January 10, 2021

God Is With Us

Passage: Matthew 28:16-20

Deep in the Arabian desert is a small fortress.  It was at this place that Thomas Lawrence, also known as “Lawrence of Arabia”, used to seek shelter.  Though it wasn’t a beautiful place, it was a great place because of its security.  It was loaded with food supplies and had plenty of water.  When under attack by superior forces, Lawrence would retreat to the fort and be able to defend himself and rely on the supplies of the fort.  His enemies would run out of supplies and the elements would start taking their toll and the enemy would have to retreat. What happened at that fort was that the strength of the fort became the strength of Lawrence who occupied it.  But for that fort to be able to provide protection for Lawrence, what did he have to do?  He had to go inside the fort.  And the same thing is true for us.  God has plenty of provisions for us to be able to thrive and make a difference in our homes, our churches and our community.  But for us to take advantage of those provisions, we must allow ourselves to be placed in His care; we must allow Christ to carry us into the fort.  The sad reality my friends is that thousands of people stood outside God's fortress and because they refused to go inside the enemy came and destroyed them.  What is your security in the world we live?  My friends, there is such wonderful news this morning – we don't have to find something to hold onto to give us comfort.  We have the presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Let's think of the question in the Heidelberg Catechism – Sunday 1; question and answer 1 – “What is your only comfort in life and in death?  That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”                                                             Before He ascended into heaven Jesus gave a wonderful affirmation – “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Verse 20b.  These words follow The Great Commission.  Most people read this passage and miss the very last words Jesus spoke to His disciples.  All they think of is what God wants us to do.  But they miss the part where God says, “I will take care of you, for I am always with you.”

From Matthew 28: 16-20 we first see 1 The Great Declaration.  In verse 18 we read, “Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.'”  During the time of Jesus' ministry on earth, He taught with great authority and there was power in His healing touch.  But, His power and authority had always been restricted in some way.  He had to submit Himself to rejection, persecution, humiliation and death.  After His death, there was a feeling that His cause failed.  Those who left Golgotha were distraught despite the curtain that was torn from top to bottom and the Roman centurion who confessed Jesus as Son of God.  There were Cleopas and his companion on their way to Emmaus who expressed their heartbreak to the Stranger Who joined them on the road – “...but we had hoped that He was the One Who was going to redeem Israel.”  Luke 24: 21a.   But now on the Mount of Olives where Jesus summoned His disciples, He as the resurrected Lord declared His authority and power.  Everything was now different.  In His hands the future of the world and His church laid.  And before He went back to take His rightful position in heaven, He spoke words to encourage His followers on that mountain and all times and places to follow.  There have been leaders throughout history who have inspired confidence in their followersIt's a wonderful thing to be involved with a great person in a great cause.  Francis of Assisi, for instance, inspired thousands of people to make a difference in the lives of the poor and the vulnerable.  His famous hymn, “Make me a channel of Your peace”, with thoughts of peace, love and humility, inspired others to continue in his footsteps, as he followed in Jesus' footsteps.  And then we think of St. Paul who inspired Timothy.  Timothy had in Paul someone who led by example.  It was like he could follow every move the apostle made.  And Timothy knew all the time – It wasn't about his brother in faith.  It was about the Lord Jesus' presence in Paul's life.  There were missionaries whose influence changed not just individuals, but generations.  Billy Graham's teachings inspired many to use his words.  They think and speak like the Evangelist.  But, there was a huge difference with what took place in our Gospel reading.  The risen Christ declared His authority then, now and till the end of time.  That was His inspiration to His people forever.  Why did He declare His authority and power?  In our world when people express their authority it's to let others know how important they are.  But with Jesus it was to say, “I have conquered and you will walk in my victory for generations to come.”

We find 2 The Reason Of The Great Commission in this passage.  Because Jesus had accomplished the will of the Father and restored a world broken by sin, He sent people out as His witnesses –  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing then in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you...”  Verses 19 and 20a.  Based on His Declaration to absolute authority, Jesus gives His followers the most magnificent gift.  He makes them a part of the the greatest possible adventure life can offer.  Note the present tense here – Jesus gives and makes.  In the 21st century and the year 2021 He says to His followers, “Now is the time to go and tell all nations about my victory.  Now, more than ever before is the time to make people my disciples.”  Yes, my friends in a time when there are more organizations than what we can mention to threaten us, our Lord comes and says, “Go and make...”  The commission we have been given calls us to examine our lives and the life of our denomination in light of these words.  Is The Presbyterian Church in Canada in step with what Jesus commands?  Do we do at the local front what we need to do?  To lead people to Jesus.  Why do we belong to the Church of Christ?  It's to be equipped as disciple-makers.  In one denomination in Sri Lanka when people are confirmed there is a determining question they are asked, “How many people have you led to Jesus Christ?”  What will our answer be to this question?  We all are commissioned – “Go and make disciples of all people....”

You know, my friends, only because of the presence of Jesus can we live in this world and represent Him.  Only because of what He said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”, do we have 3 Great Comfort.  The English language here is weak in comparison to the Greek text.  The Greek word for surely is “idou” and the meaning is more like: "And get this” or “Behold... I am always with you...”  Can you appreciate with me how crucial it was for Jesus that His disciples understood that He didn't leave them behind like orphans?  No, through His Spirit He was going to be present in their lives.  Wasn't that the promise He made to them in John 14: 16-18?, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”  That's why Jesus could claim “I am always with you...”  A man was terminally ill in a hospital.  His pastor went to visit him.  There were two chairs in his room and when the pastor reached out to pull one of the chairs closer, the man said, “Please not that one – it's Jesus' chair.  He has always been with me – on the bus as I went to work, at home He was always my Companion.  Wherever I went I had Jesus with me.  And now He is here with me to the end.”  Friends, do we live with the full assurance that Jesus is with us?  It's not that we have to make ourselves believe that it's true.  No, Jesus says, “I am with you.”  Let's live in this wonderful assurance as we continue on the road in 2021.

Amen.                                                                                                                                      Rev. Willem H. van de Wall