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Trinity

Acts 2:14a,22–36; John 8:48–59

James T. Batchelor

Holy Trinity, series C
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Sun, May 22, 2016 

Last week we heard the account of the Tower of Babel.  In that account God basically made the point that humanity basically used imagination to think of more evil things to do.  One of the evil things mankind does is imagine a wide variety of different gods to take the place of the true God.  A study of the religions that have sprung from the imagination of humanity shows a wide variety of different ideas for god.

Some religions teach that everything is god and god is everything.  You are god.  I am god.  The tree is god.  The rock is god.  The sun, moon, and stars are all one and the same god.  This is called pantheism, the belief that everything is just one, big, all-encompassing god.

Then there is polytheism, the teaching that there are many gods.  You and I are not gods, but there are gods who rule over us.  There are gods who are in charge of trees.  There are gods in charge of rocks.  There are gods in charge of the rain, the sun, the moon, the stars, and so forth.  Every aspect of life has a god attached to it.  Since there are lots of gods and they dont always get along that well, there is an opportunity for conflict between the gods.  That is the reason that the mythologies of ancient civilizations provide us with so many interesting stories.

Monotheism is the belief that there is one and only one god who is separate from the universe, but who created it and still maintains it.  The monotheistic religions that come from mankinds imagination all teach that God is one in substance AND one in person.  Islam is an excellent example of such a monotheistic religion.

Atheism teaches that there is no god.  In reality, the atheist has a god.  The atheists god is the self.  In order to assert that there is no god, the atheist must believe that there is no fact hidden anywhere in the entire universe that would lead him or her to believe that there is a god.  The atheist stands in judgment over the entire universe and declares that he or she knows enough about everything such that they have decided that god does not exist.  Their trust and their belief is in their own ability to know everything that can be known about god.  In reality, the atheist is saying, I am myself am the judge of all truth and there is no god other than me.

This idea that I am the center of the universe and the entire rest of the universe is here to serve me is actually the way that we all enter life.  Feed me.  Hold me.  Change me.  Love me.  AND I will throw a temper tantrum if you dont.  Every parent in the world will tell you that that is a babys worldview when it enters the world.  The basic foundation of sin is our firm belief that we are the most important being in this and every other universe.

The true religion, Christianity, is a monotheistic religion, but the monotheism of Christianity is totally different from all other monotheistic religions.  Christianity is the one and only religion that teaches that God is one in substance, but three in person.

The early church spent a lot of time talking about the nature of God.  You see, the Bible clearly teaches that God is a community of three persons in one substance.  Never the less, although the Bible teaches this, it does not give simple, easy terms for talking about this God who is three persons in one substance.  The Bible does not even give us the terms person or substance.  It took a long time for the early theologians to identify exactly which God they believed in.  After a while, one of the theologians would say something like this, You know what?  We need to have a shorthand term to identify the true God.  By the time I get through identifying my God as the God who is three persons in one substance, I forgot what I was going to say about Him. Eventually, they would come up with the words triune and trinity just to save time.

Now, I have no idea exactly who came up with the word trinity and what the exact circumstances were when someone first used the word, but the word trinity does give a name to a teaching that is found in the Bible.  So although the words trinity and triune are not found in the Bible, the teaching that they describe is an important teaching of the Bible.  So, we Christians can now refer to the true God as the Triune God.  We can also set aside a Sunday to focus on the idea that the true God is Triune Trinity Sunday.

The Bible readings chosen for this day are full of good teachings.  We dont have time to cover them all, but on this day, Trinity Sunday, we will concentrate on what it means that God is one substance, but three persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In order to understand todays Gospel more fully, it would be good for us to go back into the Old Testament to visit a bush a burning bush to be more precise.

One of the events that we associate with Moses is his encounter with a bush that was on fire, but did not burn up.  It turned out that God used this burning bush to call Moses to lead the people out of Egypt.  In the middle of this conversation, God told Moses His name.  Then Moses said to God, If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, What is his name? what shall I say to them? 14God said to Moses, I am who I am. And he said, Say this to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you. (Exodus 3:1314) Gods name translated into English is I am.

In todays Gospel Jesus was debating the Jewish authorities.  Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. (John 8:58) Jesus is not using bad grammar here.  Instead, He is saying, I am the God who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush. This is not the kind of thing you say in a crowd of devout Jews in first century Israel.  These are the kind of words that can get you killed.  The last verse of the Gospel confirms this.  So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:59) The Jewish authorities wanted to stone Him because he claimed to be God.

So Jesus claimed to be God, but which person of God is He?  Jesus gave an answer to that just a few verses earlier.  He answered, If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, He is our God. (John 8:54) Here Jesus identified Himself as God the Son of God the Father.  So now we have God the Father and God the Son.

What about the third member of the Triune God.  Where can we learn about Him?

There are plenty of places in the Gospel accounts where Jesus taught about God the Holy Spirit, but if we stick with the readings chosen for this day, the clearest mention of the Holy Spirit is in Peters Pentecost sermon in Acts 2.  Toward the end of the sermon, Peter preached, This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:3233) Here we see the Father exalting the Son and the Son pouring the Holy Spirit out on His church.

From this we learn that although no person in the Trinity is before or after another, they all have a role in our salvation.  The Father sends the Son into the world, the Son redeems the world, and the Holy Spirit gives that redemption to the world through His gift of faith.  The three persons of the one God work together in perfect harmony to bring salvation to us.  The salvation that they provide is the other unique thing about the true God.  Our salvation depends entirely on the Triune God.

Without the salvation that the Triune God brings to us, we would all be lost.  Each of us sins daily in thought, word, and deed.  Instead of loving God above all things, we love ourselves above all things.  Instead of honoring Gods name with our mouths, we bring shame on it.  Instead of eagerly and joyfully hungering for His word, we despise its teaching.  Instead of honoring those in authority, we constantly try to find ways around that authority.  While we may not draw blood, our unkind words and our hateful thoughts have murdered, never the less.  As we confessed earlier in this service, we all deserve punishment here on earth and forever in hell.

Fortunately, we are not without the salvation that the Triune God brings to us.  God the Father sent the Son into the world to take on our mortal flesh.  God the Son not only took our human flesh to Himself, but He also took up our sin all of it.  The Son of God took our sin to the cross where He and the Father conducted a most terrifying transaction.  In a way that we cannot understand, God the Father turned away from our sins in disgust.  The result was so horrible that God the Son cried out from the cross, My God!  My God!  Why have your forsaken Me? What a terrible punishment that must have been that caused the Son to cry out in that way.  How horrible it was for the Father to inflict such pain on His belovd Son in that way.  That is the punishment that our savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God endured for us.  By enduring that punishment for us, the Son of God made absolutely certain that we would never have to be punished in that way.  God the Father gives us His grace for the sake of God the Son.  With His sacrifice, God the Son earned forgiveness, life, and salvation for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or ever will live.

That wonderful salvation will do us no good, however, if it is not delivered to us.  That is the role of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit brings Gods gifts to us.  The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to create and sustain faith in us.  He does this as we read, hear, and study Gods Word.  He also does that through the wet word of Holy Baptism and the body and blood of our Lord that we receive with the bread and wine of the Lords Supper.

Even people who do not believe have forgiveness set aside for them.  It is on lay-away waiting for the day when the Holy Spirit brings their spirits to life and works faith in them.  Then they too will experience the love of the Triune God.  They too will look forward to the day when they see God face to face in heaven.

Those who reject faith and forgiveness until the day they die will never experience the sweet salvation that the Triune God has for us.  That salvation will remain unused.  They will not receive the benefits of the great love that God has for them.  Instead, they will experience the full, dreadful terror that caused the Son of God to cry out on the cross.  They will spend eternity paying for those sins in hell.  They will not spend eternity in hell because God does not love them.  They will spend eternity in hell because they utterly refused that love.  They rejected the only gift that can save them.

We poor sinners who have been blessed with the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit will receive the gifts that only the Triune God can give the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

We receive those gifts by:

God the Fathers grace for:

God the Sons sake through:

God the Holy Spirits gift of faith.

Amen



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