Happy New Year. I am sure that all of us were very, very happy to say goodbye and good riddance to 2020. A year we would all wish we could forget. Sadly, the first part of 2021 is not looking much brighter or happier. Indeed, the next few months could well be as hard as any we have just lived through. So to give us hope and encouragement for the days ahead, let me point to the wonderful promise Jesus makes right at the end of Matthew’s Gospel.
Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” NIV 2011
Surely, be sure of this, remember, behold. I am with you always!
As Christians we do not follow a dead martyr. We worship a living Saviour, who walks with us and talks with us every step of the way. Whatever challenges we may face, we never face them alone. Jesus gives us this promise, “I am with you always.”
It was the presence of God which had always protected and sustained God’s chosen people of Israel
At the end of his life Moses encouraged the Israelites.
Deuteronomy 31 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified … for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. …. 8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
God made exactly this promise to Joshua.
Joshua 1 5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. … 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
When King Solomon dedicated to the Lord the Temple he had built in Jerusalem, he prayed this inspiring prayer.
1 Kings 8 52 “May your eyes be open to your servant’s plea and to the plea of your people Israel, and may you listen to them whenever they cry out to you. 53 For you singled them out from all the nations of the world to be your own inheritance, just as you declared through your servant Moses when you, O Sovereign LORD, brought our fathers out of Egypt.” …. 57 May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us. 58 May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers.
Time and again the prophets encouraged the Israelites with the promise that God is with them.
Isaiah 43:1 But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Such wonderful promises, fulfilled in the lives of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they were thrown into the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion’s den. In Psalm 23, David is convinced that even at the end of life, and in the face of death, God would be with him.
Psalm 23 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
These were the promises God made to his people. Through thousands of years the people of God knew the blessings of God’s presence with them, protecting them and guiding them. Because these promises are in the Word of God, God still makes the same promises to us today. In our reading Jesus promises those same blessings to all his followers.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” NIV 2011
Two weeks ago at our Christmas communion we thought about what it means to us that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.
JESUS WAS COMPLETELY HUMAN and faced all the struggles of life just as we do hunger and thirst and tiredness and pain. Jesus felt all the intense emotions we all feel –joy and sadness, anger and disappointment, sorrow and grief.
Jesus was completely human. More than that, Jesus was just an ordinary, average, human typical of all the human beings who have ever lived. Poor, not rich. Powerless, not powerful. The Son of God shared in the sufferings of the exploited, mistreated, ignored and marginalised people who have always made up the vast majority of the world ever since the fall. With the poor and meek and lowly Lived on earth our Saviour holy. Immanuel – God with us. And Jesus promises, “I am with you always.”
This means that GOD COMPLETELY UNDERSTANDS our situation. Jesus was God with us. He has faced all the temptations we face. The pull of selfishness. The pangs of greed and lust and bitterness and self-pity. He faced them all. The only difference is that we give in to temptations. We dwell on them and let them lead us into sin. But Jesus did not. He fought harder than we do and he beat the devil every time. So whatever problems we may be facing today, whatever challenges, whatever battles. Jesus understands. We may be lonely, or afraid, or sad, or grieving, or confused. We may be feeling angry or deserted or betrayed or misunderstood. Jesus understands. However sad and disappointed we may be feeling going into the New Year, even if we are suffering or in great pain, Jesus understands. That’s why he is able to help us. Jesus is with us always, to the end of the age!
JESUS WAS COMPLETELY GOD. This means it is God who is with us always, to the end of the age. God the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity is with us. The Almighty, All knowing, ever-present God is with us, everywhere, all the time. The Eternal, Holy and Perfect God is with us. The all-loving God whose mercies will never come to an end is with us. The Almighty and Eternal God who is the Creator who made heaven and earth and everything that exists – that God is with us!
But let’s take a moment to see this marvellous promise in its context. The promise to be with us comes as part of the last three verses of Matthew’s Gospel which are known as The Great Commission. Here are Jesus’s final instructions to his disciples, sending them out into the world to continue his mission.
v18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Jesus is promising to be with all his disciples forever and in every situation – but particularly in the context of the Great Commission, as we are going out and making disciples of all nations.
v18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
The one who is promising to be with us is none less than the Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The one who takes the highest place in all of creation, the one who has the name greater than any other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, says Jesus, who then commands his disciples,
V19 Therefore go
Actually we must not be distracted by the word “go” because it appears first in our English translation. “Go”. That is not where the emphasis lies in the command Jesus is about to give. Grammatically, “Go” is not an imperative verb here. It is actually a participle, and it means “as you are going”, or “while you are going.” We don’t all have to “go” but we do all have to obey the command which follows, the strong imperative:
Make disciples. This is the heart of the Great Commission, the heart of the task Jesus has entrusted to His church – make disciples. It’s followed by two more participles, baptising and teaching. These describe the way in which we are to go about “making disciples”. But it is “disciple-making” which is the main task of the church. It is not just the task of those who are particularly sent out and who literally “go”. The command is to “make disciples”, and that is not just the task of missionaries or evangelists or ministers. It is the responsibility shared by all Christians. Make disciples. People who will obey Jesus’s call to “deny self, take up the cross daily, and follow me”. Help other people to put their trust in Jesus and to follow Jesus.
Making disciples has never been easy. Being witnesses for Christ and ambassadors for Christ has never been easy in a world which has rejected God. It many ways Covid19 has made it harder than ever to share our faith. Over the next few months we will be thinking much more about how we can make disciples in this strange new world. At the beginning of this New Year, let us commit ourselves to being disciples of Jesus ourselves. And let us commit ourselves to seeking to help other people to become his disciples as well. But for today, let us just remember that it is in the context of the Great Commission that Jesus made the wonderful promise, Surely I am with you always! Indeed Jesus is with us always, but especially all who are doing our best to be his disciples and to be disciple-makers. Guiding us, giving us strength and answering our prayers.
v20 surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We have the ONGOING PRESENCE OF GOD, the presence of the Risen Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit who leads and strengthens us and brings us God’s joy and God’s peace.
John 14 15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. … you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. … Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. … 23 If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
Jesus is with us always through the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus real to us and will give us the strength to serve God. I will be with you always.
After the missionary David Livingstone had returned from Africa, many people were very surprised that he planned to go back there again. He explained, “I return with misgiving and with great gladness. For would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among people whose language I could not understand, and whose attitude towards me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!’ On these words I staked everything, and they never failed!”
In God’s strength we CAN be the disciples and the disciple makers he calls us to be. In the words of Livingstone, “Here is the promise of a gentleman who would never break His word”
v20 And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”