Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Holy Trinity

"A New Math: 1=3 and 3=1?"

John 3:14-17

May 22, 2016

It's a mystery! The Holy Trinity is a mystery. How does 3=1 or 1=3? Is this some kind of new math? When it comes to the Holy Trinity, we can neither figure it out nor explain it. Whenever learned church leaders have tried to define, dissect and explain the mystery of the Trinity, they often end up teaching heresy. God never said we had to fully comprehend or be able to explain the Trinity, He simply tells us to believe.

Our Lord speaks plainly about the nature of the Triune God in a straightforward manner when He gave His disciples the Great Commission. "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." [Matthew 28:19-20.]

Today is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. We believe and confess that God is One revealed in three Persons and have confessed as much in the Athanasian Creed. This makes our faith unique. Although the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are equal in importance, Christianity focuses on Jesus Christ. He is the most visible member of the Trinity. Jesus took on our humanity and died on the cross for our sins. Without a right understanding of who Jesus is, we cannot have a right understanding of the Holy Trinity.

John 3:14-17. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

Throughout the history of the church, when theologians have tried to penetrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity, they have often fallen to the temptation of explaining the unexplainable. From these developed the cults and heresies. All of them have a mistaken understanding of Jesus. Either they stress His humanity at the expense of His divinity or they stress His divinity at the expense of His human nature.

This confusion is still with us today. Books and movies like the popular "Di Vinci Code" once again put forward the old idea that the Trinity is the invention of the early church so they could make Jesus into a god. If you wanted to do something like that, would you try to make up something so complex and difficult that people would scratch their heads? Would you make up a story so beyond understanding that others would think "you're nuts, who can believe this?"

Why would the early church fathers invent something they couldn't easily explain or teach? The ancient world was more philosophically sophisticated than is ours. They were deep thinkers. The mystery of the Trinity was no easier for these deep thinkers to grasp than it is for us. It would have been easy for the early church fathers to back down and redesign the concept of the Trinity if it were simply a figment of their imaginations. If the teaching of the Holy Trinity were man-made, the church would have died out long ago.

Nevertheless, the Holy Trinity is a mystery for us. This is not a mystery in the sense of a "who-done-it" where we gather clues and solve the case. This is mystery in its original sense. It is the incomprehensible that we cannot dissect nor fathom.

Holy Trinity Sunday expresses the Oneness of God. He is One God of three Persons. How can this be? It was a mystery for the early fathers as they tried to explain the Trinity. For example, St. Athanasius, whose name is attached to the Creed we just read, often used the illustration of light. Just as light and its brightness cannot be separated so is the relationship of the Father and the Son.

Another used the illustration of fire. Fire gives us heat and light and energy. How do you separate them? Which is which? The elements are so integrated that they are one. In the end, God doesn't tell us to explain the mystery of the Trinity, we are simply told to believe.

Often those who try the hardest to protect God from being misunderstood in the end misunderstand God. Mormons, Moonies, Jehovah Witnesses and a host of others have sought to explain the true nature of God. In their zealousness, they have tried to penetrate the mystery of the Trinity but they come up with a mistaken understanding of God. While they simplify the nature of God, they also remove the mystery. Because they recast God into an image they can understand, they take away His awe and majesty.

The most important things we need to know about God are recorded for us in John 3:16, 17. God is love. His nature is to love even the unlovable--that's us. To prove His love, God sent His Son Jesus into the world to die for our sin. If we cannot comprehend what Jesus did for us, why should we even begin to comprehend the mystery of the Trinity?

God loves us. He loves us not because of who we are but in spite of all that. He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins. He did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world. He sent Jesus that through His love, the world might be saved. We don't need to explain, rationalize or second guess why God did this. God simply would have us believe it.

Have you ever been surprised with a wonderful, unexpected gift? What was your response? Did you try to second guess the motives of the giver? Did you search your heart to see if you were worthy of such or wonderful gift? If you did, you lost the spirit of the gift and question the one who gave it.

Although we cannot know everything we'd like to about God, we do know everything we need to know. God is love. He sent us His Son. Through Jesus we receive the gifts of faith, forgiveness and eternal life. He gifts Himself to us in His supper this morning. God gives us these gifts because He wants what is best for us. He asks only that we receive them with joy and thanksgiving.

The key to understanding what we need to know about the Holy Trinity is "keep it simple." We believe God is One. Within this Oneness, we have the dynamic relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God reaches out to us in love. He gives us His good gifts. He calls us to repentance and gives us faith to believe His promises. Although we can't understand, He helps us to believe. Amen.


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