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"The Eleven Disciples"

Matthew 28:16-20

Rev. Alan Taylor

Holy Trinity, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Jun 7, 2020 

Holy Trinity Sunday St. John, Galveston 6/7/2020

Matthew 28:16-20

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This passage from Matthew’s Gospel is one of the most well-known sections of the Scripture in the whole New Testament, perhaps in the whole Bible. Particularly where Jesus sends the eleven into the world to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. It is what some call “The Great Commission” of the Church, marching orders, if you will, as the church branches out from Jerusalem into the outer reaches of the world. Disciples are to be made, not from among a select group of people, a select age, or, a particular ethnicity, or, racial background, but, from the nations, which includes everyone. Indeed, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.”

Beyond Jesus’ commission to the church to make disciples of the nations, the passage is also rich with other theological insight and Christian teaching. In fact, one could preach an entire sermon on any one of the topics addressed here by Matthew. Certainly, the passage is Trinitarian in that we are called to make disciples of “all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That it confesses so clearly the Triune God is, of course, the reason it’s chosen as the Gospel reading for this Trinity Sunday.

But, it also holds up the disciples as the embodiment of Israel and Jesus as the New Israel, or, the true Israel. It speaks too of the doubt of the disciples that remained in them even though they gathered on the mountain that day to worship Jesus. And, it ends with words of comfort and peace, as Jesus assures us that He is with us “always to the end of the age.”

Perhaps though, one of the most sobering aspects of the passage is the way in which it begins. We’re told that “the eleven disciples went to Galilee.” Behind that statement looms the story of the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot, who was no longer with the eleven. Though chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve, he gave up his place in that apostleship for 30 pieces of silver and perhaps for the favor and the acclaim of those to whom he betrayed Jesus.

“The eleven disciples went to Galilee.” These are sobering words because we like to think that a disciple of Jesus could never turn away, or, abandon his, or, her faith in Him. In fact, some Christians are so intent on preserving what they believe to be a settled teaching of Scripture that they insist that once you come to faith in Christ you can’t ever fall away. As to Judas, who died, as the Scriptures say, as the son of perdition, they insist that, even though he was chosen by Jesus as one of the original twelve disciples, he never actually believed in Him. In other words, he was an imposter all along.

But, there is nothing in the Scriptures to support the belief that Judas never was a believer. Oh sure, like the other disciples, he was admonished by Jesus from time to time for being of little faith, but there isn’t anything to suggest that he never had faith. On the other hand, there is plenty in the Scriptures to says that a person who has come to faith in Jesus, can, in time, reject that faith, either actively, or, even passively, through inattention and neglect.

For instance, in 1 Timothy, we are told about two individuals, Hymenaeus and Alexander, who, in rejecting God’s word, made “shipwreck of their faith.” And, as if that weren’t bad enough, Paul goes on to say, “I have handed them over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

St. Paul also warns us about things that are to come as persecution and other pressures on Christians grow more and more intense. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.” And again, Paul warns Timothy and those he teaches that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Of course, none of these Scriptural admonitions are intended to frighten you regarding your faith, or, to cause you to question whether or not you will persevere in Christ to the end. Rather, they are to turn you away from a false security regarding your salvation to your true hope, who is Christ and the gifts of word and sacrament that He has given to you, both to create and to nurture and strengthen your faith in Him. The gift of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, is foreign to us, it’s alien. It comes from outside of us. While our hearts convict us, the Gospel says, “you are forgiven in Christ.” That we might believe it, that we might cling to it’s promise, we hear it over and over again.

The fact is, the whole tenor of the letters of St. Paul is one of exhortation, or, encouragement to remain steadfast in Christ by faith, clinging to God’s Word and Sacraments, which are the very source of faith. For that very reason, Paul encourages Timothy, as well as, you and me, to “fight the good fight of faith.” “In all circumstances (he says) take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Our armaments for the fight of faith are not intellectual acumen and dogged resolve. Rather, they are the gifts that God has generously and graciously bestowed on us that we might believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and for eternal life. Faith, as it turns out, isn’t really as big of a mystery as it may seem. “It comes, (says the Apostle) by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” Faith is God’s work in you. But, the source of faith is His Word. As Luther says in His explanation to the third article of the creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason, or, strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or, come to Him. But, the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts and kept me in the one true faith.”

Not only is faith in Christ gifted to you by the power of God’s word and sacraments, it is maintained in you by the same. “Now to him who is able to strengthen you (says the apostle) according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ!”

And so, “the eleven disciples went to Galilee.” Behind Matthew’s introduction to this closing section of His Gospel is the unspoken but, sobering story of one Judas Iscariot. Behind it too, is the promise of God that His Son, Jesus, is both “the author and the perfecter of our faith,” and who promises us that He is “with us to the end of the age.” “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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