Sermon for the Holy Trinity, preached on Sunday, May 22, 2016, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
Last Sunday marked the end of the first half of the church year and today we begin the second half. We go from focusing on the events in Jesus’ life: His birth, death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven, to focusing on His teachings. We do this today by directing our attention to the great mystery of the Trinity, one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, and this God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is one with the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. He’s the pre-incarnate Wisdom of the Father, and before the Father ever said, “Let there be light,” Jesus was.
In our Gospel reading, the Jews questioned Jesus’ identity. They said He was a Samaritan, a man with a corrupted heritage, and they were certain He had a demon because He spoke the Gospel saying, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (Jn 8:51). The Jews couldn’t believe this claim because the greatest of the greatest, the most faithful Jews of history died. All the prophets died, and even their father Abraham died. Jesus responded by saying, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (Jn 8:56). Once Jesus said this, the Jews definitely knew Jesus was possessed because there’s no way Jesus could have seen Abraham. But Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:58). Hearing this, the Jews heard enough and they picked up stones to throw at Jesus because they considered His words blasphemous. Jesus just identified Himself as God, the great “I am” who spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Ex 3:14). By saying “I am,” Jesus identified Himself as God, one with the Father.
John also testifies to Christ’s oneness with the Father in the beginning of his Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:1-3). Jesus, the pre-incarnate Word was, and is, one with the Creator Father who brought all of life into existence.
The Old Testament reading from Proverbs (8:1-4, 22-31) puts it another way. With poetic language, wisdom is personified, and this Wisdom is none other than the pre-incarnate Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father. In our reading, He proclaims His presence at the beginning, when the heavens were established and the foundations were laid. He stood next to the Father like a master workman, a builder, and He daily rejoiced before the Father. He rejoiced in the inhabited world and His delight was the children of man.
Just take a moment and think about that. The delight of the pre-incarnate Wisdom, the delight of the “I am,” the delight of the Son of God is the lowly creature man. It wasn’t the beauty of the flowers, the strength of the beasts, or even the wonders of heaven, but it was man. We are Christ’s delight, He finds joy in us, in you. In all of creation, you’re the most precious thing to Him, and that’s why the Son of God became man, to be your Redeemer.
Every Sunday we confess it together, whether it’s with the words of the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed, or with the Athanasian Creed that we say today, we confess the incarnation of God’s Son. Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus is fully God and fully man. Christ humbled Himself and was born in the likeness of men. This likeness wasn’t a similarity, but a sameness. He was the same as you in every way. He was flesh and bone, He hungered and thirst, He suffered physically and He felt the full range of emotions that you do: happiness and joy, sadness and mourning. Jesus become man and was like you in every way, except one...He was without sin.
Christ was perfect. He followed all the 10 Commandments, He obeyed the Father’s will. He was born without original sin having been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was sinless and the only man to walk this earth who was so, and He had to be, so that He could die on the cross and atone for all our sin.
If Christ wasn’t fully man, He couldn’t have died on the cross, and if He wasn’t fully God, His sacrifice would be useless. But because He’s 100% God and 100% man His death saves you from sin. He paid the penalty for it. Christ is your Redeemer, your Lord who frees you from death, and He gives you new life. He promised this to you when He said “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death” (Jn 8:51).
This word is the word of the Gospel, the Good News of salvation in Christ alone. This word is life changing, it’s life giving, but it’s also a word that’s counter-intuitive. It goes against common thinking. It’s a word that we can’t keep on our own. So, Jesus has given us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, He told His disciples that He would send them the promise of the Father (Lk 24:49). He did this on Pentecost, and having received the Spirit, the disciples were enabled to proclaim the Word of Jesus in different languages. We heard Peter’s Pentecost sermon in our second reading today (Acts 2:14a, 22-36). With the help of the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly preached Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension to the people of Jerusalem, and the Holy Spirit worked through this preaching, and He created faith within 3,000 souls that day.
In the same way, the Spirit creates faith in you. Through the hearing of God’s Word, He gives you trust in that Word, trust in Christ Jesus your Savior. We confessed this truth together last week when we said, “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The Helper gives you faith and keeps you in it. Through the continual hearing of Scripture, through the continual eating and drinking of Christ’s true body and blood, the Spirit strengthens your faith, enabling you to confess who Jesus is, enabling you to call Him Lord, and enabling you to keep His Word.
The mystery of the Trinity is difficult for us to understand. Our rational finite minds are incapable of fully grasping it. We can’t explain how our one God is Triune; and yet, He is. This is the truth, and we have faith in this truth because the Spirit has given us this faith. This faith confesses the one God in Three Persons. This faith confesses who Jesus is: the only-begotten Son of God, and our Savior from sin and death. And this faith confesses and looks forward to the everlasting life that Christ has promised us. In Jesus’ name...Amen.