Blessed Be the Holy Trinity

Text: Creed

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways…from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”[1] St. Paul wrote this to the Romans after considering the mystery of salvation. God the Father sent forth His only-begotten Son into the flesh to suffer and die for the sins of the world. By this work, He accomplished salvation for His people. Those who are saved, He foreknew and elected to salvation by granting them the gift of faith – which itself is worked in human hearts through the Holy Spirit. This great grace and love of God is hard for us humans to understand, so St. Paul simply ends with a doxology – a hymn of praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today we celebrate the Festival of the Holy Trinity. This is a Sunday set aside for centuries to give praise to our glorious and awesome God by speaking specifically about this wonderful doctrine. The Christian faith is wrapped up into this doctrine: we worship one God who exists eternally in three persons. None is before or after another, none is greater or lesser than the other. Yet, there are not three Gods, but one God. Though human reason cannot understand, yet faith confesses that God has revealed Himself to us as a Trinity. Our salvation rests in Him alone.

I.

In our time together today, we want to confess both what we believe about the Trinity and why this doctrine is important. We’re going to do it backwards, though, and start with why faith in the Trinity is important. We’ve been spending a lot of time in the Easter season and Pentecost hearing from Jesus’ final words before His passion. Shortly before He was betrayed, in St. John’s Gospel there’s what is called the “High Priestly Prayer.” Right at the start of the prayer, our Lord prayed this, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”[2] Jesus breaks down for us what eternal life is. In addition to rescue from sin and death and living in eternal joy, eternal life is to know God and to be in fellowship with Him. To be in communion with God is to receive eternal life. Apart from knowledge of God, there is no life.

Therefore, God revealed Himself to mankind. He revealed Himself generally through nature and the conscience. But, so that man might know Him fully and thus receive salvation, God revealed Himself through the Scriptures. Through the Scriptures He has revealed Himself to be a plurality of persons, yet unity of substance. Trinity is the word we use to describe this. Trinity means, “three-in-one.” The Trinity is revealed to us throughout Scripture, but there are two passages which you probably already know. The first, “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.”[3] The second is from St. Paul, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”[4] Our Lord tells us to Baptize in the name of the Triune God, yet is also clear to confess that He and the Father are one God. You might’ve noticed last week in the Tower of Babel, how the one God spoke in the plural, as He also did at Creation.

II.

The first question to answer today is why we believe in the Trinity, and why are compelled to confess our faith. The answer to that is because to know God is to know eternal life. To not know Him is death. So that we might have life, the Lord revealed Himself to us in Scripture as one God in three persons. Scripture teaches us that we are saved by faith. But, faith saves not because it is a good work which merits righteousness. Faith saves because of its object. We are saved not because we have faith, but because of what our faith is in – namely, in God the Father who sent His Son and, who by the Holy Spirit has called us to faith.

Since we’re doing this backwards, the next question is what do we believe? We believe, as we’ve already said, “the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance…the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three God, but one God.”[5] This is the Christian faith. We believe in one eternal God, who exists in three persons. All three are God, all three are Lord. None are before or after another, none is lesser or greater than another. They differ in relation to each other in that the Father begat the Son, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. They differ in their work in that the Father primarily is the Creator, the Son the Redeemer, and the Spirit the Sanctifier. Yet, they are all active in each work as one God. You’re probably thinking that this is impossible for us to understand, and you’re right. Human reason cannot understand the Trinity. It can only and must be believed.

We believe in one God, three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. None are more God than the other, and none are less. There are some common misunderstandings when it comes to the Trinity. The first is what non-Christians sometimes charge us with, namely, that we are really polytheists – that we worship three gods. That is not true. We hold to the Scripture which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”[6]

On the other side are misunderstandings that were created within the Church, which the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds were written against. In order to preserve the oneness of God, some taught that the Son was, indeed, God – but was created by the Father. They said that there was a time when the Son did not exist. Others, taught that the three persons of the Trinity were just different masks that the one God put on. In other words, you could not have all persons of the Trinity in the same place at the same time. And still, others, which are today known as Unitarians, taught that the one God acts in three different ways, sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Spirit.

Against these teachings we believe the Scripture, such as at our Lord’s Baptism. Our Lord was in the water, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove. We believe the words of our Lord, who taught us to baptize in the one name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, we receive the words of angelic praise, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.”[7] We worship the God of our salvation, who has and always will exist in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

III.

As we’re nearing the close of this sermon, since we’ve answered why we should confess the Trinity and what we believe, we might ask, also, what comfort this doctrine brings. I would venture that the comfort that this doctrine brings is this: we have divinely transcendent God who far above all creation, whose ways are unsearchable, unknowable, and inscrutable – but who yet is also near and ever present in our lives and at work for our salvation. God the Father is the author and source of all life, He created all things and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He provides for us our daily bread and protects us from all evil. He sent forth His Son.

The second person of the Trinity became man. He did not change from God to man but brought humanity up into Himself. He suffered and died for the sins of the world. By His ascension, He is preparing our own ascension to His side and He continues to dwell among us by His Word and Sacrament. From Him and the Father, the Spirit proceeds. The Spirit works through the Word of the Son to call all people to faith. He creates faith in the hearts of those who hear the Word and works through the Sacraments to sustain them. The Spirit dwells even within our hearts and intercedes for us with the Son to the Father. He comforts us in our weaknesses and helps us to pray.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not something we’ll understand this side of eternity, but it is true, and our salvation depends on it. Jesus said eternal life is knowing God and knowing Him as He has been revealed by the Son through the Holy Spirit. We who have received that life, therefore, give all glory to the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.”


 

[1] Romans 11:33, 36, English Standard Version.

[2] Jn. 17:1-3.

[3] Mt. 28:19.

[4] 2 Cor. 13:14.

[5] Athanasian Creed, 3-4; 15-16.

[6] Deut. 6:4.

[7] Is. 6:3.

Neither Gone, Nor Forgotten

Text: Acts 1:1-11

“Gone, but not forgotten;” that’s what we might say when someone impactful on our lives is no longer accessible. Often, the phrase is found etched on headstones as reminder to us of those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. Implicit in this phrase – what is assumed – is that the person in question is now permanently separated from us. Their only influence upon us now is through our memories. That’s also what people say, “they live on in our memories.”

Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, but His separation from us is not like those who are separated by the grave. Rather, when Jesus was taken up into the cloud, He sat down at the right hand of God. From there, He continues to be present in all places, and especially where His Word is read or spoken, and His Sacraments are received. Our Lord’s ascension is part of His exaltation. He returned to the right hand of God to resume the glory that was His before the foundation of the world. Christ, our dear Lord, ascended to the right hand of the Father to rule over all things for our benefit, even as He continues to be with us in His Word and Sacrament until He comes again. He is not gone, and neither has He forgotten us.

I.

Today we celebrate, for Christ’s ascension is further proof that He defeated death and hell. By His death on the cross, He made payment for all the sins of the world. By His resurrection, He broke the bars and loosened the chains of death. As He now lives forever, so, too, will all those who believe in Him. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let us hear again from St. Luke. He wrote,

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.[1]

The Book of Acts is a continuation of St. Luke’s Gospel. Whereas the Gospel is primarily about the words and deeds of our Lord Himself, Acts continues the account of our Lord’s work through His Apostles. The reason we are celebrating Ascension today is because today is when it happened – 40 days after Easter. Our Lord Jesus Christ, after He had been raised from the dead, did not immediately ascend into heaven. Rather, He remained for 40 days. Some of the things He did, we’ve heard about already – how He appeared to the disciples even though the doors were locked and how St. Thomas felt the mark of the nails and spear. St. Luke also wrote that Jesus appeared to two disciples on the way to Emmaus. There was also a miraculous catch of fish after the resurrection. St. Paul wrote that Jesus once appeared to over 500 people at one time.[2]

Jesus remained those 40 days to provide definitive proof that He had, truly, defeated sin, death, and the devil. Imagine that you heard of someone claiming to have come back from the dead. Perhaps it would take you a while to believe, too. But, not only did Jesus prove by many acts that He was alive, He also continued to teach the disciples. A few weeks back we heard that Jesus had more things to teach them, but they couldn’t bear it yet. Now that their minds had been opened to understand the Scriptures, Jesus taught them all that was necessary. Then, according to St. Mark, “The Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”[3]St. Luke adds that two angels came and stood among the Apostles and said, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go.”[4]

II.

Thus far the narrative. Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning. He remained for 40 days to teach and prove that He was alive. Then, He ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. But, what does this mean? What does it mean that Jesus has ascended into heaven? For starters, “the right hand of God,” is not a placein the way that we use the word. When we say we’re in a place, we mean that we are fixed in a specific location. We cannot be in two placesat once. However, the right hand of God is figure of speech to describe how Christ has returned to His throne on high. Since Scripture tells us that God is everywhere, His throne extends over every place. Our Lord did not ascend to be away from us, but to be with us everywhere. He said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[5]

But, what is our Lord doing at the right hand of God? He’s not resting; He did that already in the tomb. Our Lord said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”[6]Our Lord ascended into heaven to rule over all things for the benefit of His Church. St. Paul said it this way, “[The Father] put all things under[the Son’s] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church.”[7]Our Lord, at His ascension, resumed the glory that He had before the foundation of the world. As the victor over sin, death, and hell, He rules over all things for our good. He blesses us and watches over us; He works all things together for our good and salvation.

And, not only does Jesus rule and watch over all things, but He is also the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, as we heard back on Good Shepherd Sunday. He intercedes for us before the Father in heaven. When Satan brings charge against us, Jesus pleads our case with His own blood. Our Lord prays for us. Just as an earthly priest prays for those in his care, Jesus – who is a priest forever – prays for us, we who have been united with Him in Baptism. He also watches over our souls by sending faithful pastors into all the world. He defends His Word from corruption and, by His Holy Spirit, continues to call and comfort us all in the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus also said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[8]That is, Jesus is also preparing our place in His presence in His eternal kingdom.

III.

When someone dies and is parted from us, we sometimes say they are “gone, but not forgotten.” In His Ascension, Jesus is not gone from us – for the right hand of God extends to every place. The Lord has said, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?[9]At the right hand of the Father, Jesus rules all things for our good, He prays for us, He prepares a place for us at His side. He is not gone in the Ascension, and neither has He forgotten us. Though His throne extends over all places, our gracious Lord has also left us His promise that there are specific places we can find Him. He has left us promises so that, though we know He is everywhere, we can know that He is herewith us.

Our Lord has said, “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.”[10]Though Christ can be and is everywhere, He has promised that where two or three are gathered in His name – He is there with them. It’s one thing to know that Christ is everywhere, but it is another to know that He is here. Even now. He is present wherever His Word is read or spoken, and He is present, also, in His Sacrament. On the night He was betrayed, our Lord gave us this most precious meal. We receive in, with, and under the bread and wine, the true body and blood of our Lord – the same which were broken and shed for us. In this sacred feast, Christ continues to be with us for our good, to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith.

Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms…if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”[11]Remember what the angels said to the Apostles; Christ, our Lord, will return to us in the same way He left. Someday soon, our Lord will return on the clouds. He will raise us and all the dead. Then, we and all believers in Christ will be gathered to His side to enter in both body and soul into the new creation.

Today we celebrate our Lord’s victory over death and the grave. His Ascension to the right hand of God is the capstone of His achievement. From the right hand of God, He rules all things for our good, He intercedes and prays for us, He prepares our place at His side. He is not separated from us, but is in all places and is with us where His Word and Sacrament are received. Soon, He will return on the clouds, that where He is, we may be also. Alleluia. Christ is risen.


[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ac 1:1–3.

[2]1 Cor. 15:6.

[3]Mk. 16:19.

[4]Acts 1:11.

[5]Mt. 28:20.

[6]Mt. 28:18.

[7]Eph. 1:22.

[8]Jn. 14:2.

[9]Jer. 23:24.

[10]Matt. 18:20.

[11]Jn. 14:2-3.

The Three Universal Creeds, Pt. I

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.[1]

A Brief History

In a way, the foundation for the Apostles’ Creed was laid down by Christ when He commissioned His Disciples, “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”[1] The Baptismal formula briefly indicates what Christ wants Christians to be taught, believe, and confess. The Apostles’ Creed is evidently an amplification of the Trinitarian formula of Baptism.

During the Medieval ages the Creed was known as the “Twelve Articles,” because they believe that the Apostles gathered together shortly after Pentecost to draft this confession. This is a legend, but it’s not super offensive. Nathanial confesses in John 1, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God,” Peter confessed, “We believe, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn. 6:69). Thomas confessed that Jesus was, “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28). These confessions came about through the demand of Christ, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is even heaven” (Matt. 10:32).

In light of these and similar passages, the formula prescribed by Christ required the candidate for Baptism to give a definite statement of what he believed concerning the things of God. Of Timothy it is said that he made, “the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Tim. 6:12) Right away it seems there acclamations such as, “Jesus is Lord.”[2] These became sort of a litmus test for identifying people as Christians.

Early Christian writers provide proof that from the beginning candidates for Baptism were required to make a confession of faith and there existed in the congregations a regular confession that was used, though we do not have the exact words. The way in which Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, and many others write suggests that some form of the Creed existed even in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Justin Martyr, who died in 165, writes in about 140, “Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third.”[3] Language such as this is also used by letters of Ignatius, who died in 107.

Tertullian, who died in 220, writes, “When we step into the water of Baptism we confess the Christian faith according to the words of its law.”[4] The language often used was “canon of truth.”[5] It seems that most congregations had a formula of the profession of faith, though not all were exactly the same. Instead, they were shaped by tradition as they were passed down. The oldest known form of the Apostles’ Creed is the one that was used in the church in Rome prior to 150, though we don’t have it quoted entirely until 331 by Bishop Marcellus of Ancyra in a letter to Bishop Julius of Rome, to show his orthodox faith.[6] It developed as the Church began using earlier Gospel acclamations and adding phrases to it to combat growing heresies.  The creed was originally in the form of question and answer, and Augustine, Ambrose, and Rufinus all testify that the Apostles’ Creed was developed in Rome.[7]

The complete text we have today dates to the 5th century and is first found in a sermon by Caesarius of Arles in France, about 500 A.D.[8] In Luther’s translation of the Creed, “Christian” was substituted for “catholic.”


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mt 28:19–20.

[2] Charles Arand, Robert Kolb and James Nestigen, The Lutheran Confessions: History and Theology of the Book of Concord, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012. 16.

[3] Friedrich Bente, Historical Introductions to the Book of Concord, St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1965. 20.

[4] Ibid., 21.

[5] Arand, 16.

[6] Bente, 23.

[7] Arand, 21.

[8] Bente, 24.

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 16–18.