The last Sunday in May this year was Ascension Sunday–the day on which much of the church around the world celebrates Jesus’ ascension to His rightful place. There is much that is significant about Jesus’ ascension, one aspect of which is the way it marks–for both Luke and Matthew–the beginning of mission of Jesus’ followers. As John also makes clear, Jesus’ leaving was the start of something bigger than words could express.
In Matthew’s version, the disciples met Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. The resurrection had convinced them as to Who He was and, appropriately, they worshipped. But some of them were doubtful–concerned about what was to come next–about their role and competence for it. They weren’t doubtful about Jesus; they were doubtful about themselves.
Jesus’ initial words are reassuring–He has received all authority and is now delegating them, authorizing them, sending them out with that authority. He then tells them what they are to be doing. As it turns out, it is fairly simple and straightforward. Essentially, it is this: they are to be heading out from this mountain and, as they are going, they are to be doing one thing. The one thing they are to be doing is immersing people into the name–the character, the reality–of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
It is important to note that He is not here giving them–us–a script to use when baptizing people in water. We can, and should, certainly say those words, but the medium into which we are to be baptizing (immersing) people is not first water, but the Name of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
It is also important to note that this is the strategy Jesus Himself employed. He went about doing good, immersing people into the character of God, into the goodness of God. He did it by healing, by teaching, by delivering–and has now authorized His followers to do the same thing in the same way.
The Name of which Jesus speaks is the character and nature of the Father, Son, and Spirit in their interactions–namely, love. So, the medium into which they–we–are to be immersing everyone we meet, is the love of God. When we do that well, Jesus suggests we may then teach those who have been immersed in the love of God how to live as He has taught us how to live.
The order here is important. First love. Then modeled instruction. The former makes way for the latter. While what people believe about Jesus really matters; the way to get them to correct belief is by means of this narrow, experiential gate of love.
So, as it turns out, they–we–needn’t have been doubtful. The mission of Jesus–the one He authorizes and empowers–is to love others as He has loved us. And besides, He is with us until we get the job done, or have died trying.
Related: Serving Christ and the Community
Bill Dogterom, DMin, professor of pastoral ministries and spiritual formation, teaches courses in pastoral ministry, spirituality, and practical theology for the undergraduate program. He brings practical experience from his 25 years of senior pastoral experience to his teaching. Dr. Dogterom is passionate about students, their spiritual formation, preparation for vocational ministry, and service to the church.