“All Authority in Heaven and on Earth Has Been Given to Me” (Matthew 28:16-20)

The Holy Trinity
Sunday, June 19, 2011

“All Authority in Heaven and on Earth Has Been Given to Me” (Matthew 28:16-20)

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” If you had to vote on “What is the most puzzling statement in Scripture?” this might be it. What in the world is Jesus saying when he says, “All authority has been given to me?” “Given”? I mean, didn’t we just confess in the Athanasian Creed: “The Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal”? “And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or lesser than another”?

So how can the Son be “given” anything? “Authority”? He already had it, didn’t he? But Jesus says it’s been given to him. By whom? Why? For what purpose? And what does that have to do with us? Why is this good news? And so today, on this Trinity Sunday, we look at Jesus’ puzzling yet profoundly hope-filled and peace-giving statement: “All Authority in Heaven and on Earth Has Been Given to Me.”

As I say, you would think God the Son already had all authority in heaven and on earth. After all–or I should say, before all–before all things were made, there was God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. Coeternal with the Father and the Spirit. Existing from before the beginning. All three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, active in the work of creation. The Son of God had all authority, all power, from eternity, and he demonstrated that authority in the creation of the heavens and earth. He is the Logos, the Word of God, by whom all things were made and by whom the universe holds together.

John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Hebrews 1: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

Colossians 1: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

These passages, and many more beside, stress the divinity of the Son of God, his eternal nature, the divine power and authority that he had from before the beginning and which he exercised mightily in creating and upholding all of creation. No “giving” needed.

So how can Jesus say that all authority has been given to him? This is where the incarnation comes in. “The Word became flesh,” John 1 goes on to say, “and dwelt among us.” This most profound of mysteries, that the eternal Son of God could–and would–take on human flesh and dwell among his own creatures as one of us. Amazing! But that is what he did.

Why? It’s the big rescue mission. Let me explain.

Remember back in the creation account, Genesis 1, the Lord God created man in his own image and gave man dominion, authority, over all the earth. So human beings had God-given authority to act, the earth was ours to rule, as God’s stewards, his managers and caretakers, with the proviso that we hearken to his voice and do his will.

But that all went to pieces when we stopped listening. Man decided he wanted to be his own god, making his own decisions about right and wrong, not listening to what God had said. Being a steward wasn’t good enough. We wanted to be the master. Independent power, free from God. Not humbly receiving authority given by God. That desire for power, independent of God–that is what sin is. And it brings disastrous consequences.

Adam failed. It was an epic fail. And as a result, the epoch of this age is one of sin and failure, discord among humans, man and wife fighting with one another, blaming each other, curse upon the earth, futility and frustration in our work, pain and suffering all around. Death drives us into the ground. Do you feel the frustration? Do you sense the anguish? Is anxiety weighing upon your mind?

The effects of sin, your own sin and that of others, weighs heavily upon us. Fathers, abdicating their responsibility to be the spiritual leaders of their household. Husbands, not loving and cherishing their wife as Christ loves and cherishes the church. Wives, rebelling against the headship of their husband. Children, bearing the brunt of the damage. Broken homes, broken lives, broken people. Tornadoes are bad, but human sin does even more damage to homes.

Authority squandered and ruined. That’s the story of mankind. That’s your story and mine. But Christ brings his story into ours. His story enters into, and changes, human history. It’s the big rescue mission. The Son of God comes down to earth and becomes one of us. There will be a man who gets it right. It is Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.

There needed to be a man who listened to God’s word and did his will. That is Jesus Christ, perfectly fulfilling the law in our stead. There needed to be a man to bear the awful load of our sin, lifting it off of us and taking it on his back. That is Jesus Christ, the sinless one, bearing our sins for us. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” That is why Christ came. True God and true man in one person, he fulfills everything we needed. True man, to keep God’s law as a man and to suffer the punishment that the law requires, namely, death under God’s judgment, which Christ suffered for us on the cross. True God, to invest that law-keeping, that suffering, and that death with infinite worth, enough to cover all sinners in all times and all places, including you and me.

And Christ’s completion of the rescue mission has absolutely wonderful consequences! The results are fabulous! Death has been destroyed, the curse undone! Jesus shows this by his resurrection from the dead, showing what is in store for us. Sins are forgiven, all of them. The devil’s hold on you is broken. Now you are free to live as God’s children. Husbands and wives can love one another and find the strength to forgive one another and carry on. Fathers can joyfully carry out their duty to lead their family in Christian discipleship. Children can grow in Christ, soaking up the word, as their parents bring them to church and Sunday School and let the word have free course in the home. We have the Spirit now, we are new people.

Christ came and did the job that gives us everything we needed. He did it as the God-man, our divine Savior in human flesh. And so it is in that light that Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” It is in recognition of the successful completion of Christ’s saving mission that the Father gives him all authority. “According to his human nature,” as we say, Christ can be given to. This is the exaltation of Christ by the Father.

Philippians 2: “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Crucified and raised up, exalted at the right hand of God, this Jesus now rules all things as Lord and Christ for the sake of his church. All authority in heaven and on earth. The course of history is in his hands. Your own personal story is in his hands–those nail-pierced hands of our loving Lord. Jesus has all authority. He has authority to forgive sins. Look to him for your cleansing and renewal. He has authority over death. Look to him when death looms large before you. He has authority to give life. He will give you everlasting life when he comes again and restores all things.

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” A puzzling statement at first. How can God be given to? But when you get the last piece of the puzzle, that is, who Christ is, God in the flesh, and why he came, to rescue humanity for eternity–when the puzzle is complete, then this becomes the most hope-filled and peace-giving statement there can be. All authority in heaven and on earth, exercised for you by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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Published in: on June 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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