Rev. D.K. Schroeder
Matthew 28:16-20 Sermon
May 18, 2008
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
131 "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty"
132 "All Glory Be To God On High"
138 "Most Ancient Of All Mysteries"
172 "Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise"
150 "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
"GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES"
I. By Baptizing
II. By teaching
TEXT (vs. 19-20): "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 all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
Some years back, the singing trio of Peter, Paul, and Mary came out with a song called "The Marvellous Toy." I still hear this song played on the radio every year around Christmas time.
The whole song centers around this toy this person receives as a gift as a little boy. The toy wasn't anything as specific as a toy truck or a bike or a wagon. In fact, it really couldn't be identified at all. So this whole song is sung describing this marvellous toy.
The refrain of this song goes like this: "It went zip when it moved, pop when it stopped, and whirr when it stood still; I never knew just what it was, and I guess I never will." That was the story of the unidentified, but yet marvellous little toy.
This morning, we are celebrating the Festival of the Holy Trinity. If I were to ask you to come up with a definition of the one true God, you might have quite a time trying to do it. Sure you could talk about things pertaining to God, such as perfect, holy, almighty, omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipresent (present everywhere), but you couldn't really define God. It's almost like that boy trying to identify his toy. He could describe it all right, he just couldn't define it. It was like something he'd never experienced or seen before.
This morning, we confessed the Athanasian Creed, something we do only once a year on this particular Sunday. In it, we describe the three persons of the one Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We also describe the Christian faith in very strong terms, saying that if one does not hold to this Christian faith, that person stands eternally condemned. But to define God? This we cannot do. We are simply told in the Bible about him, and we accept this through faith. God just simply is, and that's that.
Today in our text, Jesus is telling us to go and make disciples of all nations in the name of this triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He doesn't ask us to try to define God, just go forth and make disciples in His Name. That's the theme for this morning, and I daresay throughout our lives as Christians: To go and make disciples, by baptizing, and by teaching.
Baptism is the first thing our Lord mentions. Jesus says that all nations are to be baptized, that means everybody. The phrase, "all nations" has no age restrictions or limitations. So why does Jesus command Baptism for all nations?
The Apostle Peter in his first epistle, chapter 3 verse 21 gives us a good answer. He writes, "Baptism now saves you, not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
It's here that we begin to see the power of the Holy Spirit at work. The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians chapter 12 verse 3 that "No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit." Paul also writes in Romans chapter 10 verse 9 that "If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and you believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
So faith is the operative word here. It is the important element in being saved. Everybody needs faith, regardless of age. For everyone is born sinful, as Scripture teaches. And the only way for sinful human beings to be saved is through faith in Christ.
Since faith is something that God alone works, we know that he can and does work faith in the hearts of whomever he chooses, whenever he chooses to do it. God can work faith in the heart of a child just as easily as he can in the heart of an adult. The God who created the world out of nothing, and who has the power to give life to the dead, most certainly has the power to work faith in the heart of anyone he so chooses, even in the heart of an infant.
So as we look at Christ's command to baptize, we need to see God's power in baptism. St. Luke writes in Acts chapter 2 verse 38: "Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
God not only works faith in the hearts of whomever He chooses, but He also tells us the way in which He will do it.
Unfortunately, many not only doubt this promise of God, but will outwardly mock it, even many Christians. And why? Simply because they don't understand it. It doesn't seem logical to them. God? Working faith through Baptism? Oh, come on now. Yeah, we believe that God is all powerful, and that He can do anything, but to give someone the Holy Spirit through Baptism? No way!
But God doesn't ask us to try to define this concept. He doesn't ask us to try to figure out how it happens. It is a miracle that God does which is beyond definition. He simply states what it is in his Word. And according to Christ's command, we are asked to simply do it. To do otherwise, or to doubt this, is like thumbing your nose in the face of the Almighty. This is calling into question what God clearly tells us in his Word.
It is unfortunate that our Gospel text for this morning has been mistranslated by earlier translations of the Bible. It is sometimes read, "Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." It is unfortunate, because it has given the impression that teaching has to come before baptism. The original Greek text simply does not support that translation at all. To put in the "teach all nations" instead of "make disciples of all nations" is making the verse say something it doesn't. Besides it wouldn't make much sense to say, "Go and teach all nations by teaching them."
Christ very clearly tells us to make disciples of all nations, first by baptizing. And now comes the second part of this, which is just as clear, to teach them to observe all things that I have commanded you. Now comes the teaching part, right where it belongs.
As we begin this second part, I'd like to reflect momentarily upon our theme last week, which was Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. God has given his Word to all nations, not to just a select group of people. We have this Holy Spirit active in our lives. We are saved, born again Christians. We've had all this happen to us.
Now what are we going to do with it? Are we going to sit around and try to define it? Are we going to say, "Well all this is nice and good, and it is so neat to be saved." Are we just going to sit on our hands with this good news in our hearts? Are we going to stare in wonder like that little boy did with his marvellous little toy? Is this Holy Spirit in our lives going to prompt us into action? Are we ready to make disciples of all nations by teaching?
We have many ways of looking at our Baptism. We have the comfort of knowing that we are a redeemed Child of God. We have the benefit of knowing that God thought so much of us that in effect, he reached from heaven and placed His divine fingerprint on our soul. We have this hope that as a born again Christian, we will see heaven when we die.
One way however of looking at our Baptism, is that now we have received our marching orders in this life on earth. Our Baptism has given us the start in God's family. Now it becomes important to live every day in the spirit of our Baptism, to live our lives as children of God. And these marching orders now include the command of this great commission, to go and make disciples of all nations by teaching.
Our very lives as Christians become a very powerful teaching tool. Jesus says in Matthew chapter 5 verse 16, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds, and glorify your Father in heaven," and "By their fruits you shall know them."
So what do people see in our lives? Do they see the lives of someone who has been baptized, someone whose very life is dedicated to making disciples of all nations? Or do they see us as some sort of marvellous little toy, not knowing what we are?
Yes, we have been baptized. We've received our marching orders for this life. Our very lives are to teach others; however as people who are called to teach, we must never stop learning either.
We know that we must continue to feed on God's word, or we will starve to death. We know that children who are baptized need to also be taught. They need to learn. But this learning never stops until we reach the grave. Our faith has to be kept strong.
And so we continue to come to God's house. We continue to have our devotions. And God continues to feed us on the bread of heaven, the true bread which never spoils; the true bread for our spiritual nourishment.
As we look at ourselves, and as we see how effective our discipleship has been, we can indeed see our weaknesses. We know we've been less than the perfect disciple. We know that our lives have often not taught the way of Christ. Our sins seem to keep staring us right in the face.
It is with this that Christ gives us, His disciples on earth some very special words of comfort. Our Gospel today concludes with the words Jesus speaks: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
Christ assures us of His continued presence. We can be sure that when we are less than the perfect disciple, Jesus is right there, ready to restore and forgive. He forgives all of our sins, so we can be confident that heaven awaits us. His continued presence assures that however we have failed and fallen short, that through faith in Him we are indeed forgiven and a true saint in God's kingdom.
Christ's continued presence also assures us that we are not in this world alone. Whatever we do in his name, he is there right along side of us. However difficult the road, he will not desert us. As one of his dearly loved disciples, his promise of His continuing presence is there for us, no matter what happens. And we know that he will lead us safely to his heavenly mansion.
But now, today, as Baptized Christians, we have our marching orders for this life. Jesus tells us in our Gospel lesson for today to "Go and make disciples of all nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
Those words weren't only spoken to those disciples long ago, but to us today as well. We won't be able to fix an exact definition on God, or how baptism works, or how the Holy Spirit works. There are so many things we can't fully understand. We just know that these are things that God tells us and that we have to accept through faith.
And so we go, armed with the inerrant word of God, with the power of the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus at our side. We go into the world to make disciples of all nations, just has he has commanded us.