Here's last Sunday's online worship service from Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio. The text of my message for the day is below. God bless you!
You’ve seen it dozens of times in your life.
A person is brought to a font and, while being doused with three splashes of water, is baptized “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Why, exactly, do we do that?
Why do we invoke the three names of the three persons Who, Scripture teaches, make up the one true God?
The easy answer, of course, is that Jesus commands us to do it. In words we find in today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 28:16-20. He says, “...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...”
Of course, when we baptize people, our commission of making disciples hasn’t been completed; Jesus also tells us to teach them to observe everything that He has commanded.
Still, we may wonder what the big deal is about baptizing people or teaching them to observe Jesus’ commandments in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
What’s so important about that?
I think we need to go back to two places in the Old Testament to help us understand.
First, we go to about two-thousand years before the birth of Jesus, some four-thousand years ago from where we sit now, to a couple named Abram and Sarai, whose names God would later change to Abraham and Sarah.
Under oak trees in a place called Mamre, these nomads were visited by three mysterious strangers. When these three men spoke, they did so with a single voice. Abram knew that He was in the presence of God, Whose fullness apparently cannot be contained in one Person. “If I have found favor in your eyes, my Lord,” Abraham said, “do not pass your servant by.” (Genesis 18:3) And the Lord--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--did not pass Abram and Sarai by, but blessed them to be blessings to the world.
Some five-hundred years later, God tells Moses to instruct his brother Aaron and the other priests of God to bless Abraham’s and Sarah’s descendants with a benediction. You know it. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
This Aaronic Benediction, as we call it, bestows blessings from each of the three Persons of the Trinity. You see, this benediction has three parts, each part corresponding to the three Person of the one God.
It’s God the Father Who blesses and keeps us. The Father created us and all that exists and provides all that we need to live from day to day. Our call from Him is to take care of this creation and to share our blessings with others.
It’s God the Son, Jesus the Christ, Who shines the loving, forgiving face of God on a fallen and mortal human race. He brings us undeserved grace, including forgiveness for our sins and new and everlasting life, for all who repent and believe in Him.
It’s God the Holy Spirit, Who turns His face toward us through the Word of God. And through this Word, He empowers us to believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, filling us with God’s peace, now and forever!
Not all, probably not most of, God’s ancient people, the Israelites, understood God’s three-in-one nature. Truth is, we find it hard to understand too.
But the mystery of the Holy Trinity is central to God’s identity.
The New Testament letter of First John says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). On this side of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we can confidently agree. In Christ, God has done His love for us, offering Himself up as the perfect sacrifice for our sins before we even know we need saving.
But when he says that “God is love,” I think that John means something deeper than that. He’s saying that it is the very nature of God, always has been, always will be, to love. Love is something that God has been doing within the mystery of the Trinity in eternity before there was time, space, or matter.
His very decision to give life to a creation beyond Himself sprang from a love so vast, so total, so overwhelming, so tested and true, that He made a whole universe to which He could give it a way, most especially, to a human race made in His image!
People object to the whole idea of the Trinity by appealing to math. “One plus one plus one always equals three,” they say.
But in the Trinity, we see a higher form of math: “One times one times one equals one,” a God superabundant in life and in love.
When God the Son, Jesus, came into our world, He did so as a human being. In effect, God cupped His hand over the glory of His deity, although Jesus was always both truly God and truly human. But God came to us as a humble slave because He wanted to woo the human race into receiving His love.
He didn’t want to intimidate us, wow us, or bludgeon us with His power and perfection so that we would simply cave into Him. God chose to become our servant, dying on a cross for us, and relying on God the Father, to raise Him from the dead just as God will now do for all who turn in repentance from the ways of this world and turn instead in faith to Jesus. Jesus renounced His power so that He could woo us into the Kingdom of God by His love.
After Jesus rose, the cupped hand of God was removed. And there, on that mountain in Galilee, some of the eleven apostles worshiped Jesus, seeing in Him the very God revealed to Abram, Sarai, Moses, and Aaron long before. Jesus tells them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)
Jesus reclaimed the full authority of His deity, authority over heaven and earth, over Jews and Gentiles, whites and blacks, men and women, even over the demons of hell.
Jesus, you’ll remember, had refused the devil’s offer of dominion over the puny earthly kingdoms of this world. (Matthew 4:8-9) Jesus had no interest in replacing people like Xi Jinping in China, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Kim Jong-un in North Korea, or Donald Trump in the United States. Their days, along with all the other power, money, influence, and ease a dying world craves, will pass away.
Jesus persevered through cross and tomb to resurrection for one purpose only: that through faith in Him, people otherwise dying in their sin, might experience the fullness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, here and now through a glass dimly as we await our own deaths and resurrections, and in eternity when at last, we will look on the Trinity in all His fullness, power, and love.
We baptize and teach in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, because this is Who God has revealed Himself to be.
But we do so also because when God’s Word is spoken--when, as Jesus commands us, the names of the Three Persons of the One God, meet water at the font--a new birth happens. The old self dies and the new self rises.
The baptismal water becomes a kind of amniotic fluid and we are born again as the full power, majesty, glory, grace, and love of God claim us from the devil, the world, and our own sinful selves to make us children of God.
From that point on, in every trial or temptation or test, in every joy and blessing, in every challenge and triumph, any one of which could cause us to forget God, we have the fullness of God living within us and, in the fellowship of the Church, the Word of God comes to call us to repentance and renewal in order to lead us through each day and to take us, with faith in Jesus, to our ultimate destination, into the loving arms of God.
While we walk on this earth, there will remain mystery about God’s trinitarian nature. I’m not even sure we’ll fully understand it in eternity. But in the end, all we need to know is that this vast, eternal, infinite triune God of all creation loves us three times over: one times one times one. Amen