Reading: A reading from Matthew 28
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.”
Catechism, p. 325
What is baptism? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.
Which is this word of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matt. 28:19
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“But some doubted.” And these are the men on whom the Church should be built? These doubters? There are those who would suggest that. They put the persons of the apostles and their successors as the foundation. In a sense, this is what both Rome and the East do. First, they tell you to be sure of the Church, and then you can be sure that promises of God in the sacraments that such a church administers are effective and for real. So, many in Rome think Lutherans are “ecclesial” but whatever else we are we are NOT Church. Lutherans, however, turn this on its head. We read it exactly backwards: first, we say, you need to be sure of the Lord’s promise, mandate and giving in the Word and sacraments, and then you can be sure of the Church, for the Church is never at point number two. Always it is God-Baptism-Church, never God-Church-Baptism. For that would make our Lord's mandate wobble! Always it is the Lord Jesus who has been given ALL authority in heaven and on earth, all his, none ours, who then mandates the making of disciples by baptism and teaching. Disciples, church, if you will, is called into existence by Christ through the Word and Sacraments; the Church does not call the sacraments into existence. Thus, in our Catechism’s definition of baptism there is no church reference: It is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. God, our Lord Jesus, and His command and His Word are the entire foundation on which Baptism itself rests.
This is huge, because if your confidence rests in any part on the men themselves, your confidence rests on sinking sand. Even the great Apostles wobbled: before our Lord’s crucifixion, after His resurrection, and even after Pentecost! Peter who gets it right at Matthew 16:16 blows it a meager six verses later and goes from being called Peter, the Rock Man, to Satan who stands in the way of God’s purposes by opposing Christ’s road to the cross, where He would bear our sin to death. Same Peter whom Paul later had to rebuke publicly in Galatia when he let the fear of men’s disapproval get in the way of the Gospel’s full inclusion of the gentiles. And then there’s grumpy Paul not willing to forgive John Mark and so causing a major row with the kind and patient Barnabas. Or the Apostle John in Revelation, falling down in front of an angel to give worship and being told to get on his feet because the angel was just a fellow-servant and he must only worship the Lord. I could go on and on. Build your confidence on the persons of the apostles themselves and you build on shaky ground. Build your confidence on some pastor and it will be even shakier. Build your confidence, your certainty of salvation, instead, on the words and promises of Christ to you in Baptism and you have a foundation so solid that it cannot be shaken; a promise so secure that it can hold you firm through life and death and into resurrection.
So beloved, when scandals arise to shake the Church through the failings of her servants, as they always have and as they always will, and people say to you: “How can you possibly say that you believe in a holy church? Look at the lives of your leaders! Look at the lives of your people! Look at how you live yourself! And you call yourselves a holy church? Who do you think you are fooling?” When such is thrown at you, remember “but some doubted” and it was to the doubters that the Lord Jesus gave His mandate and sent them forth to hand over His promises. Remember that the Church that you know to be holy is the result always of Christ’s gift of Baptism, that is as sure and certain as His own word mandating it, bestowing it. Your Baptism holds when all else shakes around you. Your Baptism holds and hidden in it is the holiness of the Church, a holiness that belongs to Christ and is always only given to us, laid on the Church, made her own by faith, and so an object of faith and not of observation.
“But some doubted” and their doubt in no way impeded the Lord’s sure sending them out to give His gifts away, for it rests not on them as fallen men, but on the promise of Christ Himself. Keep the order straight: do not rest your certainty on men, not even apostolic men, or on the chance that you finally figured out the "real church" but upon the Christ alone to whom these failing, faltering men would bear witness and in Whom alone they and you and even I are holy through His gift of Baptism. Amen.
Catechism Hymn: 596 “All Christians Who Have Been Baptized”