11 June 2017

Matthew 28:16-20

“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.” (v. 19)

Psalm: Psalm 8


Today is Trinity Sunday, when the Church traditionally celebrates the 'mystery' of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It's an understanding of God that has developed over time: God is not a singular tyrant, unaffected by the pain and struggles of this world, but rather God exists in a community of love: dynamic, involved, generous, vulnerable even. God is a holy trio whose very existence is defined by the giving and receiving of love. It is a love that is so strong, that we'd be mistaken to say that Father, Son and Spirit are anything other than 'One'. Here, we find one of the earliest written expressions of that understanding, contained within the Gospel of Matthew's record of Jesus final 'earthly' words. He gives his disciples three things: good news, a mission, and a promise. To understand this, it may be helpful to look back at other mountain-top experiences in Matthew's Gospel.

First, the good news: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (v. 18). In Matthew 4:1-11, the devil takes Jesus up a mountain and offers him the kingdoms of the world, if only he would bow down and worship him. Somehow, at that point, it is the devil and the forces of evil which hold authority over the world. God wanted God's own image-bearing humans to 'have dominion' over the things of the earth (Genesis 1:26). Instead, they made idols of them, becoming slaves in the process. But on another mountain, God says of Jesus: "This is my Son ... Listen to him!" (Matthew 17:5). Jesus has a place high above the other rulers of this world. In order to break their power, on the cross Jesus confronted the other rulers and took onto himself every act of rebellion against God. Paul wrote: "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2:15). Jesus has won back the true throne of the universe and those who were once slaves can find release.

The New Testament describes this as a 'New Exodus': we are set free to enter the new community as forgiven disciples in a renewed relationship with God, following the Lord who rules with absolute self-giving love. This leads to the mission: "Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing... and teaching..." (vv. 18-19). Jesus' sermon on another mountain (Matthew 5-7) gives us the basis for the teaching of God's renewed people: striving to live on earth "the kingdom of heaven". Baptism is the sign: passing through the waters, following Christ through death into eternal life. It is performed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - because it's inadequate to talk about God as being anything less, and because all three persons are intimately involved in God's saving and liberating love.

"The end of the age" (v. 20) will signal a new dawn, the coming 'New Creation' when all will be infused with the glory of God and we will see Father, Son and Spirit face-to-face. For now, Jesus leaves them with apromise: "Remember, I am with you always" (v. 20). It's a promise that lasts, even though we are often like a people wandering in the wilderness: fighting enemies outside and within; trying to live in community; struggling with persecutions, hardship and our own mistakes. We are his people, and he is with us!

To Ponder

  • To what extent would you call yourself a disciple of Christ? In what ways do you consider yourself under Christ's 'authority'?
  • How are God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all involved in your life as a disciple?
  • Are you baptized? Do you know who baptized you? Whoever it was, they were a disciple of Christ. Continue it backwards and we get an unbroken line of Baptism that goes all the way back to these disciples with Jesus. And the story continues...

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two children, Phoebe (aged 4) and Benjamin (aged 18 months). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and over the border into Northants). Previously, Andy’s ministry was based in Barwell in the Hinckley Circuit for eight years. And before that, he trained at the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, close to his home-town of Consett. Andy has a passion to help God’s people grow in faith, and occasionally writes hymns, sketches and songs. Spare time includes trips to play parks, watching Disney films or Postman Pat, reading Mr Men books, visiting Middle Earth, and reminiscing over the good old days of supporting Newcastle United. In the picture, Andy is the one in blue (and the snowman’s name is Olaf)!