God has been raised from the dead, you must heed His resurrection commission. We are a people who have been commanded to Go and Tell, to Go and Make.