The Holy Trinity
The Baptism of Ezekiel Bruce Baier
May 30, 2010
Text: John 8:48-59
“Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us” (Introit).
We glorify our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because He has first shown mercy to us. Notice that mercy is the catalyst. Glory, praise, is the grateful response to mercy. We don’t praise God so that we obtain mercy. We praise God, who is mercy Himself, and has already bestowed mercy upon us in Christ Jesus our Lord. We praise as a result of mercy. And we stand in awe of the glorious mystery that our God is one God, in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Scriptures make this clear. God is one: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4; ESV). Yet this one God, YHWH, is three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are nonetheless one God. We dare never think we have figured out this mystery. This is beyond mathematical comprehension. How can three be one and one be three? We are not to solve this mystery. Ours is simply to stand in awe and to praise. For in mercy, this incomprehensible Triune God has made Himself comprehensible, as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, took on human flesh, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Trinity Sunday is the only festival in the Church Year that does not celebrate an event in our Lord’s life, or the life of His Church, but rather celebrates an article of doctrine, a teaching. It is a great mercy that our gracious God has revealed to us the paradox that He is Triune. A paradox is made up of two truths, both equally true, that seem to contradict one another, but must be held in tension. Christianity is chalk full of paradoxes. The word “Triune” is a paradox in itself. God is three, yet He is one, three persons, yet one divine substance, one God. Jesus is both God and Man, a paradox. Baptism is paradoxically a death and a resurrection. The Lord’s Supper is bread and wine and the true body and blood of Christ. You are a saint, yet a sinner. You already possess eternal life, yet unless Jesus returns first, you will have to die. These are all paradoxes. They are beyond human reason to solve, yet they are the doctrine, the teaching of Jesus Christ, which He has revealed to us in His mercy. This morning we celebrate doctrine, teaching, the creedal faith, that which God has revealed to us in the Scriptures, that which we believe, teach, and confess: God is Triune! One God, three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things… the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped… This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved” (Athanasian Creed, LSB p. 320).
“But Pastor, all this talk about doctrine and the necessity of believing the right doctrine, especially when it’s so hard to understand, just sounds arrogant and mean. It’s so intolerant. Besides, doctrine divides, Pastor. We should just concentrate on what unites us.” Beloved in the Lord, don’t you see, there can be no unity if there is no unity in doctrine? What would be the basis of such unity? God, you say? Which god? The God who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who took on human flesh? Or some other god? And understand, the minute you define this G/god, you’re talking about doctrine. Does Jesus grant you unity? He does. But again, which Jesus? Jesus, my buddy? Jesus, my boyfriend? Some other designer Jesus of my own making? Or the Jesus revealed in Holy Scripture, my Savior, who sheds His blood for me, dies for my sins, and is raised again for my justification? Understand, the minute you define this Jesus, you’re talking about doctrine. And it matters. It matters for salvation. Because if I believe in any other god than the one true God, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I’m lost forever. If I believe in any other Jesus than the Jesus revealed in Scripture, the incarnate Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity made flesh, crucified and risen for the sins of the world, who comes here and now in the preaching and the Sacraments, then I’m damned. And this may very well rub you the wrong way. It’s certainly not politically correct. This may sound intolerant, and it is, in this sense: There is salvation in no other god. There is salvation with no other Jesus. Every other doctrine is a false doctrine. And this is a matter of eternal life and death.
Well, if you don’t believe me, believe Jesus. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is talking to people who believe in God. In fact, they claim to believe in the God of Abraham! They claim to believe every word of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. They even claim to be defending the doctrine of God revealed in those same Scriptures. It is Jesus they cannot stomach. And in this way they betray their unbelief in the Scriptures and the God of Abraham. For the Scriptures, even of the Old Testament, in their totality, testify of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. Jesus engages the Jews in a heated conversation about doctrine. The eternal life of the Jews is at stake! The Jews call Jesus a demon-possessed Samaritan (John 8:48, 52). The Samaritans were the heretics of Israel who did not worship at the Jerusalem Temple and had intermarried with the pagan nations. The Jews said they were all demon-possessed. And of course, it is blasphemy to say that Jesus is demon-possessed, and that His Word is untrue. Jesus calls the Jews out on their false doctrine. Jesus says, “It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him” (v. 54). You have not known Him! This is a doctrinal statement. He’s telling the Jews, “You have the wrong god!!!” “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (v. 58, emphasis added). Pointing to Himself, He declares, “YHWH!” You want the God of Abraham? Look nowhere else. Here He is, in the flesh!!! Those who hear this are without excuse, no matter how religious they may be, no matter how “good” or “sincere” they are. If you do not have the true God of Abraham, the Triune God, the God revealed in the flesh of Jesus Christ, you don’t have the right god. It is a false doctrine that leads to death. Do you still think that doctrine is unimportant? Repent. And believe the promise of Jesus: “if anyone keeps my word,” my doctrine, “he will never see death” (v. 51).
But if we are to keep His Word, His doctrine, which is to say, believe it, teach it, confess it, then He must first give it to us. Because this doctrine is something our sinful nature is incapable of comprehending or believing on its own. By nature, we know that there is a God, but we know very little about Him. We know simply by observing creation that Someone awfully powerful had to make all this and set it in motion, all evolutionistic illusions aside. “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God” (Heb. 3:4). When we enter a building, we know intrinsically that there was a builder, or builders, because someone had to put all of this wood and brick and concrete together in this order. It doesn’t just happen by accident. So also when we look at creation, we recognize an intelligence that designed and constructed all of this. This is called the natural knowledge of God. Furthermore, our consciences bear witness to a deity of some sort. That we have a sense of right and wrong, that we feel guilt when we do what is wrong, shows that we have the Law of God written on our hearts, whether we believe or not, and whether we’ve ever read the Ten Commandments or not. We recognize innately that there is a higher power, one we would call God. But creation and conscience cannot really tell us anything about God. They certainly cannot tell us that God is Triune, and they certainly cannot tell us of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and the salvation He has won for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot know these things by nature, nor have we any power to believe them. So in mercy, He reveals them to us. And then He gives us the faith, as a gift, to believe them.
In mercy, God reveals Himself in His Word, the Holy Scriptures. And He reveals Himself in the Word made flesh, the flesh of Jesus Christ, our Savior. He reveals Himself in Christ as a God of love, who would be reconciled to sinners in the death of Christ. If we are to believe this, God must tell us and give us the faith to believe it. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe these things. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. And we are given the Holy Spirit in Baptism, where we are named with the Triune Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, where we are made God’s own dear children, united to the death and resurrection of Christ, all our sins washed away, given His righteousness as a gift, and brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ, brought to new life in Christ. This morning, Ezekiel Bruce Baier, was given this gift. He believes in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has no ability to understand the Trinity. In fact, he can only confess it through the mouths of his parents and sponsors. But this is a good reminder to us that we don’t have the ability to understand the Trinity, either. But we believe it. And we confess it. Such faith and confession is the gift of God in Christ Jesus, bestowed by the Holy Spirit. It is a Trinitarian act in us. It is all God’s work. It is all by grace. What great mercy is bestowed on us. All praise and thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Indeed, that is all we can do in the face of such great mercy: stand in awe, and praise. Our almighty and everlasting God has given us grace to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith, and to worship the Unity in the power of the Divine Majesty. That is to say, He has given us to believe in Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He gives us the faith by His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. He strengthens and sustains that faith by His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. What more is there to say but, “Thanks be to God!” “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown mercy to us.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.