The Great Alls
When the fragmenting of the visible church leads you to doubt the unity of the Holy Christian Church, remember the great ones Paul mentions: one faith, one Lord, one Baptism. In times of doubt about the unfathomable mystery of the Holy Trinity remember the great alls of our text.
The Man Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary says all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him. Here some want to quote the old saw by John Dalberg: "absolute power corrupts absolutely." Well if that is absolutely true what does that say about Jesus? No, Solzhenitsyn was right: "Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty" (Gulag, II, 546). All authority in the Man in whom Paul says, "all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily" is a different matter.
What the Man Jesus says here is to turn your eyes away from the imponderable mysteries of the Trinity to the Face of God in Jesus Christ. When confronted by the deep mysteries, pains, or tragedies of life don't look to the God who hides Himself; don't look to the God who no man has seen at any time; don't look to Him who dwells in blinding light; don't look to Him who is a consuming fire; don't look to the God without hands. Look to the God who has hands with nail holes. Jesus quells the doubts of the 11 apostles by focusing their attention on Him.
That the Man Jesus has all authority; that He is to be the focus of their worship, leads to the next all. The text makes a direct connection with "Therefore", but your insert has the weaker "then." "All authority in heaven and upon earth has been given to me; Therefore, you must go make disciples of all nations."
It is true; God's salvation, God's redemption, have always been for all mankind, but in the Old Testament, you didn't come in contact with these apart from contact with the nation of Israel. It's like getting water in Austin. The only tap that brings water into your house is one connected to Lake Austin. God's salvation and redemption flowed into the world through Israel. To get it, you had to be in contact with that nation.
Even the ministry of Jesus focused on Israel. It's true; there was the Syrophoenician woman and the centurion, but in both cases Jesus notes them as great exceptions. When Jesus sends His ministers of the kingdom into the world he specifically says, "Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel", and when the disciples want to make an exception of the Syrophoenician woman Jesus responds, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
"Only" became all after the cross. On Easter Sunday evening Jesus says, "Whosoever sins you forgive they are forgiven," and "repentance and forgiveness are to be preached in His name to all nations." No longer did you have to come to Judaism to get Jesus. No longer did you have to come into the Old Testament Church to get forgiveness. No longer did you have to go to the chosen people to be part of the chosen. Now all who wonder if they are chosen are to find their election in Christ and not outside of Him (FC, SD, 11, 65-70). There are no nations that Jesus doesn't want as disciples because there are no nations that Jesus did not die for, atone for, redeem.
Wow what great all's. My Jesus has all authority not only on earth but in heaven and my Jesus wills to save all nations. The third all is a little harder. Jesus literally says you must make all nations disciples by baptizing and by teaching them to observe all precepts He has given to the disciples. The word is "observe" not obey' and it's precepts' not commandments' but it's most definitely all of them.
What Jesus is emphasizing by using the word precepts' instead of commandments' is that He is speaking as God. The Greek word here refers to the absolute authority of the one issuing the command and not to the content of the command (Scaer, Law and Gospel, 73, fn. 20). This fits with the context. The disciples have at last met Jesus in Galilee after Easter as they had been told to before Easter. Yet, even here while worshipping Him, they doubted. Then Jesus draws attention to His absolute authority and then emphasizes that the precepts He has taught them are divine.
When we want to know what the will of God is, when we want to know what God thinks about us, we are to look to what Jesus has said. And where do we find that? In the Words of the Apostles. Remember Jesus opened their minds so they might understand all that was written about Him in the Old Testament. He sends them out to all nations teaching all whatsoever He had told them. That's why in the New Testament the standard for judging true and false doctrine or teachers is the apostolic word.
Read your New Testament: Paul tells the Romans those who cause divisions go "against the teaching you learned." The Thessalonians are to keep away from any Christian who refuses to live and work as he instructed them. Paul tells Pastor Timothy the standard is the sound words of the Lord Jesus Christ as Timothy knows them from him, the apostle.
The apostles couldn't leave out any of the precepts they heard from the Man who is God, Jesus. Paul tells the Ephesian pastors that he didn't shrink from passing on all the counsel of God. And what particularly do you think that is? Do you think the all-important counsel of God was one offs like: whether men are to have short hair, women are to wear hats in church, or the sick are to be anointed with oil? Do you think the precepts which Jesus bound the apostles to pass on were endless questions about this or that passage? Paul tells the Ephesian pastors the whole counsel of God he passed on was repentance toward God and faith in Christ.
People will talk all day and listen eagerly when you speak of apostolic miracles, signs, and wonders, and the New Testament definitely has them. But these pointed to something else, to Someone else. They pointed to all the precepts the Lord Jesus had given the apostles to give to us. The precept to baptize all nations into the very mystery of the Holy Trinity. The precept that whatsoever the mouth of man forgives on earth in Jesus' name is forgiven before God in heaven. The precept that God wills that we eat His Body as Bread and drink His Blood as Wine for the forgiveness of whatsoever our conscience is afraid of.
But these are not the precepts we focus on, we revel in, we wallow in. No, we focus on all the precepts, all the commands, all the things that are difficult to understand in Scripture rather than the clear apostolic precepts: Be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. Confess your sins and God is faithful and just to forgive them because Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the world. And do the Holy Communion often to bring Me back to you for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
We're like a survivor on the torpedoed Lusitania who threw away the one thing that could have been a consolation. A woman in a life vest drifted up to where he was safe atop a wooden crate. She was barely alive. She slipped a ring from her finger and told him to get it to her family as a token that she had tried to die as "a brave Canadian girl." She then gasped and died. The man was overcome with guilt that he hadn't tried more to save her, and threw the ring into the sea in a sudden rage. Tossing that ring then haunted him for the rest of his life (Lusitania: Triumph and Tragedy, 283-84).
Wasn't that dumb, foolhardy? Yet that's what we do with the pledge, token, the seal of our forgiveness given to us by Jesus and passed down by apostolic precepts. Overcome with our guilt, real or imagined, we push our Baptism from us; we plug our ears to the absolution, and take no assurance away from eating the Body Jesus gave on the cross to pay for our sins; or drinking the Blood He shed there to cover all our sins. And then like the Lusitania survivor we feel even more guilt for doing that!
The last all to take comfort in on Trinity Sunday where we're confronted with the mystery of the Trinity is that Yahweh, ego eimi is with us all the days until the completion of the age. The great I Am who appeared to Moses in a burning bush that didn't burn and who made the very ground all around the bush holy, the great I Am who is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the great I Am who is Abraham's promised Great Reward, Zion's Helper, David's Lord and Good Shepherd is with you literally all the days until the completion of the age.
Two things: These days are numbered. If you're now in days that pass in one painful, sorrowful tick of the clock at a time, know these days are numbered. Likewise, if the days are flying because they are fun, these too will end. Second, every single one of them are part of the completion, the purpose, the point of the age you're living in. We're not just looking for the end of the age as if it's the end of a road. We're looking for a fulfilling, a fruition, a result that has been behind every ache, pain, joy, happiness, sickness and health. The end isn't the end but the beginning of all that we've been redeemed for.
Trinity Sunday is to focus on the Man who is God, Jesus. This prevents us from continually refining, editing, intellectualizing our idea of God until mind boggling concepts of eternity, Trinity in unity, and endless, silent space at last bring us to worship a non-being (Lewis, Miracles, 144). Over against this trumpets Luther's assertion: "Outside of whom [Christ] no other god is worshipped or sought" (LW, 12, 352). Athanasius, not the author but certainly the inspiration behind the Athanasian Creed, doesn't back away or apologize for the deep mysteries that have been revealed, but insists God has revealed them to us for devotion not speculation or doubt. "'And, for devotion, the mystery presents no difficulty'" (Christianity and Classical Culture, 362).
Scripture doesn't tell us all we want to know about the Triune God, but all we need to know and all we're able to know. If we press beyond this, we don't pass into all knowledge but madness. Like the Medusans of Star Trek who are beautiful on the inside but whose outward appearance causes men to go insane, all of God can only be safely seen in the Man Jesus portrayed in Word and manifested today in Water, Bread, and Wine. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Holy Trinity (20170611); Matthew 28: 16-20