Matthew 28:18-20: I Am with You Always

On the first Easter morning, grieving women find Jesus’ tomb is empty.  Soon, Peter and John sprint to His burial site to find out if this is true.  Several hours pass and Jesus appears to His disciples, authorizing them to absolve and retain sins.  Later, He will assemble the Eleven, giving them a new mandate—in today’s Gospel reading.

A couple of years before, Jesus hinted, in a roundabout way, what He will do.  “Do not think I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets, for I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).  So, we begin to understand His relationship to the earlier Covenant.  All those words and directives of the past, which foretold of Him, don’t disappear.  No, they find their completion and fullness in Jesus. 

Check out what Jesus reveals next, which will connect to what He will, one day, direct His Apostles to do. 

Here, Christ isn’t speaking about obeying His commandments, as though taking away one of them is a synonym for “disobey.”  No, He is speaking of keeping everything intact, as a complete entity, which the Father handed to Him, which He later passed down to His chosen Apostles.  How can Jesus say this, with what sanction?  All because the Father gave Him, “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:19). 

Whoever breaks away one of the least of these instructions and directs others to do the same, he will be the lowest in God’s kingdom.  The one, however, who keeps and teaches all these, will be the highest in the kingdom of heaven.  [Matthew 5:19]

So, Jesus will gather the Apostles on a mountaintop, to give them something new, a fulfillment of the Old.  “Disciple the Gentiles, baptizing them into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to keep all that I commanded you.”  A moment passes, and Jesus now decides to comfort them: “Remember, I am with you always until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). 

From the tallest mountain top experience to the darkest valleys of their lives, the risen Redeemer is with them.  Yes, the ever-present Lord will keep and cover them, as they do what He gives them to do.

A new directive, to disciple.  How?  By baptizing, by teaching—but what will happen after these Apostles die?  For we aren’t on the mountain, and these men are in a select group, the Eleven.  Will being discipled into the Church die when they die? 

The incarnate Christ pledges to be present with those men until He returns.  How can this be?  For they are mortal and will return to dust long before He descends on the Last Day.  So, this can only be true if our Lord is giving this mandate to pastors in His Church, who happen to be those Apostles.  Through pastors, the Savior will still baptize and teach His people, up to the time He comes again. 

Now, this can only take place if Jesus is God.  For who can be with someone for so long?  No mere person, but someone divine.  So, when Jesus encourages them, “I am with you,” in this phrase is God’s name, Yahweh, a form of “He Is,” which Jesus applies to Himself.  The One, present before time began, will still exist after time is no more.  Yes, Jesus Christ is the always-existing One, the “I AM,” who can always be where He promises. 

Still, where are you in these words?  On the other end, becoming wet in baptism and learning “all” Jesus wants you to take in, which is everything.  In the meantime, pastors do what Christ commissions them to do, as He is with them until His return. 

An uplifting promise for His preachers—and you!  For when your pastor does what Jesus charges him to do, Your Lord is also with you.  How?  In Word and Sacrament.

Still, our giving Lord doesn’t tell His pastors He will be with them when they are doing whatever they want, instead of what He instructs them to do.  The reality worsens.  For when pastors aren’t doing the taskings that Jesus directs them to do, the promise to be with you through them is no longer in place.  For they aren’t delivering Jesus to you, and so you aren’t receiving Him. 

Those words at the end of Matthew’s Gospel aren’t the end-all-and-be-all evangelism passage of the Bible; at least, not like we often think.  To whom did Jesus give His directive, of discipling others through their baptizing and instruction?  The first pastors of His Church, His sent Apostles. 

Consider the word “go” in Jesus’ command.  In the original Greek, “go” isn’t a demand, but a participle, “going.”  The “going” is in Christ’s mandate because the Gentiles aren’t hanging out on the craggy hilltop.  So, these first ministers of Christ go, not because their Lord orders them to do so.  No, they scurry down the hillside to do something else so they can serve as Jesus commands them—to disciple, by baptizing and teaching. 

Stranger things also happen in the four Gospels.  For what you will not find is Jesus directing His servants of the Word to preach.  How odd!  Listen to what Luke records.  “The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins is to be preached in his name” (Luke 24:46-47).

“Be preached” is a passive, not a command from Christ.  Why?  The preaching task continues from the Old Covenant into the New.  So, Christ doesn’t need to command this—but He will make sure His called and ordained pastors understand what they are to proclaim, “repentance into forgiveness.” 

Each pulpit message should confront your fallenness, so you reject your wrongs and turn to the clemency Christ provides.  A pastor isn’t allowed to ignore Jesus.  So, if he isn’t proclaiming the Law in support of the Gospel, he is unfaithful—if Jesus matters.

Do you desire something different?  Repent!  For you are chasing after what Your Redeemer chooses not to give you.  Are you bored with the constant call away from sinfulness toward Christ?  Turn away from your fallen nature to delight, always anew, in your Savior’s heavenly pardon.  Do you find yourself itching for some other word?  Yearn, instead, for the endless liberation our Lord bestows in His spoken Word.

The command to preach is missing because God commanded this in His first Covenant.  To show this, the resurrected Messiah doesn’t quote a panoply of Old-Testament verses.  No, He compiles and condenses the truth through these words, “This is what is written” (Luke 24:46).  After, He informs what is to fill each sermon.

On Easter evening, Jesus authorizes His Apostles, His pastors, to forgive and retain sins.  Another way for words to deliver His cross-won gifts, but Jesus will give more.  Like before, He will take something physical to provide salvation and life everlasting. 

Consider circumcision, a physical act of cutting off a foreskin, bringing one into God’s Covenant (Genesis 17:10-14).  The blood from this act pointed to Jesus’ blood on a cross.  Now, infant circumcision segues into infant baptism, not pointing to the killing cross, but bestowing our Lord’s forgiveness from the cross (Colossians 2:11-13). 

Contemplate all the Temple sacrifices.  All those served as physical prophecies of Jesus’ sacrifice on the tree of death.  So, since they no longer serve their intended purpose, Christ will provide His divine acquittal another way, still through blood, but not from slaughtered animals.  So, our saving Lord institutes a Meal, to supersede all those ancient and bloody offerings, delivering His sin-forgiving blood into our mouths.

In these, comes Christ’s authority as God, as He fulfills Daniel 7:14.  “All authority, glory, and kingship, He received so all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.  Eternal is his dominion, which will not wither, for his kingdom is indestructible.” 

To a crowd, to all His followers, not only a few, Jesus spoke, “Let your light shine before others.”  Why?  “So, they may gaze on your virtuous works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  These words of Jesus apply to you, straightaway and strong.  How you live does matter, for what you do reflects Christ, in either a positive or negative light.

Your words also matter.  Take in St. Paul.  “Other people will glorify God because of your [the Christians at Corinth] obedient confession of Christ’s Gospel.  The provided proof [of your confession] are your works of service, your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else” (2 Corinthians 9:13).

Don’t miss Paul’s link.  Based on what you say, a confession (1 Peter 3:14-15), and what you do (Matthew 5:13-16), others will come to “glorify God” (trust in Him).

So, how do you confess Christ to others?  In every Divine Service, you recite a creed, which the Church spoke forth from the earliest times.  In your own words, share the content of the Creed, for in this confession is the core of the Christian Faith.

Don’t blather about yourself or focus on your feelings, for Christianity isn’t about you but Jesus.  The Creed distills who He is and what He does to save us.  Only He did everything needed, delivered to us by His Word and Sacraments in His Holy Church. 

Now, if someone believes, the faith-bestowing Spirit worked faith in his heart.  So, rejoice and lead him here to the waters of baptism.  Often, someone will remain in his unbelief.  So, confess of Christ later, as opportunities arise.

Today, as you still walk in death’s shadow, may this become your confession and comfort—Christ Jesus is the Victor over death.  In Him, your sins died, for you to receive life in its place. 

Conclusion

Now, by the power of His resurrection, you also will rise and appear before His Father.  For you confessed Christ as your Lord, which means you will acknowledge God to be your Father, as well.  So, you will be with the Lord, always.  Not only until, but beyond and after the ending of this age.  Amen.

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