The Feast of the Holy Trinity
Text: John 8:48-59
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity. It is the last high holy day of the church year. From now until November 27th, when this church year will end, we are in the time of the church. We usher in this time with one last major festival. But unlike the other major festivals of the church year, this one is dedicated to a doctrine, rather than an event in the life of Christ or the Apostles. It is dedicated to the doctrine of the Trinity, our confession that God is One, and yet is three persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Many critics will jump up and say that the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible. There are many terms that we routinely use that are not in the Bible. It has become fashionable to blame all supposed insertions into the faith on the Council of Nicea. This is rather bizarre as the man who coined the term Trinity, and wrote extensively in its defense was a North African by the name of Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian. Tertullian died about a hundred years before the Council of Nicea convened. What happens throughout the history of theology is that people start talking about something that they can’t quite express, or the expression is very cumbersome. So they invent the language needed to communicate the ideas efficiently. So very quickly Christians knew what the word meant. It had a specific content. Now they could just say or write Trinity and everyone knew what was meant.
The doctrine of the Trinity appears throughout Scripture. In Genesis 1 we have the reference to the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the deep. Many Old Testament references are less useful, unless you are already clued in. But clearly, Daniel 7 speaks of the Father and the Son. In the vision the Father, that is the Ancient of Days, gives all authority to the Son of Man. The Ancient of Days also establishes that the Son of Man’s kingdom will last forever. This is later directly paralleled in Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
The Gospel of John gives us the most grist for the mill in terms of the Doctrine of the Trinity. In John 3, while speaking with Nicodemus, Jesus tells us that He is the only One who has ever seen the Father. So then, who appeared, as God to the Israelites throughout the Old Testament? God the Son - the pre-incarnate Christ. So in a very real sense Jesus is Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, in that He is God who deals with man. It is Jesus Himself who speaks from the burning bush and give Moses the knowledge of the divine name - I AM, that I AM or Yahweh. This is pivotal to understanding our text.
Jesus went to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Feast of Booths. This was a Jewish festival commemorating the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness. Jesus would argue that they were still in a wilderness - just one of a different type. Jesus confront the Pharisees with their sins. He told them that they were of their father, the devil. Much like school children the Pharisees attack back with the same charge - you are demon possessed. Christ then launches into a discourse on His relationship with the Father. It is the Father who seeks glory for Christ. It is interesting here that Christ speaks of the Father as judge, yet, in Daniel and Matthew we see this authority transferred to Christ. By this we understand that the Father is the ultimate judge, but as judge, He can appoint another to act on His behalf. This One who judges on behalf of the Father is the Son. Christ also inserts the claim that anyone who believes in Him would not die. By this, Christ is speaking of eternal death, that is damnation.
From here we get into this whole business with Abraham. Jesus says that Abraham had seen His coming and rejoiced at it. What does that mean? It means that Abraham is alive and Jesus had spoken with him. This is a bold claim. Jesus can speak with the dead in heaven. The Jews are flabbergasted at this claim. Jesus obviously isn’t old enough to have walked the earth with Abraham. That was two thousand years earlier. Then Jesus says it: “Before Abraham was I AM.” Jesus here is making a clear claim to be the God of the Old Testament. He is saying that He is Yahweh. The Jews thought of God as being in heaven. Here God was right in front of them, in the flesh. The Jews knew exactly what Jesus was saying. It was either true or the most incredible blasphemy that could ever be uttered. We see the proof of their understanding by what they did next. They picked up stones to stone Jesus. They did that because the understood that Jesus had just told them that He is I AM, that is God.
Christ make a further claim in our text. Those who are in Him live. This was true for Abraham. Abraham believed that one day, God would come in our world to save us from our sins. Now just how fully developed Abraham’s understanding was, we don’t know. But He understood in a basic sense. He trusted in the promises of God, and God counted this as righteousness. The reason why this is so, is because Christ would die on the cross for the sins of the world. This where God wants us to see Him. This is why we call the crucifix the most perfect revelation of God. The Crucifix is where we see God, as God desires us to see Him. Nor is this just the work of the Son. It was the Father’s will that Christ die for our sins. It was by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word, that Mary conceived and Christ came into the world. So our salvation is in Christ, but Christ is simply acting out the desire of the entire Godhead. So Christ on the cross is where we see God most fully revealed. Why? Because there we see the complex nature of God. We see His love for fallen man. We also see God’s justice that could not pass over sins without the sins being atoned. Sin must be punished, or God ceases to be God. But God Himself bears that punishment on our behalf. On the cross we see God the Son. That is the person of the Trinity that we see, that we interact with. Yet, in the cross we see all the persons of the Trinity. For we see the Father’s will. And we see the Spirit’s moving of events to bring this about.
The Church itself is an expression of the Trinity. For God desires only to work with mankind through means. We do not limit God in saying this. God can do anything He pleases. But when God says, this is what pleases me, we do well to listen. God tells us that He will not deal with us except through the means He has established. So through these means, the Holy Spirit conveys Christ to us. The Holy Spirit uses to preaching of the Word to teach us about Christ. But in Lutheranism, we have always understood that the real thunder is in the Sacraments, where what we learn in the Scriptures is directly applied to each of us, individually, and personally, by name. So in Baptism, the Holy Spirit places us into the tomb with Christ. In Holy Absolution, the Holy Spirit places the very words of Christ into the mouth of the pastor and tells you your sins are forgiven. And when we do private confession and absolution this becomes just as personal as Baptism. In the Supper, we become participants with Christ in His sacrifice for the sins of the world. All these things take place in the Church. The Church is the creation of the Holy Spirit so that His means can be implemented and Christ is therefor given to God’s people. All this is the will of God the Father.