Sermon series: Questions Jesus Asked
Go Tell It on the Mountain, the carol that provides inspiration for the sermon below, was the product of the prayers and faith of an unknown slave, probably before the Civil War. He was probably unable to read the Bible, but gleaning from stories he had heard, he imagined the emotions of the shepherds and wise men, though he did not mention them specifically. (Source: Ace Collins, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Zondervan, 2001, pp. 47-52)
But where does the story end? Did it end when the shepherds went back to the fields, or when the wise men returned to their country? Where does it end for you and me? Christmas isn't over at midnight on December 25th. What began at Bethlehem continued and reached a new climax 33 years later. The Gospel Jesus proclaimed during those years, and confirmed with His death and resurrection, is the message we are to go and tell on the mountain!
I. The fact of the Resurrection (28:1-10)
Bethlehem signaled that the promised Savior of the world had arrived. John the Baptist confirmed His mission when, upon seeing Jesus approaching him, said, "Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Jesus' work on earth culminated at the cross where, in shame and humiliation, He paid once for all time the entire price for mankind's sin. He became the sacrifice which would do away with all other offerings of animals on the temple altars.
Because Jesus perfectly satisfied God's requirement in His Law, God acknowledged the success of Jesus' mission by raising Him from the dead. Thus God made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Jesus' resurrection, in accord with His prediction that on the third day He would rise again, confirmed His claims and proved that His death was an actual payment for sin and that God had accepted it as such.
Matthew began his thrilling account of the events of Resurrection Sunday with the story of the two Marys coming to the tomb. Even though they were devoted followers of the Lord Jesus, they did not expect to find the tomb empty. In coming to complete the hurried burial of Jesus, theirs was not an errand of faith, or even of hope. It was one of love. God intervened with an earthquake, however, rolled back the stone, and sent an angel! In our moments of deepest despair, God's earthquakes and angels often save the day.
As the women left the tomb to find the disciples and tell them the good news, the risen Christ suddenly appeared before them with the simple greeting, "Rejoice!"—no dramatic fanfare, just a typical, Jewish "Good morning!" Yet never was there a greeting so sweet and wonderful. Immediately and instinctively they fell down at His feet and worshipped Him.
II. The denial of the resurrection (11-15)
The scene and the mood changes in verses 11-15. Already the denial of the resurrection of Jesus was being planned and perpetrated in Jerusalem. Not only had the women joyfully proclaimed the good news, but the Roman guards "came into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened" (v. 11).
In spite of these confirmations, the priests did not verify the facts for themselves. The last thing the Sadducees wanted was proof of a resurrection, and especially of Jesus, for they viciously attacked any belief in the resurrection. The decision of the Sanhedrin was not to investigate the matter, but try to squelch it by bribing the soldiers with large sums of money.
Denying the resurrection of Jesus did not die with the first century. It is still with us today. The most widely held theory among skeptics today is the spiritual resurrection theory. This concept is attractive to those who want to embrace Christianity as a religion, but do not care to deal with its miracles. This explanation concludes that Jesus did not rise bodily, but that His Spirit continues to live. This is contrary to the meaning of the word resurrection, which means a standing again. For something to be resurrected, it must first be dead.
So what is the answer? It is simply that we either accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus, or we do not. The three-fold foundation of the Christian faith is built on the virgin birth of Jesus, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. Remove any one of these, and Christianity is powerless.
The greatest proof of the reality of the resurrection of Christ is personal experience. Nothing can appeal above and beyond the experience of the human heart. Those who have trusted Christ as Lord and Savior know that He was born of a virgin, was crucified, bodily resurrected from the grave, and lives and reigns forever.
III. The authority of the King (16-20)
The final section of this thrilling passage deals with the marching orders Jesus left—not just with His disciples, but with every believer who would follow in His steps. One wonders what might have been the reaction of Tiberius Caesar in Rome had he heard Jesus speak these last words to His disciples, commissioning them to "go therefore, and make disciples of all nations" (v. 19). Likely he would have laughed in derision! And yet, three centuries later, as a result of the Great Commission, one of Tiberius' successors, Constantine, not only embraced Christianity himself, but established Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire.
What was it that caused rapid growth from that tiny, inconspicuous beginning? It was the authority of the living Christ. He said to His disciples that day on the Mount of Olives, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth" (v. 18). Jesus possessed full, complete, and total authority. It was His will and purpose that His Gospel be communicated to the world through His followers, who would make up His church.
On the basis of that authority, Jesus gave His disciples what we have come to call the Great Commission: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you" (vv. 19-20). This commission from our Lord contains specific orders. We are to go—we are not to wait until the world comes to us. Then, when we go we are to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them.
The thrilling promise that accompanies this commission is that we are never on our own. Jesus quickly added this word of assurance for His disciples, and for us: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (v. 20).
Every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has the responsibility to Go Tell It on the Mountain. None of us is exempt. Whether we walk next door or go around the world to do it, we have the double assurance of the authority of Jesus behind us, and the presence of Jesus with us. While we celebrate His first Advent once a year, the sensitive, alert Christian celebrates the anticipation of His second Advent every day of the year. This is what constrains us to Go Tell It on the Mountain that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The story behind the song
During that dark and shameful period of slavery in our country, unknown African American slaves, a largely uneducated people often humiliated and cruelly treated, longed for freedom. In spite of their plight, God seemed to inspire them to produce songs of incredible majesty and haunting beauty. Many of them could neither read nor write, and their songs were preserved only in the oral tradition - from the fields to small slave churches, and eventually to white churches and concert halls.
Many of these songs have been saved, however, because of the devotion of John Wesley Work, an African American church choir director in Nashville, Tennessee. One of the few educated African Americans in the South, Work decided that the new generation of blacks needed to know and learn the songs their ancestors sang during the days of slavery. Work's brother, Frederick, is credited with being one of the first to recognize the power and potential of the song, Go Tell It on the Mountain.
The folk song captures the feeling of an unknown slave from whose heart these words sprang. Probably unable to read the Bible, this anonymous poet imagined the reaction of the shepherds as the great light from heaven shone around them. Little did the slave know that this song, expressing the wonder in his own soul, would eventually touch the hearts of millions. (Source: Ace Collins, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Zondervan, 2001, pp. 47-52)
"When I was a seekerI sought both night and day,I asked the Lord to help me,And he showed me the way.
"Go tell it on the mountain,Over the hills and everywhere,Go tell it on the mountain,Our Jesus Christ is born.
"He made me a watchmanUpon a city wall,And if I am a Christian,I am the least of all."
An Anabaptist evangelist
In the sixteenth century, the Great Commission Jesus gave His disciples was interpreted by the Reformers as applicable only for the first century. Yet the Anabaptist Believer's Church considered the commission so seriously that they spread its evangelistic message across Europe. During this time an imperial knight named Leonhardt Dorfbrunner was converted and subsequently ordained as an evangelist. During the four months from September 1527 to January 1528 (when he was burned at the stake), he had won to Christ and baptized three thousand persons. (Source: Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator's Commentary, Matthew, Word Books, 1982), p. 332.)
When is Christmas over?
Before the days of the artificial Christmas tree, it was a common sight to drive through a residential area of town on the day after Christmas and find the street lined with old Christmas trees, used and spent, sitting all bent and askew, some of them still bearing the residue of their decorations - stands of tinsel, a few pieces of metallic rope or colored ribbons. We can envision that they were once in someone's living room all ablaze with lights, flanked by brightly colored packages. But now, in their humiliation, the discarded trees are silently proclaiming the fact that Christmas is over for another year. Many people quickly abandon the warmth and love of Christmas for another year, and return to business as usual. God would have us retain the message and the spirit of our Lord's first Advent throughout the year.
Additional sermon starters
His glory among the nations (Isaiah 60:1-6)
Just as the wise men represented the Gentiles who came from afar, following the star, to worship the Christ Child, so Isaiah prophesied that in the midst of the world's spiritual darkness, the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn (60:2-3).
The world at His feet (Psalm 72:10-17)
Long before the wise men brought their gifts to the Christ Child, an anonymous psalmist, inspired of God, wrote of the day when the Messiah would be vindicated and recognized, when all kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him (v. 11). Psalm 72 is generally considered a Messianic Psalm, providing an opportunity in this message to show the inspired unity of Old and New Testaments, particularly in prophesying the coming Savior of the world.
Lottie Moon Offering - The Great Commission theme lends itself well to the promotion of the annual offering for international missions. An excellent opportunity is provided here to show involvement in this outreach ministry for all age groups in the church.
Creative worship idea
Children of the Nations - Using the title carol, Go Tell It on the Mountain, an effective illustration of the Great Commission could include children wearing the dress of several foreign countries entering the church auditorium while the choir or a vocal ensemble sings the carol. A cross could stand at one side of the platform, and each child could kneel at the cross during the singing of the carol.