Archive for the ‘Acts 2:22–36’ Category

The Triune God

Monday, June 17th, 2019

June 16, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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In last week’s Old Testament lesson we heard the account of the Tower of Babel. In that account God made the point that humanity basically uses our imagination to think of more evil things to do.  One example would be the wide variety of gods and religions that man has created to take the place of the One True God.

Some religions teach that everything is god and god is everything.  If you take everything in the universe – all the humans, planets, stars, galaxies, alien creatures, dirt clods, etc., throw it all together and what you get is god. This is called pantheism,the belief that everything is just one, big, all-encompassing god. Some examples of this are American-Indian tribal beliefs, Pagan and Wiccan beliefs.

Then there is the belief that there are many gods who rule over the universe. This is called polytheism. There is a god for love and a god for war. There are gods in charge of the rain, the sun, the moon, the stars, and everything you can think of. Since there are lots of gods, sometimes they don’t always get along that well, so there is an opportunity for conflict between the gods. That is the reason that the mythologies of ancient civilizations provide us with so many interesting stories. Some examples of polytheism are Greek, Roman, and Viking mythology beliefs.

Monotheismis the belief that there is one and only one god who is separate from the universe, but who created it and still maintains it.  The monotheistic religions that come from mankind’s imagination all teach that God is one in substance AND one in person.  Islam is an excellent example of such a monotheistic religion.

Atheism, on the other hand, teaches that there is no god. In reality, the atheist has a god.  The atheist’s god is his or her own self.  In order to assert that there is no god the atheist must believe that there is no fact hidden anywhere in the entire universe that would lead him or her to believe that there is a god.  The atheist stands in judgment over the entire universe and declares that he or she knows enough about everything to conclude that god does not exist.

This idea that ‘I am the center of the universe and the rest of the universe is here to serve me’ is centered in our sinful human nature. The basic foundation of our sinful nature is our firm belief that we are the most important being here and in any other universe.

The only true religion, Christianity, is a considered by most a monotheistic religion, but Christianity is different from all other religions in the fact that Christianity is the only religion that teaches that God is one in substance, but three in person.

The early church spent a lot of time talking about the nature of God.  The Bible clearly teaches that God is a community of three persons in one substance.  Although the Bible teaches this, it does not give simple, easy terms for teaching or talking about this God who is three persons in one substance. The Bible does not even give us the terms personor substance.  It took a long time for the early Christians to wrap their heads around just what it was that Christ had taught them concerning the One True God. Eventually, someone came up with the words “triune” and “trinity” to describe the mystery of one God in three persons.

I don’t know who came up with the word “trinity” and what the exact circumstances were that caused that person to use the word, but the word “trinity”gives a name to a teaching that is found in the Bible.  So although the words “trinity”and “triune”are notfound inthe Bible, the teaching that they describe is a very important teaching ofthe Bible.  So, we Christians can now refer to the One True God as the Triune God.  And as traditional Christians, we set aside a Sunday each year to celebrate and focus on the idea that the one true God is Triune … we call it Trinity Sunday.  It is the namesake of our beloved church.

The Bible readings chosen for today are full of good teachings.  We don’t have time to cover them all, but today, on Trinity Sunday, we will concentrate on what it means when we teach that God is one substance, but three persons … the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In order to understand today’s Gospel lesson more fully, we need to go back into the Old Testament and visit a bush – a burning bush to be more precise.

One of the events that we associate with Moses is his encounter with a burning bush, a bush that was on fire, but the fire did not consume it.  It turned out that God used this burning bush to call Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.  In the middle of this conversation, God told Moses His name.  It reads, Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am’ has sent me to you.’”(Exodus 3:13–14)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus was debating with the Jewish authorities.  Jesus said,“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”(John 8:58)  Jesus is not using bad grammar here.  Instead, He is saying, “I am the God who spoke to Moses through the burning bush.”  This is not the kind of thing you say in a crowd of devout Jewish men in first-century Israel; these are the kind of words that would get you killed.  The last verse of the Gospel lesson confirms this, “So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”(John 8:59)The Jewish authorities were going to stone Jesus because he claimed to be God.

Now Jesus claimed to be God, but which person of God is He?  Jesus gave an answer to that as well, just a few verses earlier.  He said, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’(John 8:54)

Here Jesus identifies Himself as God, the Son of God, the Father.  So all we’re missing is the third person of the Triune God. Where can we learn about Him?

There are plenty of places in the Gospel accounts where Jesus taught about God, the Holy Spirit, but if we stick to the readings chosen for today, the clearest mention of the Holy Spirit is in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost.  Toward the end of the sermon, Peter said, “32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32–33)Here we see the Father exalting the Son and the Son pouring out the Holy Spirit on His church.

From this, we learn that although no one person in the Trinity is before or after the others, they all have a role in our salvation.  The Father sends the Son into the world, the Son redeems the world, and the Holy Spirit gives that redemption to the world through the gift of faith.  The three persons of the One True God work together in perfect harmony to bring salvation to us.  The salvation that they provide is the other unique thing about the One True God.  Our salvation depends entirely on God, each and every person of the Triune God.

Without the salvation that the Triune God brings to us, we would all be lost. Each one of us sins daily in thought, word, and deed.  Instead of loving God above all things, we love ourselves above all things.  Instead of honoring God’s name with our mouths, we bring shame to it.  Instead of eagerly and joyfully hungering for His word, we despise its teaching. Instead of honoring those in authority, we find ways around authority.  While we may not draw blood, our unkind words and our hateful thoughts have murdered, never the less.  As we confessed earlier in this service, we all deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.

Fortunately, we are not without the salvation that the Triune God brings. God, the Father sent His only Son into the world to take on our mortal flesh.  God, the Son not only took our human flesh to Himself, but He also took all our sin upon Himself.  And the Son of God took our sin with Him to the cross, where He and the Father conducted a terrifying transaction.  In a way that we cannot ever understand, God, the Father turned away from our sins in disgust.  The result was so horrible that God, the Son cried out from the cross, “My God!  My God! Why have your forsaken Me?”(Matthew 27:46) What a terrible punishment that must have been that caused the Son to cry out that way.  How horrible it must have been for the Father to inflict that pain on His own beloved Son.

Thatis the punishment that our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, endured for us.  ByHimenduring that punishment for us, the Son of God made absolutely certain wewould never have to be punished in that way. God the Father gives us His grace for the sake of God the Son.  With Hissacrifice, God the Son earned salvation, forgiveness of sin, and eternal life for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or ever will live.

That wonderful salvation, full of mercy and grace, does us absolutely no good if it is not delivered to us.  That is the role of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit brings God’s gifts to us.  The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to create and sustain faith in us. He does this as we read, hear, and study God’s Word.  He also does that when we experience that mercy and grace in the waters of our Baptism… and when we receive it with the true body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.

Even people who do not believe have forgiveness set aside, waiting for them. It’s like it’s on lay-away, waiting for the day when the Holy Spirit brings them to life and works faith in them. When that happens, they too will experience the love of the Triune God.  They too, will look forward to the day when they see God face-to-face in eternity.

But for those who reject that faith and forgiveness, and continue to reject it until the day they die, they will never experience the sweet salvation that the Triune God has for us.  That salvation will remain unused.  They will not receive the benefits of the great love that our God has for them. Instead, they will experience the full, dreadful terror that caused the Son of God to cry out on the cross.  They will spend eternity paying for their sins, not because God does not love them, but because they simply refused to accept God’s love.  They rejected the only gift that cantruly save them.

We poor sinners who have been blessed with the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit will receive this gift that only the One True God, the Triune God can give – the gift of salvation, the gift of forgiveness of sin, and the gift of eternal life

We receive those gifts by:
God, the Father’s mercy and grace for:
God, the Son’s sake through:
God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith.

Amen.