The Mysterious Comfort of the Holy Trinity

** To listen to the sermon, please click here The Feast of the Holy Trinity **

Bulletin: 2016-05-22 The Feast of the Holy Trinity

Text: Is. 6:1-8; Jn. 3:1-17; The Creed

“Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity – a day set aside to focus not on an event in Christ’s life, but a teaching. Most of the other Church holidays celebrate a part of Christ’s life (such as Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost), but today we focus on a dogma of the Church, a doctrine that has been held by all Christians since Adam.

Just a few moments ago we recited the Athanasian Creed. It’s probably most well known for being the longest of the three creeds. But, it’s also one of the best and most clear opportunities we get to confess our faith in the Triune God, the Living God of the Bible. In our time, because of its length, this creed usually gets confined to Trinity Sunday, but in times gone by it was the regular creed to be confessed on Sundays. In fact, that’s how Trinity Sunday came to be. It’s not celebrated because a bunch of pastors got together and decided to hammer people with one of the hardest teachings there is, but because the lay people wanted to talk and hear about the Trinity. At first, the pastors resisted, but I’m glad the day took root.

The Trinity is not something that we’re going to fully understand this side of heaven. It’s just not going to happen. In the new creation our minds will be restored to what they were created to be in Eden and we will know God fully even as we are fully known, like St. Paul says. Nevertheless, we can still believe and confess the doctrine of the Triune God from Scripture, which is vitally important. It’s important, because as the Creed said, you cannot be saved without believing in the Triune God. It doesn’t say you must totally understand it, but we must believe it, for the Triune God is who is revealed to us in the Scriptures. But, I think there’s another reason why the doctrine of the Trinity is important, and it’s what I’d like for us to take away today. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is the foundation of our faith and it comforts us in every distress.

I.

It is true, however; you will not find the word “trinity,” in the Bible. Not because the doctrine isn’t there, but because the word “trinity,” simply didn’t exist. There were no false teachings floating around that called the Triune God into question, so the Church never had to say anything other than, “We believe in one God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” But, after Christ, many false teachers popped up – just like He said would happen – and they began to call our belief in God into question, particularly how Jesus was God, and then also the Holy Spirit. This is when the language of trinity started to appear; the word simply means “three.” Or, in the context of the Creed, “three-in-one.” We believe in one God, who exists eternally in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – The Triune God. We get this from Jesus when He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The First Person of the Trinity is the Father. Though all three persons are to be prayed to, we most often pray to the Father. We call Him Father because that is the language that Jesus gives us. For a number of weeks we were in John 15 and 16, where Jesus repeatedly taught that He was going to the Father. Jesus also says after the resurrection, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.” There are many other places we could go, but for the sake of time we will leave that ‘till later. As I said in the beginning, the mystery of the Trinity is the foundation of our faith and it comforts us in every distress; so how does our understanding of God the Father comfort us?

As we confess in the Small Catechism, we ascribe to the Father the work of creation and preserving creation. That isn’t to say that the Son and Holy Spirit aren’t involved in those, just that when we talk about the Creator we are often talking about the Father. We confess that it is God our Father who forms us in our mother’s womb. Psalm 139 says that God knits together our inward parts. The Father is the one who provides us with food and drink, house and home, land and animals, and all that we need to support this body and life. Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount that we don’t need to be anxious about these things, for our Father in heaven knows what we need and will provide. Why does God the Father provide these things for us? Because He loves us. That is the comfort of believing in God the Father – we have a God that we can call, and truly is our Father, who loves us and takes care of us.

II.

We also believe in God the Son. The Son is Jesus, our Lord and Savior. In our Gospel today we have one of the verses that teaches us about the Second person of the Trinity. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” We have a clear picture of Christ and His work in the New Testament. Repeatedly, He calls God His Father, and teaches that He and the Father are together one God with the Holy Spirit. In John’s Gospel Jesus even shows that He was the one who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. King David speaks the Father’s words to Jesus in the psalms when he wrote, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool,’” and again,  “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’” Those words we know from Jesus’ Baptism.

How does the doctrine of God the Son comfort us? Hopefully you answered that question before it finished. We believe that God created all that there is, both visible and invisible. He created everything perfect, but creation rejected Him and fell into sin through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. As a result of the Fall, each and every human being is born corrupted by sin, with the desire to sin and despise the things of God. Since God is holy and righteous and cannot tolerate sin, He has vowed to judge sin and pour out His wrath against all sinners at Christ’s Return. But if God is a God of righteousness, then He is also a God of love and mercy. That is why He sent His Son.

We recognize the Son of God as our redeemer. The Second Person of the Trinity took our human nature upon Himself – not by turning from God into man, but by bringing humanity up into Himself. By becoming man Jesus took upon Himself our frailties and weaknesses, our sinfulness and the wrath and displeasure of God against our sin, and He died on the cross for us. This is our comfort, for because of Christ, we are at peace with God. Our sins are forgiven, and through His blood we will enter eternal life. The doctrine of the Second Person of the Trinity also comforts us because it teaches us that when we suffer in this life, we don’t suffer alone. Our God suffers with us. He is with us in every affliction and trial, every distress and tribulation. And, rather than sit off in the heavens doing nothing about human pain and suffering, our God does something about it. He took on flesh to be one with us in our suffering, so that we can be one with Him in His life.

III.

We also believe in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not just a power, energy, or force, but is fully God and Lord with the Father and the Son. One God in Three Persons. The Spirit should be fresh in our minds. Last week we celebrated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles to preach in many different languages and to the ends of the earth. Before that, we spent half the Sundays in Easter in the chapters of John where Jesus speaks most clearly about the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. The Holy Spirit is spoken of in the Old Testament as being present at Creation, “hovering over the face of the waters,” and speaking through the prophets. King David said on his deathbed, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; His word is on my tongue.” St. Peter says that all of the prophets spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And, what did the prophets prophesy about? Jesus.

That’s what the Holy Spirit’s job is, to point us to Christ and God our Father. The Holy Spirit is the one poured out on the Apostles’ to preach the Gospel and on every Christian through the preaching of the Word and in the Holy Sacraments. It’s His job to continually direct us to the Son of God who died for our salvation, and to help us by pointing us to the same. St. Paul wrote these familiar words to the Romans, “The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us…the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity, an opportunity to confess and praise the name of our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This mystery is the foundation of our faith and a great source of comfort. For, we do not have a God who is distant or uninvolved or uncaring. We have a God and Father who creates all things and provides for us in every need. We also have His only Son, our Lord, who has redeemed us from our sins and is with us in all trial. We also have God the Holy Spirit who speaks to us and points us to Jesus in the Word, and who comforts us through the Word and the Sacraments. So, as we sang, we have one God in three persons, the blessed Trinity. Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity: Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us. Amen.

Examination of Confirmands – 2016

** Audio for this sermon can be found here: https://www.spreaker.com/user/trinitystjohn/2016-05-11-examination-of-the-confirmand **

Text: John 15:26-27

The grace and mercy of our ascended Lord, Jesus Christ, be with you all – especially with you, Tristan and Avery. Tonight we gather to celebrate the gifts that we’ve received in Baptism (namely, the forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Spirit) and to bear witness to the same. The text for our meditation this evening is the teaching of Jesus from the Gospel reading this last Sunday,

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

In the Gospel for the Sunday after the Ascension Jesus is seeking to comfort the Disciples before His passion. Soon, He would be with them no longer. For three years the Disciples walked with Jesus. They received His teaching and witnessed His miracles day-in and day-out. On the mount of Transfiguration St. Peter desired to build tents and remain in Jesus’ glory, but the reality was that they had been witnessing it all along – each miracle a preview of heavenly joy and peace in the forgiveness of sins. But soon Jesus will be with them no longer. He will be betrayed, suffer, be crucified, and die. He will bear the intense hatred of the world. In the Gospel text Jesus is trying to comfort the Disciples, because He says,

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

This was a sobering moment for the Disciples. Jesus assured them that though the blessed future of heaven blooms bright on the horizon, clouds of suffering will mark the time in-between. First, suffering will come from the world. Perhaps no one knew this better than the Disciples, for each of them bore the hatred of the world, and most suffered martyrdom in terrible ways. Imagine going from witnessing the glory of Christ’s resurrection to the despair of your own imprisonment for the faith and upcoming departure (as Sts. Peter and Paul called it). Second, suffering will come from the devil who drives the hatred of the world for the true teaching of Christ’s Gospel.

Today though, you and I don’t suffer the hatred of the world in the same way the Disciples did. We don’t live in the fear of being stoned like Paul (who survived) or being crucified upside-down like Peter. But, we do share in the hated of the devil. He is the one who constantly inflames the world to fight against the Gospel of Jesus Christ with false teachings of all sorts. The devil also works against our consciences, either causing to us despair over sin, or to ignore the corruption that rots away within us when we ignore God’s Word. But, hear these words of Christ and take comfort, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

Our Lord very specifically and assuredly uses the word, “Helper,” to describe the Holy Spirit to us. He may also rightly be called the Comforter, for that is what the Holy Spirit does by proclaiming Christ to us. Jesus said to the Disciples that when He departs the world will hate them, but He will send them the Holy Spirit to help them. The Holy Spirit helps and comforts by pointing to the truth of Jesus Christ. All Jesus did, all He willed, all He suffered and endured, was for their sake. For their sins Jesus went to the cross. For the punishment and guilt they deserved for their transgressions, Jesus died. The same is true for us. Jesus died for you. And to you (and you, Avery and Tristan) the Holy Spirit has been given. We have all received the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism and through preaching of God’s Word, and through these same things He guides us into the truth of our salvation in Jesus.

 

Jesus spoke these words to the Disciples on the night of His betrayal, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” The key words this evening (and for this coming Sunday) are these, “You also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” These words apply primarily to the Disciples, who were with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry and were ordained by Him to preach His Word to the ends of the earth. But, they may also be spoken of our confirmands tonight. Both of them were Baptized as children, one on May 5th and one on November 28th. In the washing of Holy Baptism they received all the good gifts of the Holy Spirit: their sins were forgiven, they were rescued from death and devil and given eternal salvation; they were clothed in Christ’s righteousness and made children of God our heavenly Father.

Tonight and on Sunday, the time has come to bear witness to the work of the Holy Spirit among us. Our confirmation students have truly been with Jesus or rather,  (through Baptism) Jesus has been with them since the beginning. He has constantly been with them to strengthen them and comfort them in the forgiveness of their sins, and this week will lead them to bear witness. The Scriptures teach that no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit, therefore we are filled with joy to witness His work.

Tristan and Avery – I know that you’re probably very nervous right about now and will be on Sunday. But, you can know that we all as a congregation and as your family in Christ are very proud of you and we are praying for you. Each of us here shares with you the joy and salvation of Christ. As you prepare to make the good confession, I invite you to take these words of St. Paul to heart,

As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

A New Heart and a New Spirit

**The audio for this sermon may be found here:https://www.spreaker.com/user/trinitystjohn/2016-05-08-exaudi-sermon**

Text: Ezekiel 36:22-28

Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations…I will sprinkle clean water on you…and I will give you a new heart.” Such were the words of the Lord God that Ezekiel preached beside the Chebar canal in southern Babylon to anyone who would listen. The nation of Israel was his audience, which, during his ministry, was carried off into exile in a number of waves and ultimately destroyed through the Fall of Jerusalem. The ones standing immediately before him were the ones carried off to Babylon early in the exile and they had just heard that Jerusalem had indeed fallen. The walls were torn down and the temple destroyed. What hope could be left?

It is good that our fathers in the faith placed this text here in the lectionary, the Sunday between the Ascension and Pentecost. We heard from Jesus in the Gospel how the world will react after His Ascension. Some will claim to be worshipping God by killing Jesus’ disciples. St. Peter likewise reminded us in our Epistle not to be surprised when faced with trial and tribulation. In the Collect of the Day we prayed to our ascended Lord Jesus that He would not leave us without consolation, but send us His Holy Spirit. That is what God tells Ezekiel to prophesy about in our Old Testament text. God promised that He would do something marvelous. Even to those poor, dejected exiles, and to us in our suffering, God promised that He was actively at work to vindicate His name and remove their plight. From our text we’ll learn about God’s work, including the work of His Son. Today we’ll especially celebrate His work in Holy Baptism, for it is in the washing of Holy Baptism that God gives us the new heart and Spirit that He promises in our text.

  1.   

Before we go any further, we should talk a little bit about what’s going on in our text. Long story, short: Israel is in exile in Babylon. Now for the longer story: When we study the Old Testament we usually divide it up into two categories, the Law and the Prophets. We can also divide the Prophets into two categories, the Major and Minor Prophets. The Major Prophets are called that because their writings are longer (try reading the 66 chapters of Isaiah), the Minor because they’re shorter. Ezekiel is one of the Major Prophets with Isaiah and Jeremiah. The Fall of Jerusalem happened in 587 B.C. Isaiah prophesied about 100 years earlier. Jeremiah and Ezekiel preached at the same time around, during, and (in Ezekiel’s case) after the Fall of Jerusalem – Jeremiah in Jerusalem, and Ezekiel in Babylon.

Ezekiel prophesied to a people displaced and removed from their homeland. God gave the land of Israel to His chosen nation as gift promised to Abraham, but now they have been driven out of it because of their sinfulness. For generations God spoke to His people through the prophets that Jerusalem would fall unless they repent of their sin and be forgiven. Remember when God sent Jonah to Nineveh with that same message? Nineveh was a pagan city, and they repented and believed. But Jerusalem, the city of God, rejected Him. Instead of living in faithfulness to God and love toward one another, the people were altogether corrupt, hating each other and being hated in return, cheating everyone they could, worshipping false gods, and putting themselves first in all things. Even when they did come to worship God, it was tainted by sin and false pretense. God said through the mouth of Isaiah, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”

But, now, God says in our text, this is all going to stop. Israel’s uncleanness, its disregard for God and His Word led to the Fall of Jerusalem and the Exile – but even then it didn’t stop. The Fall was meant to lead to repentance, but instead, God’s name continued to be profaned. The nations surrounding Israel gloated at their demise rather than repent of their own sinfulness. And Israel, instead of being sorry for their sin, just continued to sin in Babylon. But now God has had enough. He is going to do something radical. He’s going to do something amazing to purify Israel from their iniquity and vindicate His name among the nations. What is He going to do? He’s going to send His Son. That’s what God is talking about in our text. Already His plan is in motion, just as He promised to Adam and Eve to send them a savior. This Savior would be the Son of God who would bear the weight of the world’s sin on the cross to redeem us from our guilt. And, not because we are particularly special or good or merit salvation, but as God says, “It is not for your sake…but for the sake of My Holy Name.”

In our text we get the joyous opportunity to touch on one of the distinctives of our Lutheran faith. We call them the Solas: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura. In our text we get a beautiful picture of God’s grace. Even in the mire of Israel’s iniquity, even in the despair of the exile – the just consequence of their sin – God promises to save. He promises to purify them from their sin and rescue them from death, not through any works of their own, but by His grace alone. God also promises in our text to save us and to cleanse us from our iniquity, and in fact He has through the washing of Holy Baptism.

  1.  

God says these beautiful words in our text, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove your heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you.” In the midst of their iniquity and sinfulness, their depravity and darkness, God promised to sprinkle His people with water, and this water will make them clean. That is what Baptism does. You might remember this question from the Small Catechism. “What Benefits Does Baptism Give? It works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.”

God promised to His people our text that He would sprinkle them with water and make them clean. In doing so He would remove their callous hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. And, this is what makes our text fitting for this Sunday, the Sunday after the Ascension. As He ascended into heaven, Jesus promised to put His Holy Spirit within His people. This happens in Holy Baptism when the Triune God puts to death the sinful nature within us and makes us new creations. In Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ’s death and burial, so that we too die to sin and rise to righteousness.

In our text from Ezekiel God promised to His people that He was going to vindicate His name. No longer would Israel’s sinfulness be in the spotlight. Instead, God is going to wash it away. He did this by sending His Son Jesus to die for the sin of the world, both for Israel in Ezekiel’s time and for us now. Then, in Holy Baptism, washes us clean. He rips out our hearts of stone and gives us beating hearts of flesh. In Baptism He gives us each His Holy Spirit. And what does the Holy Spirit do? Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “When the Helper comes…He will bear witness about me.” That is, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to make us Christians through the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments, and to keep us Christians through the same. And, having received a new heart of flesh and God’s Holy Spirit, we are led outside of ourselves.

In the washing of Holy Baptism, we are made new creations. We no longer live seeking to serve our own flesh and passions, but we live for those around us, serving those in need in response to the love we receive from Christ. That is what St. Peter exhorts us to do. This is how he said it, “Keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.”

This week we stand with the Holy Apostles. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, has ascended into heaven to be with us always and everywhere. Two thousand years ago the Apostles waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and we likewise are expecting Christ’s return. In our texts this week we learn about how God operates. He spoke through Ezekiel that He was going to vindicate His name and remove the iniquity of His people. He did this by sending His Son to die for the forgiveness of our sins, which He gives to us by grace alone. Then, in Holy Baptism He gives us clean hearts of flesh and puts His Holy Spirit within us. May He ever continue to grant us His Holy Spirit that we be led to live in love toward Him and our neighbor.