6-12-22 Holy Trinity

June 12, 2022
Passage: John 3:1-17
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We don’t know who wrote the Athanasian Creed. Athanasius didn’t. Someone wrote it in the fifth century and named it after Athanasius. Athanasius lived a good hundred years earlier. He was the great defender of the truth that Jesus is really and truly God, of the same nature as His Father, eternal, begotten, not made. Athanasius was on and off again pastor or bishop in Alexandria, Egypt, which was at the time the second largest city in the world. A man named Arius had been teaching in Alexandria that Jesus was a son of God but not God, not eternal. Arius insisted that the Son was a creature of the Father. The famous phrase was, “There was a time when He was not.” This teaching, that the Son of God was not eternal, not God, at first was roundly rejected at the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Council condemned Arius as a heretic. It confirmed what the Bible teaches about Jesus in the words we confess every Sunday in the Nicene Creed, that He is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made. But after Nicaea, the followers of Arius increased and took over. We call then Arians. Six times they forced Athanasius to leave Alexandria. They got the Emperor Constantine on their side and then his sons after him. They used political power and military might to force hundreds of pastors like Athanasius out of their churches and replace them with puppets who would deny that Jesus was God. But Athanasius never gave up. He fought for the people even when the people turned against him and exiled him and threatened his life. He stood up against Emperor and army. He confessed clearly, loudly, and without shame that Jesus is the eternal Son, one God with His Father, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was made man. And God, the truth, prevailed through Athanasius’ confession.

Why did Athanasius do this? I’m going to give you three reasons, but in the end there’s really only one, which is very fitting on Trinity Sunday. That one reason is this, because he loved Jesus and everything Jesus had done for him. This was his treasure and his life and he would rather die than give it up. And this is why we make the same confession as Athanasius. We love the Lord Jesus because He first loved us. He is our treasure and our life. So Father in heaven bless us never to take this for granted. Eternal Son of the Father, make us always mean what we say when we confess the glorious words of the Nicene Creed. Holy Spirit, life-giver, make us live so that we honor Christ by our lives.

There are three reasons Athanasius made his confession and we make ours.

First, because the Bible says so. The how of the Trinity is beyond our understanding. But the that of the Trinity, that God is One God and yet three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is so clearly the teaching of the Bible that we can call it truly catholic, that means, universal, so that although we disagree with the Roman Catholics on all sorts of things and the Baptists on still other things, and the Presbyterians on still other things, we all happily agree on this one thing. Jesus repeatedly calls Himself “I AM,” which is the name of God in the Old Testament, what He named Himself to Moses in the burning bush, I AM WHO I AM. St. John explicitly says that the Word, the Son of God, is God. Jesus commands us to baptize in the name, not the names, the name (singular) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And it is at this name of Jesus that all men will bow on the Last Day. The list goes on and on. The Holy Spirit is not shy about teaching the Trinity. He does it in the first chapter of the Bible and continues it to the very last chapter.

The Bible is our one and only source for everything we believe and confess about God. Because the Bible is God’s own Word, inspired, breathed out by the Holy Spirit. And we are dependent on this word. We can’t figure out who God is unless God tells us. This comes out so beautifully in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Nicodemus came to Jesus and told Him how he had figured out who Jesus was, a man come from God, because no one could do the signs Jesus did unless God was with him. That’s where Nicodemus’ reason got him. He thought Jesus was only a man. God Himself was right in front of him in human flesh and he couldn’t see it. And Jesus tells him that. “No one has descended from heaven but the Son of Man who is in heaven.” He says Nicodemus needs to be born again before he can see the kingdom of God, that Nicodemus knows nothing about God unless and until the Spirit tells him, because that which is born of the flesh is flesh. We are totally reliant on the Bible. I would have nothing to preach to you but human uncertainty, useless opinions without the Bible. And so you would know nothing of the true God without the Bible. We wouldn’t even know His name. It would be lost like it was when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. They forgot God’s name. We wouldn’t have the water and the Word of Baptism, no rebirth of the Spirit, nothing, unless God told it all to us in the Bible. Because our reason simply can’t come up with it. Our reason comes up with what Arius taught, that God can’t become a man. But Athanasius didn’t rely on his reason. He relied on the Bible, God’s truth, not man’s uncertainty.

We were born without knowledge of God, without love for Him, without trust in Him. So we need rebirth. And when God baptized you, when His man poured water over your head and spoke the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit over you, God put His name on you, told you what your darkened mind did not know, promised you in this name the forgiveness of sins and the love and care of God, and so made you trust in Him. And this was a rebirth, you became what you were not, went from a creature that opposes God to a creature who welcomes His voice. Your baptism means you have God as your Father and you listen to His Word. The Bible becomes your heritage. And it is not uncertain. Look at Jesus, look how he speaks. Amen, amen, I say to you. We speak of what we know and witness to what we have seen. That’s the assertion of Jesus. Jesus tells you with certainty who God is, because He is Himself the eternal Son, come from His Father, to save our fallen race by the shedding of His own blood. Jesus witnesses to what He has seen from eternity, that He is one God with the Father and the Spirit. We confess that He is the eternal Son because this is what He says, what the Bible says, God’s own Word, more sure than gravity. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

And we confess it because our salvation depends on it. Show me the sect that denies Jesus is true God from eternity and I’ll show you the sect that denies the worth of Jesus’ blood and sacrifice. It is the devil’s lie and pure human arrogance to think this is some overcomplicated theological point, let’s not talk about the Trinity, not talk about Jesus’ divinity, let’s all just believe in God and do good and that’s what matters. No, who is this God in whom you believe? What has He done? My God, the God I confess my sins to, the God I pray to in every trouble, the God I call on for grace to do better, the God who makes His home in me, is the God who shed His blood for me and took my punishment on Himself and suffered what I deserved in great love for me. And the worth of His blood is infinite, because it is God’s blood. The worth of His sacrifice and the strength of His love, because it is God’s sacrifice, God’s suffering, takes any doubt away from my troubled conscience. Because though my works have not been enough, though I have tried and tried to love my neighbor and confess my God, I have failed time and again. Even the works I admire the most are still stained with my stinking pride. But take your eyes away from your own works, sinner, and set them on Christ. And there you see no mere man sent from God, but God Himself become a man, the eternal Son sent from His Father, and His works are perfect, and He does them for you, in your place. There is your righteousness, there your forgiveness, there your salvation. Because God did it.

The Arians denied that God did it, denied that Jesus was God from eternity, and so they denied the worth of His sacrifice. And where did they then lay the burden? On you, to do what you can’t possibly do, live perfectly. You who are flesh, that which is born of flesh is flesh, a bad tree bears bad fruit, you must do what Jesus did, copy him and then if you do enough God will be happy with you. And this isn’t just some historical point of interest. The Arians are still alive and well today in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, everyone who denies Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father. They put the awful load of earning salvation on you. They steal it from Jesus, this His glory, they steal it from the Father, who so graciously gave His Son, they steal it from the Spirit whose great joy is to bring you Jesus’ righteousness and clothe you with it, and they lay the whole burden on you. And it is a burden you cannot bear. That’s why your Father in His love took it off of you and put it on His Son. You can’t bear it. And the poor Mormons can’t bear it either. The load will bring them down to hell to perish eternally unless they let Jesus take it from them. Unless they confess with us that Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, who together with the Holy Spirit are one God, one Lord. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life not because He was a great man, a great example, but because this man was and is God and He bled God’s blood for us and that blood drowns sin and death and the devil with the flood of God’s eternal love. So pray for your Mormon friends and invite them to hear the truth and be saved from that horrible burden.

We confess Jesus is eternal God because His word says it and because our salvation depends on it, and finally because this is our life now and forever. This isn’t something we just get right on a Sunday morning, so that we Lutherans win in a doctrinal dispute. In that case I don’t imagine Athanasius would have given up house and home, would have been driven out to hide in the desert, would have risked his life, just to win some technicality. No, the blood of Jesus washes us from sin and gives us new life, new birth. And the life we live we live for Him. There is no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t live for Jesus. The confession we make here we make out there. Good trees bear good fruit. The times are coming when you may lose your house and your home if you confess Jesus faithfully. And this is probably what we need. And if so God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Because we Christians have grown so sluggish and cold. We have imagined we can come to church and mouth the words of a confession and then go home and live as if it didn’t matter. Athanasius could never do that. Mouthing that confession meant living it. So if you are going to confess here that Jesus is Lord, then live it every single day of your lives. Jesus wants no hypocrites, no goats pretending to be sheep in His fold. When I tell you to pray at home and read your Bible daily at home, I do not mean this as a suggestion. If you think it is odd to do this, strange religious stuff, that is your flesh, it is the devil, and it knows nothing of what is normal for God’s children and in God’s kingdom. Everyone, but especially parents, on pain of losing your eternal salvation, pray to God daily and teach the Bible to your children. Make your home a Christian home. Make no excuses for the flesh. You are the reborn of God. So pray to your Father because He sent His Son to redeem you by His blood and gives you His Spirit. Live as His child. Read His Word, because it is the Word of your Father to you and the Spirit groans within you in desire for this Word. And do battle daily against your sin. Don’t pursue drunkenness or filth on the internet. Don’t nurse grudges and hate in the heart. Don’t send mean texts or speak hateful words. Don’t dwell on money problems and drown yourself in worry. You are above this. You are the redeemed of God. Your life is purchased by the Son’s blood. God so loved you.

Remember what your life is. And calm yourself daily by thinking on the Trinity. There is a God in heaven who rules over this earth, who created it, who holds all power. And you know His name. And you know His love. He gave His Son for you. The eternal Son died for you. The Spirit came to you and taught your darkened heart and mind. You have the ear of this God and His eye watches over you. The saying is Athanasius contra mundum. Athanasius against the world. Because it seemed as if everyone in all the world was against him. But he had peace, real peace, and his enemies had none. Because they opposed God when they opposed him. And they opposed peace with God when they opposed the Father’s only Son. And you would much rather have God’s favor than the favor of all the emperors and kings and rich of this world. Because no man can give a ransom for his neighbor, the price of his soul is too costly. But God paid the ransom. The Lord Jesus did. And He rescued you not just from poverty on earth or disgrace before men, but from death itself and the kingdom of the devil. And He gives you an honor far greater than this world could ever give, and the peace of sins forgiven, and the strength to fight against sin daily, and the satisfaction of knowing that everything good in life is a gift from your Father for the sake of His Son, and the confidence to pray to your Father in Jesus’ name, and the zeal to read His Word and hear it. And finally, He gives you love, love for your Lord Jesus, because He has first loved you, and because we love Him we will confess Him here at church, at home, with our families, by our lives and with our mouths, until we gladly bow the knee and with all in heaven and on earth and under the earth confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

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