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THE WET COMMISSION: Matthew 28.16-20
A Sermon At The Baptism
of a Baby


Copyright © 2004

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus has commissioned his Church to conquer the world.

I am not exaggerating. I am not using hyperbole. It is true that my language could be misunderstood, but nothing less than world domination is in view in the Great Commission. We don’t use weapons. We don’t threaten with violence like the nations of the world do when they want to extend their influence. Nevertheless, we are commissioned to conquer.

All four of the Gospels show Jesus as a New Moses making a New Covenant with a New Israel. Matthew stresses this in several ways, probably more than all the others. Here, Jesus arranges to meet the disciples on a mountain, just as he arranged to meet with Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai. There God made a covenant with Israel, gave them his Ten Commands and had them build a tabernacle so that he could be with them always. Now Jesus arranges to meet with his disciples on a mountain to renew his covenant with them, give them his commission, and promise to be with them always.

But even more closely related is Moses’ final sermon to Israel, which has come to us in the Word of God as the book of Deuteronomy. That farewell address was delivered on a mountain to the people of Israel to give them a final charge before they went on across the Jordan to conquer the Promised Land. Moses told them in Deuteronomy 7 regarding the Caananites: ”you must devote them to complete destruction.

Now under the New Covenant, the situation is not so violent. Joshua had the Israelites put Jericho to the sword and burn it with fire. The greater Joshua, Jesus (for that is what his name means), had his army the Church take Jerusalem with the Word of God that is sharper than a two-edged sword, even with the fire of the Spirit. In Revelation 19, the Apostle John sees a vision of Jesus on a White Horse slaughtering his enemies, but he does so with a sword coming from his mouth. He is converting people through the preaching of the Gospel. Evangelism is the weapon of our warfare.

And we wage that war because Jesus has become king of the world. We are told some doubted at merely seeing Jesus alive. A resuscitated corpse was not the hope of the ages. Was Jesus rising bodily merely some isolated miracle? No! Jesus answers their doubts by announcing a new age has dawned. Times and ages were measured by the reigns of various kings and emperors. Jesus’ resurrection means the same thing only this time for real. His resurrection marks the beginning of his kingdom. All authority on heaven and earth has been given to him.

That word, all, is significant in this passage in that it is deliberately repeated in a short number of words. We have “All authority on heaven and on earth,” and “All the nations,” and “All that I have commanded,” and literally in the last verse, “All the days until the summation of the age.” The sheer repetition of Christ’s commission to his Church is designed to confront you with the vast comprehensiveness of the claims of Christ. He has all authority. He wants all nations. He expects us to follow all he has commanded. And he is with us all the days.

That authority was prophesied in Daniel’s vision of one like a son of man. Jesus gives this command of comprehensive conquest and authority after his resurrection and right before his ascension. Think of what we read in Daniel 7.13 and 14: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

That was Daniel’s vision of the future and it is Jesus’ announcement about the present: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Indeed, Daniel had earlier interpreted the same message from Nebuchadnezzar’s vision. In Nebachadnezzar’s vision, rather than one like a son of man, he saw a rock fall from heaven, a stone cut from a mountain without human hands that grew into a great mountain that filled the entire earth. So Daniel interpreted his vision saying, “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. …and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand.”

The stone is Jesus and the Great Commission is how the stone becomes a mountain that fills the whole earth. Christ’s kingdom must conquer!

Let me stress that our English translations are highly misleading. When we hear the words “make disciples of the nations,” we understand “make some people from every nation into disciples.” Making disciples is an individual process and we hear the Great Commission saying for us to gain disciples “of” or “from” every nation. But what the text says is simply “disciple the nations.” Period.

That cannot happen without making individual members of these nations into disciples, true. At no point in history before or after Christ has God ever been satisfied by some sort of official allegiance on the part of a society while the members of that society go their own way in unbelief. The idea that God would ever want such a situation is simply a slur on his character. The comprehensive “alls” of the Great Commission mean that God wants every nation swarming with devout disciples.

But that same Great Commission, with its comprehensive command, does demand that all nations be discipled. That “that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him,” in the words of Daniel 7. God is glorified by the faithful saints in China serving and being persecuted by the Communist Party in China, but he is far from satisfied with that state of affairs. God is glorified by the Gospel being preached freely in the United States, but he is far from satisfied when our leader attends a national memorial service after September 11 in which the Lord is addressed as both the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and as the God of Mohammed. Jesus commands and commissions us his Church to disciple all the nations, because all authority has been given to him in both heaven and earth.

And this discipleship, incidentally, is equally comprehensive. The third all in this passage is that the disciples are to be taught: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” All authority, all nations, all commandments. Comprehensive discipleship.

When we think of the Great Commission today, we typically think of getting people to pray a prayer or walk the aisle or of believing certain propositions. But Jesus doesn’t even refer explicitly to faith in this Commission. It is there implicitly I believe, but Jesus emphasizes the expectation of comprehensive obedience. That word “observe” in “observe all that I have commanded” is a word that has been used before in Matthews Gospel. Speaking to the rich, young, ruler, Jesus says for him to “keep the commandments” (19.17) using the same words as here. And consider Matthew 23.2, 3: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe [same word] whatever they tell you—but not what they do.” Jesus is referring here to the keeping of rules that he has laid down. He wants us to live according to his instructions. These would, by the way, include all the Hebrew Scriptures.

There is no question that the Great Commission includes faith in the demand for discipleship, but neither is there any question that it includes obedience. To be a disciple is to be one appointed to being taught and trained to observe all Christ’s commandments—all of them.

And this comprehensive command for discipleship cannot possibly leave out our children, even our babies.

When do we begin training our children to follow Christ? When do we start teaching them to sing about Jesus by singing about Jesus to them? Do we wait for them to learn to talk? When do we start bringing them into Church worship? After they are able to listen to an entire sermon? (Do we ever get to the point that we can really listen to an entire sermon?).

I ask these questions in jest, because I trust we all know we are supposed to raise our children as Christians. But I have witnessed people claiming that they would never think of their children as Christians unless they caught them engaged in secret prayer on their own initiative. If we are supposed to disciple all nations, how can we fail to start with our own children, from the moment we have them? Do we raise them as neutral? Do we raise them as question marks?

Think how contemptible it would seem if I was to tell you that I didn’t know if my children would be Americans. Perhaps they might want to swear allegiance to China. Or Russia. “It is their choice after all. I can’t make them Americans just because they’re my children and it would be wrong of me to try.” How ridiculous that would be. We don’t ask our children to reach the point to decide on their home nation. We raise them as Americans.

Well Jesus’ kingdom is much different from America, but it is no less real and objective. It certainly includes children! Jesus said that of such is the kingdom of God. Think of what Moses told the Israelites in that final farewell sermon on the mountain before they went forward to take the Promised Land:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you, for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God, lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

Our last “all” in this passage is in verse 20. “And behold, I am with you all the days to the end of the age.” Just as Moses promised that God was in Israel’s midst and thus told them that they needed to raise their children accordingly, so Jesus promises to be with his disciples as they disciple others. Naturally, they are going to disciple their children as well.

And having said that, we’re in a position to look at the instruction I skipped. “Disciple all the 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.” Now here are two parallel participles, baptizing and teaching. What is their relationship to discipling the nations? In some way they are parallel. They both describe how we disciple the nations. You disciple someone by teaching them. That means that we also disciple Christians by baptizing them. The grammar is clear. We disciple by teaching but also we disciple by baptizing, and we baptize first.

Jesus’ kingdom can be compared to many things, but here it would be relevant to use a school as an analogy. How does one become a student at a school? One way to answer this question would be to say that you buy books, listen to lectures, and do homework. But before you can do that there is another way to answer the question. You enroll. You go through the process that designates you a student with all the privileges and responsibilities entailed in that status.

God wants us to disciple our children as Christians. From their earliest years our children should remember always going to Church, praying for forgiveness when they do something wrong, thanking God for meals and other blessings. Parents should not only model such behavior, but they should train their children in doing it. And this begins before the child is even conceptually aware. Is singing “Jesus loves me” to rock an infant to sleep of no importance because the baby cannot yet understand the words. Of course not. We talk to our babies before they know how to speak. We are setting them, even then, on a track of discipleship.

But according to the logic of the Great Commission, a person enters discipleship through baptism. In the case of unbelievers, those who hear the Gospel and believe are baptized immediately in the New Testament. It is somewhat scandalous that in Bible-believing churches we tend to wait for awhile before getting baptized. In the New Testament, Baptism is immediate because it is formal initiation into Christian discipleship. The idea of an unbaptized Christian was almost an oxymoron. The thief on the cross proves this, because unless you are nailed down to one place, you should be looking for water.

So how could it possibly be imagined that we could raise our young children to trust in Christ, to call God Father in the Lord’s Prayer, to ask and expect forgiveness from God, and yet remain unbaptized? If baptism is initiation into discipleship, how do we square discipling unbaptized children? Every text in the New Testament that shows us a baptism shows it beginning a person’s Christian life. None of them give any hint that someone was expected to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus for many years, worship God regularly and pray to him, and then later decide to get baptized as some extra sign of dedication.

No, the Great Commission says we must baptize all the nations. It doesn’t grant us exceptions for those who are too young, or for anyone else. All disciples are to be baptized as the beginning of their discipleship. Our children should remember being discipled from their earliest days; therefore they too must be included in this. If we are going to raise our children as Christians, we are going to have to baptize them early.

The Great Commission says that Jesus has all power, and he wants to be the recognized ruler of all nations. No exceptions. Nations include children and babies and Jesus wants them too. He wants them all to be taught all that he is commanded. And he is with us always.

Jesus has commissioned his Church to conquer the world. And he is quite willing for us to do it one baby at a time.

Copyright © 2004

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