A sermon preached in a worship service never stands alone. By the time the sermon hymn ends, the hearers have heard and said quite a bit. They have listened to multiple Scripture readings, sung several hymns and songs, confessed their sins and received forgiveness, and they have spoken to God in prayer. For some sermons (especially sermons on familiar texts) it can be helpful to make connections between the sermon and parts of the service which may seem unconnected. Homileticians call this the “synchronic liturgical context.” Attention to it helps the preacher think about the experience of the sermon as part of a larger liturgical event.
Matthew 28:16-20 is a familiar text, which makes it a good candidate for this type of liturgically integrated preaching. I suggest considering these verses in relation to the appointed Psalm. Psalm 8 is familiar in its own right and will be recognized by many hearers. In what follows, I will suggest some connections between these two readings. Each connection could form the focus for the entire sermon. Or, taken together, they could provide the movement for a sermon that goes back and forth from Psalm 8 to Matthew 28.
Psalm 8 emphasizes the vast difference between creation and its Creator. Psalm 8:1 says, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” The heavens were already magnificent to behold for David. Imagine what he might have said if he had seen recent pictures from the Webb Telescope. All the moons, stars, and distant galaxies we have only begun to encounter are the work of God’s fingers. Such is the authority He exerts over creation, and such is His glory over all He has made. David’s question in verse 4, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” becomes increasingly existential with every image Webb sends home.
According to Matthew, the first words Jesus spoke to His disciples after rising from the dead were about His authority: “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Me” (Matthew 28:18). Authority over all creation, all we have seen and all we have not (and will never see), belongs to the resurrected Son of God. It is no wonder everyone who met Him after He rose was afraid. It is also no wonder the disciples reacted instinctively by falling down to worship (προσεκύνησαν) Him. They were confronted by the One who had just demonstrated authority even over death. They must have felt exceedingly small indeed.
Authority over all creation, all we have seen and all we have not (and will never see), belongs to the resurrected Son of God.
Despite the incomparable distance between the transcendent Creator and His finite creation, the good news in Psalm 8 is God is mindful of those He made in His image, and He cares for them all. He is mindful of His Son, who embodied true and full humanity. As the orthodox theologian Patrick Reardon says, Jesus is “the archetype of man, bearing all humanity in himself.” But the Father’s mindfulness extends beyond the one and only begotten. He is also (and equally) mindful of all those He has made in His image.
When Jesus sends the eleven to make disciples of all nations, He shows how God’s mindfulness extends to all people. No one is left out. God is mindful of every tribe and race, every ethnicity and nationality, every infant (Psalm 8:2) and elder and everyone in between. More than mindful, He loves His creatures. He desires all to come to a knowledge of the Son, that all would be baptized and learn His commands. After rising from the dead, Jesus continues His mission of blessing all nations by sending His chosen few to make disciples of many.
Psalm 8 begins and ends with praise to God’s name. David knew Him as Yahweh, the One who was, is, and will be. His name is majestic in all the earth and over all He has made, which makes praise and adoration the only proper response.
In Matthew 28, Jesus says even more about God’s name. He sends His disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism into this name is the assurance that God is not only mindful, He is also gracious. He knows and He saves. He baptizes and He teaches. He forgives and He enlivens. More than that, Jesus’ promise in verse 20 provides assurance of His gracious presence which knows no boundaries of space or time. He will be with them everywhere they go, no matter how small and insignificant they may feel.
This is where the promise of Jesus comes to the fore in a sermon on this text. The resurrected Christ, who has all authority in Heaven and on Earth, also has His mind and His eye on the people who have gathered in your congregation this Sunday. He has put the name of the Triune God on them in baptism and He promises to be mindful of them for all eternity. Your privilege this week is to confess the majesty and the mercy of this Son of the Father, which leads to a life of reverent fear and unending thanksgiving.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 28:16-20.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 28:16-20.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 28:16-20.
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