Saturday, September 12, 2009

My Initial Exegesis of Matthew 28:16-20

One of the many privileges I cherish as a pastor is the sheer amount of time I get to spend in God's Word. And as I study I'm constantly thinking and praying about real people and how this particular Word from God should be brought to bear on them (including myself!!). As I preach through books of the Bible, or do single sermons on a selected passage, I tend to begin by doing a very rough translation of my own. I write it out so I notice all the words of the text. Then I simply write out as many observations as I can think of - most of them very basic and simple. (If I'm working through narrative sections of the Bible, I tend to translate about 5-10 verses before writing out observations.) This process really helps me 'let the word of God dwell in me richly' as I then move on to read commentaries, books, and written sermons, and even listen to an audio sermon, on the same text I plan to preach on. Having done this initial process makes all the difference in this second step, because it means I'm interacting and disagreeing with the author I'm reading, even as I'm also gleaning insights from him.

Although I usually do all of these things with pen and paper (I make up little binders full of my own 'commentaries'), this week I did it on my computer (for some reason). I thought I'd copy/paste it below for fun. In the comments I welcome you to share how you do your exegesis. I'd love to learn from others. You'll notice that I missed some key things in this initial process (e.g. I missed the fact that 'make disciples' is the main command in the paragraph. . .ouch!!). But that's where the commentaries helped. I also began to think through some applications of the text. In the end, as usual, I was surprised by the way I shaped my sermon. My initial thoughts on the text were really altered by my process of study, and especially by this discipline of written comments. (Note: if you are not familiar with Greek or Hebrew, doing the same thing using a few good English translations bears the same fruit!!)

Here are my notes:
16. And the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go,
There were only 11 disciples left by this time. Judas had hanged himself. But there were still 11 - Peter had been forgiven and restored. What grace on the part of Jesus, and what humility on the part of Peter to come to Jesus as a sinner!
To Galilee = where much of Jesus’ ministry had taken place. But it is significant that the great commission does not take place in Jerusalem/Judea, but Galilee in the North. Not from the Temple. Jesus is the new Temple. And we are about to find out that followers of Jesus are the new Temple because they are in Christ.
Q - in Acts is the great commission made from Jerusalem? Does that mean that there were two commissions?
Mountain = common place of theophany in the OT; cf Jesus’ sermon on the mount and olivet discourse - he teaches with the authority of God. What is implied in the location will be explicitly stated in what follows.
Where Jesus told them to go - he wanted to meet them, away from Jerusalem, to speak this specific word to them
17. And when they saw him they worshipped, but some doubted.
They = the disciples = the eleven remaining ones.
Their response to coming to the risen Jesus on the Mountain in Galillee was spontaneous worship. They fell down before him and lifted him up as high and holy. . .as God!
Some doubted - even among the eleven disciples there were some who doubted that: 1) this was really Jesus risen from the dead; 2) that this man before them was worthy of worship. This should comfort those who doubt today, because Jesus did not cast these men off and scoff at them. Rather, these doubters were also recipients of the great commission, and were treated with patience. We know from the gospel of John that doubting Thomas came to a place where he did believe! We know from the wording in this verse that more than one of the eleven disciples doubted. . .because the word is plural!
When they saw him - it was the sight of Jesus that provoked this spontaneous worship.
18. And when Jesus came he spoke to them, saying, ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’
We can picture the scene. The eleven disciples had received instructions from Jesus, so they came and bowed before him in reverence. As soon as they saw him they worshipped. But Jesus saw them on their faces in reverence, and then he moved toward them. He would speak to them, and he would not do it at a distance, but in their presence!
Jesus spoke to them - these words were addressed specifically by Jesus to these specific disciples. Any application to people other than the disciples must run through a grid, asking if it is in fact applicable to those other than these eleven.
Jesus first word to the disciples is about his authority. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. It was given to him by the Father. Before the world existed the Son was in perfect communion with the father, and in authority aside the father but volunarily subordinate to the Father. After the resurrection, still under the authority of the Father, Jesus was given all authority. In other words, 1) he has the power to command. 2) It is appropriate to worship him.
We need to listen to Jesus. We have no choice. He is the ultimate authority in heaven and on earth!
19. Therefore, go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Therefore = in light of the fact that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, do this!
*There is one imperative in this verse, and a number of participles. The imperative is the central command, and the participles are also imperatival, but subordinate commands to the main one. So the main command is ‘make disciples’. The imperatival participles are: 1) go; 2) baptize; 3) teach
The first word of command is ‘go’. The disciples are not to live comfortable little middle class lives in Israel, working the family business, paying off their mortgage by their late fourties, with 2.5 kids and a dog. These specific men are specifically called to live a lifestyle of ‘going’.
Where are they to go? To ‘all nations’. Live a lifestyle that puts you in contact with all nations. Not just Israel anymore. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. This is a call for global evangelism.
As they live a lifestyle of ‘going’ to all nations, they are supposed to do something as they go. That something can be summarized in one phrase: make disciples. They are to make disciples of all nations, the nations whom they go to. Their life ought to be marked by not just travel, like a tourist who can’t stay in one place for very long. Their life is to be marked by going and making.
To make a disciple is a ‘start to finish’ project. The fact that these men were called to go to all nations shows that making disciples of necessity includes (and begins with) evangelism. Go out to peoples who would not fall on their faces in worship when King Jesus entered the room, and tell them about King Jesus. Tell them about his grace, his sacrifice for their sins, of his holiness, of the fact that all people will one day bow before him and give an account of their lives to him. Tell them that as sinners, if they come to Jesus needy and desperate they honour the sacrifice he made for them, and they will be forgiven of all their sins and freely become a child of God.
What follows shows that these eleven were not in the business of evangelism alone, though. Jesus wants a world full of fully devoted followers. There is no in-between in the desires of Jesus. He is either Lord of all or he is not Lord at all.
So what does the ‘beyond conversion’ part of making disciples look like? Jesus tells us. It involves: 1) baptism - in the name of each member of the Trinity. Baptism is an initiatory rite. It is a public sign of an inward reality. You have become a Christian. The very first display of your full commitment to Jesus and your bowing to his authority is your obedience in baptism. Your baptism may offend some people. My family was very offended when I was baptized as a believer. ‘Wasn’t our baptism of you good enough, when you were a baby?’ But baby baptism is not in the Bible, and I was commanded to obey Jesus, even when it offended and hurt my family. (by the way, some of my family members still bring up how offensive my baptism was to them, and it happened over a decade ago!!)
What else the ‘beyond basics’ of making disciples involves will be further outlined in the next verse. . .
20. Teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the age’.
A second ‘beyond basics’ involves ‘teaching with a goal in mind’. That goal is obedience in all areas. An apostle was sent out to teach the commands of Jesus in such a way as to bring them all to bear upon all believers. A Christian is a fully devoted follower of Christ. That means that they follow his words. They obey them. There isn’t a word of Jesus that does not matter to them.
John Piper wrote a book, ‘what Jesus demands from the world’. It is a walk through the 500 commands of Jesus in the NT, grouped together and boiled down to a number of verses. This is what Jesus demands of all people. And a ‘sent one’ has the job of bringing people to conversion, then informing them of the demands of Jesus through teaching (beginning with the command to be baptized), and bringing those commands to bear on their lives.
All - nothing is to be omitted. ‘Teach/preach’ the whole counsel of God.
Behold = pay attention. I am with you always, until the end of the age. In other words, this commission ends with an incredible promise. King Jesus will never leave his people. He will be with them. He will go with them, as the presence of God with/in them as they go and make disciples. As these eleven obey Jesus’ command to make disciples, they will live under his blessing. They will be in communion with God through his Son!

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