Now we're turning in our Bibles to Matthew's gospel chapter 28, Matthew chapter 28, and I want to speak to you this morning on the subject 'The Ever Present Jesus'. Matthew 28, and we're going to read from verse 16, and I don't normally interject through the verses as we read them, but I will do for obvious reasons as we read these verses just now.
Verse 16: "Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him" - now let me just say there, later on this evening in the will of the Lord, in the after-meeting with the young people, we'll be looking at some features of the cults in general. Of course, one of the features is that often they dispute the fact, the biblical fact that Jesus is set forth as Lord and Christ, the pre-existent Son of God, co-equal with God, and therefore is to be worshipped. That is why so often in scripture, as cited here, Christ is worshipped of men. If He were just an angel, worship would be prohibited. We find in the book of the Revelation that John fell before an angel, and he told him to get up - but this is none other than the Son of God incarnate, and so He is worshipped.
Of course, some doubted, as the end of verse 17 says, as some still doubt today. Verse 18: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" - another testament to the fact that He is God, God the Son. He is omnipotent, an attribute that God alone has, all power in heaven and on earth. Then we have in verse 19 what is called the 'Great Commission' that Christ gave to both His disciples and the church before He left them to ascend to heaven. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" - notice it says 'name', not 'names' of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This is the name of God, God in three Persons, blessed Trinity. Verse 20: "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" - now can I just say as an aside on verse 19, the Great Commission was to go and teach all nations. What were the disciples to teach all nations? Verse 20: 'all things whatsoever I have commanded you'. I know that Matthew's gospel has certain Jewish features to it, but there's a teaching going about that, especially regarding the Sermon on the Mount, that it has no application to believers today, and that it is only for the Jews perhaps in some future period. Well, these verses would indicate to the contrary, that the disciples were to teach all nations all things whatsoever He had commanded them - specifically those things found in this book.
Here is the portion of the passage that I want to concentrate on this morning: "And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen". There are four 'alls' I hope you noticed in this passage of Scripture from verses 16 to 20, and they're all connected with this Great Commission that the Lord Jesus Christ gave the disciples to carry on His work on the earth. The first is 'all authority', all authority had been given to Christ in heaven and on earth, specifically after His cross and resurrection. Now that power was being distributed, as it were, among the disciples for the purpose of taking the Gospel to the second 'all', which is 'all nations'. This was not just a Gospel for the Jew, it was a Gospel for the whole world. Yes, to the Jew first, then right throughout the world after that in its own order, but it was eventually to stretch to the four corners of the globe.
This Gospel involved 'all things', the third 'all', all things that Christ had commanded His disciples when He was on the earth. The fourth 'all' is 'alway', Christ assured these disciples that as they would go forth in this mission of evangelisation of the world, that His presence would go with them always. So first of all He assures them of His power: 'All power is given unto me, and because you are mine, relatively speaking, all power is given unto you'. The One, remember, standing before them is the One who they had seen die on the cross, He is the One who had come from the grave the third day and was the conqueror of death, and surely there was nothing beyond His power. That is the backdrop in their minds to the statement that He gives them: 'Look what you have seen me do, and all power is given unto me in heaven and on earth, and that power is available to you'.
He gave them a commission to win all men for Him - how are we doing these days with this Great Commission? How you are you doing, individually? Do you seek, day by day, in your normal business - whatever it is, college, school, the workplace - do you seek to win men and women for Jesus Christ? Then He assures them of His presence.
Now let's grasp the import of this, this must have been staggering for these 11 humble Galileans to be sent to conquer the world. Essentially, compared to many, they were nobodies. They certainly were not intellectuals, they were not of noble birth, but they had been called of Christ. They had no means, perhaps, financially, materially; maybe their acumen and planning strategy wasn't that good. They weren't businessmen of any repute, but yet Christ had called them to go to the whole world with His message. I imagine that even as they heard these words, though they knew what Christ had done on Calvary and what He had accomplished through His resurrection, they had seen His miracles pre- and post-resurrection, I'm sure their hearts failed them for fear as their Lord gave them this commission. But here's the point I want you to grasp: no sooner was this command to go into the all the world and preach the Gospel given to them, than the assurance followed it from the Lord: 'Lo, I am with you always. You're not going alone, don't be afraid. You're sent out, and I know it is the greatest task in the world, but there is going with you the greatest presence in the world, my presence'.
Now in the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus you will know already from Matthew's gospel chapter 18 and verse 20 that the Saviour taught: 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them'. He was speaking of when people were met present to the name of Jesus, and He's telling them a promise and assurance that 'I'll be there when you meet like that'. But now this is slightly different, it's not coming together of God's people He's speaking of now but, if you like, it is a scattering of God's people to the four corners of the world. When they are met together He will be with them, when they're scattered He will be with them - but whatever the circumstance may be, His promise is: 'Lo, I am with you always'.
I want you to look at this verse together with me, verse 20 of course, the end. The first word is 'Lo'. Now that word in the Greek means 'Take note', literally 'remember'. The Lord had been with them right throughout their discipleship, and now He's asking them to pay close attention to what He's going to say. Now I know you've read Matthew's gospel before, I hope you've read it right through, but I wonder have you done this? Have you actually stopped, like the Lord has said, and paid close attention to this fact? It could be translated 'Look, look at what I'm going to say: Lo, I am with you always'.
Then look at the next two words: 'I am'. Now you will be familiar with the fact that 'I AM' is the divine name, it is the name that God Jehovah took in the Old Testament for Himself. It has many meanings that we won't go into this morning, but this encapsulates the fact that this is an emphatic statement that the Saviour is giving to His people now. In other words, He is saying: 'Is it not enough that I am with you? Look at who is speaking to you, take note who is speaking to you - I, Christ Jesus, the Son of God, am with you always'. It's as if to say: 'No one less than myself is with you, and I'm with you always'.
Now look at the next word, the word 'alway'. Now that literally means 'all the days, every day' - 'all the days, every day, I am with you'. William Hendrikson, the commentator, translates it like this: 'And remember, I am with you day in and day out, until the close of the age'. I think that's lovely. Matthew Henry commented on it like this: 'I will be with you on Sabbath days, and weekdays, fair days and foul days, winter days and summer days'. We often sing in that great hymn:
'Summer and winter, spring time and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses sublime,
Join with all nature in manifold blessing' - because of the faithfulness of God that He is with us always, every day, whatever those days may bring!
But the thought is not just always in perpetuity, forever, but the thought is without one day's interruption - to the end of the world, day in, day out until this world ends, until the end of the age. The sense is this: 'Take note', the Lord says, 'remember, look: I, who am the Son of God, who has died for your sins, who has risen again from the grave, who has all power in heaven and on earth, and who is sending you to this world, sometimes as sheep among wolves, I am with you always, day in, day out, in all sorts of days: days of weakness, days of strife, days of sorrow, days of joy, days of power, days of powerlessness. I will be with you throughout all the days, day in, day out until the end' - until that day when we can say we will be forever with the Lord.
Now can I ask you, before I go on any further: have you ever stopped to ponder what the Lord Jesus has said here? Does your life reflect a magnitude of the truth that He is the ever present Jesus? He's always with us. I love reading Christian biography, and particularly missionary biographies, and one that I would encourage you to read is the biography - whichever one you can get your hands on - of David Livingstone, the great pioneer missionary to Africa. What you may not know is that David Livingstone graduated as a medical doctor from Edinburgh University, but he was determined to do something for God. He wanted to work at some place in the world where he was most needed. So he went to Africa, and we know from his story that he opened up new roads into what was called then 'The Dark Continent'. He said: 'I am willing to go anywhere, provided it be forward'. So he went forward to Africa, and Livingstone said early in his missionary career - and mark these words please - 'I will place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in its relation to the kingdom of God. Anything I have will be given or kept, according as giving or keeping it shall most promote the kingdom of my Saviour'.
He began his work that ultimately extended 32 years in total, entirely dedicated to the continent of Africa. The first 12 years or so were in missionary travels, and the remainder of those 32 years were unveiling the unknown interior of Africa where his geographical discoveries placed him at the pinnacle of exploration and achievement. But on his last trip to Scotland, the University of Edinburgh confirmed an honorary degree upon him. There's a custom - or there used to be, I'm not sure if there is today - in Scottish universities, whenever there is a recipient of an honorary degree, they're basically fair sport. At the graduation students are up in the gallery, and basically the recipient has to run the gauntlet of all their raucous remarks. They sit there and they taunt, and they shout and ridicule them, sometimes in very lurid remarks and criticisms - because they're getting it for nothing, they haven't worked for it as such. Many people wondered what the reaction of the student body would be when Livingstone would get his honorary doctorate. Do you know what the students did? They stood silent in an ovation of respect to this man.
There Livingstone stood, one arm hanging at his side - his shoulder had been torn by a lion in the forests of Africa. There he stood, his skin like leather - because the sun had completely destroyed it. The students standing in silence, Livingstone was heard to say these words - now mark them: 'Shall I tell you what supported me through all these years of exile among a people whose language I could not understand, and whose attitude toward me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: 'Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world'. People talk', he went on, 'of sacrifice that I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own best reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word 'sacrifice' in such a view and with such a thought! It was emphatically no sacrifice, say rather 'It was a privilege'. Anxiety, sickness, suffering or danger now and then, with the foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause and cause the spirit to savour and the soul to sink - but let this only be for a moment! All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice! Of this we ought not to talk when we remember the great sacrifice which He made who left His Father's throne on high to give Himself for us'.
The silence hung in the air in the McEwan Hall in Edinburgh University that day. To this day, Livingstone's name is still revered amongst a great many inhabitants across the vast reaches of the African interior. Succeeding generations acknowledge him as a legendary figure who dedicated his life to Africa and her people - that's why, whenever he died, they buried his heart in Africa. But the secret, I want you to see, of his great commission was: 'Lo', Jesus said, 'I am with you always, even unto the end, whatever you face, whatever you do, I'm with you'. Do we believe that? 'I am with you' - this is the Lord's great assurance. He gave it to Abraham when his heart was failing him and he was ready to collapse. In Genesis 15 God said: 'Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward' - that was tantamount to saying 'I am with you, I'm your shield, I will protect you. I will go with you, you go not alone against the foe'.
When Moses was about to undertake a big job, going to Pharaoh, delivering the children of Israel, God said: 'I am with you'. When Joshua was afraid to carry on the work of Moses, and cross the Jordan into the promised land, the word came: 'I am with you', Joshua 1:5, 'There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee'. Now when we come to the New Testament, and God is sending His Son into the world, the annunciation of the angel to Mary said: 'Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us'. Now note: Matthew's gospel starts with Emmanuel, and now we see in verse 20 of chapter 28 that Matthew's gospel is ending with Emmanuel - because the Christian's life from start to finish, the church's life from beginning to ending, is this experience of the constant ever present Jesus - hallelujah!
When the Lord was in the world, as we said, He said: 'Where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them'. When He was about to die, if you turn with me to John chapter 14 for a moment, though He was leaving them bodily we have a further assurance of Christ's presence. Verse 18 of John 14: 'I will not leave you comfortless', in the margin the alternative translation 'I will not leave you orphans, on your own: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him'.
The Lord was promising that He would send another Comforter, of course it's the Holy Spirit He is speaking of - but the Holy Spirit would bring the divine presence that the disciples knew when Christ was in their midst, the presence of God. Had Jesus remained on the earth, He could not have fulfilled this assurance, giving the divine presence to all God's people no matter where they were, scattered across the whole globe, separated for various reasons. But the Comforter has come, and we have the presence of God through the Holy Spirit! After Christ's crucifixion, and then His resurrection, and now before His ascension, He gives the great commission: 'Go and take my message, go and take the Gospel to all people', and again we have the promise, 'And lo, I am', the divine presence, 'with you always'. At the beginning of Matthew's gospel: Emmanuel, God with us. In the middle: 'Where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst', God's presence. At the end: 'Lo, I am with you always'.
Now, let's see the experiential nature of this assurance. As the apostles went forth with this Gospel, what happened to them? Well, one thing is sure: throughout it all - and you can read about some of their experiences in Hebrews chapter 11, some of them fed to the lions, some of them sawn asunder, some of them crucified upside down - yet in the midst of all the suffering, they experienced and proved the presence of Jesus.
Turn with me for a moment to Acts chapter 18, and here the apostle Paul, though he was one born out of due time and didn't experience the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus, took the commission seriously. Here in Acts 18 we find Paul going to the city of Corinth. Now in verse 1 we read: 'After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth'. 'Go!', Jesus says; Paul has gone. Then we see that he's there for a purpose, to fulfil his commission in verse 8: 'Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized'. Christ sent the disciples to go and preach the Gospel; to convert people from all nations; to baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That's what Paul is doing, isn't it?
In verse 11 we see that he's teaching the word, teaching them all things that Christ had commanded. He continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. Was it easy? Far from it! It was very uneasy - that's an understatement. When the going got tough for Paul, as it will for us in this world, particularly if we obey Christ's commission to go with the Gospel - what happened to him? How did he cope? What was his experience? Look at verses 9 and 10, in the midst of persecution, misunderstanding, difficulties as he sought to obey the Lord: 'Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall hurt thee: for I have much people in this city'. Paul experienced the ever present Jesus.
Now we know from Paul's life that there were many occasions, but there was another occasion that is mentioned in 2 Timothy chapter 4. Paul says there in verse 16: 'At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge'. Now what was Paul talking about? What I think he was talking about when he said: 'At my first answer', was one of the incidents where he was on trial in Rome. There he is standing in Rome for the crime of being guilty of preaching in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ the Good News. Now, if I can remind you that in Romans chapter 16 there's a whole list of people who Paul knew and counted his friends in Rome. Yet Paul is saying here that at this time, when he was standing before the legal authorities, these people - whether it was for fear or whatever reason - didn't count Paul as a good enough friend to stand with him.
What does Paul say? Verse 17 of 2 Timothy 4: 'Notwithstanding', all this, no man stood with me, 'the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me', for the purpose of the Great Commission, 'that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion'. The experience of these apostles as they go forth! Paul testifies: 'I did everything that Christ said, I went to Corinth, I went to Rome, I obeyed and taught others, they were converted, I baptised them as the Lord told me to - was it easy? No! It wasn't! What got me through was the ever present Jesus!'.
Now, when we come to the apostle John who is on the Isle of Patmos, given the vision of the Apocalypse, the book of the Revelation - do remember, of course, that when he wrote this book he was writing to churches who were experiencing intense persecution from the Empire. Don't get so taken up with all the prophetic detail that you miss the context. These Christians were suffering, and in a very basic and general sense what John was telling them to do is: 'You see everything that is going on around you in your world, but look up! I am in control'. John, writing to others who were suffering, this is how he ends his letter - verse 21 of Revelation 22: 'The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen'. The presence of Christ with us!
Now note: the disciples were worrying because the bodily presence of the Lord was leaving them, we see that in John 14. They were disturbed when He talked about going away, and we're no different than them, you know. We're physical people, with physical mentalities, we deal with material things everyday - that's why at times the spiritual realm is foolishness to us, because we can be carnal. But even though His bodily presence was no longer with them, He was yet with them. In that same way, folks, He's yet with us - exactly the same.
Recently I was praying - I don't often share personal illustrations with you, but you know sometimes when you're praying and things don't seem too real, you get a little bit frustrated. I just said to the Lord: 'Lord, I just wish that You could be here sitting with me', and I felt the Lord saying - not audibly or anything like that - 'But I am with you, I am with you'. We want to see Him, that's our problem, walk by sight, not faith!
King Victor Emanuel III of Italy had gone with his troops into the battle, and in the midst of the shellfire a lieutenant had fallen down fatally wounded. He called another soldier close by him, and he gave him some keepsakes that he had - jewellery and so forth - to convey to his family. He ordered him: 'Run, run for your life, or you'll be dead too!' - but the soldier tried to carry this lieutenant on his arm, and he wanted to try and save his life. Through the gunfire and the shellfire, others were shouting to the soldier: 'Leave him! He's going to die! Go! Save yourself! Save yourself!' - but still he remained, trying to carry him. All of a sudden in the distance of the battleground, they heard the horn beeping of a motor car. All of a sudden there was a whisper went around the camp, that that was the king's cortege, it was his car! The king has left the camp! Everybody started to panic, and the officer that was struggling with this lieutenant's body, when he heard what others were saying, he just dropped him and flung himself upon him and said: 'Even the king has gone away!'. Then a hand touched his shoulder, and he shook himself and stood to attention - it was Emmanuel. 'My dear boy', he said, 'The car is gone, but the king is still with you'.
Do you ever feel like that? 'Even the Lord seems to be gone, or at least His presence doesn't seem to be with me'. Though His body is gone, though any tangible sense of His presence may not be known to you, He's as much here - in fact, He's here in a greater capacity than He was when He was on the earth! But do we believe that? You see, when we learn the practice of the presence of Jesus, we'll grow stronger. We'll grow stronger in faith, we'll grow stronger in grace when we realise that Jesus is the always present presence. In the times of loneliness, His always presence will give us company - the company that you need, my friend! In times of weakness, His always presence will give you that strength to get through. In times of suffering, His always presence will give you peace, tranquillity of mind. In times of death, His always presence will give you hope - and when it comes your time to pass, He will give you eternity.
That's why the Psalmist could say in Psalm 46: 'The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah'. What's he asking us to do? Look! He wants to get our attention stopped! Ponder this! This God is with us: 'When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee'. He saying to you this morning, child of God: 'Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness'. 'Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age'.
Do you know something that is better than the promise of Jesus? The presence of Jesus. How much do we realise that? How much do we experience it? How much do you know of it? How much of a difference it would make in our lives if, with confident faith like David Livingstone, we knew His presence! It would be reflected dramatically in our lives.
Let me finish with this part of David Livingstone's story. After he had been in Africa about 12 years, he had a desire to travel from where he was at that point in Africa from the East continent over to the West continent, and that was through a part of Africa that no other European had ever pioneered. It was very dangerous, he certainly couldn't do it on his own, and so he went to a local Chief of a tribe that he knew, and he asked if he could borrow 27 strapping men of the tribe to go with him. Now right away the Chief was a little bit suspicious of this, for it was a dangerous trip - he knew the terrain more than anyone. He had also learned that white men could not be trusted. Livingstone, sensing some of the feeling of this Chief, made him a promise. He said this: 'If you give me your sons, I promise to return with them and to deliver them to their homes and their families. My life will be a pledge'.
Well, the Chief agreed on that basis, and Livingstone went with the 27 men. The journey was every bit as dangerous as it was thought to be. It was incredibly difficult terrain, there were hostile tribes, there were all kinds of predatory and dangerous animals, there was sickness, there was illness - but finally they made it to the West Coast. When they stumbled into the port of Luanda, which had been their target, they were absolutely amazed when they saw a British warship. When they inquired, some English soldiers came and found 'Dr Livingstone, I presume', and they ordered him - that's another way of putting it - that Queen Victoria invited him back to England, in these words - the Captain said: 'Sir, Queen Victoria has sent me to urge you to return. All England is waiting to honour you'. When the Queen invites you, that's a command, and I'm sure it was tempting for him to go. The thought of going home, the thought of being honoured by so many who had known his great exploits - but there was one problem: Livingstone had given his word.
Well, they assured him, 'The promise of a white man', the soldier said, 'to an African doesn't matter. The Queen is more important than a Chief'. Livingstone had made a commitment, and despite all the urgings of the naval officers who were there, he turned his back and he headed into the jungle. That trip, from start to finish, took 2½ years - to honour a promise. That was probably why Livingstone was held in such high esteem by these people in Africa. But this is my point: he could go into that jungle not knowing what was ahead, because he had made a promise on the basis of the promise that Christ had made to him: 'Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end'. This is what he said: 'That is the word of a gentleman, and I trust it'. Do you trust it?
It has been said that this is a promise, it's not, it's a fact. 'Lo, I am with you always' - and look how it ends, 'Amen'. Do you know what 'Amen' means? 'So it is'. Our Lord Jesus Christ said: 'Verily, I am and will be with you. I, the Amen, the Faithful Witness, do assure you of it, day in, day out, until days end'. May God bless His word to your hearts this morning.
Father, we remember that Mary was told by the Lord Jesus: 'Handle me not now, cling to me not now, Mary; for I have not ascended'. But Lord, we thank You that He has now ascended, and we can cling to Him for He is with us always - day in, day out, whatever those days may bring, right to the end. Lord help us, if we've lost grip of Him, to embrace Him afresh this morning - thanking You that He will never lose grip of us. Bless us now on our homeward way, we pray, and be with those who are not well, Lord, keep Your hand upon them. For Jesus' sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Ever Present Jesus" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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