Wednesday, 01 August 2007
Preached at GracePoint Church [Audio]
Introduction: Obeying our doubts?
The passage we are studying today is Matthew 28:16-20…
When we come together today, do you have doubts? What are your doubts?
Sometimes, it is more natural for us to listen to and trust our doubts rather than to trust our Lord. At other times, we may find better hope in doubt than to see what kind of future may be offered in Christ. Also, sometimes, it is far easier to love our doubts, follow our doubts, than to love our Lord. Why? It is because our doubts justify whatever we want to do.
My life and ministry bring me face to face with doubts everyday. I can have doubts with the money in my account. I can have doubt about ministry strategy, about relationships, etc. We just had our first summer camp ... and I worried I would only have a tiny group of kids.
I believe doubt is just my experience. You don’t need to be in full-time ministry to have doubts. To have doubts, you only need a job, a car, children, a wife, a husband, or just a bank account. You can also be in doubt when you do not have any of these. In fact, at other times, all you need is a mirror and doubts will find you in the morning as you brush your teeth, comb your hair, etc. Sometimes, doubts are hidden and not so visible. You don’t really need to say anything to show that you have doubts. Doubt can be a nocturnal animal. Its name is insomnia. Another name for doubt is control. I can come to believe control can solve every problem I have. I can believe my problem can be solved as long as I have total control over the whole situation. The world would be in order when I am in charge.
From time to time, we choose doubt instead of our Lord.
There is no need to deny it: We have doubt. It limits our sight so that we no longer see what the Lord has done in our life and what the Lord has planned to do through our life.
If we go to the passage today, it is obvious that doubt is not only our own problem but also the problem of the disciples. These eleven had followed Christ for years. They have walked with Him, eaten with Him, talked to Him, and listened to His teaching day in and day out. Now they have gone all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee just because a few women told them what the resurrected Christ has said. They were on a mountain in Galilee just because they have trusted the report of the women.
In fact, they have seen the resurrected Christ. He was standing right before them. Didn’t they worship Him because they know Him and have now seen the living Christ? However, the Bible said, “Some doubted.” In fact, the Greek text can also translated assaying “they doubted.” This means that all of the Eleven have doubts. We would think that when Christ commissioned them to bring the good news to the nations,these people would be more ready and more prepared. Shouldn’t their life be straightened out and their faith strengthened before Jesus called them to serve Him? Will any boss dare to give a task to an employee who is not entirely sure what he should do?
The Good News contained in this passage is saying that the outcome of the Great Commission does not depend on us nor does it matter whether we have doubts.Since Jesus Christ is the Lord of all, He has removed our doubts and has given us everything we need to serve Him.
What Matthew is telling us are these:
(1) Since Christ is the Lord of everything, we should obey Him.
(2) Since Christ is the Lord of everything, we should disciple the nations.
(3) Last of all, since Christ is the Lord of everything, we should know His presence.
Section I: Since Christ is the Lord of everything, we should serve Him (v.18)
How did Jesus address His disciples who are in doubt? How were the eleven disciples commissioned?
First of all, since He is the Lord of everything,He has called us to serve Him even when we are doubtful. He told His disciples,“all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (v.18).
God has given Jesus Christ kingship and authority over everything in heaven and on earth. This means Christ now has the absolute authority over everything that is in this world. There is really nothing else in this universe that can quite compete with Him or overshadow His authority.
Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 9[:6], Christ has already said that He has authority over sins such that He can forgive sins.Then, in chapter 11, Christ said “all things have been handed over to me by my father…” (Matthew 11:27). Paul has made it very clear in his letter to the Ephesians that God has raised Christ from the dead “and seated Him at his righthand in heavenly places, far above all rules and authority and power and dominion, …” and that God has “put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things…” (Ephesians 2:20-21). By Christ’s resurrection, Christ’s authority is vindicated. He is the one who has created the world and has the absolute authority over everything.
On one hand, this means absolute protection for the disciples; on the other hand, this means absolute obedience. Christ calls us so that we may be freed from all that is in this world in order that we may serve Him. He is unlike other kings in the world. Other kings may demand absolute obedience and loyalty before you can earn protection from them. Christ gives promises (v.18) before He called us to serve Him (v.19). Christ would commission the church that is in doubt and He did that not because the church is able but because He is. He is able to free us from doubts to obey Him.
Have you lived in a world that is ruled by doubts? What does it look like? The world rule by doubts is a world that requires absolute obedience. Doubt will grip you and keep you up at night. It demands your attention and absolute obedience. If I have doubt about my future,and when doubt asks me to sink most of my money to prepare for my retirement, I have to obey it. Doubt will make your action entirely logical and necessary as if there is no other alternative. Doubt also spreads itself by staining the thing it touches. When I have doubt about my wife, my wife can feel it and she can learn to cast doubt about everything that I do also.
Is there an area in your life that is dominated by doubts?Does it have a strong grip on you such that you can no longer focus on things above (Colossians 3:1-2) and the matters of the Kingdom (Matthew 6:9-10)? If there were such an area in your life, I would say you need a better King. You need the King that can free you from such narrow focus. You need Him to free yourselves from the deadly logic of the materialistic life. We need to trust in the authority and the providence of the Lord and not to obey doubt. It dominates our life with possessions. To trust in the Lord helps us to manage our life and possession with proper Kingdom priorities. To be ruled by doubt,you will let it suck you dry. To be ruled by Jesus Christ, you will receive more so that you may give to others in need. Christ, not doubt, should be the King of everything and especially of our life.
In view of our doubts, what the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides for us is a Savior that will rescue us from doubts. This Savior will not abandon us because we are weak; instead, He calls us to serve Him because He is big enough and powerful enough for all our weaknesses.
When Jesus Christ commissioned His disciples to make disciples, He has identified Himself as the King of the universe. He has all the authority of the heaven and the earth. This means that nothing in this universe will have authority over His disciples and everything that is around them, including their doubts. Christ has given Himself to us as King and He is able to protect and to rule over His disciples.
However, as you read on, you will see that Christ is more than just a King who rules the world Himself and wants only total control all by Himself. Instead, He is gracious to us and has invited the Church to participate in His ministry.
Section II: Since Christ is the Lord of everything, we should disciple the nations (v.19)
Christ did not just address His doubtful disciples by asserting His authority. Christ did not just parade His kingship before His doubtful disciples. He has brought them closer by calling his disciples to participate in His Mission and make disciple of all nations by going, baptizing, and teaching.
With these eleven doubtful disciples, Jesus did not ask them to strengthen their faith in Him first. Instead, He went ahead and called them to make disciples of all nations. When Christ sent the disciples out to disciple the nations, He did so entirely because He has received the authority in heaven and on earth. The Church is called to serve the Lord because of who Christ is, and not because of how powerful the Church is.
Christ has not advised the disciples to focus on their weaknesses. He did not ask the disciples to uncover first why they still have doubts. He did not ask them to fix their problems first. Instead, the Lord asks the disciples to go, to baptize, and to teach even when they are in doubt. It is obvious that one cannot accomplish the Great Commission by focusing on and fixing one’s own problem. I will not be able to find more kids to come to the summer camp by worrying about the number and focusing on the number.
Instead, our focus should be on the Lord’s Mission and His desire to reach many nations. The scope of what we do should be compatible with the scope of Christ’s reign. He rules the whole world and that is also how we should conceive our life and ministry.
By going, He does not necessary mean that we must go overseas. It may be difficult to nail down where we should go. However, “go”means we are not to wait for people to “come.” It is possible that we are called to go overseas and it is also possible that we are called to go to a neighborhood in the city where the Gospel has not been heard. If you pay attention to how the community has evolved and the number of ethnic groups we have in the city, we may know where we should go. The pace of secularization and immigration can possibly make the US one of the biggest mission fields in the world.
By baptizing, Christ is saying that the sacrament of baptism is an essential element in the mission of the Church. The Great Commission should not just result in some Christians who are unattached to any local body of believers; instead, Christ sees baptism administered in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as essential in building up of the Body of Christ. It is through baptism that we have publicly identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. It is also in baptism that we can experience His grace.It is also through baptism that we are willing to submit ourselves to our brothers to live a corporate life.
At last, by teaching, Christ is calling us to teach those who have come to Him. This is not a short-term process. Jesus’ disciples were taught for years and their education continued after Jesus has ascended into heaven and the Spirit has come. We should also observe that the Great Commission is neither a onetime deal nor a five-minute fast food presentation.Disciples may grow in Christ when Christ’s commandments and instructions are be fully given to them. This is why Christ has given the Church teacher and pastor and many other gifted officers so that this educational process can continue.
In view of these, we may ask ourselves. What roles have you play in all these tasks? In what way have you encouraged the Church to “go” and to “move out”? In what way have you been active in bringing people to know Christ? Has the Lord given you a gift to teach the children, the young, the adults, and the seniors?
Sometimes, we may think God’s grace is most visible in how we may solve our personal problems. However, here in the Gospel of Matthew,God’s grace is visible to us not in how we have fixed all our problems and taken care of ourselves. God’s grace is most visible in how Jesus Christ has shared with the Church His work in the Great Commission. In spite of our imperfections and doubts, He has placed before us a task bigger than all of us.This battle requires all of our participation. We should pray and the Lord’sPrayer is the proper way that helps us to think through our role in God’s Mission: This is because the Lord’s Prayer starts with the name of the Father,the coming of the Kingdom, and the execution of God’s will on earth, and then,the focus of the prayer turns to our daily needs.
I would say the Lord’s Prayer is essentially a dangerous prayer. This is because when we pray according to that prayer, the Lord may show us a need in the community or in the world that we may be able to meet.
So, what we have learned so far? In face of our doubts, Christ has shown Himself to be the King over all things so that doubt should not control our life. In the midst of our doubts, Christ has called us to participate in His Mission by going, baptizing, and teaching so that the Body of Christ may be built up. However, we are thinking too little of God if we only know the Lord as a king and a sending agent. Christ can do much more than that and His promise for us is much more intimate.
Section III: Since Christ is the Lord of everything, His presence removes our doubts (v.20)
In addressing the doubts of the disciples, in v.20, Jesus Christ promises that He will be with them always to the end of the age.
Many religions in this world promise salvation from death and good life by following some laws. In the end, these religions tell them there are many more laws to follow. So, in these religions, people are rescued from the sharks and are then cast back into an ocean filled with bigger and greater number of sharks.
However, Christ’s promise is very different. This intimate promise is often very foreign to other religions. Christ’s promise is that the all-powerful God will guard and rescue a doubtful people and then He will not only send them to do His work, but He will also live with them forever.
Most other religions boil down to be a system of moral living, and some guidelines for “holy living.” However, the Word of God revealed that the true God is willing to do a lot more. After Jesus’resurrection, He stayed with his disciples for a while before ascending into heaven and then He will send the Holy Spirit to live with them forever(John 15:26, Galatians 4:6). The Holy Spirit will mediate presence of Christ to the people of God. Without the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ name “God with us” or“Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23) is empty words. His promise here in v.20 is also empty words. This promise of Christ’s presence with the disciples echoes what God has done in the Old Testament. God has never left His people in the ark,nor left them in the wilderness. He continued to live with them. It also points forward to what He has done throughout the whole history of the Church. The truth of the Scriptures and the orthodox doctrines of the Church are preserved because of the work of the Holy Spirit working through them.
God has rescued us from the sharks and then He will keep us company while we go back to the sharks. He enables us to identify the sharks and give us the weapons to deal with them while enabling us to pull the trigger when we are too weak. If Christ has worked for thousands of years in the Church, how can we think that there is nothing He can do for us today?
Of course, sometimes the presence of our doubts is more real than the presence of the Lord. We can often feel the presence of our doubts but we fail to acknowledge the presence of the Lord. We may complain that we can’t see Him and we can’t touch Him. However, we know His presence through what He has said in the Scriptures. His Word is more certain than our fleeting senses. God has promised His presence with His people throughout the Bible and now Christ’s presence with us is as certain as what God has done before in history. How then can our doubts be so big that our experience in the 21st century nullifies what has happened continually in the last 2,000 to 3,000 years? How can we come to obey our doubts so that we elevate them over against God’s promises?
Conclusion: Obey the Lord in our doubts
In the end, what has Matthew told us? He told us that Jesus Christ has called us to operate between His universal authority and His eternal presence in the whole world, teaching all that He has commanded us to do. We are never able to get outside His authority and leave His presence. No matter what we do, since we have this relationship with Him and His Father, nothing in this creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:39). Our actions are always sandwiched between Christ’s authority in the whole world and also His eternal presence around us and within us through the Holy Spirit. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is with us and has worked hard to provide all that we need to fight this battle.
If this is so, when we follow our doubts and keep them company, we may do nothing for the Kingdom.Instead, we should obey and follow our Lord Jesus Christ for He knows our doubt and He cares for us. In fact, He has already called us into action.
We should pray that we may trust Christ more than we trust our doubts.
We should pray that we may put hope in Christ’s plan rather than our own.
We should pray that we may love God more than we love our doubts and fears.
May the Lord forgive us when he hesitates in following and obeying Him.
May the Lord forgive us when we have elevated our life over against the life that He has prepared for us.
May the Lord guide us so that we may walk in His will and experience Him in powerful and meaningful way when we seek to accomplish The Great Commission.