The last statement of Jesus in Matthew is called the “Great Commission” because it calls us to action. We’ve considered that this action is based on Jesus: it’s about His power, His authority, and His presence. It enables us to take the actions He calls us to. We’ve considered two parts to the instruction that Jesus gives, to “make disciples” that are “of all nations”. Today, we’ll consider a third piece of his instruction:
“…baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”
My family recently visited some relatives in Connecticut. We took a short hike down a path that my wife remembered walking on as a child. The path had recently been trimmed, revealing a wall of trees and brush on either side. It felt like walking down a tree-lined hallway with an open ceiling as the sky gave way to dusk.
We were nearing the end of one section when we were startled by a sudden motion about twenty feet ahead of us. A large deer emerged and darted across the path, disappearing into the thick brush. We were barely able to comprehend what had happened when a fawn followed seconds later. We walked to where the deer had crossed, and saw a very narrow trail on either side that was just big enough for the deer to pass through. For a moment, we were tempted to explore the deer paths: either the one they had come from, which led to water, or the one they went down, which led to a meadow. We decided it would be better to stay on the main path.
It would be easy to go down a side path with this section of scripture, and I almost did in my preparation! Words like “baptizing” carry a lot of significance in our churches. Rather than go down the side road, let’s focus on the main path. The main path that Jesus is talking about is conversion. There is a moment in the life of a believer where he or she becomes a “new creation”. The old is gone; the new has come. For a person to ultimately enter God’s kingdom is to associate fully with God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The word Jesus uses that is translated “baptizing” can mean a variety of things: to immerse, to dip, or to wash. It’s not as conclusive as we wish it was. What is clear, however, is that Jesus is saying that what we must do is consistently immerse/dip/wash his followers with the message of the good news, because that is the only environment in which conversion can occur.
That’s why the clear presentation of salvation as found in Christ is always the cornerstone of our Sunday morning gatherings. It’s why we choose our worship songs based on how they communicate that good news clearly. As we invite people to follow Christ, we want them to experience the new life that Jesus came to offer.
That’s our mission.