The text for this lesson is Matthew 28:16–20.
- Jesus instructs His followers to baptize in the name of the triune God.
- Law: Baptism without the name of the triune God is not a true Baptism.
- Gospel: Through Baptism, God puts His name on me and makes me part of His family.
The eleven remaining disciples must have experienced a chaotic swirl of emotions during the last few weeks of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Our Lord was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas, one of their own, betrayed Jesus to His enemies. Jesus was imprisoned, falsely accused, condemned, flogged nearly to death, and murdered on a Roman cross, and finally He rose from the dead.
Now, Jesus meets His beloved students on a mountain in Galilee and ascends into heaven. Before doing so, He charges them with the most important work of teaching the faith and baptizing. Specifically, they are to teach people to obey all that Jesus taught them and to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As straightforward as this may seem to present-day Lutherans, it was anything but to the fledgling Christian Church on earth. In the Book of Acts, we read that the early Christians struggled with teaching Christianity within the context of Judaism.
The same is true with regard to teaching new Christians to obey all the Lord’s teachings. This is still true today, especially in North America, where there is a proliferation of Christian denominations, each committed to a different idea of what Jesus wants His Church to teach.
It seems that, even two thousand years after Jesus gave the Great Commission, God’s created people are still landing to the right and left of His correct teaching regarding Baptism. On one hand, there are those who would dismantle the Lord’s precious gift, suggesting that a Baptism is present even with the Word or water alone. And there are those who take a universalistic perspective, believing that God will take all people to heaven eventually, regardless of their beliefs.
On the other hand, some devout Christians advocate rebaptism when changing denominations, even for those previously baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This teaching places too much emphasis on the individual and fails to recognize the power of God’s work in Baptism.
Even those who, through faith, recognize the correct teaching regarding Baptism often fail to live their lives in a manner that honors God and reflects the new life that our Lord gives in this precious Sacrament.
God has given Holy Baptism not as another requirement of the Law, but rather as a gift to His beloved Bride, the Church. Baptism is God’s Word together with plain water. It gives what God promises: faith in Christ (even in babies), forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Spirit. It is powerful not because of the recipient but rather because of God, who works the Baptism. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit works faith, through which new Christians are enabled to trust and love Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior. Although baptized Christians are able, of their own free will, to walk away from faith in Jesus and the salvation He brings, God’s Baptism will never fail or wear out. Christians live in a state of grace, and God’s forgiveness in Christ is always there. There is no reason or need to rebaptize.
In Baptism, God places His everlasting mark on His children. Although the family and congregation may hear nothing more than a few falling drops of water and the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” in heaven, the angels rejoice and our Lord proclaims that this sinner has now become His child! Such a person is now part of God’s family, included forever.