Sermons > 2014 -June 15, The Trinity: it's really nothing new
Well today is Trinity Sunday. Of all the doctrines across all the different denominations, there is probably none that possess more universal agreement than this one. Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, non-denominational churches, parachurch groups all agree. There are three persons, but there is only One God. Now, we're still trying to win the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses over, but this doctrine has gone unchallenged in the church for more than 1600 years.
And although we take great comfort in that, that doesn't mean that this doctrine is safe because the Trinity is still under attack from outside the church. Whenever discussions about the different religions arise, you almost always hear the same thing in popular culture, well, don't all religions just worship the same god but by a different name?
And I would invite you to think about the answer this way: if your name is Bob, then it's Bob. It's not Joe or Ed or Steve. If your name is Renee, it's Renee, not Sandy or Lisa or Brandy. Your identity and your name go together. They define you. They emphasize your personality and your preferences and your disposition. No one else can substitute for you; not even your twin.
And the same is true with the Triune God. He is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He creates the world; He heals the blind; He brings you to faith. He comes to die upon a cross so that your sins would be forgiven. He promises to raise all people from the dead on the Last Day and to return to the earth. Other gods are not described with this identity. Their dispositions are different; their stories are different; their attitudes towards humanity are different and none of them promise to forgive our sins.
We've been hearing a lot from the Book of Acts over the last several weeks now. Easter season dealt with the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and it also dealt with the preaching of the Apostles afterwards. When they proclaimed Jesus and His resurrection and ascribed divinity to Him, they were accused of blasphemy. Blasphemy means that you say something about God this is untrue and highly offensive. Jesus was actually put on trial by the religious leaders of His day for blasphemy. He had proclaimed a oneness between Himself and the Father and this was an unpardonable offense.
See, there is no other religion that teaches that God is Triune – that He is three persons and One Divine essence. And if you look closely at the scriptures, you see that this is not such a new thing. God had left some hints to His Triune identity as far back as Genesis. There, we find the name for God used for the first time in Genesis 1:1. In the Hebrew, the name God is the name Elohim. Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth." Well, the im ending is actually the plural ending in the Hebrew. So technically, there is both a oneness and a plurality to God's Name and that's very unique. It's also very clever and revealing.
Later in Genesis, there is the narrative among the Trinity as God says, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness." What is this us? It is the Triune God-three persons, but One, Divine essence. Then again in Genesis 18:1-2, God approaches Abraham as three visitors and he refers to them collectively as "My Lord." So this Trinitarian presence is not so new.
Some months ago, I was flipping through the over the air channels on my TV since I don't have cable. And I have to admit that when TV went digital about five years ago, I got a lot more channels. I don't understand what language some of them are speaking, but I definitely have more variety. In fact, one of them was actually an Islamic channel. And they were having a panel discussion on there about Christianity and the Islamic scholar said that it was the council of Nicaea that moved Christianity into error by affirming God as Triune.
Those of you who know your church history remember that it was the council of Nicaea that affirmed God's Triune identity in the year 325 and published a Creed in support of that identity. It was this Triune identity of God that this Islamic scholar found to be offensive as well as blasphemous. And he is right that this unquestionably separates our faith from his because it separates our god from his.
Now, many people are surprised to learn that Jesus is actually mentioned in the Koran and that He is identified as a prophet in the Islamic religion. What's even more startling is that Jesus actually has a higher standing in Islam than He does in Judaism. In Judaism, Jesus was an imposter at best and a myth at worst, but in Islam, He was considered a prophet. But to say He forgives sins; to say He is the way to eternal life; or to say that He is God is unacceptable to those of that faith. And they believe us to be in great error for teaching this way.
Some secular scholars even now raise questions about the amount of time it took for the church to formally publish such a Creed. They ask about the first 300 years of Christianity when this Creed did not exist and try to use this as justification for saying that our monotheistic faith originated just like the others and only changed later.
But they miss the fact that the Apostles' Creed existed long before the Nicene Creed. And they miss the fact that the Trinitarian Name was found in the church's benediction from 2 Corinthians 13:14 since much earlier times, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." And the Trinitarian Name was also found in the church's earliest baptismal liturgy. So simply put, the Nicene Creed confessed nothing new. It simply proclaimed what had always been there in a more formal way.
The Trinity is, in fact, what distinguishes us from others who believe in one God. And confessing God as Triune is still considered blasphemous to the other monotheistic faiths today. Nothing has changed. Believing in the Trinity is still offensive and will still bring about persecution throughout many places in this world.
But if there is no belief in the Trinity, then there is no Christianity because Bob is not Steve or Dave or Mike. Bob is Bob. And God is not the same god of any or every other religion. God is God. He is Triune. He is three persons, but One Divine Essence.
You know, when Jesus was born, His appearance among men was not only for the purpose of dying for sin. It was also intended to reveal the full identity of God as Triune. The Incarnation meant that God had come to be among us in the flesh. From this point on, there was no going back. When you encountered Jesus, you encountered God because to look upon Jesus was to look upon God. "For in Him, all the fullness of the deity dwells bodily," Colossians 2:9 tells us.
And so in our church, we confess the Trinity every Sunday. How can you not? This is the identity of our God. This is specific. And so our worship is not generic, but it is targeted because we do not worship an undefined God. We worship the God who has revealed the fullness of His identity to us. There is no going back now to anything else. Once Jesus came as God in the flesh who bled for us and died for us and rose for us, who proclaimed His oneness with the Father and with the Spirit, there is no going back. Not that there is anything really to go back to because this revelation of God is not new.
And so the Trinity is proclaimed in our service at the Invocation and the Benediction. He is there in the Gloria Patri sung after the Psalm and in the Holy, Holy Holy sung before communion. He is confessed in the Creed and encountered again in the Post Communion song known as the Nunc Dimittis. And then, in the prayers as well.
In our church's worship, you encounter the Triune Name every Sunday because we worship a specific God, not a generic One. Our faith is defined and outlined in the Creeds. These Creeds confess and point to the teachings of the Scriptures distilling them down to the essential truths they proclaim and the God to whom they testify. And all of this is not new, but is has been proclaimed in Genesis and continues through eternity. And so we pray, praise and give thanks to our Triune God, who creates the world from nothing, redeems the world from sin and keeps us in the One true faith unto life everlasting. In the Name of the Triune God. Amen.
Pastor Chris Bramich