But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Trinity Sunday – 2024

The first portion of the video is our confirmand reviewing the creed and the explanations.
The service begins at 11:33 on the video.
Trinity Sunday

Imagine a married man saying something like this:

“I know that I was united in marriage to a woman several years ago, but I can’t remember which woman it was, what she looks like, or what kind of person she is. So, as far as who I will spend my time with now is concerned, I suppose one woman is just as good as another.”

What wife would tolerate hearing such a thing from her husband? But God does very often hear this sort of thing from many people who were baptized as Christians, and who in their baptism were claimed by God and united to God, but who now do not know – or care – which God they actually serve and worship.

The “civil religion” of our society does still reflect a belief in the existence of God. We are “one nation, under God.” “In God We Trust” is engraved on our money. But which God is this?

I suppose we should not expect everyone in America to understand very much about the God who created this world, and who sustains it by his power. But what about those who have been baptized into the Name of this God: to whom God has revealed his Name?

They should know who their God is. But do they know? Do they care? Do you know which God you believe in? Do you care?

You can’t just say, “I believe in the one God who exists.” Lots of people say that.

But when they go on to describe that one God in whom they profess faith, these descriptions often differ markedly. This “one God,” according to the way different people perceive him, would seem actually to be many different gods.

When the apostles and the other early Christian missionaries brought the message of Jesus to the non-Jewish nations, they were thereby introducing these polytheistic peoples to an idea that, for them, was very strange.

These nations were told that there is only one God: a heavenly Father who created all things, and who still sustains this universe; who in the person of his Son has redeemed our fallen world; and whose Holy Spirit is working and active here and now in regenerating sinners, in calling them to faith, and in uniting them to the fellowship of the Christian church.

The pagans of the Roman Empire and beyond did not have a tradition of cultural monotheism, as we do in America. It was indeed a new and strange idea for them to consider, that there was actually only one God. And, this was not understood or grasped very well by some of them.

For the first few centuries of Christian history, one heresy after another arose among people who wanted to use their own reason and imagination, in answering the questions, “Who is this one God? What is he like?” Sometimes they also blended a few of their previous pagan notions into their new belief in one God.

But the ancient orthodox Fathers patiently responded to these threats and challenges, and answered these questions, on the proper basis – that is, according to the authority of the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, through which God reveals himself, and teaches humanity about himself.

When the Scriptures were brought to bear on these confusions and errors, and when the teachings of God’s Word were carefully explained by faithful theologians such as Irenaeus, Athanasius, Hilary, and Ambrose, the confusions were clarified, the errors were corrected, and the believing church was established with confidence in God’s own truth.

The believing church was also established in its conviction that there is an important and direct correlation between an informed faith in God, as he actually exists; and the eternal salvation from sin and death that the one true God alone gives and bestows.

As is stated in the Athanasian Creed, from the fifth century: “Whoever will be saved shall, above all else, hold the catholic faith. Which faith, except it be kept whole and undefiled, without doubt, one will perish eternally.”

This creed – together with the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds – emerged from these centuries of turmoil, as important pastoral tools for teaching and confessing the Biblical doctrine of the Triune God with clarity and precision. These creeds brought together in compact form all the pertinent strands of Scriptural teaching regarding the oneness, and the threeness, of the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In its liturgy, the church also sang the truth of one God in three Persons into the minds and hearts of the faithful, with words like these: “You only, O Christ, with the Holy Spirit, are most high in the glory of God the Father.”

We confess – as the Athanasian Creed summarizes it – that “The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten but proceeding.”

In addition to this mystery of the eternal relationships of the Divine Persons within the Godhead, we also confess that when the time came for God to redeem the world from sin and death, the eternal Son took to himself a human nature, so that he is now both God and man.

And in addition to this mystery of the incarnation, we also confess the mystery of the humiliation of the incarnate Christ. The Son of God in human flesh – during his time on earth – lived according to the limitations of his humanity, and not according to the power and glory of his divinity.

St. Paul explains to the Philippians that Christ Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be held onto for advantage, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Only in this way could God’s Son take sinful humanity’s place under the demands of the law, and satisfy them. Only in this way could he die as the atoning sacrifice for humanity’s transgressions. Only in this way could the infinite God come close to us, and be our companion in our human weakness and suffering.

These are the three important distinctions that need to be kept in mind, if we are going to understand what the Bible teaches: about the eternal Trinity of Divine Persons within the one Godhead; about Jesus as God and man in one Person; and about Jesus as suffering servant and Savior, by whose life, death, and resurrection you and I are reconciled to God, and are forgiven.

This is the one God who exists. And he does not just exist. He also saves. He is holy and righteous, but he is not distant.

The true God is eternal and immortal in himself, but in his love for us he made himself capable of dying. And he did die – and rise again.

The true God is a God who judges the world, and who does not ignore human rebellion and wickedness. St. Paul writes in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

But, the true God is a God who pardons and acquits those individuals who are covered by Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus himself tells us, in St. John’s Gospel:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

And in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus also tells us that on judgment day, he as divine judge will say this to those who are his, by grace alone:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The true God is a God who reestablishes peace with us through Christ; and who, through Christ, removes our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west.

No other imagined God does these things. No other imagined God is conceived of as even being able to do these things, or as wanting to do these things.

If the “one God” in whom you believe is not the God who does these things, and who offers this salvation, then the God you think you believe in does not exist. Or, even worse, that supposed “one God” may be, in truth, a Satanic deception.

On occasion, Jesus was accused by his opponents of being possessed by a demon. Perhaps the contrived gods in whom many put their contrived faith, really are demons. Consider St. Paul’s words in his First Epistle to the Corinthians:

“What pagans sacrifice, they offer to demons, and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.”

Satan is not interested in getting people to believe in him according to what he really is: namely, an enraged and disgruntled creature of the one true God. He is much happier when people mistakenly believe in him as their “one true God.”

When Satan or his minions masquerade themselves as a deity, this can take many forms.

The devil can accommodate himself to various false theologies: as long as those false theologies take people’s devotional attention off of the divine-human Christ; or poison people’s minds against the grace of our heavenly Father; or close people’s hearts to the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration, and his gift of forgiveness.

Indeed, when the devil – in his deceptions – redirects toward himself, the worship and service that properly belong only to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he does not, in so doing, pretend to be a God who atones for sin.

Instead, he either weighs people down with ever more demands, paralyzing them with guilt and despair; or he fills people up with ever more self-righteousness, puffing them up in pride.

The devil, according to who he really is, does not love you. When he pretends to be God, and when he pretends that his lies are God’s truth, he might pretend to love you.

But any supposed “love” that keeps you captive to the power of sin and death, and that calls good evil, and evil good, is not love. It is hatred – hatred for your soul.

One way to know that it is the real God of the universe who is reaching out to you – and that it is not the devil or any other false alternative – is when the God who is reaching out to you, is reaching out through his saving message that he did so love the world, as to give his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life.

The Triune God gives. He gives his grace and favor. He gives himself.

He continually gives his gospel to you, in Word and Sacrament. He continually gives you the faith by which you receive the gospel and all its benefits.

He gives to his penitent and believing adopted children, the body and blood of his only-begotten Son, for their forgiveness and renewal in faith.

That’s the God to whom your baptism united you. In baptism, you were not “married,” as it were, to just any God, with one God being just as good as the next. You were baptized into the Divine Name of the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

That’s the God whom you serve and worship, and to whom you pray and sing, when you worship, pray, and sing to God through your baptism – on the basis of the Name that was placed upon you in Baptism.

This God continues to make himself known in the Scriptures, as a God who makes and keeps promises. He is not just the creator – although he definitely is that – but he also establishes and maintains relationships with his creatures.

He is Jehovah – the Great “I Am.” In the incarnation, the Lord Jehovah descended to our benighted human race and became a part of it, in order to reconcile us to himself and elevate us by faith into a gracious mystical union with him.

Your relationship with God in Christ exists on his terms, however. You don’t get to pick which God you will serve. And you also don’t get to pick and choose which commandments of God you will obey, or which promises of God you will believe.

He is in charge of this relationship. He is God. He gets to criticize you and to change you into his image. You don’t get to criticize him or to change him into your image.

When the relationships that God has established with his creatures are strained or broken, his Divine Spirit restores them – by driving his people to true repentance; and by lifting them up once again in a true faith.

He is the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob. He is the God of Moses. He is the God of David.

And he is the God who is Jesus, and who therefore has become your God, by purchasing you with the price of his own blood; and by filling you with his own life and wisdom.

St. Paul writes in his First Epistle to the Corinthians:

“We know…that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth…, yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and for whom we exist; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we exist.”

“No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says, ‘Jesus is accursed!’ And no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

And as we confess in the Athanasian Creed:

“We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, Neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one; the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.” Amen.