Sermon audio here.
It sounds humble to say we can’t know who God really is. Such agnosticism even sounds quasi-biblical. After all, St. Paul said in today’s epistle: “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways? For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” (Romans 11:33–34)
What are we when compared with the glory of God? The prophet says that God sits on His throne above the earth, and we’re like tiny little grasshoppers (Isaiah 40:21). Reflecting on his own insignificance in light of the majesty of God’s creation, David asks, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4). Isn’t it better to think that God is so great and we’re so small that we can’t really know Him?
Biblical and humble though that may sound, it’s false humility and entirely unbiblical. It’s only arrogant to try and put God in a box if we’re the ones putting Him there. If, on the other hand, God reveals Himself to us, it’s not arrogant to say so. Given the fact that God has shed His blood for you, to say we can’t know anything about God is the height of arrogance.
God wants us to know who He is and what this means for us. That’s what the festival of the Holy Trinity is all about. Who is God, and what does this mean?
Take your cue from Nicodemus. He wanted to know as much as He could about God’s identity, which why He came to Jesus. This was a godly impulse. Nicodemus said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.” Now you’d think if he really knew this, he wouldn’t be sneaking around at night scheduling clandestine meetings with Jesus. But there was a problem. He knew a little about God, but He didn’t know enough.
Our Lord’s response is thoroughly Trinitarian. If you want to know who God is, look at what He does for you. The Spirit works in you a new birth, a birth that the death of Jesus made possible. The Father protected His children from the serpent’s venom by allowing Satan to fatally wound His Son instead.
There’s a nice summary of this in St. Paul’s apostolic benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” (2 Corinthians 13:14). That is to say, the Father shows His love for His children, who are born of water and the Spirit, by the death of His Son.
God has revealed Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and there’s nothing more important for you to know than this. Those who deny that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will know God all right, but they will only know Him is as an angry judge.
But on to the second question: what does it mean to know God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? To know the Triune God is to know that you aren’t an only child. You are part of a family. Relationships are vital to God’s very being. He isn’t the Father one day and the Son another, nor does He turn into the Holy Spirit when He’s tired of running the universe and needs a break. While we could never fully grasp the mystery of the intra-Trinitarian relationships, what we do know is that fellowship is essential to God’s very being:
“In this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another; but the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshipped.” (Athanasian Creed)
This is why God says, “let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” (Genesis 1:26). Since there is only one God you might expect Him to use the singular, but because of the doctrine of the Trinity, He can use the plural.
As those made in His image, the fellowship that is essential to God’s Triune being is passed down His children. The Father has never existed alone, apart from the Son or the Holy Spirit. Relationships are vital to our being as they are to God’s. It is not good for man to be alone. That’s why God has given man and woman the gifts of marriage and childbirth. God is a God of family.
And above all, God has called all of His children, married or single, into His family. To worship the Trinity is to worship Him together. As we sang in our introit, “let us give glory to Him because He has shown mercy to us.” Christians aren’t only children. Whenever we baptize, we welcome the newly baptized into the Church with these words:
“In Holy Baptism God the Father has made you a member of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and an heir with us of all the treasures of heaven in the one holy Christian and apostolic Church. We receive you in Jesus name as our brother in Christ, that together we might hear His Word, receive His gifts, and proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Listen to how St. John emphasizes the togetherness the Christian faith:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us– that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete,” (1 John 1:1–4).
Here the apostle highlights the fact that God isn’t one person and we aren’t only children. We have fellowship with the Father, the Son, and one another through the Holy Spirit. As St. John says, the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel is “so that you too may have fellowship with us.”
Or, as St. Paul says, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord,” (1 Corinthians 1:9). Nicodemus became horribly confused when Jesus started talking about a new birth. He even felt compelled to point out the rather obvious fact that you can’t enter a second time into your mother’s womb.
Jesus, of course, wasn’t talking about a second physical birth. He was talking about Holy Baptism, which calls us away from selfish preoccupation and into the family of Christ. Scripture refers to those who have preceded us in the faith as our “fathers” (e.g., “Father Abraham”, Acts 26:6), despite our not having any blood relation to them. Holy Baptism is a new birth, it makes us all children of the same Mother, Mother Church. This is why the apostles refer to fellow Christians as “brothers.” We are all part of the same family.
And in this family, we are called to bear one another’s burdens. In the funeral liturgy we pray that God would “give courage and faith to the bereaved, that within the communion of [His] Church they may have strength to meet the days ahead.” Bereaved Christians often search in vain for comfort in the Church’s fellowship. The sad truth is we’re often so preoccupied with ourselves that we’ve failed to notice our hurting brothers and sisters. Or, if we’ve noticed, we haven’t cared. Jesus has not called you to love your neighbor only when it doesn’t inconvenience you. He calls His children to love one another with the same self-giving love by which He has loved us.
The 4th Commandment (honor your father and your mother) also helps us understand that the Church is a family. This commandment applies not only to our parents, but also to those who are our spiritual fathers, those who govern and guide congregations by the Word of God. A pastor is a spiritual father. Most Roman Catholics understand this better than Lutherans. That’s why they call their clergy “father”, and rightly so. St. Paul boasted in his fatherhood of the Corinthian congregation where he says, “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel,” (1 Corinthians 4:15).
If the church only understood the fatherly role of pastors today, it would be obvious why women can’t be pastors. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, a woman cannot be a father. God wants every biological and spiritual household to be cared for by a father. If a father is absent or negligent, the whole family suffers. So it is in the Church. Any single mother will tell you that her situation is not ideal. Families need fathers, and so does the family of Christ. Anything that tries to rob a family of its father comes from the devil.
Christians belong to the family of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We don’t get to decide how to run His household. He calls us away from ourselves and to loving service of one another. As much as Nicodemus is to be commended for seeking out Jesus and wanting to know more about God, he is not an example in that he sought Jesus out at night, all by himself, when no one was looking.
You can’t be a Christian apart from the rest of the family. We pray to our Father, not my Father. Reading the Bible and praying at home is an important extension of our life together, but reading the bible and praying is actually the work of Satan when it becomes an excuse to avoid the fellowship of the Church. To depart from the Church is, as St. John says, to walk in the darkness (1 John 1:5–7).
Christians aren’t only children. To cut yourself off from your siblings in Christ is to cut yourself off from the family entirely. The Church isn’t called to go out and baptize the nations and then turn around and say, “Now you’re on your own. Here’s a bible. Good luck! I’ll be praying for you.” Satan is out for blood, and we’re much easier prey when we’re alone. As Solomon says, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him–a threefold cord is not quickly broken,” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). The early Church understood this well. Listen to how they did it:
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41—47)
To worship the Trinity is to repent of acting like an only child when it comes to your brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s to realize, with Isaiah, that you don’t deserve a place in God’s family. It’s to repent of your inclination to keep your faith and your love to yourself.
And it’s also to know that Jesus wants you in His family anyway. To worship the Trinity is to know that you are so significant to God that He did so much more than remain mindful of you. He put His loving thoughts into action and died for you.
God takes your guilt away, just as He did for the prophet Isaiah. For from His altar comes the atoning Sacrifice of Calvary, that you too might stand in His presence, not only with those gathered here today, but with the prophet Isaiah and the rest of the company of heaven. The Sacrament is the down payment on your heavenly inheritance, the assurance that soon you will join the rest of your heavenly family in our Father’s house.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. John 3:1–17
The Holy Trinity: “Christians Aren’t Only Children”
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