The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Normally the great festivals of the Church remember God’s great saving acts for our salvation. For example, at Christmas we celebrate that God became also a true man and entered into our world; at Easter we celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the dead as the Victor of sin, death, devil and hell; at the Ascension we celebrate Jesus, now as both God and man, having completed His saving work, is now in heaven ruling over all things for the good of His Church; at Pentecost we remember Jesus, risen and ascended, sending His Holy Spirit to His Church to be with Her and to gather people into His kingdom, the Church, and so bring them the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and every heavenly and spiritual gift. These and others are the great saving acts of God that we remember throughout the Church Year. And that is one of the great blessings of having and following the Church Year calendar–we are yearly reminded of all that God has done to save us.
But today’s festival is different. It is not an event, but it is a doctrine–the doctrine of God. Really, it is the most fundamental doctrine of any religion: who/ what is the God that we worship? That’s what distinguishes one religion from another– the God that is worshiped. The Hindus worship one set of gods; the Jew worships another god; and the Moslem worships yet a different god. The Christian worships the holy Triune God. That’s what distinguishes the Christian God from the other gods. It is absolutely false to say/ believe that all religions worship the same God and just call Him by different names; that all religions lead to the one and same God. What makes Christianity Christianity is that we recognize and know that the one true God is Triune–that is, that He is one God and yet three different/ distinct Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Other religions recoil at that thought–Jews and Moslems, for example, say that Christians are Tri-theists–worshiping three gods. But, no, we worship one God who is three distinct Persons. And today we are brought again to this teaching and renewed in it: God is Triune–He is one God and yet 3 distinct Persons. Does that make sense to our reason: how can there be one God and yet 3 Persons? It doesn’t make sense to human reason, but that’s the teaching of Holy Scripture; and that’s what we in Holy Spirit-worked faith believe. That’s the God we worship and that’s what makes us Christians. Does the Jew, Moslem or Hindu worship the Triune God? Hardly! So we don’t all worship the same God.
It is not as if the Trinity is some “invention” of the Church. That there are distinct persons in the Godhead is literally already on the first page of the Bible [Gn 1.2; 26]: we have the Spirit of God…hovering over the face of the waters; we have God saying: Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness–a conversation going on between the Persons of the Trinity. And there is much more. For example, in today’s OT reading we have the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son, the pre-incarnate Jesus– here called Wisdom speaking. And He says: The LOrd begat Me–the Son is begotten of the Father! And He, the Son, continues: From eternity I was appointed. –Here is the eternity of the Son, eternity a characteristic of God. And the rest of the reading goes on showing that Holy Wisdom, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son, begotten of the Father from all eternity, was there at the beginning/ at Creation.
In our Gospel, we have Jesus’ claim of divinity that no 1st century Jew could miss. Jesus said to them, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Before Abraham was born, I am.” Jesus here calls Himself I am; that’s how God identified Himself in the OT: I am–to Moses “I am who I am” that’s the Lord’s personal name: JHWH. Jesus is saying that He is the great I am, the eternal God, the God who revealed Himself to the OT people. Again, the Persons in the Godhead; one God and yet three Persons.
Our text from St. Paul gives us another look at the doctrine of the Trinity. All throughout these verses, St. Paul teaches us of the saving work of the Holy Triune God. All three Persons of the Holy Trinity are involved in our salvation. Listen to a few highlights from our text: Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. –Notice the Father and the Son. And then later we have the Holy Spirit: the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit is the holy Triune God, the holy Triune God who is the God who saves us sinners! Because He is the God who alone can and does save us, that’s why Christianity is the absolute religion. That is, we cannot look for another god better and higher. All that we truly need, He gives. He fulfills our greatest need–the need for the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation and peace with Him. There is salvation in no other god; no other “belief system” can truly comfort us and bring us to eternal life in heaven. As we are again reminded who the God is that we worship, may we marvel at that great mystery of His Person–one God, but three distinct Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today we will spend a few moments considering His holy and saving work. Not only will we then marvel at His person–that He is the great three in one, something human reason cannot even begin to fathom–but we will marvel at His love and mercy. Look at how St. Paul begins our text: Therefore, having been justified. To be justified means to be declared righteous. Dear Christian, God declares us righteous–us, who are sinners and by our sins earn and deserve nothing but His wrath and punishment. Just as unfathomable as the Being of God is–that He is one God and yet three Persons–so also is His grace unfathomable. He justifies us/ declares us righteous. What exactly that is like, we see described in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. Remember, the one son asks his father for his inheritance–in effect wishing him dead; he takes the money and blows it on all sorts of sin and debauchery and is left with nothing; starving, taking a job feeding swine, he hits absolute bottom and resolves to return home with his tail between his legs begging to be a servant. But what is the reaction of the Father? That’s Jesus’ description of justification! All the son was hoping for was at best a bleak subsistence existence. But what happened? The father returned his son to full sonship–shown by his kiss, the ring, the robe, feasting and music. That’s justification– Therefore, having been justified–we, dear Christian are reconciled to God. Just like the prodigal son did not “work” his way back into sonship but was right away welcomed and declared a “son” once again–so also us sinners are declared righteous by God. We don’t work our way back. No! Instead, the first moment we come to faith–and faith is a gift of God– all of the divine riches of God’s grace, forgiveness and every heavenly gift and blessing is ours. We are His dear children; He justified us/ declared us righteous; we are reconciled to Him. That’s why the solid, definite statement: Therefore, having been justified.
But notice Therefore, having been justified by faith. Faith means to believe God, take Him at His word that He is gracious and merciful to us and that our sins are forgiven us in Christ. Faith wants to and receives the promised forgiveness. Faith justifies/ saves/ reconciles us to God not because it is such a good work that we do but because it receives the forgiveness of sins that God is offering us. And here we see the glorious work of the holy Triune God–the Father sent the Son into the world to save us, the Son willingly came and suffered and died on the cross paying the price for our sin and now the Holy Spirit has come to us in the Sacrament and word and brought us to faith and keeps us in the faith through them. The Triune God is the saving God reconciling us to Him: Therefore, having been justified by faith.
So what is the result of God justifying us/ declaring us righteous through faith? –We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This is that glorious peace of conscience that flows from justification: we know that things are right between us and God. Here at the heart and core of this peace is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Right before our text St. Paul writes: Jesus was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. Because of our sins, Jesus was put to death, died on the cross as the perfect once for all sacrifice for sin. And because by His holy life and innocent suffering and death Jesus offered that perfect once for all sacrifice for sin, He was raised from the dead! That’s how we can be certain that we are justified/ reconciled to God–Jesus rose from the dead. If He had not offered the sacrifice for the sin of the world perfectly/ if He had sinned, even once/ if His sacrifice was not accepted by the Father then He would have stayed dead and buried in the tomb. But there’s Easter! The sins of the world are forgiven! That’s why God can justify us. That’s why we can have peace! Our forgiveness and reconciliation are not just an arbitrary decree of God but are based on Jesus and His saving work and thus are certain! And this peace that we have is objective. It is not just a feeling. By faith in Jesus and His word and work, we know/ are certain that things are right between us and God–He is at peace with us, our sins having been wiped out in the blood of Jesus.
This, too, is the work of the Holy Triune God, the only saving God. Listen to what Scripture says [Heb. 9.14]: the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God [shall] purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Now we have peace with God and now we love Him and want to do His will, live a life of holiness and good works flowing from faith.
This peace with God is a glorious thing because as St. Paul then adds: through our Lord Jesus Christ also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Even in the midst of all sorts of trial and tumult in our lives, that peace remains because no matter the outward circumstance, our trust is in the firm and certain: God’s promise and the work of Jesus; in our future heavenly glory. Even our sufferings, as we live in that peace, are transformed by it. Listen to St. Paul in our text: but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Since we are at peace with God/ reconciled with Him, we are always assured of God’s grace with us now and of our future bliss. After all, since our gracious Triune God rescued us from our greatest trials–sin, death and hell–won’t He also save us from our present trials and even use them for our spiritual good? Certainly!
And then our text concludes: Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. We know and continually experience the love of God–His love for us–because the Holy Spirit has and continues to pour it into our hearts; He testifies richly and mightily that God loves us and lets us experience that love in our hearts inwardly. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us testifies to us and convinces us richly and daily of God’s love for us, in spite of what our outward circumstance may be. The Holy Spirit, dwelling in us, shows us our hope is not misplaced. He daily and often lets us experience that love of God for us. –Let us open our eyes to His testimony!– The love of God for us is the sufficient and certain fountain of our hope of future salvation. The Holy Spirit brings us to faith, faith which saves/ justifies, and He continues to keep us in that faith. May we remain faithful in our use of the word and sacrament through which He works. The Holy Triune God is the one saving God: He justifies us; He gives us peace; and gives us His love. Let us rejoice in Him and the mystery of the 3 in 1. INJ Amen.