"Three Creeds, One God"
Eve of the Feast of the Holy Trinity
St. John 8:48-59
June 2, 2007
(Divine Service for shut-ins of St. Peter)
IN NOMINE JESU
We are gathered here today to celebrate not an event in the life of our Lord, not an event in the life of the Church, not any of the saints. No, we are here to celebrate a doctrine…and not just any doctrine but the one doctrine that separates Christians from non-Christians: the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Anyone who claims to confess the Name of Jesus is compelled on the basis of Scripture to confess the Trinity, even as we confessed in the Athanasian Creed: "And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance," and again, "But the whole three persons are coeternal together and coequal, so that in all things, as has been said, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved is compelled thus to think of the Trinity," and again, "This is the catholic faith which, except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved." There is no way that a person can believe in Jesus Christ and yet not believe in the entire Godhead because such a lack of confession denies that Jesus Christ is the Son of God…and, therefore, God Himself. To not believe in the Trinity is to not believe that Jesus is true God as well as true Man. If one confesses the Holy Trinity, he confesses that Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary in time and begotten of God the Father in eternity, fulfilled His Father's will, suffering and dying on the cross to pay for the sins of mankind, rose again and ascended into heaven, from whence He sent the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Quite simply, to be a Christian is to be Trinitarian, and to be Trinitarian is to be a Christian. This confession can never be rightly divided.
The Jews sought to divide the confession. In their evil, perverted minds they had. They claimed to believe in God, but they did not also believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Not only did they deny His divinity, they also denied His birthright. They went so far as to deny that He was born a Jew, like them. Even though salvation would come from the Jews, they rejected the salvation the Lord came to bring. They went so far as to accuse Him of being a Samaritan, a half-breed, and of being demonic. How dare this Jesus claim that He is the Son of God, thereby making Himself God! The Jews did not rightly confess God because they refused to recognize Jesus as the Messiah; they were not Trinitarian.
They could not accept Jesus as being eternal on the basis of these words of His: "Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death" (v. 51). What scandalized them was that Abraham and the prophets were dead. What scandalized them was that they perverted the Lord's words, for He was speaking of eternal death. Abraham and the prophets were sleeping in death, resting from their labors, and yet Abraham saw the Lord's day. Abraham did not physically see the Incarnation of our Lord, but through faith he saw Him, and he rejoiced, just as he rejoiced over the birth of his son Isaac—even when the patriarch was old. The Jews patronized Jesus, holding His apparent youth against Him. "Then the Jews said to Him, 'You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?'" (v. 57). Not only did the Jews reject Jesus' messiah-ship, but they also rejected the eternal-ness of Him who said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM" (v. 58). Not only was the Lord confessing His eternal-ness, He was confessing His divinity: "I am YHWH!" The Jews, upon hearing this, sought to stone Him. Not only did they not understand what He was saying, they did not want to. Whatever the Lord said, they would twist so that they would have cause (in their own minds) to put Him to death. They refused to confess that Jesus and the Father are one God. They were not true believers in God. They rejected the Christ and His Word.
And so it is with those who reject the Word of the Lord. Martin Luther, in a sermon on our text, said this of us when we reject the read and proclaimed Word of God:
That is exactly the way things are. Whoever will not hear God's Word, or after hearing it will not adhere to it, becomes a liar, blasphemer, and persecutor. …The longer they persist in what they are doing, the more wicked they become. And they will not desist from their blaspheming and persecuting, but finally resort to violence, take the sword in hand, and become murderers.
There is nothing worse than this. When a person inclines toward sin and doing what is wrong, it is still possible to convince him of his sin and to desist from it. But the person whose sin is refusing to hear God's Word and blaspheming it instead, cannot be dissuaded. Such people do a beautiful cover-up job and allow themselves to think they are doing right and are thereby serving God; in contrast a sinner involved with other wrongdoing can, to his shame, be shown his sin and be led to repent of it.
It is, therefore, the accursed devil who himself is at work when a person despises God's Word. For in such a situation it is inevitable the he will finally cast stones at Christ, yes, will also bring Him to the cross, consider what he is doing as being completely right, and will want to get off scot-free when perpetrating such a great sin. …
When you admonish such a person for a long period of time, he becomes more and more furious and says, What do I care about what is preached? You may indeed keep on pleading with him and say, This is not good; you will have to adopt a different attitude if you wish to be saved; but he will let fly with these words: In the name of a thousand demons let me alone; and he may even come to blows.
Therefore, the one who refuses to hear God's Word is not of God but is a child of the devil. This is particularly true when he adds to his evil conduct by insisting that he is in the right and seeks to justify his corrupt acts, just like the Jews here who say, "Say we not well that Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?" This emanates from that wicked devil who wishes to be God and holy. Despisers of the Word are like this; they will not admit to being in the wrong, nor will they listen to reason. …
However, they are children of the devil who obstinately go their own way. And when to their own good, one reproaches them, they say, Why should I give a rap about that? When a disobedient son is rebuked by his mother, he purses his lips, walks away from the situation, and says, What is that to me? This is what it means to be of the devil: to have no concern for the Word of God and refuse to be accountable. The longer people have this attitude the worse they become, for the devil will not leave them alone. At first they despise the Word; then they blaspheme, rail, and curse it. And finally they do as the Jews in our text: they pick up stones and are ready to commit murder. Thus despisers of the Word become blasphemers of the word, persecutors and murderers of human beings. The devil reveals his true colors by not wanting to hear God's word, by blaspheming, reviling, and cursing it, by doing evil to, and killing, people. The one who despises and slanders and murderously assaults his neighbor is a child of the devil. This is what reveals the devil and his children; for he is a liar and a murderer, despising God and His Word. [House Postil for Judica, 1533]
Despite this reality that is ours, for we are despisers of God's Word, He still holds out hope for us. He is still calling us to repentance. Our Lord says in our text: "If anyone keeps My word he shall never see death." To keep the Word of God is to hear it, believe it, and live according to it as the Holy Spirit enables us. So that we would not taste eternal death, our Lord has sent His Holy Spirit, who calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith, even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith, the faith that is Christian and, therefore, Trinitarian. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it, those moved by the Holy Spirit to hear it, believe it, and confess it, confessing our Triune God. As Abraham rejoiced when He saw the Lord's day, the day of the Word becoming flesh, we rejoice for we, through faith, will see that day when we meet our Lord face to face. We rejoice, for we remember that day on which our Lord died on the cross to win the forgiveness of our sins. We rejoice, for we behold our risen Lord, who conquered death for us, beholding Him who comes to us in His Word. We rejoice, for we see this day our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ coming to us in His body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. We rejoice, for we behold our Lord who comes to us in His Word this very day, so that we would hear and believe it and not taste eternal death.
It is the Word of God that teaches us the truth of the Holy Trinity. The Three Ecumenical Creeds that we confess, Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian, are based firmly on Holy Scripture. Let there be no doubt that when we confess our faith in the words of one of these Creeds, we are confessing our faith in the Triune God as He is presented to us in the Bible. When you say, "I believe," you are confessing the faith as it has been confessed in the Church since the early Church, the Apostles' Creed first being confessed as early as 125 A.D. The Creeds were formulated and approved by ecumenical councils of the Church to give the Church a united voice against the heresies of the day. The Church has, along with the Liturgy, handed these statements of faith to subsequent generations so that we may speak with one voice, not only against the false teachers of our day, but also to demonstrate the unity we have with our brothers and sisters with Christ. It is our God-given faith that saves us, He who moves us to believe in Him and to confess Him. Saint Paul writes to the Romans: "'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For 'whoever calls on the Name of the LORD shall be saved'" (Rom. 10:9-13).
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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