In Praise of the Trinity – May 31, 2015
Exodus 34:29-35, Acts 2:22-38
May 31, 2015
When I was in my second year of Seminary – which was known as the “Middler Year,” (It was “Junior,” “Middler,” “Senior.”) I was the student pastor at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. It was out on the Main Line.
Well, I’ll never forget something that came in the Church mail while I was there! It was a “Publishers’ Clearing House Sweepstakes” letter. And it was addressed to “Mr. Trinity Church.” We opened it, and it said, “Dear Mr. Church, you may already have won ten million dollars!” And if that wasn’t funny enough, the letter started getting more “personal” further down. “So, Trinity,” it said, “wouldn’t you like to send in your entry?”
I have to admit that whenever I think of “Trinity Sunday,” I think of that story! We read it in church, and we all got a good laugh out of it! Well, today we celebrate the Trinity. And I thought you’d like that story!
Well, let me say right off the bat, that the word “Trinity” is a word that actually appears nowhere in the Bible! However, the concept of the Trinity, and expressions of the Trinity, are found throughout the New Testament. And I believe, they’re are found in the Old Testament as well. We read the story today about Moses, and how his face shone when he talked to God. I’ve always believed that is evidence of the Holy Spirit.
Let me also say that sometimes we oversimplify this. We try to take a God who is beyond our comprehension, and put him in simple terms we can understand. We sometimes think the Holy Spirit didn’t come into existence until the time of Pentecost. And while that was definitely a new kind of experience, still, the spirit has always existed. We also try to simplify Jesus that way. We think he didn’t come into existence until that first Christmas, a little over 2000 years ago. But if we read the Prologue to John’s Gospel, we find the words, “In the beginning was the word… he was in the beginning and all things were made through him…”
So, let me say today, that it was the Triune God – God the “Three in One,” the “Trinity” – who was in existence from the beginning of all things. And it was that triune God that created all things – not just “the father.” Again, in our limited understanding, we try to simplify this. We try to “delineate” the different “works” of God, saying the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” are the “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.” But it’s not as simple as that. God is triune, but God is one.
Well, that’s enough Trinitarian Doctrine for now. But I wanted to say those things as a background for our understanding. Then I want us to think about this reading from the New Testament – from the book of Acts.
This story, is part of the Pentecost story, (We might call this “Pentecost II, the sequel!”) And in this story, Peter is “delivering” the first “Christian Sermon.” And lo and behold, he’s dealing with the Trinity. He’s talking to the good Jewish people – the residents of Jerusalem, and all of the pilgrims who have come there for various reasons. And he’s telling them about the God who sent his Spirit in this powerful way – a way they’ve all just witnessed. But, he’s telling them that God has also sent his Son. Do you see that? On this day when God the Spirit was experienced so powerfully, Peter told the people, not so much about that Spirit, but about Jesus. So here we have “the Trinity!”
I want you to think about that. And I also want you to think about this. This sermon on the day of Pentecost is the first statement in all of scripture that suggested that Jesus was part of this thing called the Trinity. Remember, like I always tell you, we know more than these people knew at the time. Yes, they had heard Jesus speak. They had seen him do miracles. They may even have heard that he came back from the dead! But though they believed in God the Father, and maybe now had a better understanding, or at least an experience, of God the Spirit, they had not yet considered that Jesus was God the Son!
Think about that! We know he is. But even those who thought of Jesus as Messiah – and even that was not understood about him yet – even those who thought that about him like that, had not imagined that the Messiah would be God! Again, we know that. We know the Christmas story. We know his name was to be called “Immanuel – God with us.”
But again, a political “Savior” – which the people wanted – would not have to be God. Judas Maccabees was not God when he led the rebellion against the Assyrians and brought Israel political freedom a hundred years or so before Jesus. Judas wasn’t God any more than George Washington was God in our revolution. Jesus didn’t need to be God to be that kind of Savior. But to be the spiritual Savior, which we believe him to be, he did need to be God! And he was!
So, the question on Trinity Sunday is “How Trinitarian are you?” And that means more than just knowing the doctrine. It’s more than a matter of “believing it’s true.” It’s a matter of, “Do you understand Jesus to be God’s Son? Do you know him to be God?”
If not, a lot of other doctrines fall apart – the biggest one of which is the doctrine of the “Atonement.” If Jesus were just a man, and not God, how could his death have atoned for the sins of the entire world? Think about that! I often say at our time of Confession that Jesus “personally bore our sins in his body on the cross.” Do you remember that? Isaiah would agree with that. He wrote, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” “…He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes, we are healed.” That’s Isaiah 53. Read it sometime! It’s pretty amazing!
The answer to that question, “How could he have atoned for the sins of the world?” is, unless he was God, he could not have! He had to have been God. That’s at the heart of the doctrine of the Atonement. That’s what we believe about Jesus. That’s what we trust for our salvation! Only the sacrifice of God himself could atone for all of our sins! The sacrifice of a mere man could not have done that.
That’s what we believe. But in our world, those beliefs are not as universally accepted any more. There are people in churches today who just don’t think Jesus is all that important. Or they’re “uncomfortable” with him being God. Or they think that sin is not that big a deal, and that an “atonement” is not all that necessary. “God loves everybody, doesn’t he?” “Why wouldn’t he just forgive us all?” “Universal Salvation,” that’s called. It’s the idea that everybody is already saved, or that there is no condemnation. And that’s a very popular idea these days.
Add to that the fact that there is no “universal truth” in our world. You can say to someone that God has saved you through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and they just might say, “Well that’s nice, but that’s your truth. It’s not truth to me.” That’s a tough thing to deal with in our world! Everyone has their own truth.
So, I ask again. How about you? How Trinitarian are you? I encourage you today to take seriously the claims of Jesus Christ. Revisit them once again this Trinity Sunday. Consider again that Jesus is God the Son, co-equal with God the Father, and God the Spirit – which was so powerfully experienced at Pentecost.
Eternal God – Father, Son and Spirit, help us to know today what it means to be people of the Triune God. Help us to rejoice in your love, your salvation, and the sustaining power of your Spirit in our hearts. Help us to follow our Savior, Jesus Christ, and to know of his Atonement in our lives. For these things we pray in his name, Amen.