Famous Last Words

Matthew 28:16-20

The last thing someone says is important, right?

saving private ryanCase in point:  the end of Saving Private Ryan.  The movie follows a team of eight men as they try to bring a last surviving son home from WWII.  This is long before our time of instant communication, of course, so they have to physically search for him across dangerous battlegrounds.  By the end, only two of the team survives.  Their leader, Captain John Miller, is shot and killed not long after they find Ryan.  His dying words to the one for whom 6 men died are haunting:

“Earn this.”

The closing scene of the movie is Ryan – now an old man – visiting Miller’s grave.  His life has clearly been directed by those two words.  He has been reluctant to come to the cemetery.  He wasn’t sure how he’d feel.  He turns to his wife and says desperately, “Tell me I’m a good man.”  In other words:  “Tell me I’ve earned this.”

Last words are important.

Today we hear Jesus’ last words to his disciples.  They aren’t his dying words; you might say they’re his rising words.  They are like Miller’s last words in some ways.  Jesus has died for his disciples.  Their lives will now be directed by his sacrifice.  What he says now will explain what their new lives should look like.

“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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 Because Jesus died for us, too, these last words are also for us.  So let’s listen closely to how they’ll direct our lives.

“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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

This is commonly called the “Great Commission.”  The disciples are to go and make more disciples.  They are to go to all nations to find these new disciples.  They are to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Father.

Son.

Holy Spirit.

Have you ever wondered:  why do we baptize in all three names?

The way Jesus begins seems to imply that only one name would be necessary:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

If Jesus has all the authority, why call on the Father and the Holy Spirit at all?  Why not baptize in Jesus’ name, and Jesus’ name alone?

The reason is the Trinity.

The Trinity.  The Godhead three-in-one.  God in three persons.

It’s hard to explain and kind of mysterious.  How can God be Father and Son and Holy Spirit all at once?  How can they be separate but the same?  The concept of the trinity is so confusing, it seems it’d be simpler and clearer just to baptize in Jesus’ name – especially if he has all authority anyway.

But I’ll tell you – as one who was baptized in all three names – I want all three.  I need all three.  I think we all do – we need Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We need God the Father.  God created the whole universe – and us in it – in the very beginning.  God is all-powerful and all-knowing.  God is beyond time and space.  God is and was and will be.

Sometimes we need God as Father.  We need to know that God is in charge, that God is more powerful than any force on earth.  We need to be humbled be God’s awesomeness.

We need Jesus the Son.  Jesus was one of us.  Jesus was born on a specific day and died on a specific day.  Jesus had skin and muscles and bones.  Jesus knew the joy of an intimate conversation shared between close friends; he knew the ache of loneliness, too.  Jesus the Son is like a sibling to us, and yet he’s always God… especially in the moment when he gave himself for us on the cross, and then walked right out of the tomb that tried to hold him.

Sometimes, we need God as Jesus.  We need to know that our sins are forgiven through his sacrifice  We need to pray to a God who understands how hard life can be.  We need the one who takes us by the hand and assures us that, through him, we are God’s children, too.

We need the Holy Spirit.  When Jesus left this earth, God’s presence did not leave.  The Holy Spirit is here with us, always and everywhere.  It comforts us when we grieve; it guides us when we’re lost; it gives us that uneasy feeling when we’re making bad choices.

Sometimes, who we need most is that Holy Spirit – God’s presence right here, right now.  Not in the past when Jesus lived, not in the future where heaven waits… but all around us, right where we are.

Why not baptize in Jesus’ name alone?

Because we need God the Father; and we need Jesus the Son; and we need the Holy Spirit, ever with us.  We need God in every person that God is.

This is the baptism that we received:  in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We received it because Christians before us were obeying Jesus’ parting words, a command to go and make disciples of all nations.  And now, we who have been baptized in these three names are commissioned with those same last words:

“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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

These words come to us like Captain Miller’s came to Private Ryan… with one significant difference.

Miller asked Ryan to “Earn this” – to earn the sacrifice six men made for his life.  What Jesus has done is just the opposite.  His sacrifice “earned this” for us – earned our forgiveness, earned our status as God’s children, earned our worthiness.  Jesus has “earned this” for us.

Jesus’ words aren’t a guilt-laden burden for us to carry, trying to make up for what Jesus did for us.  Instead, we are free to respond out of love and gratitude to the free gift God has given us.  Jesus’ last words make clear that response:  to make disciples and baptize them in the fullness of who God is.

So you who have received the gift of God’s love through Jesus Christ:  go!

Go look for those who need God the Father, the Creator, the most powerful force in the universe.

Go look for those who need Jesus the Son, God-made-flesh, the perfect sacrifice.

Go look for those who need the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate.

And when you find them, invite them to start their discipleship with baptism…

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

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