Matthew 28:11-20 Part 5


In his book “Christianity and Liberalism” (which is in my library, should anyone wish to read it), J. Gresham Machen describes two competing religions.  As the title implies, one religion is Christianity, and the other one is liberalism.

As he compares the two religions with regard to the primary doctrines of Scripture, what emerges as the obvious essence of the book is that the Church (in the second and third decades of the twentieth century) had been “despoiled” by the competing religion!

Now, as you know it’s not my purpose (or practice) to teach you the books of men.  Although this book is a fine one; and although Machen has always been one of my heroes; and although I do recommend the book (and all of his writing) highly, I’m only going to spend a minute or two with it – because there’s an excellent point here.

Dr. Machen details (with great clarity) the comparison between Christianity and liberalism with regard to the person and work of Christ; the nature of God and the nature of man; the Bible; salvation; and the Church.  And as he says (in a general statement about all of these together), Roman Catholicism, with all its theological perversions, is more kin to Biblical Christianity than is liberalism… for liberalism is not Christianity at all!

Now, some would say that Romanism has little, if any, relation to Biblical Christianity!  But even if one does say that, the fact remains that a great Reformed minister has given it a more favorable rating than he gives to liberalism, which serves to illustrate just how far the Church as descended into its aberrant Theology.  And remember… Machen was speaking of that particular “New World” Church into which had been deposited the whole richness of Reformation Theology!  He was writing about his own denomination.

At one point Dr. Machen began to write about “the message”.  Christians are “messengers” who report the Message!

Just like the angel at the tomb which appeared “as lightning” to the two Marys… he carried the message from God directly to them.  He was a messenger.  He testified to the truth.  He was a witness to what Christ had done and what God had said.

In the same way, Christians are to be messengers who witness to the Message.  Remember, we don’t “witness” to men… we witness to Christ and Who He is and what He did.  We carry the message to men.  And a witness is one who speaks the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth!

A Christian is one who witnesses the Gospel message.  He witnesses the Truth of Christ, the whole Truth of Christ, and nothing but the Truth of Christ.  Anything else is false testimony; and the one who delivers false testimony is a false witness who breaks the tenth Commandment with regard to the Son of God – Who He is, and what He did!

As Dr. Machen implied, it is the message that’s the critical issue here.  It is the Good News”.  “The Gospel is the Power of God into salvation….” the apostle Paul says in Romans ten (of preaching the Gospel)


“… how shall they believe Him Whom they’ve not heard?”


It does not say how shall they believe in Him of Whom they’ve not heard… it says, “…how shall they believe Him Who they’ve not heard.”

Paul explicitly states that the Gospel message is the Voice of Christ Himself… O Logos… the Word of God!  The witness to God reports the message.  The message is the Gospel.  And the Gospel is the voice of Christ, the Power of God into salvation….

It is a “river of life” flowing from under the mountain of God into the desert wastelands of humanity; it is the fountainhead of life.  It is life itself….

The Voice of Christ is the objective Truth of God.  It is the Word of God concerning man and his condition… it is the Word of God concerning Jesus Christ – Who He is and what He did… it is the Word of God concerning salvation… it is the Word of God concerning the Church.

You see, it is the Spirit of Christ (The Word of God) Who rebirths men.  Men must be “rebirthed” from dead humanity.  We must have new life in Christ Who is “risen” from death – the Second Adam!  There is a new humanity into which men must be reborn in order to live!

And that occurs by the grace of God – it is a gift – through witnesses testifying to the Truth!  The voice of O Logos – the Christ – the Word of God, must be heard by men and women and children; and they “hear” it by messengers reporting the facts!  That’s the way God ordained it!

The liberal ministers and theologians of the Church in Machen’s time used some of the same words and phrases as the reformed men did; and they professed the same creeds.  But they poured acid into the cup and served spoiled meat!  The message they brought was false testimony!  And rather than their witness being life itself, it became a message of hopelessness… because it wasn’t what God said!

The apostle Paul said, “for me to live is Christ”.  To receive rebirth from God is life.  It is “new creation”.  And, as Paul earlier said, to continue to live in the “old” life (i.e. to be in open rebellion and unbelief) is just unthinkable.  How can one “reborn” in Christ be “un-reborn” again!

The “new creation” in Christ proceeds in life as one “reborn”.  He thinks and reasons with the mind of Christ.  He “sees’ the promises and commands of God, and he lives in them.  There is no other way of life, because it is “life itself”!

As we come to verse seventeen it must be with this Theological and historical perspective.  Even though the verse is difficult with just a “cursory” reading, once put in its own theological and historical context it comes clear.


“When they saw Him they worshipped.  But to themselves they doubted.”


We already took up the first part of the verse; and we saw the disciples, on a mountain in Galilee, prostrate themselves before the One Who was dead and was now alive… Who had, at His resurrection, received all authority in heaven and upon the earth.

But last Lord’s Day I asked you to give some thought and prayer to this issue of “doubt”… with regard to the disciples of Christ.  What is the content of this doubt?  What did they doubt?  And we went through a list of the possible points of “doubt” as we know the word – and discarded them all.

They didn’t doubt that Jesus had died on the cross; they didn’t doubt that He was buried; they didn’t doubt that He rose again from death; and they didn’t doubt that the One now standing before them on this remote mountain was the same One they had been following for three years!  And they didn’t doubt that He was the Son of God!

Before we come to the verse itself (verse seventeen), let me give you a quick overview of the “nature” of the disciples as described by Matthew.  This won’t be complete… but just enough to provide the “idea” (things we’ve already heard).

At one point the disciples actually disputed with Jesus about His intent to go into Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the Jewish leadership and to be crucified.  On another occasion the mother of two of them “lobbied” Jesus about her sons’ “positions” in His administration (one of them was the apostle John!).  At the time of Jesus’ arrest and trial, all of the disciples abandoned Jesus.  They were “confounded” and fearful and ashamed.  They even “denied” that they knew Him.

At Jesus’ burial only one or two even showed up!  Two other people had to intervene… providing a tomb and giving Him a proper burial!  The disciples were “huddled up” behind closed doors – fearful, discouraged, and completely disoriented!  All that they had hoped for and anticipated had turned upside down!

Thousands of the “remnant of Israel” had followed Him; and the blind had been given sight, the deaf could hear, the lepers were cleansed, the crooked were made straight, the lame could walk, the demons obeyed Him and were “sent under”, Gentile cities were set free.  He walked on water, the “shaking” of the sea stopped at His command, He fed thousands with a few fish and a little bit of bread… He even raised a man from death!

And, now, even He Himself appeared to them – having been crucified and buried!  And recognizing Him, and having been commanded (in reference to the prophecy in Zechariah thirteen) to assemble themselves on a mountain in Galilee, they now see Him and bow down at His feet in worship!  “…but to themselves they doubted”!

Having literally lived with Him for most of three years, and having seen all the miracles, and having confessed that He was the Son of God, and having seen Him come back from death… “… but to themselves they doubted”!

Now… contrast all of this to what you know about the apostles in the Acts and in letters of the apostles and in the Revelation of St. John.  Soon we’ll be doing that in an exposition of the Revelation of St. John.  For now I’ll leave you to make the contrast yourselves from what you already know.  The contrast is great…like night and day…or death and life.

“… but to themselves they doubted.”

The translations have “but some doubted”.  Because of some technical reasons the word “some” has been supplied here by translators.  It doesn’t appear in the text.  And why it should appear in the text baffles me… it can only be an “interpretative” translation!  The translators believed that some of the disciples believed and some doubted (two groups); and they found a technical reason in the Greek language for supplying the world “some”!

For those who may know a little Greek, this sentence is “oi de edistasan”.  It begins with a reflexive pronoun in the dative case… “in themselves, or to themselves… they doubted.  Literally, it can’t be anything else!

And that’s supported by this Greek word translated “doubt” in English.  We have to spend some time on it… especially in light of all the rest that we’ve heard this morning.

The word is “edistasan”, from the root word “distassw” or “distazomai”.  I’ll break it down for you shortly.  But the remarkable thing about this word is the fact that it’s used only two times in Scripture… both in the Gospel of Matthew.  The other occasions in which the English world “doubt” appears, it’s another Greek word.

But I want to take you quickly to the only other passage where this word is used.  It’s in Matthew chapter fourteen.  It’s right after Jesus had fed five thousand men (plus women and children) with five loaves and two fish.  Then Matthew’s text reads like this… chapter fourteen, beginning at verse twenty-two:


“And immediately He compelled the disciples to get aboard into the boat and to be going before Him to the other side, until He could send the crowds away.  And having dismissed the crowds He went up into the mountain privately to pray.  Now as the evening approached He was alone there.  But the boat was in the midst of the sea, being tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.  And during the fourth watch of the night He came to them walking on the sea.  And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea they were terrified saying, ‘It is a spector,’ and they cried out from the fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘be courageous, it is I; do not be afraid.’  Now in answer to Him Peter said, ‘Lord, if You are You, bid me to come to You upon the waters.’  And He said ‘Come.’  And having come down from the boat Peter walked about upon the waters and came toward Jesus.  But seeing the mighty wind, he became frightened; and when he began to be plunged he cried out saying, ‘Lord save me!’  And immediately having stretched out the hand took hold of him and He says to him, ‘Little faith, why did you doubt?’  And upon their climbing into the boat the wind abated.”


Now, just as the immediacy of the miracle of feeding five (plus) thousand hungry people (with so little food) is swallowed up in the greater significance of the body of Jesus Christ being offered as eternal food for the nations of the world, so also there is greater significance here in Jesus’ walking on the turbulent waters and saving His disciples from drowning!  (And, by the way, it doesn’t say “the sea”; it says “waters”.)

As we said when we preached through this passage (several years ago) none of the miracles of Jesus stand in the “abstract” as simple examples of His Sovereign power.  We must not stop with the simple fact that Jesus is God, and He can walk on water.  The miracles are much more.  They are portions of the progressive revelation of Almighty God concerning the salvation of His people and His creation!  Just as there is more to the miracle of feeding thousands with a little, so there is more to His walking on the waters than just the saving of Peter!

Back when we were going through this passage we related some of the countless portions of Scripture where the “waters” are “figures” of raging, turbulent humanity; the pagan Gentile nations of the earth!  And Jesus’ walking, unaffected, upon the “churning” waters is indicative of His sovereign rule, and His eventual Kingly reign, over them all!

And the apostles, and their preaching, and their inspired letters to the Churches, were to be “foundation stones” in the new temple of God which rests upon all the “mountains” of the earth!  They were the original “messengers”… imbued with the spirit of apostleship and spreading the dominion of Christ over the nations!

When Peter got out of the boat and walked on the “waters”, Jesus made him the very figure of apostolic authority – the apostle with the message for the nations!  When he was “plunged into the deep” he demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the nations, the salvation of the world, of Christ’s Kingship and dominion, and of what his own role would be in that process!  He was without understanding of the ”fullness” of the prophetic Word of God!

And that’s when Jesus said, “Little faith, why did you doubt?”  That’s the only other time this word is used.  And on both occasions (that one and the one here in verse seventeen) the issue has to do with the nations and the fullness of Christ’s salvation and reign and dominion over all God’s creation!

The disciples of Christ showed up (as commanded by their risen Lord) on the mountain in Galilee; and Jesus was about to speak to them concerning their jobs in the administration of His Kingdom (their jobs being to “walk upon the raging turbulence of the nations of the world, and discipline those nations under the Kingship of Christ), and Matthew says, “but to themselves, they doubted”!

Matthew (alone… nobody else) has used the word – twice both in the same context; and he used it for a specific purpose.  “Doubt.”  Distazo.  It’s made up of two words; “dia”, the basic meaning being two, and “stasso” meaning to stand.  They were standing in two different places!  They were divided into two “minds”!  (The disciples were not divided into two groups – some believing and some doubting, but they were one group with a divided mind!)

While knowing and recognizing and loving and following and worshiping their Master, Who had risen from the dead (and Who they had all denied and abandoned), they still did not understand the prophetic Word of God with relation to Christ and His Kingdom!

The Power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is unto salvation of the world!  The Gospel of God is the Power of God into salvation.  The authority of Jesus Christ is over all the earth and over the heavens.  And the Fullness of the Prophetic Word of God is unto His dominion over all the earth.

That’s what His “witnesses” are to report; that’s what the “messengers” are to bring to the world!  It is the Gospel.

When the message – the Gospel – is “liberalized”, it no longer becomes the message of the Power of God unto salvation!  When the message is changed to meet the “times” or the “fancies” of men, it is no longer the message of the Dominion of Christ over the nations!  When pietists change the message of salvation to something simply internal, there’s no longer the Gospel of “rebirth”.  When dispensationalists change the message of the Kingdom … it is no longer the message of world dominion.

When men seek to “make the message more palatable” to other men, they stand in two different places.  They are “doubters”!  They are without the Power of the Gospel of God!  No understanding; No idea of the dominion of Christ; no concept of universal Kingship; and no “voice of Christ” in their preaching!

Changing the “message” of God to the people constitutes another religion, according to Dr. Machen.  It is no longer Christianity.  It is stinking, rotting wood filled with termites.

I would urge you this morning to “stand in one place”.  Don’t “doubt”!  (Don’t have two minds.)  Believe in the crucified and risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ.  “You must be reborn by the grace of God!”  Believe in the prophetic Word concerning His Lordship and dominion over all heaven and earth.  And witness to His salvation – bringing the nations under His Kingship.  Live under God’s holy Law and disciple the nations to live under that same standard.  And all your anticipation and hope and faith be in His ultimate victory!  When we pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done in earth as it is in heaven”, that’s what we pray for!  And a divided mind prays for it but doesn’t understand it or believe it!  This isn’t a gospel of internal change, it is the Gospel of rebirth – the whole man comes under the authority of Christ and His Law-Word.

We reformed Christians must live under the authority of God’s Law-Word.  And we must provide true testimony to the world – witnessing to the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Otherwise we are nothing more than law-breakers and religious liberals… and doubters.