The Holy Trinity at Work for You
Rev. James Barton

Let us pray. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

This is Trinity Sunday - but some would say: Do we really need this emphasis? The teaching of the Triune God, the three-in-one God, is confusing and hard to understand. We can’t fully explain it - and how long and complicated the Athanasian Creed is - (and we only used part of it today.) Do we really need all this?

The Scriptures are clear. We do! Remember how God gave the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and repeated them in the New Testament. The first and most fundamental of them is God saying, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). This is said in many other ways. “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10). And God made it very clear, speaking through other prophets like Isaiah, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no god” (Isaiah 45:5) and “I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6). Moses wrote: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4) and Paul wrote in the New Testament: “We know that ‘an idol has no existence’ and that ‘there is no God but One’” (1 Corinthians 8:4).

All this was to teach the truth about one true God, but also to warn about the very common view of the ancient world that there are actually many real gods and goddesses, many other voices we can listen to and follow - whether it was the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, or more local spirits and deities, or religions like Hinduism, with 30,000 or more gods, and on and on.

In the Bible, Adam and Eve certainly knew the one true God. They were made in His image, and they knew that in His love and goodness, He had created a perfect world for them. They also knew that He had created only two genders of people - “male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27) and then brought them together in the pattern for marriage (Genesis 2:24-25). Yet they rebelled against the one true God and listened to another voice - the voice of Satan, an angel who also chose to rebel against God and became evil. With this rebellion, sin came into the world and infected everyone with a sinful nature and death and separation from God, if left on one’s own, and all the troubles we still face today - and all the sinful distortions of God’s creation. 

The same thing happened to God’s own chosen people in the Old Testament. They too now had a sinful, rebellious nature, and many chose to follow voices other than that of God and went far away from the one true God and His Word and will; and much sorrow and tragedy resulted. Listen to the summary about that nation in 2 Kings, Chapter 17: “They served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, ‘You shall not do this.’ Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways’… But they would not listen, … They went after false idols and became false …. They abandoned all the commandments.” There is then a long list of false gods and ways that they followed them, instead of the Lord.

And the result was that they even sometimes “burned their sons and daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord.” Why would they do such terrible things, even killing their own children? Because they were listening to false ideas and supposed guidance of false gods and false people.

Finally, we read, “Judah also (the southern kingdom around and including Jerusalem) did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the (false and evil) customs that Israel had introduced. And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and Judah and afflicted them.” Many of the Israelites were carried away into captivity in other lands, and many of them never came back to the Promised Land. Some were restored to faith and the land; but by the time of Jesus, only a “remnant,” a smaller number of Israelites, were in the land. (Portions of 2 Kings 17:12-20)

What about us today? We call ourselves God’s people, by faith in Christ and the triune God, and we are, but do we face the same dangers? We are busy people with real and important responsibilities for family and friends and work and school and church and on and on. What voices are we listening to, especially for guidance for our lives and the choices we make? We hear the term “influencers” a lot today - people who push, especially on social media, this or that point of view and try to get people to follow them. They apparently can make for themselves some money and prestige and fame, at least for a time, until the next “influencer” comes along.

How confusing this all is, with so many competing voices all around us. No wonder our society is in such chaos, in many ways. And when we do try to listen to God and His Word, we also realize that not only is God the one true God, but that there is more complexity to Him, as He reveals Himself. Look back at today’s Old Testament lesson, Genesis 1:1-2:4a, on the first page of the Bible. 

We hear that in the beginning, there was simply God, and God created the heavens and the earth. The earth and the universe did not happen by random chance or an evolutionary process. God is the Creator, in six days. But in verse two, notice who else is there. “The Spirit of God was hovering, like a bird, over the face of the waters.” He is the same Holy Spirit spoken of numbers of times in the Old Testament and predicted to come in the New Testament, as we heard last week, at Pentecost. 

And since all Scripture is God’s Word, it also helps us interpret and understand other Scriptures. We read in the New Testament that someone else was also there at the Creation. John 1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him” (John 1:1-3). And who was that Word? John also tells us, inspired by God, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). 

That tells us that God the Son was also there at the Creation, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We often think and speak of Cod the Father as Creator; but the Son and Holy Spirit were also there and very involved.

And when God later said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” it is like a conversation between the three persons of the Trinity. God uses both singular and plural words (one God, one image, one likeness, and yet us and our. There is one God and yet three distinct beings or persons, creating all things perfectly (Genesis 1:26). As we read on in the Old Testament, that divine conversation also included God’s continuing love for our fallen world and its people and a plan for the Father to send His Son to provide a way for forgiveness and rescue for sinful people of the world, including you and me.

This plan is especially seen in Old Testament prophecies of the coming Savior. We hear these at Christmas time. We read in Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel,” and the name Immanuel means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). That is exactly who Jesus is: God become man for us. 

In Isaiah 9:6, also, we hear, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given… and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This is a confusing phrase until we realize that it is predicting the work of the Holy Trinity, one God and yet three distinct beings or persons. Jesus is Mighty God and the Prince who brought us peace with God, together with the Everlasting Father and the Wonderful Counselor - and Jesus uses this term (Counselor) for the Holy Spirit, who is also our Helper, Comforter, and Counselor, through God’s Word (John 16:7-16, for example). This passage is a prediction of the one true triune God, described as at work for us.

Don’t let it disturb you, either, that some people say, “But the terms Trinity and triune are not in the Bible.” The terms are not; but the concept is, again and again; and these terms reflect what we see in the Bible. We are not God. We cannot understand or explain all this. But we are called to believe it and teach it, as the one true triune God reveals Himself to us and works for our good. (This would be another whole sermon, but notice that those who reject the Trinity, also reject much of Scripture and even need to create their own new writings: Muhammad and the Quran, Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon and other writings, and Jehovah’s Witnesses and their own translation of the Bible, etc..)

Instead, just go with Scripture. Think of Jesus’ Baptism. God the Father spoke from heaven to Jesus and said, “You are my beloved Son.” Jesus Himself was at the Jordan River, being baptized. The Holy Spirit also appeared in the form of a dove, similar to what we heard in Genesis 1:2, and came upon Jesus. We see three distinct beings or persons and yet it is the one true triune God at work, teaching about Jesus and baptism and strengthening Jesus for His work as a true man, as well as the Son of God (Matthew 3:13-17).

Think of your own baptism. You and I were baptized as commanded in our gospel lesson for today, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-20). As the commentator, Martin Franzmann wrote, “As a person baptized in the name of the Father, you have God as your heavenly Father; baptized in the name of the Son, you have received all the benefits of the Son’s redeeming act,” in His life, death, resurrection, and forgiveness for you; and “baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit, you have received the life giving, life-sustaining presence of the Holy Spirit,” who has brought you to faith and promises to seek to keep you in that faith, as you stay close to Him and His Word and sacraments.

Finally, think about what Peter said on Pentecost in our epistle lesson for today. The religious authorities and Roman authorities and angry people helped put Jesus to death; but our sins, too, helped send Him there to pay the penalty for all our sins, in our place. Note also, though, that Peter also said that “Jesus was delivered up by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:22-24). This was not simply a tragic accident. It was also the triune God’s plan to rescue us. This is how the triune God is presented most often in the Bible, with no involved descriptions, but simply the Trinity at work for our good. “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. 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” (Acts 2:32-33).

We can’t comprehend it; but we are called to believe it and share it. It is God’s mathematics. 1+1+1=1. God the Father plus God the Son plus God the Holy Spirit equals the one true triune God, mightily at work for us. In Him, our future is secure, now and for eternity. To Him be the glory. Amen.

Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds safe, only where they are safe, in the triune God. Amen.