By Paul Koch –
If a new convert to the faith or a curious onlooker happened to show up in church on Holy Trinity Sunday, when the congregation began to confess that beautiful, rhythmic and admittedly long Athanasian Creed, they would think we are a bunch of strange cult-like weirdos. Imagine if you had little to no introduction to the life of a church or the order of a worship service, and then one Sunday you show up you hear these people saying, “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.” I mean, I like it. it’s bold and straightforward. But you have to admit, in our politically correct culture hearing those words sounds a bit strange. Then we add to it that “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” On and on it goes, and the casual church goer is thinking, what the heck is going on here? I thought I was going to church – not engage in a philosophical discussion about the nature of the Holy Trinity.
Now to be sure, Holy Trinity Sunday is a strange day of observance in the church. Every other special day is about an action or an event. Christmas, Easter, the Baptism of our Lord, Pentecost, etc. These are all events that took place bearing great significance on our salvation; so we take time to focus on them. But this day is not about an event but a teaching: a doctrine of the church. And so, it will often appear a little strange to us. But the reason that the church takes a day to focus on the Holy Trinity, the reason that we have a confession like the Athanasian Creed, with all its jargon and technical language, is that there is need for such things. There is need because there is heresy, false teaching about the triune nature of our God. And so, with as much clarity as Scripture gives us, we seek to make a good and faithful confession about the nature of our God.
The problem is, we have a tendency to think of the doctrine of the church as something that is nice to have in the background. We think it’s just a good safe foundation for the life of the church, but it doesn’t have much to do with our living of the faith. So, we examine the doctrine of the church, perhaps even discuss and wrestle with it. But then we just go on with the living out of our lives in which the doctrine plays no roll. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, when it comes to the teaching of the Holy Trinity, the doctrine and the life of the believer are intimately entwined. This isn’t just some concept that we discuss to kill some time. No, this teaching has practical implications for your hope and assurance. So it is a comfort and a blessing to every moment of your lives.
When we talk about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity we are trying to understand how God actually works in His creation. When we confess God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, we are confessing how Scripture reveals to us that God works. He works as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is not created nor begotten, the Son is neither made nor created but begotten of His Father, the Spirit is neither made nor begotten but proceeds the Father and the Son. These three work to create, redeem, and sanctify His people. God is at work for you! The Father who created you promises life and salvation to His righteous children. The Son bears in His flesh your sins to the cross of Calvary so that in His sacrifice you might be those righteous children. And the Spirit opens your hearts and minds to receive this Word of truth and to trust in the gift of the Son of God and hold firm to the promises of the Father. God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity for your salvation.
Perhaps a better picture of what I’m talking about is what we find happening in St. Peter’s famous Pentecost sermon. On that day when the Spirit was poured out on the apostles sending them out to preach the mighty works of God, what we witness is the work of the Holy Trinity as He gathers to himself about 3,000 souls in a single day. It is powerful testimony of the comfort and assurance in the faithful teaching of the church about our God.
The Spirit had filled Peter and the other apostles as a sound like a mighty rushing wind filled the house and the tongues of fire rested on them. The Spirit then leads Peter to proclaim the truth about the Son of God, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst,” he says. “This Jesus, delivered up according the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Now truly they didn’t all crucify and kill Jesus. They weren’t all part of the plots and schemes to arrest and destroy Him. But they were responsible for His death. In fact, that it was their sins for which He had to die, for which He came to die. Which means that you are rightly part of the same crowd. For it was your sins as well that the Son came to bear. Your sins that betrayed Him in the garden and tried Him in the middle of the night. Your sins beat and tortured and crucified Him. You then crucified and killed the only begotten Son of God.
Like a mighty tempest rising out on the sea, the working of God makes your efforts small and insignificant by comparison. Outside of your work or desire, the God who demands justice and perfection puts into motion the events that would redeem His lost and sinful creation. And so, there is nowhere to hide before the storm of God’s work. Not that you don’t try. Not that you don’t think that you can offer up some of your best stuff, some of your most holy and churchly actions to calm the storm. Look how much I pray for others, or how much I give to the church, or how willing I am to volunteer. These certainly are good and beneficial for your neighbor, but they are nothing compared to the mighty work of God. To think that by them you can escape the fact that you have killed your God is folly.
When God works, He begins to empty out everything from your hands. Everything that you claimed as your offering to him, everything that you held to as your security in the storm, everything of your own making it is swept away by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is what happens as Peter’s sermon continues. As he demonstrates from the testimony of the Scriptures how God works by bearing our flesh: suffering, dying, and rising again for your salvation. The Spirit that accompanies the proclamation of this word cuts those hearers to the heart. They see, for perhaps the first time, the storm and so they cry out in despair, “What shall we do?” That is the question. What shall we do? What shall you do? What can you do?
Do you know what Peter’s answer was? Do you remember what he said to that crowd? It is, after all, the same thing that is said to you. It is said when you are cut to the heart, when your hands are emptied out and you stand naked and exposed before the mighty working of God. He says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for you children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Repent before a Father who loves you and sees you as you are. Repent and be baptized, that is receive the holy garments of the begotten Son of God. Be clothed in His faithfulness, His righteousness His holiness. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that dwells now within you, that cries out to the Father through the Son for your salvation. The Spirit that brings you again and again to the gifts of God, and opens your hearts and minds to His promises.
The Holy Trinity isn’t just some concept that we discuss and then leave behind. It is the confession of your faith. It is the assurance of your salvation. It is a God who is at work so that you don’t end up in the torments of Hell. He has emptied your hands of all that would lead you there, but now He fills them with hope and life and salvation. He empties them of false trust and shallow dreams, and gives instead the promise of eternal life. Our God is a God at work, a God at work for you – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.