The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
+ IN NOMINE IESU +
If one is the loneliest number that you’ve ever known, then three is the loveliest. For if God is simply one, and He most certainly is one, but if He is only one, then He remains completely hidden to us. But He is not simply one. He is one God in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The loveliest revelation of God to be made known to fallen humanity.
To be sure, this is a great mystery, but it is no secret. The ancients did not see a mystery in such a way as to halt all further inquiry. Nor did they see it as a riddle to be solved. Rather, a mystery was a truth to be revealed—something disclosed to the faithful, not kept hidden.
And so we with frustration, and a little belligerence, we say the Athanasian Creed. But few of us share the early church’s enthusiasm for philosophy, even as we show little patience for theology that can’t be expressed by a single Bible passage or that can’t be immediately applied.
And so, some have devised supposedly helpful illustrations to explain how there can be one God in three Persons. God is like a three-part leaf, like the three states of water, like the three branches of the US government. These leave us, at the very least, thinking and feeling that this God is rather bizarre. Nevermind the fact that He is still not immediately practical.
But Christians have not come to believe that the God of the Bible is a Trinity because they sensed His resemblance to some leaf, drink, or political structure. Christians insist on the Trinity precisely because of Jesus Christ. For Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God. He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity become man, taking on flesh, dwelling among us. And as the only-begotten Son of God, He reveals that God is not only Son, but that God is a Father. Before anything else, that is the identity of God revealed in Jesus. Jesus said, “Father, you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24). Before all else, the God made known in Jesus Christ is a Father loving His Son in eternity, before the foundation of the world.
Thus, what Jesus reveals is a God who is love. And to be love, He must have an object to receive His loving affection. If God did not have a Son at any point, then He could not be what He is revealed to be by Jesus. He could not be a Father, and thus He could not be the God of love.
But God is not love in some abstract way. Love is not a feeling. It is an action. How the Father loves and delights in His Son is revealed to us at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. There the Father declares by His Word His love for His Son and His pleasure in Him as the Holy Spirit rests on the Son in the form of a dove. Thus, the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Father is the one who makes the love of the Father for the Son known. This anointing with the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism makes Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, which means Anointed One. For the Father loves, blesses, and empowers Jesus by anointing Him with the Holy Spirit. Jesus, therefore, calls out in thanksgiving, praise, prayer and need to His Father, crying “Abba, Father.”
This is a long way of saying, that when you start with the Jesus of the Bible, you inevitably arrive at a triune God. “For,” as John closed His Gospel, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Jesus is the Son of God the Father anointed as the Christ with the Holy Spirit to give life by the work He came to do under the Father’s will and by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
That work is for us and for our salvation. Why would He want to save us? What worth do we have that the most Holy Trinity deigns to work for our salvation, to give us life in Jesus’ name? There is no merit or worthiness in us. He saves us only out of His fatherly divine goodness and mercy. He saves us because of who He is, not because of who we are. He saves us because He is a God of love.
“For God loved the world in this way, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16–17).
That is why the Father sent His Son. He sent His Son because God is love. The Father is intimately involved in our redemption. For love’s sake, He sent His Son into the world, incarnate and anointed by the Holy Spirit, to live a life we have not lived and to die the death we deserve because of it. And all who believe in Him will not perish but live. The Son is sent by the Father into the world to love the world, to bring His Holy Spirit to humanity. This is how the Father loves the world: He sends His Beloved Son who bestows His Spirit from the cross. Whoever is born again of water and the Spirit receives eternal life, that is, he is reconciled to the Father. The Son has taken up our cause, joined Himself to our flesh, not only to redeem us from sin, but also to open up heaven. He does not leave us in Eden’s restored paradise. He takes higher, to His Father, to heaven. And He sends His Holy Spirit to testify of Him, to create faith, to pray for us, and to dwell in us as His new Temples. The Father Himself loves us in the Son and also hears our prayers. He is good. His mercy endures forever. He is Love, and He loves you.
We believe in Jesus because of the work of the Holy Spirit. “I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel [that is, by the Word of God], enlightened me with His gifts [that is, the gifts of the Word and the blessed Sacraments—Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper], sanctified and kept me in the true faith [through these same means].
Thus the Triune God is at work for your salvation. The Father sends His Son to accomplish salvation by His cross and empty tomb, and the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps us in this faith until we die. Why? Because that is who God is. He is love. The Trinity was not lonely. He did not need someone to love. Nonetheless, He created us in perfect love, to be recipients of His love. Our proper place in this universe is as God’s own beloved children. That is always what we were meant to be, what we were created for. And when we failed, when we chose our own evil way, when we rejected His love, then He reached out with more love to make us His again. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, have sought to make you His, to bring you into this mystery of selfless and giving love. He has done this when the Father declares His love and delight in you by the Holy Spirit-filled Word combined with water. In Holy Baptism, you are born from above, born again, by Water and the Spirit. You are a child of God, from the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. The inheritance is yours: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, everlasting salvation. The God who is love, loves you. You are never alone. For the Triune God will never leave you or forsake you. God is one in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And this God is love. Love with regard to each other, for the Father loves the Son, and love toward the world, which is why He sent His Son and Spirit. And that is why I said, three is the loveliest number. Amen.