The festival that we celebrate on this day is very different from the other festivals of the Church Year. The other festivals celebrate events. Christmas is the birth of our Lord. Epiphany is the coming of the Magi. Good Friday is the death of our Lord on the cross. Easter is His return to life. Ascension is His ascension into heaven. Pentecost is the special revelation of the Holy Spirit. The list could go on and on. The point is that every one of these festival days commemorates a special event in the life of the church. The Feast of the Holy Trinity, on the other hand, calls our attention, not to an event, but to a teaching of the Bible … the teaching that while God is one in essence, He is a community of three persons.
Furthermore, while the Bible assumes and describes this three-in-one nature of God, it does not give a name to that nature. As many people point out, you cannot find the words triune or trinity in the Bible. You can find descriptions of God that match the doctrine of the Trinity, but you will not find the actual words triune or trinity in the Bible.
It should not bother us that the words triune or trinity are not in the Bible. After all, things were falling when people dropped them a long time before we had the word gravity. Boats and other things were floating on water a long time before we had the word buoyancy. Birds, butterflies, and other things were flying a long time before we had the word aerodynamics. Just because we do or do not have a word for something does not mean that something does or does not exist. The question is, “Can we find evidence of this three-in-one nature of God in the Bible?”
We can begin with the Gospel that we just heard. Jesus was about to ascend into heaven and He gave the church instructions to baptize and teach disciples. His instructions call for the church to baptize in the name of God and He said, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) Note that the word name is singular. There is only one name. At the same time, there are three persons … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus gave instructions to baptize in one name and three persons.
Before we heard Jesus in the Gospel, we heard Peter preach on that special Pentecost that we celebrated last week. In the words that we heard today, Peter was making the case that because Jesus rose from the dead, He is God the Savior. As He made his case, he freely spoke of the Father and the Holy Spirit. He said, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33Being 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.” (Acts 2:32–33) With these words, Peter not only showed that Jesus is the Savior, but He is also the Son of God who received the promise of the Holy Spirit from God the Father. Jesus Himself poured out the Holy Spirit with the signs of the sound of a mighty wind, the tongues of fire, and the ability to speak foreign languages.
Because the signs of that special Pentecost are so spectacular, we might be tempted to believe that that is the debut of the Holy Spirit … that He really didn’t do a lot before that special day. However, the first reading that we heard this morning shows that the Holy Spirit has always been around. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1–2) Here we see that the Spirit of God was active in the beginning when God created the world.
God reveals Himself through the Bible. As He reveals Himself, we continually encounter only one true God who is a community of three persons. Jesus revealed the Father and prayed to Him. The Father recognized Jesus as His Beloved Son. Jesus promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit. At the same time, the Bible clearly proclaims that there is one and only one God. The Bible clearly proclaims God as three persons … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the same time, it clearly proclaims that God is one and there is no other.
Each of the readings we heard this morning calls attention to one person of the Trinity. The Old Testament reading tells of creation and we generally ascribe the work of creation to the Father. The second reading is part of the history of the Church and we generally ascribe the planting and nurturing of faith and the birth of the church to the Holy Spirit. The Gospel shows Jesus teaching and instituting a sacrament and these are the works we generally ascribe to Jesus the Son of God. So, each reading focuses on one member of the Trinity.
While each of these readings calls attention to one member of the Trinity, they also call attention to the fact that the three persons of the one God work together. As the Father creates the heavens and the Earth, there is the Spirit hovering over the face of the waters. As Peter preaches by the power of the Holy Spirit, he preaches about the Son. As Jesus established the sacrament of Holy Baptism, He tells us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Whenever we see one person of the Triune God take a leading role, we will always find the other two persons making their contribution. The persons of the Triune God always work together as a team.
This is especially clear in the work that the Son of God did when He took on our human nature. Even His conception as a man was a team effort. When the Son took on our human nature, God the Father sent Him and He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Here we see all three persons of the Trinity at work.
The same three persons of the Triune God that worked together at His incarnation continued to do so throughout His life. Jesus began His public ministry at His Baptism. What happened? The Holy Spirit came down as a dove. The Father declared that Jesus is His Beloved Son and that He is well pleased with Jesus. Jesus began His mission of salvation together with the Father and Holy Spirit, and all are active in completing our salvation. He regularly prayed to His Father, and the Spirit was with him every step of the way.
Then came the final days of His life. An amazing thing happened while Jesus hung on the cross. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Somehow, in a way that is beyond understanding, the tight relationship of the Triune God experienced forsakenness. We can’t imagine what or how that happened. Never the less, it had to be horrible. Yet even in that forsakenness, the influence of the Father was still there … Jesus was carrying out His Father’s will by going to the cross. On Easter morning, the Father raised him from the dead. Later, when Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit to establish and nurture the Church. Jesus Christ, the Son of God began, continued, and ended His time here on this earth in complete harmony with the other persons of the Trinity.
When God created us, He created us to be in perfect harmony with the Triune God as well. God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) God created humanity in His image … sinless, immortal, intelligent, and with a soul that was breathed into us by the very breathe of God. We were to act on God’s behalf and rule in His name. God gave us a most excellent beginning and declared us to be very good.
That goodness did not last long. The serpent got into the garden and enticed our first parents to doubt God’s goodness. Our first parents began to think that they knew better than God. Instead of honoring God by declining the forbidden fruit, they dishonored Him by taking the fruit and eating it. They sinned against God and with that sin they brought death into the world. Our first parents broke their relationship with God and we have been unable to restore that relationship ever since.
That is the reason that the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, did what He did. In His love for us the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. That is the reason that He suffered hell on the cross as the Father forsook Him. He endured all this in order to renew that relationship that He originally had with us in Eden.
How do we receive that new relationship? Once again we see the teamwork of the Triune God at work. Just as the Father sent the Son to earn our forgiveness, so He sends the Holy Spirit to offer that forgiveness to us through the gift of faith. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us how the Holy Spirit gives that gift of faith. The Holy Spirit works through the Church to make disciples. He begins with Holy Baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and He continues by teaching [those disciples] to observe all that [Jesus] commanded. As the Church follows Christ’s instructions to baptize and teach, the Holy Spirit works through Holy Baptism and instruction in the doctrines of Jesus Christ to create and strengthen faith in us. Thus today’s Gospel not only relates Christ’s instructions to baptize and teach, but also tells us that this is how the Holy Spirit will make disciples and gather them into the Church.
On this Holy Trinity Sunday, our readings remind us once again of the unity of the three persons in the one God. Even though each person of the Trinity has His primary role … the Father as creator, the Son as Redeemer, the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier … each person of the Trinity is involved with everything that God does … especially in the work of redeeming us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. For we are justified by God the Father’s grace, for God the Son’s sake, through God the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. So we see that in all things … especially our salvation … the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God. Amen
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