zondag 11 juni 2017

Sermon: Worshipping Jesus Mat 28:16-20 - Trinity Sunday

In our liturgical year, today is the weekend of the Holy Trinity. For that reason I brought an icon that we have at home - a creative copy of the original.

This icon is called The Trinity, and also The Hospitality of Abraham. It was written by the Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. This is really the most famous of all Russian icons. Created about 600 years ago.

The icon depicts the three men who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre. If you read that tsory, it is stranger how the writer seems to suggest that these three men meeting with Abraham, and eating with Abraham, was really the Lord God who visited him in his tent.

The story in the book of Genesis and this icon hint at the incarnation - it is God who comes to eat with us. And Rublev shows how God - Father, Son and Spirit, eat together, enjoy their own company together, in love, peace and joy. That is the Holy Trinity - amazing mystery. One God, yet three. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are mentioned in the baptismal formula that Jesus gives us in Matthew 28.

1. All power in heaven and on earth

After His resurrection Jesus met with his disciples in Galilee. Matthew, one of them, gives us an eyewitness account. Most of the disciples who saw Jesus immediately bowed down for Him. This bowing down of the disciples was really worship of people overawed by God. They fell down in adoration of their Lord who had conquered death, the Lord of life.

Muslims reject worshipping Jesus; they call it ‘shirk’, the greatest sin in Islam. ‘Shirk’ means that you believe that God has companions. ‘God does not have companions’, they say.  Some of the disciples did not worship Jesus either; they were doubtful. ’How can we worship Him? Is He not human, after all? Is this not idol worship? Should we not worship God alone? Do our Scriptures not tell us to only worship God Almighty?’

We have to commend Matthew for honestly describing the doubts of some the disciples, but Jesus took these doubts away. He wanted His followers to believe in Him and worship Him as God. That is why He approached them.

Just as He comes close to us when we are in doubt - as long as we are honest in our quest for Him, He will help us see Him as He really is. If you have doubts, or feel far from God, do not withdraw… Instead draw near, and He will come to you.  Jesus came closer, so that they were totally sure it was Him, and by coming closer He actually confirmed that worship was the right thing to do.

And then what he said took any remnants of doubt away. Our Master addressed them with the majesty proper to God only: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

The authority that Jesus claims here, is the main theme of the Gospel stories. His teaching was with authority. His miracles showed His might. He even had power to forgive sins. His resurrection also showed his authority – even over death, that awful enemy. Jesus claims to be almighty. Omnipotence is an attribute belonging exclusively to God. It belongs to Jesus also. ‘All authority is mine’.

Some people like to point out that Jesus says that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him; His Father had given it to him. So, some argue, the Father is higher in divinity than Jesus. As if Jesus is a sort of lesser god. But think of this: God the Father has in eternity shared all power with his Son. In eternity: This means there was never ever a moment in history or outside history when the Son did not have power equal to the power of the Father.

Those who have problems to accept that Jesus and his Father are essentially one, should try to explain how there can be a God almighty and a Jesus almighty at the same time. It is impossible for two separate Almighties... except if they are absolutely one in divinity.
2. Go, make disciples of all nations

After Jesus established that he should be worshipped as the one with all authority in heaven and on earth, he tells his students to make disciples for Him of all nations. But should Jesus not have pointed to God and to the laws of God of the Old Testament? He wants to bind the nations to himself and to his own words... Is this not blasphemy? Yes it is, if Jesus is less than God. No it is not, if Jesus, the Son of God, is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Just as Jesus had spent all his time and energy to bind His own group of disciples to Himself as God, as the ulimate authority, so He now asks of those disciples to go and teach and train all nations.

Being a disciple of Jesus and making disciples is time-consuming. It is not a matter of a one-time decision; it is hard work. It is a process of teaching and learning that lasts a lifetime. In his book Matthew and Mission (1988, 2003) Martin Goldsmith, a Jew who became a Christian, says:
In the postmodern emphasis on anti-intellectual spirituality this emphasis on teaching and learning sounds old-fashioned, but God demands the use of the mind.
Jesus spoke of teaching and learning all that he had commanded during his lifetime. We really have a lot to learn in the process of being His students. And we need a balanced diet of all he taught. Not just those parts we happen to like about Jesus at the expense of what we do not like so much.

Mere mental understanding does not make us good followers of Him. It is an important part of the picture, but only a part. Truth learned must also be practised. It must be appropriated by heart, mind and will in a lifelong, hard, and often difficult process.

In our instant-cultures where we expect all our desires and needs to be met right now, it is good to remind ourselves that the best coffee is not instant coffee but coffee that is properly made, with a filter. And the best cheese is Old Amsterdam. Good things come slowly.

Interesting is that Jesus does not tell them to first teach the people and then also to make them obey the words of Jesus. It is about teaching to obey. The teaching in the church is not for satisfying our intellectual curiosity about God – it is for making us better worshippers, better followers, better in obedience.  

The beginning of tis process of being disciples is baptism. Jesus says here that this baptism must be into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptize into the name... for Jews this expression immediately reminded them of the name of God. The name they did not dare to pronounce because they were afraid that they would not show Him proper respect and lightning would strike them. It is the Hebrew name Yahweh. Baptize into the Name. The one name of the One God. And Jesus continues: into the name – singular- of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Sprit. The one God, the God of Israel, Yahweh, is one God, but He consists of three “persons” – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Now imagine that the three persons who Jesus mentions in this one sentence, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are not intimately united in one Godhead. That they are actually in essence three separate beings. That it is about God the Creator, and Jesus, well, part of creation, and the Holy Spirit, maybe a sort of vague power... is the baptismal statement of Jesus then not just blasphemous? Or just ridiculous?

If Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not one in divinity, equal to the Father, then baptising in the name of those three is just as silly as organizing a football tournament here in Arnhem and announcing that the three participants are Vitesse, Jonathan Corbyn, and electricity.

The baptismal formula Jesus uses, suggests equality in essence between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nothing less. Martin Goldsmith, I quoted him before, says:
With the triune confession at baptism the believer is taught that right from the outset of the Christian life, all three persons of the trinity are equally to be worshipped, loved and served.
That is what the Christian life, the life of being disciples, is all about. Worship, love, service. And to be baptised into this Trinue God, means that you have been placed in the community of Father, the Son and the Spirit. That is the meaning of being baptised into the name. It makes you part of that wonderful communty.

And this is the environment for our growth. In this community of God we learn to be truly obedient to all Jesus has commanded us. The community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit decided that the Son should go to the world for the well-being of mankind. And to those who have been made participants in the eternal dance of love of the Trinity, Jesus says: Go and make others into my disciples...

3. I am with you…

How in the world can we do this? Well, Jesus promises His disciples, his church, that in this process of being disciples and making disciples, He will be with us. That is why He has send us His Spirit. Without His presence with us, what hope do we have to be his followers and to make new followers? How can we ever be His students, obey Him, serve Him, and draw others inside the same circle of students of Jesus? We need Him to be with us. We need him urgently.

His promise to be with us is, by the way, another strange one. Should he not have said: ‘God will be with you...’ or something similar? But Jesus promises his own presence. And this promise is even stranger because Jesus promises to be with his disciples, with us, at any time and in any place. Only God is omnipresent. How can Jesus then claim to be omnipresent, except if he himself is God.

The Gospel of Matthew began with the baby Jesus, who was called Emmanuel – God with us. And now, in the end of the Gospel, Jesus again promises to be with us. He is God with us.

We must be careful though. Jesus promises his presence in the context of making other people into His disciples and in the context of mission. He promises to be with the people who leave the comfort of Jerusalem to go into the world for the sake of the Gospel. The Christian church must never degenerate into a comfortable club for the like-minded. It is always called to discipling, teaching, evangelising.

Go, and help other people to find God through Jesus Christ, and to become his students just as we are. To people involved in this ministry, our almighty, omninpresent Lord and God says: “I am with you always, everywhere.”


And lets us be a student in the school of Jesus Christ. This has begun with your baptism, and for most of us that is quite a while ago. It is easy to drift away from what we have been called to by our Lord. To be his student does not stop after some confirmation classes - it is a lifelong process that never stops.
Let us study God’s Word much, personally and in the community of the church, in order to worship and serve our Lord better. He gave his Word - and especially the Words of Jesus - for us to obey.

And go, speak with friends, with family, with neighbours, and draw them into the circle of light, into the school of Jesus Christ.

Today He is with us; He invites you to participate in his Holy Communion. When we come forward to eat and drink, we sit with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit at his table. Together with Abraham and with all the saints.  Today at His table our Lord lets us share in his loving, peaceful and joyful communion. 

Faith in Jesus Christ brings us right into this heart of God.


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