May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
Our text for this Trinity Sunday is fitting for a number of reasons, but the first that humorously struck me was that people are as confused about the Trinity as they are about what is happening in our passage this morning. This is abundantly evident when phrases like “The Great Commission” appear inserted into our bibles as a summary title for this portion of Scripture. Even more embarrassing, to me at least, as evidence of confusion over this passage is the nickname for my alma mater, “The Great Commission University” founded on the principle of the mission of God, being witnesses to all the nations, telling people about Christ in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi by your good works and if necessary by your words. Even more embarrassing is that the standard fare for sermons and bible studies on this passage is that this is a command to all Christians. Christians should go out into all the world. They should observe all of God’s commands. They should tell people about Jesus. They should make disciples. Should worship God.
All these kinds of sermons do is drop a big pile of “should” on the shoulders of weak and weary Christians. It’s as if to say, you’re saved by grace through faith alone, but what are you doing about it? Aren’t you thankful for all God has done for you? Don’t you want to return the favor? All this does is add commands onto promises and conditions on God’s unconditional grace. So today I want to spend some time with you clearing up this mess of a text, to shed off our Great Awakening baggage, and discover together how God is working for us to bless us.
First things first. Matthew as a Gospel writer, while certainly writing in the cloud of the holy ghost also exercised creative license over how his gospel took shape. If you listen to Matthew with one ear and the OT with the other you begin to notice a particular harmony between Matthew’s song and the song of Moses’ life. Matthew begins with the birth narrative of Jesus, but it is a narrative fraught with danger. The death of the blessed innocents surrounds the joy of Christ’s birth (Mt 2), not unlike the death of the Hebrew children at the hand of Pharaoh when Moses is born (Ex 1). Jesus is sent into the wilderness by God (Mt 4) like the children of Israel were (Ex 12). Ten plagues struck Egypt as God waged war on the pantheon of Pharaoh (Ex 7-12) and Jesus performs ten miracles in Matthew’s Gospel waging war on the forces of Sin, Death, and Devil (Mt 8-20). Moses receives the Law on Sinai’s mountain top (Ex 20) and Jesus likewise preaches the Law atop a mountain, one could call it a sermon on the mount (Mt 5-7). The parallels abound and the more you listen to the books of Moses the more you find.
And if we look at the end of Jesus’ life compared to the end of Moses’ life we find yet another parallel. Moses ascends the heights of Mt. Nebo and is given a vision of the promised land even though he would not be able to enter himself. After seeing the glory of the promised land and just before he departs in death he calls Joshua the son of Nun, his closest companion, to himself. Deuteronomy 34 notes that Joshua was full of the Spirit and that Moses laid his hands on him, the iconic act for ordination and anointing, and makes Joshua the new prophet of Israel. Before Moses leaves the ministry of shepherding God’s people is handed to another for that person to be the voice and presence of God among the people. With this clearly fixed in our mind, Matthew 28 is deja vu. Jesus goes up a mountain in Galilee where his ministry began and calls to himself, not the whole number of his disciples, but only the 11 apostles. What follows could be considered a commission, but more precisely this is an ordination. Jesus is instituting the office of the holy ministry. He is making the eleven pastors. His earthly ministry is complete and what was spoken in Daniel 7 has been fulfilled. “To him [the son of Man] was given dominion and glory and a kingdom” or as Matthew says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The Devil has been cast out of heaven, sin is defeated, and now is the hour I am glorified. It is finished.
Therefore, it’s your time now, my chosen apostles. Disciple people as you go out from here and do it specifically in this way. Preach to them all the things that are written in the Gospel of Matthew, the commands and the promises of God like Moses and Joshua preached to the people of Israel my commands and my mighty deeds of old. And also baptize them. Wash them with water and apply my holy name to them. The name I gave to Moses in the burning bush, that same name put on the people so that as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Trinity and Unity I may bless them and give them every good thing. That as Father I give them creation, to serve them, nurture them, prosper them, and bless them. That as Son I give to them my holy precious blood and my innocent suffering and death for the forgiveness of sins. That as the Holy Spirit I call them to the church, make known and reveal all these gifts and deliver them wholly and completely.
And behold I will be with you always. I will be with you and for you in the water so that it is not plain water but a washing of regeneration and the gift of the Holy Spirit where all sins are washed away and you are presented to the Father holy and blameless. I will be with you when you remember and return to your baptism by confessing your sins and I myself will speak to you these words, “I forgive you all your sins.” I will be with you in the cup so that by faith in me and the bodily eating and drinking you may receive my flesh and blood for your health, life, and salvation. And so that you receive all these gifts. I give you, the congregation of Christ, an apostle, a preacher, a shepherd of souls so that my finished work may continue among you; that you may hear my voice and receive my gifts.
Finally, at the end, we see that this passage contains no commands for you the people of God, only blessings. The blessings of God’s word spoken and preached to you so you come to repent of your sins and receive forgiveness, the blessings of the sacrament of baptism and the altar to claim you as the body of Christ and make you full sons of God, and the blessing of a preacher, God’s own representative through whom Christ exercises his authority to break into this world, be with you always, and give you the peace which surpasses all understanding which will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. In his name, Amen.