The Feast of the Holy Trinity
June 6-7, 2009
Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
Dear Friends in Christ,
This weekend is the 65th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. For those involved, there must have been a great deal of fear. This would have been true of both sides. Civilians that lived there must also have been terrified of the bombardments and all the fighting. It was a fearsome time to be alive. Today, likewise we have many fears. We fear the future. We fear the actions of the government. We are starting to take more seriously the old quip - may God bless and keep the government, far away from us.
Do you fear God? We are told in Luther’s explanation to the First Commandment that we are to “...fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Again in the Close of the Commandments; “We should fear [God’s] wrath.” Why should we fear God’s wrath? Because God is Holy. God is just. We should fear God’s justice. Why? Because we are sinners. We stand condemned by God’s law. This is why the old medieval communion hymn instructs us to “ponder nothing earthly minded, and with fear and trembling stand...” (LSB 621) Likewise St. Paul tell us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12) Even Christ has fear as a major theme in His preaching, even though He doesn’t often use the word. Many of the parables, such as the parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) and the Parable of the Wedding Feast, are warnings to us about the wrath of God. (Matthew 22:1-14)
Trinity Sunday is a day we dedicate to the questions: Who is God and what is His nature? It is the last festival of the church year. It also, by many centuries, is the newest. It still has pimples. It’s only 800 years old. It also is an odd duck in that it celebrates a doctrine rather than an event.
Many people today run around saying nonsense like I just believe what’s in the Bible, I don’t need creeds or long theological explanations. Such thinking is absurd on the face of it. We need a way of expressing what the Bible says. Relatively few men in the history of the world have dedicated themselves wholly to the study of Scripture. Even most pastors are not the students of the Word we ought to be. Further, if each generation were required to discover all this for themselves, they would spend their whole lives trying to reinvent the wheel. So the church, from its earliest days set about creating a language and structure so that the teachings could be handed down from generation to generation. By the end of the of the 1st century you have the “Didache” and the “Shepherd of Hermas” which served as catechisms so that the faith could be passed on. Early on they knew that they had a problem with trying to explain God. They knew that they would literally have to invent the language to express and explain who God is. At the end of the 2nd Century, a North African church father by the name of Tertullian invented a new word - Trinity. God is three in one. Once Christianity became legal, there were several gatherings of representatives of the whole church on earth. We call these the seven great ecumenical councils. Most of the them were convened to deal with some aspect of the question of who God is.
So who is God? God is one. Why? Because that is what the Bible says. The old Jewish creed which Moses gave to the Israelites is “I Yahweh, your Gods am one God.” Yet, from the very beginning, we see the persons of the Trinity acting in various places. This climaxes in the Old Testament, in a vision in the book of Daniel where the Son of Man appears with the Ancient of Days, and the Ancient of Days gives to the Son of Man all authority in heaven and on earth. The bequest given in Daniel parallels, almost exactly, the words of Matthew 28 where Christ says that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. The Father is shown throughout Scripture as the seat of God’s Will. Christ says in number of places that He had come to do His Father’s Will. Christ is God who appears to man and deals with man. The Holy Spirit is never visible, but speaks through the prophets and apostles, giving to us God’s Word and breathing life into us. The place where this breaks down in practice is in understanding Christ’s role in the Old Testament. Christ tells us that no one has seen the Father. For example, He says in John 6:46 “...not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” What this means is that it was Christ, God the Son, who walked in the Garden of Eden and confronted man with his sin. It was Christ who visited wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah. It was Christ spoke from Mount Sinai giving the Ten Commandments. It was Christ who descended from Mount Sinai and took up residence in the Tabernacle. It was Christ who was enthroned between the Cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant. And it was Christ who appeared in all His heavenly glory surrounded by the angels to the Prophet Isaiah.
Our text is instructive regarding the nature of God. Isaiah says that He is undone. He has seen God. No sinner can see God and live. God is holy and righteous. He hates sin and those who commit sins. This idea of hate the sin and love the sinner is not scriptural. God loves the repentant, not the sinner. So Isaiah, realizing that he is a sinful man, knows that at that moment, as he stands in the temple before the altar of incense, he’s screwed. He has no hope. God the Son has appeared to Him and He cannot stand. He knows that he will be consumed by God’s righteousness and sent straight to hell and there is nothing he can do about it. Then something very strange happens. One of the six winged seraphim takes a set of tongs and removes a burning coal from the altar of incense. The angel takes that burning coal and touches it to Isaiah’s mouth. Then the angel says that his sins have been taken away from him. They have been paid on his behalf. Now, Isaiah can stand before Christ, who is also his Savior.
We are no different than Isaiah. Were Christ to appear here in all His glory, we would be no better off than he was. We are sinners standing before a righteous and holy God. Within ourselves, there is no hope. If we rely upon ourselves, our ticket to hell is already stamped. And we won’t even get frequent flyer miles. But it is the Father’s will that we not be condemned. And God the Son paid the price of our sins. We are not touched with a coal. Instead, Christ comes to us behind various masks so that we don’t have to face the terror that Isaiah faced. Yes, we are still to fear God, but we are spared the moment of crisis. Christ comes us to in His Word and in His Body and Blood. He touches our mouths and makes them holy, not with a burning coal, but His own Body and Blood shed for us. So indeed we come with fear and trembling. We fear because we know that the reality is that Christ is here, just as He was in the temple that day. We just don’t see Him. But we know He is Holy and possessed of a consuming righteousness. But we also know that He has atoned for our sins and pours His atonement right into us. God does this because this is who and what God is. Neither God’s holiness nor His grace are alien to Him. He is the One that is Holy, Holy, Holy. He is the One who in pure love, atones for our sins and makes us holy.