60 years of the peaceful reign of a good and remarkable Queen, of course, must be celebrated. But above all we should thank God for giving us such a Queen.
On British coins, you will see (on the side with the Queen’s head) letters and an abbreviation: D G REG F D. They stand for the Latin (D G) Dei Gratia “by the Grace of God”; (REG) Regina “Queen”; and (F D) Fidei Defensor “Defender of the Faith”. So when you get a coin out of your pocket or purse, remember that it is by God’s grace and goodness, we have had, and still have, a good and remarkable Queen.
My first job, years ago, after leaving university was to work with the Church Missionary Society in the Sudan. I arrived as a revolution was taking place and the military Government with its virtual dictator was being overthrown. That is a most frightening situation to be in – when there is anarchy. Literally “anarchy” means “no rule”; so no one is in charge. The experience, or knowledge, of bad kings or dictators or no leader at all, should make you truly thankful for our Queen and the relative peace and security we have enjoyed over these last 60 years.
During that time in the 1970s Idi Amin and his followers killed between half and three quarters of a million Ugandans. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge murdered 3 million Cambodians – almost half the country’s population. And in several Latin American countries there were killings and disappearances of 1000s. In the 1980s there was frightening violent chaos in Peru, while two years of Ethiopian misrule saw one million dead and 3 million displaced. Then in 1994 in Rwanda half a million Tutsis were killed. And I don’t need to remind you of all the terrible things that have been, and are still going on, in this new Millennium, even in this past week in Syria and the South Sudan.
So how we should be celebrating with enthusiasm this 60th Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and thank God for our Constitutional Monarchy and the social stability it provides. But do not take this for granted. It is, undoubtedly, the result of the truly Christian dimension of our Monarchy. And to lose that could result in serious social instability – something, I believe, our Queen understands.
This Christian dimension was enshrined and underlined in her 1953 Coronation, excerpts from which you saw earlier. So on a day like this when we should be thankful to God and celebratory, I want us to think back to that Coronation. But I want to do that in the light of some words of Jesus from the end of his post-Resurrection ministry here on earth. You heard those words in our New Testament lesson – Matthew 28v16 – 20.
I want you to see that those words of Jesus contain, first, AN AMAZING CLAIM; secondly, A UNIVERSAL COMMISSION; and, thirdly, AN ASSURING PROMISE
So, first, AN AMAZING CLAIM
In the church’s year we have just passed Ascension-tide. That is when we celebrate the fact that the risen Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, not only left a tomb empty on that first Easter Day and was then seen by his disciples. But also, as we said in the Creed, he “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God”. For the reality then was, and is, as the risen Jesus said, in verse 18 of Matthew 28:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (v18)
Just think about that amazing claim for a moment – “all authority – in heaven and on earth – has been given to me.” And ask the question: “who is this that is saying such things?” For Jesus is not just claiming “power” as US and Russian Presidents or Chinese Premiers might claim, because of military capability. Jesus here claims “authority” as his by right and “given” by One who has the right to give it.
And this is “all” authority. That covers everything and everyone over which any rule or dominion anywhere can be exercised. And it is not only “on earth” which would be overwhelming in its scope. It is also “in heaven” . At which point human imagination is defeated. But never confuse the unimaginable with the unbelievable. For we now know - the one speaking was not just the man of Nazareth. The truth of his resurrection confirms that this man was, indeed, God incarnate – God come in the flesh. He was God the Son, the 2nd person of the Divine Trinity – the one God in three persons.
And that Trinity by coincidence we should also be celebrating today. For today in the Church’s Year is Trinity Sunday. So celebrate the Queen’s 60 years, but also celebrate the Ascension of Jesus Christ and celebrate the Trinity!
And note from this passage with regard to Jesus’ resurrection, these disciples to whom he was speaking were not fantasizing. They were not expecting a resurrection. When Jesus appeared to them, sometimes it took time for them to realise it really was Jesus himself. That is why a number doubted when Christ appeared this time, as you read in verse 17 of Matthew 28.
So the facts are these: nothing less than the divine government of the whole universe (of time and space), and of the entire supernatural kingdom of God (the concept of which is beyond us), has been given to the risen Lord. St Paul, therefore, writes that the risen and reigning Christ is “far above all rule and authority, that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1v21). And it was these vital facts that were expressed in word and symbol in our Queen’s Coronation in Westminster Abbey on 2nd June 1953. Theologically they are fundamental to everything else in that service.
At one point, as you saw, the Queen received the Crown Jewels. One of those was the Orb with a Cross set on its top. She took it from the Archbishop of Canterbury who said this:
“Receive this Orb set under the Cross and remember that the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our Redeemer.”
So our Queen had a clear reminder for her reign of the reality of Matthew 28 verse 18 that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [Christ].”
But she was also reminded of the orb being under the Cross (the Cross of Calvary) the meaning of which came later on in the Coronation. For, the Coronation service climaxed with Holy Communion which you didn’t see. And at that point the Queen heard what are (and were) called, “comfortable words”. These are Jesus’ own words where he says:
“Come unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you” and “so God loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Also there were St Paul’s words that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and St John’s that “if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins”. How important those words are, for the Queen and for all of us!
The Communion service was then and always is a simple reminder, again through word and symbol, of the truth that Christ is not only our supreme Authority but also our Redeemer. For he died on the cross bearing our sins in our place so that we might be forgiven.
The Queen like all of us has made mistakes; and she has seen serious mistakes in her family. But unlike some, she knows that there is forgiveness through the Cross of Jesus for those who repent and turn to him in faith, believing that he came into the world to save sinners. Who needs to remember (or learn) this morning that the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth is also your Redeemer?
Well, so much for this amazing claim.
Secondly, A UNIVERSAL COMMISSION
Having such universal authority Jesus gives a universal command in verse 19 and the first part of verse 20 of Matthew 28:
“Therefore [he said] 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.” (v19-20)
It is clear from this that the message of the gospel is for everyone everywhere. It is for “all nations”. There is a uniqueness and finality about the gospel. But that uniqueness and finality relates to Christ himself, not Christianity which sometimes has had a very chequered history.
For Jesus Christ is different to all other religious or philosophical leaders. He has neither equals nor successors. He is unique in his incarnation (contrasting with the a-historical avatars of Hinduism); in his atonement (dying once for all for your sins); in his resurrection (breaking the power of sin and death); and in his gift of the Holy Spirit (to indwell and transform you).
It is also clear that his commission here is addressed to believers in the church and not to ruling authorities. The distinction between God and Caesar (or Church and State) is important.
It was the subject of the Gospel reading in the Coronation Service where Jesus says: “Render … unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s: and unto God the things that are God’s.”
So this command to make disciples is not primarily for Parliament but for Christians in the churches – for you and me. And the State desperately needs Christians to obey that command. True, a good State should not only allow but make it easy for Christians to spread the faith which the Queen is to defend.
But you and I are the ones to “go”. That involves purposeful initiative. You are to “make disciples” – literally, “make learners”. So you need to teach the truth of God – that is doctrine. That includes teaching that there really is one God in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit into whose name people are to be publicly baptised, as Jesus says in verse 19. For people must go public about their faith through baptism and not keep it private or secret.
But Jesus says you need to teach ethics as well as doctrine. Verse 20 says you are to teach people “to obey everything [not just something] I have commanded you.”
Of course, most will not teach from pulpits. They will talk quietly to their families, friends and colleagues or simply give them a booklet, for example from the book racks, Why Jesus? (that’s on basic doctrine) or the new Christian Institute booklet on “Redefining Marriage” (that’s on a current ethical issue).
But you say, what is the source for this doctrine and ethics? Answer the Bible. That is where you discover what Jesus Christ and his apostles taught – with the Old Testament looking forward to Christ and the New directly about him.
To underline that in the Coronation Service the Queen was presented with a Bible (as you saw). That was just after she had sworn the Coronation Oath – to govern according to law, and (I quote): “to the utmost of [her] power [to] maintain the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel”.
Then the Archbishop of Canterbury said:
“Our gracious Queen: to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the Law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords.”
Immediately the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland gave the Bible with these words:
“Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.”
And those words are so relevant for Jesus’ Commission. You make disciples by helping people trust the real Christ of the Bible and not any other Christ, remade to fit in with 21st century preferences and prejudices.
So first, Jesus’ amazing claim; secondly, his universal commission and …
Thirdly, AN ASSURING PROMISE
Are you saying: “this is all too much. I can’t possibly make disciples.”
Well, the good news is that most disciples are made as groups of people work together in churches. So at this church, for example, many simply have a ministry of inviting – inviting people to Christianity Explored groups we hold regularly or other events that help people who are asking questions about the Christian faith.
But Christ never promised it would be easy following him and being obedient to him. He did, however, make that wonderful promise in the last part of verse 20:
“surely [that’s a very emphatic expression – meaning, you must get this …surely] I am with you always [literally, ‘every day’], to the very end of the age.” (v20)
So the one who has “all authority in heaven and on earth” – the risen and reigning Lord Jesus Christ – is to be your companion for life. And, be assured, Christ’s promise to his disciples was “to the very end of the age”. That age terminates when he returns one day at the consummation of history. Are you looking forward to Christ’s return and heaven?
We didn’t see this, but at another point in the Coronation Service – in fact after the anointing – the Archbishop prayed for the young Queen for the blessing of the Holy Spirit, that …
“… after a long and glorious course of ruling a temporal kingdom wisely, justly, and religiously, you may at last be made partaker of an eternal kingdom.”
Are you confident of being a partaker of that “eternal kingdom”?
If not, remember those comfortable words of Jesus:
So God loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3v16)