A closer study of all four of the gospels and the opening chapter of Acts will reveal to even the most casual student, that Jesus was seen by many people in various places, after His resurrection and prior to His ascension to Heaven.
In fact, the ascension itself took place from the top of the Mount of Olives, approximately 1 mile East of Jerusalem, which is in the South of Israel; but the region of Galilee is in the North.
Now Matthew’s final chapter is about the resurrection of Jesus and His meeting of the eleven shortly thereafter, in Galilee.
Since we know that Jesus was seen and heard often for about 40 days between His resurrection and His ascension, then we also know that this meeting recorded for us by Matthew was not actually the last time His disciples saw Him. It wasn’t the first time; but it wasn’t the last time either.
But I chose the title, “Love At Last Sight”, 1., because it’s catchy...(it’s a preacher thing) and 2., because I want our primary focus on this section of scripture today to be the love and compassion He shows to those whose minds are still spinning from the events of the last week of His earthly life; and who He will soon have to leave (in a sense), and no longer have the same kind of fellowship they have all shared for over three years.
Let’s talk first about the state of mind they must have been in on this particular day.
First, they’ve been on an emotional roller coaster. During the recent Passover, the highest of the high Jewish holy days, their Master is viciously treated and crucified.
All of their hopes for Israel’s deliverance; their vision of God’s Messiah ruling from Jerusalem; their best friend,...all died in the death of one man.
In addition, one of their own number has shocked and outraged and saddened them all by proving himself traitor, then going out and committing suicide.
Furthermore, they must now consider that their own lives are now in danger from both the Romans and the Jews, because of their association with their fallen leader.
On top of that, April 15th is coming, and Matthew refuses to do everyone’s taxes! (Don’t quote me on that one...)
Then on Sunday morning news comes to them from various sources; first by Mary and then by several other women who had gone to the tomb, that the tomb is empty!
Mary says she saw Jesus!
The others saw an angel, who said Jesus was alive, not dead, and that the disciples should be told to go and meet Him in Galilee as He had previously instructed them to do... “...and what about that, guys? Did Jesus tell you to meet Him in Galilee? And if so, why are you hiding here in Jerusalem? And why didn’t you already know He’d rise from the dead if He told you that? And if you think I’m gonna fix lunch for this group, go fish!”
And they must have, because later Jesus appears in the room with them and eats fish to prove He really is flesh and bone, not just a ghost; and He appears to two of them on the Emmaus road; and finally, they go to Galilee to meet with Him there.
Now I don’t want to move on without pointing out the kindness of Matthew. A lot happened between verse 15 and 16 that Matthew chose to omit.
He shows us the guards taking a bribe from the Jews to keep silent about the resurrection, then goes straight to the Galilee conference, leaving out all that in between stuff.
We have to learn all that from the other gospel writers.
Of course, I guess it’s easy to be kind when you’re one of the guilty parties, But it is typical of Matthew’s style, as an accountant type, to put things in a neat order and not clutter the narrative with information he didn’t see as necessary to the whole.
So anyway, here is a group of confused and probably exhausted men.
They may have still sensed the shame of running away during His hour of need. Peter denied even knowing Him. Then they forgot His instructions (nothing new about that), and instead of going to Galilee they hid like frightened children in Jerusalem, until He virtually came and took them by the hand to where they were supposed to be.
Oh, what a patient and loving God we have! Doesn’t He often have to do the same with us?
His word is full of encouragement and wisdom and instruction for successfully following Him.
In addition, we have something that at this point they did not yet have; the indwelling Holy Spirit to point us to Christ and make His word alive in us.
Yet doesn’t He often have to use our circumstances to guide us to where He wants us to be...as though leading us by the hand, because we are too frightened or faithless or rebellious to go on our own?
We talk of trials and how God uses our trails to teach us and make us more like Christ. The scriptures confirm that to us.
But I wonder how many of our trials would be avoided altogether, if we were quick to follow Him in faith and obedience.
There in the garden, shortly before His arrest, He had told them point blank about His impending death; but then He had said, “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee”.
But the angel had to remind them through the woman, and the Lord had to appear to them in Jerusalem...
I wonder how many hours of anxiety would have been avoided if, when the news came that He had risen, they had just run to Galilee!
So now we come to the verses of our study.
They have met Him here on the mountain.
“And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some were doubtful”.
Let’s talk about this word, “doubtful”. I know it cannot mean that they were doubtful that this was really Jesus. After all, as we have already noted, He had appeared to them several times since His resurrection. Besides, they had just traveled all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee to meet Him; so they obviously expected to find Him there.
No, it wasn’t that kind of doubt.
The word used in the Greek text, very specifically draws a picture of someone who stands at a crossroads, and does not know which way to go.
Or someone on a journey who is being tempted to turn back, and is wavering in making that decision.
So the sense I get from this, is that they knew who He was and even worshipped Him; but their hearts were wavering.
Were they fearful of the retribution of the Jews if they publicly followed this risen Messiah?
Were they insecure in His love and acceptance of them because they had failed Him so miserably?
Had they gotten just a taste of what it would be like to go back to a normal life and take it easy and try to forget all of this?
I don’t know. Maybe it was all those things. We’re only told that they were doubtful.
Full of doubt.
Christian, what holds you back from fully following Him? What makes you stand at that crossroads, afraid to choose?
What makes you look back over your shoulder at your back trail, when He is calling you from in front, saying “Follow Me”?
Is it fear of other people and their opinions of you?
Is it insecurity in His love and acceptance of you?
Is it the temptation of an easier life; living only for yourself with no rules and no responsibility?
Well let me answer just those three doubts for you.
Other people’s opinions can’t keep you out of Heaven; but your gospel message can get them in.
If you feel insecure of His love, remember that He let Himself be beaten to a pulp, stripped naked, nailed up in the hot sun, and hung there while His blood ran out, FOR YOU, while you were still His enemy. What reason now, would there be for Him to hold back from you His love and acceptance?
As to the life of ease...that’s a foolish dream!
“Freedom, ah freedom; well that’s just some people talkin’” (Eagles - ‘Desperado’)
Your back trail never looks like it did when you were coming this way.
You may look back on your life and say, “I liked it better then. Following Christ is hard”.
But I’m here to tell you friend, that sin is a hard taskmaster. And Satan is a clever liar.
You may not fully remember your misery when you were apart from Christ, but going back into the world once you have believed in Him, is going back to a deeper and more painful misery than you ever dreamed you could have. If you belong to Him, He’ll let you wallow in the mire if you want to...but He won’t let you enjoy it.
You turn back now, and you’ll never enjoy a truly happy and fulfilled moment again, until you repent and begin to follow Christ all the way.
That’s all I can say to you about that.
Stop your wavering, banish your doubts.
He has some very special encouragement for you, and it’s just ahead.
“All authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on earth”.
If you will stop for just a moment and think of all the events of passion week as one big picture, and think about the role these men played and all that happened, from the last Passover supper with His disciples, to this very moment, standing on this mountain in Galilee, then you may find yourself slightly surprised to realize that Jesus had no harsh words for them, whatsoever!
They have been misunderstanding, faithless, cowardly, slow to believe what they have been told, and slow to obey, and now, reading their hearts, He knows that some of them are wavering in their faith and devotion, even to the glorified Savior!
Yet, how does He open this meeting of the board? With an announcement that seemingly ignores all of their faults and failures, and gives strength to their failing hearts.
“All authority has been given to me in Heaven and on earth”.
He has never said anything like this to them, in His entire earthly ministry.
He healed and told people to keep it a secret.
When He sensed crowds wanting to take Him and make Him king, He avoided them.
He said things like, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work”. And “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees the Father doing...” (Jn. 5:19) And “The Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve; and to give His life as ransom for many”.
They had thought that He would eventually overthrow Rome and free their nation from oppression, then set up His own Messianic kingdom on earth.
Their hopes had been dashed when He was crucified, and they still did not understand.
So He doesn’t chide them or criticize their lack of faith or insight this time.
This time He says, “All authority has been given to me in Heaven and on earth”.
Christian, listen to me.
We are every bit as full of misconceptions as they were.
We very often think that Jesus is something He is not. Our prayers often sound as though we think He is the great divine fire extinguisher who exists to put out all the fires in our lives.
Something goes wrong in our life and we think it is punishment from God because of our past life or because of something we’ve recently done or not done.
We hear the exhortations from His word that, if listened to and practiced, would cause us to grow spiritually and walk in victory; but we are slow to believe them, and slow to act upon them, apparently forgetting that they are literally, instructions from the One we claim as our Lord and King...but we are disobedient.
Yes, we’re like the eleven in many respects.
Well, Jesus says to you and to me, believer...
“All authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on earth”.
If we really believe and understand that, then it is a truth that should have two immediate and significant effects on our lives.
First, it should cause us to bow down and acknowledge His Lordship, then get up and live like true servants of the King; in obedience and loyalty.
Second, it should give us confidence that as His ambassadors, we can go anywhere in this world, into any circumstance, however grim and dark it may seem, and speak for Him knowing that we have all the power and resources of Heaven backing us.
Whether it be to our own family members who are hostile to the gospel, or our fellow workers on the job, or the stranger in the park, or the jungles and deserts and mountains all around the world where people worship demons and practice pagan religions...we go in the name and the power of the One to Whom ALL AUTHORITY HAS BEEN GIVEN, in Heaven and on earth.
If God is for us, who can stand against us?
That is why He opened the meeting with those words; because He was to immediately follow them with His great commission.
Don’t go back and hide in Jerusalem. Don’t go back to your fishing. Don’t go back to the old forms of temple worship. Don’t fear, don’t doubt, don’t waver...
...based on the fact that all authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me, ...and you are my followers, go “therefore”, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you;...”
Now folks, I am constrained to tell you something here that may be difficult for you to hear; but I want you to listen carefully, and then you decide between you and the Lord what you will do with the information.
If you belong to Him...if you have confessed Christ as your personal Savior and you call yourself ‘Christian’, then you come under the reign and rule of the One who said of Himself, “All authority has been given to me in Heaven and on earth”.
Think of yourself as being a subject of an earthly king. Instead of having a President and a democracy, we have a monarchy rule in our country, and we serve a king. As subjects of the king, we vow to serve him and abide by his laws. We pay taxes to him, and if he calls us to war we go, and when he comes through the countryside on his noble white charger we pay him homage, because he is king.
Well, if you are a Christian, you have not just joined a club; you have not just adopted some philosophy to make you feel better about yourself and give yourself a label that somehow makes you a ‘nicer guy’ in the eyes of others.
You have bowed the knee, claimed Christ as your king, pledged Him your allegiance, and placed yourself under His reign and rule...
...and ALL AUTHORITY HAS BEEN GIVEN HIM IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH...
...and He has said, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you...”
Now it is not for me to designate individual duties. There may very well be someone here today who, if you listened to His voice and truly desire to do His will, may find yourself someday literally out there on the mission field! In China, or South America, or Africa, or the Far East, or Russia...
Don’t just discount the idea out of hand; there have been many, many people through the ages, who have found themselves going out to foreign lands as missionaries, who never in their wildest dreams imagined that God would lead them in that direction.
One of the first good examples of that is Paul. God knocked him to the ground and temporarily blinded him in order to get his attention; will you make Him go to extremes to get your attention?
On the other hand Christians, there is mission work to be done here in our own country; indeed, here in our own community; maybe right next door to where you live...or in your own house.
Do you serve the King, or not?
All authority has been given to Him in Heaven and on earth. He has the authority to command you to go, as His subjects, and the fact of His authority assures us that when we obey Him we go with all of that authority and power behind us.
I have to come to a close; but we’re not quite finished.
Remember that I called this sermon “Love At Last Sight’.
Listen to these last words He says to them; the words that were so profound and so significant to Matthew that he ended his gospel account with them...
“...and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”.
They’ve come doubting; wavering.
In the past He has had strong words of rebuke for these things. “Oh, ye of little faith”. “Why did you doubt?” “Have I been with you so long and you don’t know me?”
But not today. Today, not one word of rebuke; not one word of disappointment in them.
His work on Calvary’s cross is finished and it is complete. His work on the cross was sufficient to meet all their needs; to meet all of our needs.
He no longer has words of rebuke for us, believer; only words of commission, and encouragement, and promise...
“...lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”.
God will never be angry with you again. All of His wrath against sin was poured out on the body of His Son on the cross. Now that you’re His, through faith in that work on the cross, He only speaks to you as family. Never angry, never harsh,...only encouragingly and lovingly.
Do you realize who it is you serve?
Have you given careful consideration as to Whom you have pledged your allegiance and called Lord?
Do you realize that God has called you brethren and children of the One to Whom all authority has been given in Heaven and on earth?
Do you know, that in spite of your frequent faithlessness and feebleness and disobedience, yet He has promised YOU, that He is with you always, even to the end of the age?
The words meant a great deal to them. They were life-changing words.
They went from there back to Jerusalem where they gathered with other believers and prayed; OBEYING His instructions to wait in Jerusalem until the Comforter was sent; and on the day the Holy Spirit descended and indwelt them, they poured out onto the streets of Jerusalem and commenced to turn the world upside down with their bold message, and they never checked their back trail again.
What about you believer?
His words of Encouragement and Command and Promise here in these verses are for you also. Who is your King? Who do you serve? How well do you serve Him? You pray about it and decide.
I’ll only ask that as you go, you keep in mind His final words to them, and the best, ‘last’ thing any of us needs to hear from Jesus;
“...I am with you always...”
Let those words give you courage and spur you to action for the kingdom, until you see His face.