Sunday, May 22, 2016
Last week, on Pentecost, we heard the first portion of Peter’s sermon that day to the crowds in Jerusalem, and how God was establishing a new covenant people, a new Israel, and calling and choosing people from all places and nations and ethnicities to be His treasured and chosen ones. Today, Trinity Sunday, the Gospel reading brings us the conclusion of that sermon, where Peter proclaimed the Jesus was both the Messiah and God incarnate, and that there’s life in His name for all who believe.
How then, does this fit with the doctrine of the Trinity? And just what is the doctrine of the Trinity, that we celebrate and confessed today? The Trinity is this – there is one God of three distinct persons, each of whom is equal with the others, all of whom are fully God.
Where did this doctrine come from? It came from the Apostles and the early church, based on the truth of God and Jesus in the Scripture. This is why we say, “We have received the true faith from the Apostles.” It’s the Apostles who were witnesses to Christ, His ministry, His death, and His resurrection. As Peter said in His sermon, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (verse 32).
After Peter’s sermon, there were 3,000 baptized that day. Three thousand! For they heard the Gospel of Christ, and the Spirit worked repentance in their hearts. And they had faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. The Church started with a big bang, and the church continued to grow. But it wasn’t long before some people had other thoughts about Jesus, and who He was and is. Here we’re not talking about those who didn’t believe, those who rejected Him. But those who claimed to be Christians. They no longer believed in the same Jesus that the Apostles had taught, in the Jesus testified to in the Scriptures.
You see, there were those who believed that God was one, and only one. No persons. No Trinity. No Father, Son, Holy Spirit. There was just God. That’s it. They then tried to say that when the Scripture say, “Father,” or “Son of God,” or “Spirit” that God was merely appearing in that way at that time. That God sometimes showed up as Father, and then appeared as the Son, and other times as the Spirit. But it was just the same one God. Just like a man, can be a son, a husband, and a father. Three different names, three different roles, but all the same guy. Or the way that water can be ice, or water, or steam. It’s all the same water, just different modes or forms. And we still have false religions teaching this today. It’s usually called Unitarianism or sometimes Unity. These people were all about the number One.
Then there were those who said yes, they were three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But they said, it’s only the Father who is truly God. Jesus, is the Son of God, and He was created by the Father, they claimed, and then the Father and Son together created the world and the universe. So, Jesus was like-God, almost God, a kind of God. But not fully God in the same way that the Father is. They weren’t equal. Same too, they said, of the Spirit. He was just a tag-along. So they had three, but they didn’t have Trinity.
Now all of this was going on in the fourth century. And all of the bishops came together in a church council at Nicea in 325. Here they wrote most of the Nicene Creed. But what they wrote was not enough to end the claims of those who said Jesus was just “god-like.” So 76 years later, in 381, the Emperor called all the bishops together again at Constantinople. And now finally, the false teaching of about a “god-like” Jesus was ended, and they finished the Nicene Creed, almost as we have it today.
Open your hymnal to page 191. There you’ll find the Nicene Creed. Look at the second article, about Jesus. See how it says, “very God of very God, which means true God of true God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father?” Those words are in the creed to show that Jesus was truly and completely God, not just God like. And that there are three persons in the Trinity, not just one unitary God force.
Well, okay. But Pastor, does it really matter whether God is unity or God is trinity. One person or Three persons. I mean, if you believe in Jesus, that’s what counts, right? Well, you see, what you believe about God, about the Trinity, has a direct effect on what you believe about Jesus. While a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, a false Jesus by the same name, “Jesus” is still false. So, how then are these connected? Trinity and Jesus.
If you believe that there is just a Oneness, just God, then when Jesus died did the Father also die? And if the Father died, who raised Jesus from the dead? And if when Jesus died, He was the man Jesus only and only an “appearance” of this oneness God, how can His death accomplish anything? For mere men die every day.
Ok. I’m with you on that oneness stuff. I mean, it’s easy to see that it’s wrong. Just look at the many times Jesus mentions, “My Father”. Is He talking to Himself? That’s what happens with oneness. So that is out. But these other people, maybe they are on to something. I mean, the Bible says, “Son of God” lots of times, and I cannot find “Trinity” in the Bible. Maybe they have a point.
The word, “Trinity” is not in the Bible, but the truth of the Trinity is there. If Jesus is only God-like, then what did His death do? Only the death of the eternal God, unlimited by time and space, would be powerful enough to reach through all time and space, across the centuries and across the miles from Jerusalem to Willowick, from then until now, to you and to me, to Christians everywhere, and those gone before us and those yet to come.
It’s this Jesus and this Trinity, that Peter preached about that day. What did he say? “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Both Lord and Christ? Yes. Christ means Messiah. God’s chosen and anointed One. And if Jesus were only the Messiah, then one might argue He was a great prophet but not God. However, Peter says that Jesus is both Lord and Christ. Lord. God eternal. Jesus is 100% man and 100% God. Not mostly God. Not God-like. God.
Peter talks about the whole Trinity in the verses before. “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” Jesus, who was raised by the Father, is exalted to the Father’s right hand. For the Father to share His glory with the Son would be impossible and wrong, were the Son not also God, but only god-like. This is why Peter quotes from King David, “The Lord said to My Lord, sit at My right hand.” Meaning, The Lord, the Father, said to my Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, sit at My right hand. Jesus is True God.
And we see that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son. Having received the promise of the Spirit from the Father, so Jesus received the Spirit from the Father, and He has poured out the Spirit. Look back at the Nicene Creed, in the third Article, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, …, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The word Trinity is not in the Bible, it’s a theological term. But the truth of the Trinity surely is.
I see that the doctrine of the Trinity and the person of Christ, that He was truly God, are connected. But what does that all mean to me?
It means this. That you and I can be completely assured of our salvation in Christ. It’s only Christ, the Son of God, who suffered and died for us. But our salvation is the work of the whole Trinity. And it’s all right there in Peter’s sermon. He said, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death.” We know that the sacrifice of Jesus is acceptable to Father because it was the plan of the Father, and the Father who raised Him. We know that His sacrifice is sufficient for all people, reaching to you and me, because Jesus is truly God. As Peter says, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” And we know that we have fully received this gift of salvation. A new car can be paid for, but a paid receipt alone won’t get you anywhere. You have to have the title and the keys, it has to be delivered. Our salvation is not just paid for, but has been delivered to us. “Be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We have received the Spirit sent by the Father and the Son. Because the Holy Spirit is God, we can be certain that He will perfectly deliver salvation to us. No slip-ups. No mistakes. All is provided for.
In a few moments ago we confessed the Anathansian Creed. It has two parts. First about the Trinity, then about Christ and that He is true God and true Man. The doctrine of the Trinity can seem obscure. But it’s not unnecessary or optional. It’s not just theological talk. In the Trinity, through Christ – the real Christ- we have life and salvation. That’s why the last line says, “one cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully.” For the Triune God is the true God who truly saves. Amen.