Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. The timing of this Sunday really isn’t hard to understand. During Holy Week we saw Jesus Christ - the Son of God who was sent by the Father - die on the cross for our sins. On Easter the Father raised him from the dead. Forty days later, Jesus was exalted as he ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father. Yet before he did so, he promised the Holy Spirit and told the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they received this gift. Then last Sunday, we celebrated the dramatic outpouring of the Spirit by the risen and exalted Christ.
Like Jesus’ baptism which began his ministry, the Day of Pentecost focuses our attention on the triune nature of God. Peter said in his Pentecost sermon about Jesus: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” And so on the first Sunday after Pentecost, we pause to reflect upon the nature of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, this morning I have some bad news for you. Our text, which is the epistle lesson for the Feast of the Holy Trinity, is not talking about the Trinity. Perhaps it was chosen because it mentions “him” three times in the doxology as it ends by saying, “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” But this is not specifically a statement about the Trinity. There’s nothing in the context to support that claim.
Instead, what Paul has been doing since the start of chapter nine is to talk about how we are to understand the descendants of Israel – the Jews – and their general rejection of the Gospel. Paul has just expressed a mystery – that somehow God has been at work through this to save the Gentiles. Yet at the same time in doing so he has not abandoned Israel. Instead the apostle says, “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience,
so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”
Now we probably want to ask: “So how exactly does that work?” But at this point, the apostle has run out of answers that he can explain. Instead he just exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Paul’s “answer” is to throw up his hands and say he can’t explain it. God’s wisdom and knowledge are just too deep. His judgments are unsearchable, and his ways inscrutable. Don’t go there because you are just not going to be able to get it. God is God, and you are not.
In making this point, Paul quotes verses from Isaiah and Job as he says, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” Both of these verses come from sections where God declares that no one guided him in creation, and no one can explain how he did it. We just have to admit that when it comes to God, we are out of our league. As God says in Job, “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”
Yet it is here that we begin to see a connection with this day in the church year – Trinity Sunday. For if we are unable to understand what God does, then certainly we are not going to be able to understand who God is. He will be a mystery to us. And sure enough, he is.
God is relatively easy to describe. He’s impossible to explain. There is only one God. But that one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but only one God. That’s what God has revealed about himself – about his nature; about who he is.
We should just be willing to concede the point and say with Paul: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” We should leave it right there. But we don’t. Because we really don’t want to stand in a position of trust. We don’t want the stance of faith. The first sin was about wanting to be God, and we’ve been playing that game ever since. We think God should explain things to us. We think God should be justifying himself so that we can judge whether he make sense to us; whether his ways are acceptable to us.
It is, of course, a silly demand. We are his creation and he is the Creator. We are sinners and he is holy. Because we are fallen and sinful, we don’t even always understand ourselves and our own actions. How much less can we expect to understand God and his ways? We can’t.
Yet it is at this point that we need to consider why we even have a Trinity Sunday. We do, because God has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we have this knowledge – this revelation – because God did something amazing for us.
In the days of the Old Testament, God’s people knew with certainty that there was only one true God. They knew that Yahweh was the Creator of all things and that there was no other god. Sure, everyone else had lots of gods – Baal, Asherah … the list went on and on. But none of them were really God. Only Yahweh was God.
Now along the way, there were things that made you go, “Hmm….” God said, “Let us make man in our image.” There was remarkable language about Wisdom. There was one like a son of man in Daniel 7 who received worship. It made you wonder if there was more to the story. But there was nothing clear; nothing explicit.
And then, as St. Paul tells us, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” God sent forth his Son in the incarnation as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
God acted to provide the answer for the very sin that makes us do dumb things we don’t even understand – the cruel words we wish we could call back; the hurtful action we wish we could take back. He did something unexpected and surprising in order to save us. And in doing so he revealed more about himself.
That’s the main point I want you to take away from today. You know God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the triune God – because he acted in love to save you. Or to put differently: Your knowledge of the Trinity bears witness to God’s love and salvation. That’s the only reason you have this knowledge about God.
Jesus Christ’s ministry began at his baptism. And boom! Right from the start we see the Trinity on display. God the Father speaks about Jesus the Son as the Spirit descends upon him. Anointed by the Spirit as the Christ, Jesus carried out the Father’s will. He offered himself as the ransom in your place. He drank the cup of God’s wrath, so that you will never have to do so. And then the Father raised up Jesus through the work of the Spirit as he defeated death.
This is what God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – has done to save you. And in order to apply that forgiveness and salvation to you, the Son of God instituted Holy Baptism. He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The triune nature of God revealed at Jesus’ baptism is now spoken at every Christian baptism. The saving work of the triune God is applied to you by water and the triune Name.
Trinity Sunday is about God. We confess who God is. In the Athanasian Creed this morning we confessed very clearly what God has revealed about himself in Scripture. We can’t explain how it is, but we can describe what is and is not true. This is very important because if you get it wrong you lose the incarnate Son of God, and you lose salvation.
But as we think about the Trinity today, we rejoice in what our knowledge of the Trinity says about who God is for us. He is the God who loves us – the God who has demonstrated that love through action. It is the action to save us that revealed the triune nature of God to us. To confess that the one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is to declare the astounding love of God that guarantees our present and future.