Matthew 28:16-20: The Holy Trinity

The Scripture begins by unveiling God, revealing who He is by how He operates.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” meaning God made everything.  The word for God here is Elohim, a masculine plural, referring to a singular God.  Ah, the divine mystery starts in Scripture’s first sentence.

Next, the moving Breath of God, His Spirit, sweeps over the watery depths, and Elohim spoke.  “Be light,” and light came into being (Genesis 1:3).  How does God create?  The Father speaks, the Son is the Word, and the Spirit hovers.  The Gospel of John will later affirm Jesus’ role, “Through him, all things came into being” (John 1:3).

In Genesis 1:26, God announces, “Let Us make man in Our image.”  So, who is this “Us” and “Our”?  Of course, God.  Later, during Israel’s wilderness wanderings, Deuteronomy 6:4 will declare, “The Lord our God, the Lord is One.”  In Hebrew, this Lord is Yahweh, a form of “He Is.”  Well, who is “our God”?  Again, we find Elohim, a plurality in form, though often singular in meaning.

At the dawn of time, God formed us to live in union with Him, the Source of life.  So, when Adam fell into sin, this ripped apart his natural state and severed his connection with Life.  Now death enters the world and the visible creation turns alien and hostile. 

The harmony of Eden twitches in death.  Wild animals injure while we abuse land, animal, and people for self-gain.  Never far away, disaster lurks, quick to descend but slow to leave.  Though the earth does sustain us, its fruit only comes through the sweat of toil.  After such struggle, we pass away, devoid of meaning if apart from God.

No one dies of natural causes, not when we understand the original creation, because God never created us to die.  No, death is an aberration, our corruption splattering God’s beautiful, creative canvas.  Every human is now born to die, the resulting outcome of an unnatural and terminal condition.

Now, since we needed salvation and couldn’t do this ourselves, Jesus became a flesh-born human.  At the start of His public ministry, He received John’s baptism by water.  At once, the Father testified to Jesus, and the Divine Spirit manifested Himself.  All three displayed themselves, God the Son as an in-the-flesh human, the Spirit as a dove, and God the Father speaking from heaven.

After dying to forgive us, rising to give us life, but before ascending, Jesus tells His Apostles to meet Him “on the mountain.”  The events at this mountaintop coalesce around the idea of “all,” of every and everything.  Some of these are from the word “all,” others show themselves by what takes place. 

First, all eleven (because Judas left) gather as Jesus told them.  After they lay eyes on the Risen One, they all respond by bowing down in worship.  The English Standard Version reads, “but some doubted.”  Not so.  In the original Greek, “they doubted.”  All eleven doubt, not some of them. 

Though bedazzled by awe, they vacillate between adoration and doubt.  Did they not all bow down when they greeted Jesus?  Yes, so this doesn’t imply a skeptical, untrusting attitude toward God.  The verb translated as “doubt” (distazein) denotes someone with divided convictions.  Oh, they believe the truth about Jesus, but their follow-through lacks substance.

Now, Jesus discloses that His Father gave Him “all authority in heaven and on earth.”  Another “all,” relating to Jesus’ authority over everything, for “heaven and earth” denote all creation, in every aspect.  So, all authority means Jesus rules over all things. 

Next, Jesus commissions the Eleven to, not make disciples, but to disciple “all nations.”  Now, this can mean Gentiles in contrast to Jews (Matthew 10:5, 18), Jews and Gentiles, or the whole inhabited world (Matthew 24:9, 14; 25:32).  The context here is all the world. 

How?  By “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  The shape of baptism stems from who God is in His entirety, His all-ness of being.  So, if God in His fullness is doing His creating and saving work, baptism can’t something we do but something God does to and for us. 

In all authority, Jesus wants baptism for everyone, for all.  Connected to this are all the baptized taking in all that Jesus taught.  Though baptism is a one-time event, its effects are for all time.  To learn all, however, is an endeavor for all our days, into all eternity, which is why you should all participate in Sunday School.  Like the all-ness of God saving us, so too are we to learn and live in His all-ness all our days.

From Matthew’s Gospel, a disciple is someone who listens to Jesus (17:5), who learns how to live from Him (11:28-30), pray (6:9-13), and do what is pleasing to the Father (3:17).  How God will first teach these is through His Apostles, the first pastors in the New-Covenant Church.

Now, their Lord assures them not to be afraid.  “Remember, I am with you always.”  In the Greek, this is “I am with you all the days, until the completion of the age.”  So, the last “all” squeezes out.  “Don’t worry, I’m with you as you do these tasks, for both you and your successors.”  For Jesus to do this “all the days,” means the pastors who will succeed the Eleven are also to disciple by baptizing and teaching. 

Don’t miss the “wordplay” and connections.  In His Father-given authority over everything, Jesus authorizes His pastors.  Like Jesus discipled His chosen Apostles, He sends them to disciple others. 

So, our Lord’s baptismal mandate is much more than a series of sounds or symbols.  The “name” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reveals the tri-personality of God.  These few words convey the communion of the Spirit to the Son is equal to the Son’s communion with the Father.  Now, if God’s name includes the Spirit with the Son, and the Son with the Father, the same Spirit must be with the Father, as well. 

Don’t miss that baptism is “in the name” not “in the names.”  The grammar for “name” is singular, not plural.  The sequence and grammar of the words testify to a oneness—a unity of Father, Son, and Spirit.  Thus, God is one in His essence or being, but three in His personhood.  Both creation and baptism teach that God’s touch for us in this world is Trinitarian—from the Father through the Son in the heaven-sent Spirit.  No Person within the Trinity acts without the other two.

So, what does “in the name” mean?  A name divulges something about the person who bears the name.  So, when you do something in another’s name, this isn’t based on your authority.  No, something originating from you is doing something in your name.  The name and who the name signifies are connected.  So, whatever happens isn’t because of what you do; no, it’s the bearer of the name. 

“In the name” means more than “by the command of.”  The phrase tells us the Triune God, who is God over all things, is at work.  And so in baptism, God makes us, who are part of all nations, benefactors of what He is doing in all His authority.  The baptismal words bespeak of an equal greatness within the Godhead.  Without each Person doing His part, no baptism occurs.  So, baptism involves receiving the Holy Trinity and His gifts, not the gifts of God without Him.

Now, the book of Acts does mention baptism in Jesus’ name.  This baptism, however, doesn’t override what Jesus commanded but refers to the baptism He instituted. 

At your Baptism, dear saint, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended, and the Father spoke, “This is my beloved Son!”  Whether you are a male or female, you are a son, covered with the righteousness of God’s only Son. 

From the Father, His Son sent the Spirit, who joins you to His death and resurrection.  Now, if we died with Christ, we will also live with Him (Romans 6:8).  So, baptism isn’t a mere symbol but God doing something, making us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and heirs of His kingdom.  Not done, we also become temples of God’s Spirit, filled with His gifts, and receive power to live in the spirit of faith, hope, and love. 

The Spirit is the “delivery man” of the Trinity, who takes what Jesus earned for us, dispensing His saving deeds through Word and Sacrament.  Through these, the Father takes you in your sad state as a sinful, fallen creature.  Why?  To make you a new creation, a son of God, by the Spirit working through water and the words of Jesus.

At creation, the Holy Trinity worked to create “heaven and earth,” all things, unveiling Himself as the central mystery of life.  For this is the mystery of God Himself, from whom flows all the other mysteries of faith.  The Gospel gifts He gives are from His Unity of Being but through each Person in the Trinity.  Now, we can delight in God’s new creation to come, because of Christ, in the blessings of the enlivening Spirit.

With the Apostle John, we celebrate that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  The “innermost secret” of God is the eternal exchange of love within, the Three-in-One and One-in-Three, God.  From those depths of love, come His love for us, and so He saves us because only He can. 

Now, Jesus becomes incarnate.  Soon, He takes our sins.  Later, He commands His Eleven to disciple us into His kingdom by baptizing and teaching.  Now, brought into His family, we become little Christs, living sacrifices, loving and serving others as Christ does for us.  Amen.


  1. Carrie Yowell says

    Always nice finding one of your sermons on my fb. page every now and then. I always enjoy reading them.
    Hope everyone is in good health.
    Carrie Jo