Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 7)

June 24, 2012

Mark 4:35-41

Jesus is in control the whole time. That’s what the disciples, in their lack of faith, miss about the whole event. It certainly doesn’t look like Jesus is in control. There arises a great windstorm, as is common on the Sea of Galilee. Only this storm is apparently not common, because these experienced fishermen, nautical experts that they are, believe they are about to perish. Here nature is groaning on account of its subjection to futility (Rom. 8:20 ff.). They are all in a panic for their very lives. And where is Jesus? He is in the stern, asleep on a pillow. Our Lord Jesus is fully human. He is tired after a long day of teaching and ministering to the crowds. Exhausted. His compassion for the crowds rarely allows Him even to eat or to rest. The disciples take Him into the boat, thinking they have it handled. After all, they’ve sailed in all sorts of weather. They know what they’re doing. But now this storm arises. And with terror, they learn a difficult lesson. They are not, in fact, self-sufficient. They are not, in fact, able to handle it on their own. They are not as in-control as they thought. The wind is blowing. The waves are tossing the boat every-which-way. The boat is filling up with water. The disciples are bailing for their lives. And Jesus is asleep. They wake Him. They need Him. At least take a bucket and help out. “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38; ESV). Jesus doesn’t take a bucket. He doesn’t panic. He does not fear. He arises and shows that He’s been in control the whole time. He rebukes the wind and sea. “Peace! Be still!” (v. 39). And what happens? The wind ceases. There is a great calm. There is no transition from chaos to calm. Immediately, the disciples find themselves on a sea of glass. Nothing like this has ever happened before. “Why are you so afraid?” Jesus asks. “Have you still no faith?” (v. 40). “Don’t you know yet who I am?” Apparently not. For “they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?’” (v. 41).

You know, beloved, who this is. You know because the Holy Spirit has revealed Him to you in the Holy Scriptures and made you His own in Holy Baptism. Our Lord Jesus Christ is not just a man. He is God. And He commands the wind and the waves and they listen to Him, they obey His will. He is their Creator. He is the Word through whom the Father created them, now become flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, making His dwelling with us, as one of us. Our Lord Jesus is one Person, but He has two natures. He is true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son. He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made (Nicene Creed). And He’s true man, born of the Virgin Mary, sent by God to take our place, as our substitute, to fulfill the Law of God for us, the Law which we have broken, and to make atonement for our sins by His blood and death. God sent Him for this very purpose. And so, you see, He could not have died in the boat that dark and stormy night. It was a divine impossibility. He came to meet death at Golgotha, on the cross, at just the right time, at the time appointed beforehand by God from all eternity. For us. In our place. As the sacrifice for our sins. And then, after three days to rise again from the dead, victorious over death and the grave, victorious over sin, Satan, and hell, having won for us eternal life and salvation, and guaranteeing our own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day.

He was in control the whole time, there, on the sea. Even when He was asleep. He’s the God of the wind and the waves. He’s the God of creation, and the Savior of sinners. After all this time, after all the teaching and all the miracles, the disciples still didn’t believe it. Nor did they believe it in the Garden of Gethsemane, on another night, when one of their own number, Judas Iscariot, betrayed the Son of Man with a kiss. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, the disciples fled in fear. When Jesus was on trial before the Sanhedrin, Peter stayed out in the courtyard and denied knowing our Lord. When Jesus was on trial before Pontius Pilate, He stood before the seat of earthly power utterly alone. The soldiers beat Him and mocked Him and spat on Him. They crowned Him with thorns and beat Him with a reed scepter. They forced Him to carry His own cross to the place of execution. They fastened Him to the wood with spikes, piercing His hands and feet. The disciples believed God was sleeping. They believed God didn’t care. They believed all of this was entirely out of our Lord’s control. What they failed to realize is that, while it appeared as though Judas and the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate and the soldiers were in control of the events of the Passion, in reality, Jesus was in control the whole time. And all of this was happening for their good and for our good. This is nothing less than the will of God in motion. It results in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and His victorious resurrection from the dead, by which we have eternal life.

He was in control the whole time, there, on the cross. He’s not just a man. He’s God in the flesh. And here’s the point for you and me. Jesus is still in control. He is still the God of the wind and the waves, of all creation. He’s the God of heaven and earth. He’s the God of history. He’s the God of the devil. He’s the God of the unbelieving world, and of the hostile forces that would persecute us for the faith. And He’s your God, who gave Himself up for you, to make you His own. He is risen from the dead, and has ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, where He rules all things for the good of His people, the Holy Christian Church, for you, beloved. He directs all things for your benefit. Even evil things are conscripted to serve His good and gracious will. He works all things for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). He’s in control the whole time. Sometimes He appears to be sleeping. Sometimes we pray and plead with bitter tears, and He seems to be silent. But don’t let appearances deceive you. He knows your need. He hears your prayers. He knows even better than you do what you need and what is good for you. When He seems to be silent, He’s exercising your faith, just as He was exercising the disciples on the storm-tossed boat. The storm brought them to the end of their own resources. They had to confess that they were nothing, that they couldn’t handle it, that they were not in control. And then, in that moment, they could come to realize that they needed Jesus, that He is in control, that He is God, and even the wind and the sea obey Him. You need to realize that. You are at the end of your own resources. You have nothing to hold before God, no righteousness, no good works, no self-sufficiency. You cannot save yourself. You are sentenced to death. You are perishing. But the Lord cares. He will not let you perish. He’s done something about it. He died for you. He lives for you. He baptized you into Himself. You belong to Him. You are not in control, but Jesus is. You are not God, but Jesus is. He is your God. He is God for you. Why are you so afraid? Fear not. Peace! Be still!

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. This is why the Lord gives His gifts in His Church. It’s a storm-tossed boat, the Church. It appears as though we’re all about to perish. But fear not. We’re safe as long as Jesus is in the boat with us. And He is, in His Word and Baptism and Supper. He’s really present here with us, speaking to us and washing us and feeding us with His true body and blood. By these means the Holy Spirit gives us faith, and sustains us in that faith in Jesus Christ. No more reason to fear. Just be still and know that Jesus Christ is God. He’s in control. And nothing can separate you from His love. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 6)

June 17, 2012

Text: Mark 4:26-34

Beloved in the Lord, this morning Jesus tells us two parables about how the Kingdom of God grows, followed by St. Mark’s explanation of how Jesus taught the people, His own disciples on the one hand, and on the other hand, all the rest who did not believe in Him and were even hostile to Him. “He did not speak to them without a parable,” Mark writes, “but privately to his own disciples he explained everything” (Mark 4:34; ESV). Parables are word-pictures, usually with a surprising twist, teaching about the Kingdom of God using illustrations from everyday life. It is often said that Jesus taught the people in parables so that they could more readily understand His teaching. Now, this may be scandalous to your ears, but actually the opposite is true. Jesus taught in parables so that the people would not understand what He was talking about. What? That doesn’t sound right. And yet a few verses prior to our text, Jesus says to His Apostles (quoting the Prophet Isaiah), “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven’” (vv. 11-12). Many were given to hear Jesus’ preaching. But of themselves they were incapable of understanding. And there’s the point. If you want to understand the teaching of Jesus, you can’t just take His Word on your own and apply it to your life. You’re incapable of that. You cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or understand His Word. You need Jesus to explain it to you. You have to be His disciple to understand it. The apostles didn’t understand the parables, either. That is, until Jesus taught them the meaning privately. You have to be taught the Word. Jesus Himself has to teach you. You need His Spirit to understand. That’s why Jesus taught in parables. So that we who follow Him would ask Him what it means, and be led by Him in His Word to the riches of its meaning for us and for our salvation.

Two such parables in our Gospel this morning. The first is about the seed that a man scatters on the ground. Now, the man can’t make the seed grow. To be sure, he can plant in good soil, water, and fertilize, but ultimately, he can’t make it grow. That’s not how gardening or farming works. The farmer has to go to bed each night and arise each morning trusting that the seed will work by itself. Actually, if he tampers with it too much, it won’t grow. He’ll impede the growth. He has to let the seed work as it was designed to do, as God designed it to work. And what happens? “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” (v. 28). Then the farmer will reap his reward from the work of the seed. “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (v. 29). Of course, this parable really isn’t about growing plants. It’s about the Kingdom of God, the Church. The seed is the Word of God. You and I can’t make the Word of the Lord grow. God does that. That’s His job. We are given, as the holy Church, to go out and scatter the seed, to preach the Word, to witness in our daily lives and vocations, to speak the Word to one another, and most especially to hear and love and be filled with that Word ourselves so that the Word can overflow in us to others. We scatter the seed of the Word. But we dare not tamper with it. That could impede the growth. That gets in the way of the Word working as God has designed it. We have to trust the Word to work. This is a great challenge to the Church. In our fallen minds, we always think the Word isn’t enough. It can’t be enough simply to preach and teach and baptize and gather around the altar for the Supper. The Church has to do more, we think, be relevant, be attractive. We tamper with the Word. We downplay less popular teachings in the Word. We invent other teachings that just aren’t there. We’re always looking for a practical application of the Word for this life only, failing to see that the Word of God is finally and ultimately and comprehensively about our Lord Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation that we have in Him through His life, death, and resurrection. Don’t tamper with the Word. Don’t hinder the Word with endless man-made programs designed to “sell” the Church, because when you do, you’re not evangelizing, you’re selling-out the Gospel. Don’t make preaching just another company pitch, be it for the Synod or the district or even the congregation itself. Leave the Word to do its work. Trust it. Trust God who gave it. It’s a powerful Word. God promises that it will never return to Him empty. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth,” says the Lord our God through the Prophet Isaiah; “it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:10-11).

The Word of God is powerful and performative. It does what it says. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Law of God kills and condemns us in our sin. The Gospel of God brings new life in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, who is always present and active in His Word. The Holy Spirit instructs us in His holy Word. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). The Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit, breathed out by Him, so that behind the individual human writers of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is ultimately the Author, so that we can believe every word of Scripture as the infallible and inerrant Word of God, absolutely true, and reliable for salvation. The Word imparts Christ, who is Himself the Word made flesh (John 1:14). Jesus is really present in His Word. He is the one speaking to you in Scripture and in preaching. He speaks Himself into your ears and heart by His Holy Spirit in the Word. He speaks Himself into your Baptism as His Word is joined to the water. He speaks your sins forgiven in Holy Absolution. He speaks His body and blood present in His Supper. The seed is the Word. And it works. Just sit back and let it. Relax. Trust God’s promise about that seed. He will bless what is sown and use it to His purpose.

The frustrating part is that we don’t always see what it is that God is doing with His Word. We’d like quick, measurable, spectacular results. That’s not usually what God gives us. Plants take time to grow. They start small, as small as seed. The Kingdom of God starts with the tiny, seemingly insignificant, seed of God’s Word. It’s like a mustard seed, Jesus says. The mustard seed is among the smallest of seeds, but given time and allowed to do what it is designed to do, it grows into one of the largest of all garden plants, an almost tree-like shrub, big enough for birds to make nests in it. That’s what happens with the Word of God. It’s so small. It seems so powerless in a world that utterly despises it. God uses what is weak and small and of no account in this world to accomplish His purposes. The Word, when planted and left to do what God has designed it to do, grows into the Holy Christian Church. It doesn’t happen quickly in the sense that we immediately see measurable, spectacular results. God never promised that. But the Word of the Lord grows. God grows it. We can’t make it grow by our programs and initiatives, or again, by tampering with the Word. That will only get in the way. We go to bed and let God do what He will with His Word. It grows. The Church grows by means of the Word. The Church grows with every Baptism. The Church grows as the Word takes root in the hearts of those who hear. God blesses. And, by the way, we don’t lose members when they die. They don’t leave the Church. They go to heaven, forever confirmed as members of the Church of Jesus Christ. They continue to join us for the Divine Service, from the other side of the altar.

Martin Luther said of the Reformation, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26-29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.”[1] Beloved, the Church of God rests in peace at night and rises with joy in the morning, trusting all to our gracious heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Our sins are forgiven in Christ. We have eternal life. And the Word of the Lord grows, just as He promises. Leave it to Him. Simply bask in His gifts. Bask in the Word. Cling to your Baptism. Come to the Supper. Raise a glass of your favorite beverage with your friends. Enjoy your life. Enjoy one another in the communion of saints. And let the Word do its work. It will. Jesus promises it. The Word of the Lord grows. Jesus teaches us by His Word and Spirit. And the Kingdom ours remaineth. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Quoted by the Rev. Matthew Harrison,

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 5)

June 10, 2012

Text: Mark 3:20-35

Beloved in the Lord, two very frightening realities in our Gospel lesson this morning. The first is that Satan is real, along with his demons, who together seek to do us great spiritual and physical harm, deceive us and mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. If possible, they want to drag us into hell with them. And then there is the second frightening reality, that there is such a thing as an unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit. “(W)hoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness,” says Jesus, “but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29; ESV). These two realities are related, for the devil would love nothing better than to get us to commit the sin against the Holy Spirit and condemn ourselves before God. Now, there are at least four ways to deal with these frightening realities in our text. One way would be to simply ignore them, as if they didn’t affect us. That is, sadly, the way we too often deal with these realities, and so leave ourselves open for the devil’s attacks. A second way would be to deny that these even are realities, which is precisely what the unbelieving world does as it rejects God’s holy Word and defines God according to it’s own image. This is idolatry. And unfortunately, many churches are jumping on the world’s bandwagon. A third way would be to allow these realities to scare us and lead us into hopelessness and despair. But then, that would be to give the devil precisely what he wants, would it not? But there is a fourth way to deal with these realities. That is to take Jesus at His Word, acknowledge these dangers as real, but take comfort and shelter in the great promises of God, that by the saving work of our Lord Jesus Satan is bound and cast out, and that the Holy Spirit keeps us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ by means of His gifts in Word and Sacrament. This is the God-pleasing way of dealing with these realities. Without denying or minimizing the very real danger they present, we rest secure in our loving and gracious Triune God.

Well, it’s not a nice thought, but Satan does exist, and he does have a great influence in this world. He’s even called the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2) in the Holy Scriptures. He was created by God as a good angel, Lucifer by name, which means “Light Bearer,” but he rebelled against God. He and all the angels that followed him were cast out of heaven. Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18), and Jude writes that “the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (v. 6). We don’t know the precise nature of this rebellion against God, except to say that somehow Satan wanted to take upon Himself the authority that belongs to God, and the judgment is that Satan and those angels who followed him are confirmed in their wickedness and Godlessness, and those angels who remained with God were confirmed in their holiness so that they can never fall, just as we’ll be confirmed in holiness when we get to heaven. We won’t be able to sin. Now, Satan is the one who took the form of a serpent in Genesis 3 and tempted our first parents, Adam and Eve, to sin by eating the forbidden fruit. He hates God, and he hates God’s beloved creation, especially the humans that God has created to be in fellowship with Him. So Satan seeks to do us harm, and his ultimate aim is our damnation. It doesn’t do us any good to ignore it or deny it. It’s real. And it’s sobering. We have to be on the watch for his attacks. We must not be deceived by His lies. He’s crafty. He’s convincing. He’s very powerful (he’s an angel, remember). And he knows the Scriptures even better than we do. St. Paul warns us that often “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). He works best through things that appear to be “Christian.” He’s a deceiver. Beloved, on our own, we don’t stand a chance against him. And that’s why today’s Gospel is such good news for us.

We don’t need to lose hope. We don’t need to despair. Satan is powerful, but God is more powerful. Our God is the God of the devil. Jesus, true God and true man, has conquered the devil for us. Jesus has conquered the devil for us by submitting Himself to death and hell in our place and so taking death and hell captive. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Your sins are forgiven. You have eternal life. Satan has no claim on you. And he’s bound. Jesus Christ is the Stronger Man who enters Satan’s house and binds him up and plunders his goods. We’re the goods He plunders. Jesus takes us out of Satan’s house and into His own house, the Kingdom of God. And Satan? Finally, he’s cast out. God has prepared the Lake of Fire, the end times hell, not for unbelievers (though unbelievers, sadly, will go there) but for the devil and his evil angels (Matt. 25:41). That’s the end of the devil: Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, hell. But for you, heaven, the resurrection of the dead, eternal life with God in a new heaven and earth, on account of the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of your Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was exercising His authority over demons in our text, casting them out of people who were physically possessed. Physical possession doesn’t happen as much here in the Western world, because the devil likes to convince us he doesn’t exist so that he can fly below our radar (though I understand physical possession is much more common in third world countries where the people are more attuned to the dark spiritual forces). Spiritual possession is another matter entirely. We’re all born in the spiritual possession of the devil, blind, dead, and enemies of God. But Jesus comes to release us, to plunder us, to take us for Himself. He not only shed His blood for us. He sends His Spirit to convert us by Baptism and His Word. At any rate, Jesus is casting out demons from the physically possessed in our text. His own family thinks He’s out of His mind. They’ve come to collect Him and take Him home. He’s embarrassing them. And the Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of Israel, what do they think? “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” they say, and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons” (Mark 3:22). They are saying He has an unclean spirit. And it is here that we encounter the sin against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin.

What is the unforgivable sin? It is to reject the Holy Spirit as an evil spirit against your better knowledge. Francis Pieper, one of our Missouri Synod fathers, defined it this way: “The sin against the Holy Ghost is committed when, after the Holy Ghost has convinced a person in his heart of the divine truth, that person nevertheless not only rejects the truth he is convinced of, but also blasphemes it,”[1] calls it evil. The Pharisees were guilty of this. They knew better. They knew the Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit. They knew that Jesus fulfilled the whole Old Testament. But they rejected Jesus and called His Holy Spirit an evil spirit. This is always a danger to us. Hearing the world’s seductive siren song and being deceived by the devil’s lies, we can turn against our better knowledge away from Jesus Christ and call the Word of the Holy Spirit evil. After all, the Word of God is not politically correct. You who stand for the sanctity of marriage as God defines it in His Word are homophobes and haters. You who defend the lives of the unborn hate women. It’s not popular to be a Christian. And we don’t even suffer intense persecution here in the United States, as the Christians do in other places. It would be easier to reject Christ and blaspheme His Spirit. The danger is real. We deny it at our own peril.

But God has promised to keep us by this same Holy Spirit through His Word and Supper, and through the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, the fellowship of the Holy Church. By the way, if you’re worried you’ve committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, you haven’t. It is the nature of this sin not to care if you’ve committed it. But the consolation is that the Holy Spirit Himself sustains you in the faith. Remain in the Word. Receive the Supper often. Remember your Baptism constantly. Come to church. God will keep you. He will keep you from the attacks of the devil. He will keep you from this sin against the Holy Spirit. Because He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for you on the cross, is not about to let you go. You’re precious to Him. And as Paul says, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). Not even Satan, that old wily foe, can separate you from God’s love. God is stronger than Satan. And Satan is bound, to be cast out. You’re safe in Jesus. And Jesus even calls you His family. “And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3:34-35). Dear brothers and sisters, when Satan bothers you, you tell him where he can go. Then make the sign of the cross and remember that you’re baptized into Christ, saying, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950) p. 573.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity (B)

June 3, 2012

Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

Isaiah trembles in the presence of the Lord seated upon His throne, “high and lifted up” (Is. 6:1; ESV). “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts,” calls one six-winged seraph to another; “the whole earth is full of his glory!” (v. 3). And there is Isaiah, finite human, poor, miserable sinner, exposed in the presence of the thrice-holy God. Holy, Holy, Holy, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three Persons, one God, in His majesty. Sin cannot come into the presence of this holiness. Isaiah is a sinner. A sinner cannot see God and live. Isaiah trembles for his very life. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (v. 5). “man shall not see me and live,” God told Moses several hundred years before (Ex. 33:20). That’s the rule. Yet Isaiah lives. What makes the difference? How is that this sinner is allowed to stand in the presence of Almighty God, the Holy One, and live, and even be sent out to preach? An angel, one of the seraphim, took a burning coal with tongs from the altar of God, probably the altar of incense, and he touched Isaiah’s lips with the coal. “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Is. 6:7). The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, which Isaiah would prophesy with stunning clarity in his 53rd Chapter, has made atonement for Isaiah’s sins and the sins of the whole world, including your sin, beloved. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is the sacrifice to which all the Old Testament sacrifices pointed. They were pictures of the once for all sacrifice of the Savior on Golgotha. Here a coal is taken from the Old Testament altar of incense, and the seraph touches it to Isaiah’s lips. The prophet’s lips are purified by fire. He lives because of the atonement of Jesus Christ. He speaks because his lips have been touched with the coal from the altar. The holiness of God consumes Isaiah’s sin. Isaiah is sanctified, made holy by God with God’s own holiness. Forgiven and cleansed, Isaiah is sent out to preach.

God is holy. He is sinless, and hating sin. He is pure. He is the very standard of what it means to be holy. Holiness is defined by His essence. To sin is to fall short of the mark of God’s holiness. That is why none of us can stand before God on our own merit. No matter how good we may be by human standards, we never measure up to God. Even the sinless holy angels, the seraphim in our text, cover their eyes and their feet in the presence of God’s glorious holiness. Sinful humans don’t stand a chance. Unless God does something about it. We’re all undone, as Isaiah confesses, when we come into the presence of the holy God, unless God does something to solve our deadly predicament. And He does. He forgives our sins. He forgives, and He cleanses. He sends Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sins on the cross. He baptizes us into His thrice-holy Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, washing all our sins away. And He touches our lips with something spectacular from the altar, the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Son of God.

The Trinity is a ponderous mystery. Who can begin to speak of it? Is it not presumptuous for us sinners to speak about the very essence of the holy God? To be sure, it would be the height of presumption to think we understand, or even begin to comprehend, the mystery of God’s tri-unity. How can 1 Person + 1 Person + 1 Person = 1 God? They mystery of the Trinity defies mathematical equation. If you think you understand the Trinity, how God can be Three in One and One in Three, guaranteed, you’ve got it wrong, friend. Disastrous heresy has resulted from those who think they can understand the Trinity; for example, the Arians, who said that really only the Father is God, and that Jesus is a god, but not of the same substance as the Father. Or the Modalists, who said that God was only one person who appeared in three different masks, the Father in the Old Testament, the Son in the Gospels, and the Holy Spirit ever since. The Arians preserved the three Persons of God, but denied the unity. The Modalists preserved the unity of God, but denied the three Persons. These are heresies, false teachings about God’s essence, that resulted from human beings believing they were capable of comprehending God. God has not given us to comprehend His essence. We sinners think God owes us an explanation about anything and everything we want to know. The truth is, He owes us nothing. What He gives us, He gives us by grace, without our merit or worthiness. He gives it as an undeserved gift. And it’s okay that He doesn’t give us to understand everything. It’s okay that He doesn’t give us to comprehend the mystery of the Holy Trinity. It is enough that He has given Himself to us to believe in and trust. And He has revealed Himself in Christ and in the Holy Scriptures as our God, who loves us, and wants to have eternal communion with us.

And on the basis of His revelation in Christ and in Holy Scripture, there are things that we can know about God. In Christ, we know Him to be the God who saves. We know Him to be a God of love who provides for our forgiveness and salvation: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16; KJV). We know Him to be a self-giving God, for our Lord Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23; ESV) to be crucified for our sins, and raised up for our eternal life. And from the Scriptures we know many of God’s works and attributes. God is the Creator of all. He is eternal, unchangeable, almighty (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), present everywhere (omnipresent), holy, just, faithful, good, merciful, gracious. He is all of these and more.[1] God is love (1 John 4:8). He is the God who loves us. He created us. He redeemed us. He sanctifies us and keeps us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. And yet, having said all of these things about God on the basis of His Word, we cannot say that we in any way comprehend Him. He is incomprehensible. He is beyond our finite understanding. We are not given to understand Him. But we are given to confess Him, and to praise Him.

Yes, because our sins have been taken away by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, our Savior, Jesus Christ, and because the body and blood that He gives on His altar has touched our lips to make us clean, we can speak about the incomprehensible Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He opens our lips, that our mouths may declare His praise (Ps. 51:15). As with Isaiah in our text, He cleanses us, cleanses our mouths, so that we can speak His Word. Now, Isaiah was given to be a prophet, a divine office given in the Old Testament to speak God’s Word by direct revelation. None of us has that office today. But as pastor and people, as the royal priesthood of believers, we are given, each of us in our various vocations, to confess God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to speak His Word to family and friends and neighbors and those whom God brings into our lives for this very purpose. We are given to praise Him, to speak forth the wonderful things He has done. That is what we do when we gather at the Divine Service to speak and sing the liturgy and the Psalms and hymns and prayers, all of it taken from Holy Scripture. This is just as mysterious as the Tri-unity of God, that sinners are declared righteous and made holy by God to speak of Him in confession and praise. It is by grace alone! We don’t deserve it. It is God’s gift to us in Christ.

“Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us” (Introit). That is where we are left in the face of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Simply to praise, and then to go out and confess. “Here am I! Send me” (Is. 6:8). And God sends you to speak of Him to one another and to the nations, to support the Church and her mission with your prayers and gifts, to teach your children at home, and here at church in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, to witness, to love and serve, and so to praise. For that is the praise our Triune God desires from you. To speak of Him to one another and to love and serve one another in His Name. He sends you, forgiven and cleansed, for this very purpose. The thrice-holy God sends you. You don’t understand Him. But you believe in Him. You trust Him. You confess Him. You praise Him. Because the Father created you and redeemed you by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, and has made you His own child by the new birth of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). You are baptized into Christ. You are baptized into the mystery of the Holy Trinity. And His very Name is on you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts” you will sing in a few moments in the Sanctus. And then you will come before God at His altar to receive the cleansing body and blood of Jesus in your mouth. Thus having been cleansed and strengthened by the Supper, you will go out, sent forth by God’s blessing, the one true faith confessing. You need not tremble at this, sinner though you be. Your guilt has been taken away, nailed to the cross of Christ. You belong to Him. You will not perish, but have eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Cf. Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis: Concordia, 1991). pp. 105-07.