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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
We tend to take for granted the belief that there is only one God. And of course, that belief is true; that’s what we’ve come to learn and know from God’s Word–it is written, “The Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deut. 6:4). But apart from Scripture fallen mankind has more commonly held to the pagan belief in many gods. I was reminded of that earlier this week watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster at the theater with its references to Greek mythology and Greek gods. Fallen man has tended to believe that there are different gods for different areas of life and of the world–the god of the sea, the god of war, the goddess of love and fertility, and so on. Pagan people believed that they would have success in battle, or better health, or increased wealth if they did the right religious things to cause the gods to bless them.
Still today, there are those who give reverence to the spirits of trees and animals and mountains as if they were divine, or will pray to their ancestors as if they were gods. This, by the way, is why we reject praying to the saints. Looking to them for guidance and calling on them for help in this or that area of life is nothing else than a dressed-up version of the old paganism.
And when we talk about belief in only one God, we’re not merely talking about some generic higher power, some impersonal universal force that we can tap into spiritually somehow. That is the way of Hinduism and new age belief–that in reality we all are gods, we all are little pieces of the one divine soul of the universe. What a great deceit the devil works, making people think they’re spiritual and wise while they basically worship themselves.
You’ll notice in all of these false religions that there is a common theme, namely that the divine, the “gods” end up being just a projection of human beings on a higher scale, just a more powerful version of ourselves. The gods are made in man’s image in other words, or sometimes even in the image of animals and other created things. St. Paul speaks of this in Romans 1, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man–and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves”–notice how idolatry and sexual immorality are connected–“(they) exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” In the end this is what all idolatry is: serving creation--money, pleasure, family, sports--above the Creator.
This is why we have Trinity Sunday, so that we can take a moment to get all of this right. For it is only by God’s own revelation of Himself in His Word that we come to know the truth of who He is. Apart from the Word, we can know that He exists and that He’s powerful; but sin so clouds our minds and hearts that we cannot know Him rightly; the truth is inevitably distorted and we are drawn into devilish deceit. In fact Scripture specifically says that the worship of gods other than the Holy Trinity is worship offered to demons (1 Cor. 10:20).
We believe in the God who is not simply a higher version of ourselves, not a stronger creature, but One who is beyond creation: God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things, visible and invisible, and in His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The one, true God is triune–one divine Being in three Divine Persons, Trinity in Unity; three distinct Persons, yet not many gods but only one God. It’s not something you can fully explain–how could you ever expect to fully understand the almighty and eternal God? You can only believe and confess His Word.
You may try to picture the Trinity, but be careful. No analogy really works completely. Some compare the tri-unity of God to the three phases of water–solid ice, liquid water, gaseous steam. Liquid, ice, and steam are three forms of one thing, water. However, God exists as all three at once; He’s not the Father sometimes and the Son sometimes and the Holy Spirit sometimes, like water. He’s all three all the time from all eternity, as at the baptism of Jesus, for instance. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit aren’t temporary modes or phases or roles of God. They are three distinct, eternal persons in the one Godhead.
Mathematics and geometry offer a little help. The triangle has three distinct legs. Take away any leg, and you no longer have a triangle. The cube has three dimensions; lose any one dimension and you no longer have a cube. But that still makes the persons of the Trinity only part of God rather than fully possessing the divine essence. My favorite analogy is the simple equation: 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. But at the end of the day, probably the best thing we can do is simply confess what the creeds say on the basis of Scripture and leave it at that.
First of all, God reveals Himself as Father. Now there are some who try to say that since God is incomprehensible, it doesn’t matter whether we refer to Him with masculine or feminine terms. You can call Him “mother” if you want. “After all, He’s not literally male,” they say. To which we respond, “Um, actually, yes He is, in Christ Jesus, who is a literal male.” But there’s something else, too. We don’t call God Father because He’s like human fathers. It’s the other way around. Fatherhood on earth comes from the eternal Fatherhood of God. As Father, God is the source of all things; He is the head, the provider, the protector, the One who is full of goodness and mercy. When people try to apply “mother” language to God, inevitably feminine concepts like the cycles of the earth and the circle of life enter in, which again are really nothing other than paganism and the worship of creation rather than the Creator.
No, we should only name God with the Triune Name He has given us. He is the Father who begets the Son who sends the Spirit; and He is the Spirit who proclaims the Son who brings us to the Father. If you think about it, we come to know the Trinity in reverse order like that: the Holy Spirit teaches us of Christ our Savior making us children of the heavenly Father. In love for this dying world the Father sends His beloved Son into the world, conceived in our flesh by the Holy Spirit to restore us to life.
Now I think it’s important for me to make a particular point about this here: not everyone who believes that there is only One God has the same God as we do unfortunately. Our Jewish and Muslim neighbors are not worshipers of the Trinity, and therefore they have a different god. They don’t even worship the Father. Jesus was very clear about this when He said, “He who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16). Since Jesus is God, if someone does not worship Him as God, sadly they have a different and false god.
But as today’s Gospel reading said, Jesus main purpose in coming into the world was not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. And so the Son is lifted up, like the bronze serpent that Moses put on the pole to save the snake-bitten camp of Israel. You recall how the Israelites grumbled against God because of their wanderings in the wilderness; they complained and moaned about the manna they were given to eat–just as we so often can be discontented with how God provides for us, wanting something different, something more. But Jesus was lifted up with our sin on the cross, lifted up from the grave, lifted up to the right hand of the Father. Looking in faith to this lifted up Jesus, who became sin for us, we become the righteousness of God and live in Him.
Jesus on the cross is the antidote, the antiserum for the venom of sin and death. The way antiserum is made is by exposing something to the poison, and when it survives you draw antiserum from it. Jesus was willingly exposed to the poison of our sin in His death on the cross. He drank in that poison, surviving and conquering it, rising from the dead to be the antidote of death itself.
Think about that! What if you had a vial that contained the cure for every disease known to man–AIDS, cancer, heart disease, paralysis. There actually is such a thing. It has a label on it that reads “Jesus Christ crucified for your sins and raised for your righteousness.” And it’s all yours for free. You don’t need approval from your primary care physician. You don’t need health insurance. It is all there for you for free in the word of absolution, in the water of your Baptism, in the bread that is Christ’s body and the wine that is His blood. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus to be the medicine of immortality, that whoever believes in Him by the working of the Holy Spirit will not perish but have everlasting life. That’s the Trinitarian love of God for you.
That Trinitarian love was given to each of you at the font (as it was this day for Madeline) by water and the Spirit. That’s creation language there, when the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters in the beginning and brought life to the world. That’s what the Holy Spirit is doing still today, bringing new creation and new life to fallen human beings through water and words.
Jesus put it by saying that you must be born again. Your first birth was a still birth, spiritually speaking. All the sins that bug you, or that don’t bug you, those are the symptoms of your still birth. You may have been a perfectly healthy baby, but you were born into the sin and death of your father Adam. And you can’t fix it or reform yourself. You must die and rise. You must be born from again, from above, of water and the Spirit. Your first birth made you a mortal child of Adam. Your new birth in Jesus makes you an immortal child of God. You are in Christ, and so you are a new creation. The old is gone; the new has come. Sin is past, righteousness and resurrection are yours. You are a member of God’s family. Jesus the Son invites you to pray with Him, “Our Father.” And the Holy Spirit helps you in your weakness, making intercession for you with groanings too deep for words.
This is why we joyfully confess the doctrine of the Holy Trinity today. For it is our very life; He is our very life. This is why we hold tenaciously to Scriptural confessions of faith like the Athanasian Creed and reject anything that is contrary to it. It’s not out of an arrogant intellectualism. Rather, we know that this is the only true God who is love; this Jesus is the only one who is the way, the truth, and the life. And no one comes to the Father except through Him. Here’s the only medicine that can heal you. All the others are just quacks. Ultimately it is out of love for our neighbor that we reject all false religion, so that they may know and believe the saving truth of the Holy Trinity–the Father who reaches out to us fallen creatures in mercy, whose Son takes on our nature and bears our judgment and saves us, whose Holy Spirit delivers to us all the saving gifts of Christ in the preaching of the Gospel and the holy supper. It’s all from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit; and back again in the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. This is our God. This is our Lord. We desire no other.
Blessed, then, be the Holy Trinity and the Undivided Unity: let us give glory to Him because he has shown mercy to us! For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.