Famous Last Words (Matthew 28:16-20)
Passage: Matthew 28:16–28:20
I. What Would You Say?
"I want nothing but death."...Jane Austen.
"Applaud my friends, the comedy is finished."...Beethoven.
"Love one another."...George Harrison
"I should have never switched from scotch to martinis."...Humphrey Bogart.
"France, army, Josephine."...Napoleon
"Drink to me."...Pablo Picasso.
"I'm bored with it all."...Winston Churchill
"Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!"...Joan of Arc
Famous last words. But why are anyone’s last words famous? What is it about someone's final words that fascinates us, that makes us sit up and listen?
I think you would agree that we’re naturally interested in someone’s last words because we believe, and believe correctly in many cases, that a person’s last words are typically words that give us a glimpse right down into the center of someone's heart.
Think about it. If you knew that you only had one hour left on this earth, what would you want to say to those around you? What words would you have for your friends, your spouse, your children, your siblings, your co-workers, your neighbors? What would be your last words?
Wouldn’t you open up your heart? Wouldn’t you say those things you’d always wanted to say, the things you know you should say? Wouldn’t you want to leave your family and friends with the unvarnished, unobstructed, undeniable truth about what is most important to you? About your hopes, desires, prayers for each of them?
Famous last words:
“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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."…Jesus Christ
This morning I want us to look together, I believe God wants us to consider these famous last words from Matthew 28. Turn there with me if you haven’t already.
II. The Passage: “Make Disciples of All Nations” (28:16-20)
Listen again to Jesus’ famous last words from the Gospel of Matthew:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Imagine the scene that Matthew is painting for us here. It is only a matter of days after Jesus, the man who had been their teacher, their master, their friend for over three years, it was only a matter of days since he was arrested, beaten, and executed on a Roman cross.
But here are the eleven disciples, seeing Jesus again, raised from the dead. Verse 17 tells us that “when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.” The circumstances are so incredible that there is a mixed response to the reality of the risen Jesus.
But notice how these famous last words, the closing words of Matthew’s Gospel, the last words of Jesus in the book of Matthew, notice what they reveal to us about the heart of Jesus. What matters to Jesus? There is in these words a very clear emphasis on the continuation of His mission. Do you see that?
Jesus does not say, “You guys are great. Thanks for the memories. See you on the other side.” No, the last words of Jesus in the book of Matthew are a charge, a commission, a set of marching orders to carry out and carry on the most important work in the universe.
Matthew 28 is, of course, not the only place where we read about Jesus’ last words. Listen to these other passages that describe some of Jesus’ final words to His followers:
“…but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and *said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus therefore said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:19-21)
…and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46, 47)
Again, do you see how all of these come back to the mission of God. “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” This mission was a continuation of the mission Jesus himself was carrying out during His earthly ministry. This was simply a new phase of that ministry, a new phase made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
That’s why he tells them, “you shall be my witnesses”. That’s the reason that they can proclaim “forgiveness of sins in His name to all the nations”.
These famous last words, the last words of Jesus before He returned to the Father, these words that reveal the heart of Jesus, these words are all about what we are supposed to be doing as his followers.
If you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, do these words shape your whole life? Billions of people, maybe every day, in some way, ask the question, “Why am I here? What’s the purpose of my life?”
I think many Christians ask that question. And I think we come up with many different answers. “Why am I here? I’m here to be fulfilled. Doesn’t God want me to be fulfilled?” Or, “I’m here to somehow make it through the 'mine field' of this evil world and get to heaven, sinning as little as possible along the way.” Or, “I’m here to in my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Are these things completely wrong? No, but they are incomplete and a maybe misdirected.
I think many churches ask that question as well: “Why are we here?” And I think they too come up with many different answers. “Why are we here? We’re here to get people saved so they can go to heaven.” Or, “We’re here to help people solve their problems and deal with their baggage.” Or, “We’re here to help better our communities…or to give people a theological education…or to provide people with a worship experience…or to help people be healthy and wealthy…or to cultivate positive and encouraging relationships…or to help people feel close to God…or to protect people from Satan’s snares and the world’s corruption…or…we’re here because this church has always been here…it’s just what we do.”
What we so often forget is that if we are truly Christians, if are asking that question as a church, the only reason we can ask that question is because someone and some church somewhere was living according to the mission of Jesus. They were living as “his witnesses…they were proclaiming forgiveness though Him…they were making disciples.”
The grace of God at work in the faithfulness of His people is the reason you are sitting here this morning.
III. Defining the Task
This morning, we need cling to the last words of Jesus. We need to think again about the reason each of us is here. We need to think about why Way of Grace church is here. We need to carefully and eagerly consider the charge, the commission Jesus gave to us.
You see, the eleven disciples here are not simply functioning as individuals. As the leaders of Jesus' people, the represent Jesus' people; they represent the church. So the mission is entrusted to the church.
But if go back to Matthew 28:16-20, what do we learn here about this mission that has been entrusted to every follower of Jesus, to every church? What do we discover here about these famous last words that should shape all of our lives?
A. What is a Disciple?
The first thing we have to do is define the word 'disciple'? Jesus tells these men to go out and make disciples. But what is a disciple?
A verse earlier in the Gospel of Matthew helps us answer that question: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master." (10:24, 25)
As disciples of Jesus, as Jews, these men would have understood this term. As the verse indicates, a disciple is someone under a teacher; a student, a learner. And the goal is to be like his teacher. "It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher."
This is not the disconnected kind of information we see in some educational models. I get a little from this teacher, and a little from that teacher, and stick it all together in order to get a piece of paper. No, this way being with someone in order to learn from them how to be like them. Mozart's disciples wanted to be like him musically. A carpenter's apprentice wants to be like their teacher vocationally.
A disciple of Jesus is someone who is under Jesus with the goal of becoming like Jesus.
When we consider the whole Bible, we see that Jesus is simply using a cultural concept that was familiar to his hearers in order to communicate something God had said before in the Old Testament. Maybe God's command in the book of Leviticus expresses it best: "Be holy, for I am holy." (11:45) God was saying, "I want you to be like me." And Jesus would later say, "Come follow me."
And Jesus does say, "Make disciples of all nations." That means all of us are invited to follow, doesn't matter who you are, where your from, what you once believed, or what you've done.
B. How Do You Make a Disciple?
But how do we make disciples? How do you make someone like Jesus? Do you simply say a prayer and all of a sudden you're like Jesus? No, we all know that doesn't happen. Notice that verses 19 and 20 include two participles that are connected to the main verb we're thinking about here, the verb "make".
These two participles tell us something about the tasks and the time related to making disciples.
The first participle is "baptizing". ...Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...A disciple is a man or woman, a boy or girl who publicly confirms that they have turned from sin and self to embrace Jesus as Lord and walk in His grace. Baptism is simply a formal expression, an outward expression of inward faith.
So baptism in this passage is a moment-in-time indicator of saving faith. It is not a process. Baptism is a one-time event that points to the moment a person first hears the gospel, the good news of Chirst, and then responds in faith, and thus comes under Jesus as a follower.
This is why Luke can write in Acts 14 that When [Paul and Barnabas] had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch... (Acts 14:21)
By announcing the Good News about Jesus, and because of the faith response of the listeners, Luke can say that Paul and Barnabas MADE many disciples.
But does that mean these disciples, after coming out of the waters of baptism, were like their teacher in every respect? No, look at the other participle.
The second participle, given in verse 20, is "teaching"...make disciples of all nations... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
The nature of discipleship is not about automatic conformity to your teacher. It's about learning, isn't it? Therefore the work of making disciples is also about teaching these baptized followers of Jesus about what it means to follow Him according to the instructions Jesus himself gave us.
And the commands of Christ point us to the importance, to the authority of everything in the Old and New Testament.
So if baptism points us to that moment of conversion, to that point in time in which you go from 'follower of the world' to 'follower of Jesus', then the work of teaching reminds us that "making disciples, that discipleship, is a process.
So making disciples is about finding faith and following in faith. It’s about birth and growth. It’s about opening a door and walking a path.
IV. The Work of the Church; the Work of This Church
And so in light of all that, in light of these famous last words, the million dollar question is, "How are you making disciples for Jesus?" If we are Christians, shouldn't we respond to this charge he gave; shouldn't we obey his marching orders? He told his disciples to teach new disciples to obey everything commanded…wouldn’t that include this command to “Go!”?
So…who have you baptized and who are you teaching?
We've already pointed out that this commission was not given simply to individuals, but to these men who represented the church. The work of making disciples is the work of the church.
The apostle Paul confirms this in Ephesians chapter 4:
And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ...speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ... (4:11-13, 15)
Did you see how Paul described it here? We become like Jesus as we are equipped in the church to speak the truth in love to one another. The apostles had a place in all this, but they are part of a body that works together through many parts. This work of making disciples, of discipleship does not simply involve one individual; it involves the whole church working together according to the genius of its diversity.
So, Way of Grace Church, what does this mean for us?
I think it means that we need to make sure that our purpose as A church is God’s purpose for THE church. No matter what a church’s mission statement declares, it’s easy to slip into other purposes as God’s people. We can make church primarily about relationships, or good Bible studies, or social action, or great praise music.
But the famous last words of Jesus make our mission clear, don’t they?
But it also means that we need to think carefully about how we should carry out this mission.
We first need to acknowledge that becoming a disciple, growing as a disciple involves many informal aspects. God uses casual conversations, and difficult trials, and times of prayer and reading, and relationships, and chances to serve others, and things we see, and things we listen to, he uses all of these everyday things to make us more like Jesus.
But God also uses formal elements to grow you as a disciple. In fact, Scripture tells us that these formal elements are a big part of what informs, what shapes, what affects those informal aspects.
What do I mean by formal elements? I mean those things that we can plan. The New Testament tells us there were set times for Christians to meet together, even guidelines for worship and instruction. There were structures of leadership within the early church to provide teaching and oversight. There was often organization involved when it came to serving others in love. They appointed leaders through the laying on of hands. They remembered Christ through the elements of the Lord’s Supper. And they were guided in all of this by recognized and accepted sources of authoritative teaching. And those sources are still with us in God’s word, in the Bible.
And I think that just as Jesus told his followers to “make disciples by teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”, I think the New Testament shows us that there were specific things that every disciple should know; specific ways every disciple should grow.
This morning, I’m pleased to announce that God has enabled us as a church to develop and hopefully implement a fuller vision for making disciples of Jesus. This vision does include familiar elements like our Sunday morning Gathering and our weekly Growth Groups. But it also includes new elements, like our monthly visitor reception and quarterly commitment class.
It even introduces a process for what would typically be called church membership.
But the heart of this vision is what we call our Disciple-making Priorities. These are four studies, with different formats, that we hope God will use to create a framework for your growth. The first of these studies is what we call “The Follower’s Foundation”. And we will be relaunching that this month on Sunday, September 20th.. This is a one-evening session where we can talk about the fundamentals of following Jesus Christ.
Please stop by the welcome table to sign up for this important time together.
All of the elements of our vision are outlined for you in this new brochure entitled, “His Vision for You”. Our prayer is that every person in this church family will take this journey with us as we call followers for Jesus, and follow the call of Jesus.
V. Commissioned with Confidence and Comfort
Are you ready to follow His call this morning? This is the most important thing happening in the universe right now. This is the most important work ever carried out.
You can imagine the questions and fears and doubts that those eleven men must have had when Jesus told them to “go”. I think we have or will have similar feelings. And I think we absolutely should admit the truth: this is not something that we can do, this is not a mission we can carry out in our own strength and wisdom.
But did you notice the two phrases we skipped over this morning?
Verse 18: And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Verse 20: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
The power and presence of the risen Jesus is our confidence in the work he called us to do. What a comfort that is. That should inspire us to step out in faith, shouldn’t it?
Are you living in light of the famous last words of Jesus Christ. May God help each of us, may he help this church family to be faithful in fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ to make disciples.