The Holy Trinity - Comfort in the Incomprehensible
St. Augustine was walking along the beach pondering the Holy Trinity, the 3 Persons in one undivided, eternal essence. The more he pondered the more perplexed he became. In the midst of his thoughts, he came upon a little boy with a bucket running back and forth to the water carrying a bucketful each time to pour down a hole in the sand. Augustine asked, "What are you doing?" The boy replied, "I'm trying to put the ocean into this hole." "Foolish child," chuckled Augustine. Then it dawned on him, "I've been trying to put the infinite God into my finite mind."
So why think about the Holy Trinity at all? Why celebrate it, if it's too big for our finite little minds? Well, to begin with, none may deny this doctrine and still be a Christian. If you talk about God apart from the Holy Trinity, you're talking about god with a small "g". You're not talking about the true God. If you talk about God as if there is one god for all religions: Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Mormon, Jehovah Witness, you're denying the Holy Trinity, and you're no Christian.
None may deny this mysterious, incomprehensible doctrine of 3 divine persons in 1 undivided essence. It's clearly revealed in the Bible. At Creation, God the Father speaks; the Spirit of God hovers over the waters, and we hear the Word, God the Son. At the Baptism of Jesus, we see God the Son in the Jordan; we see God the Spirit descending as a Dove, and we hear God the Father speaking. In our own Baptisms, the 1 name (singular) of God is put on us but 3 persons are distinctly mentioned: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
We celebrate the Holy Trinity yearly because none may deny this deep doctrine and remain Christian. This doctrine is clearly revealed by Scripture and is clearly confessed by the Church in Her creeds and liturgy. You can't be confirmed without confessing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Every Collect we pray, every chant we make, every breath the liturgy takes revolves around Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We have Trinity Sunday to remind us of the importance of this mysterious doctrine, but don't misunderstand. We don't have Trinity Sunday to UNDERSTAND The Trinity. While none may deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, none can understand it either. In Romans 11 Paul speaks of the Triune God, "from Him and through Him and to Him are all things," he says. But he admits that His judgements and ways are past finding out. St. John bluntly tells us, "No, man has seen God at anytime." Moses begs for a glimpse of the Trinity and only gets to see the backside. Elijah gets a "still small voice." And Isaiah is "undone" when he 'sees' the "holy, holy, holy."
None can understand the Trinity of God; madness awaits those who try. Ezekiel seeing only the divine glory in a vision of a 4 faced beings with feet like calf's hooves, and wheels full of eyes falls on his face like a dead man. Hebrews says the Holy Trinity is a consuming fire and that it is terrible to fall into His hands. Paul says the Triune God dwells in light unapproachable. Not that you MAY not approach, but that you CANNOT; it is impossible.
These are two important truths for Trinity Sunday. None MAY deny the Holy Trinity, and none CAN understand it. But there is no comfort in these two truths. The comfort comes from the fact that, thanks be to Jesus, no one has to do either. Jesus said to the disciples in John 14, "You believe in God, believe also in Me." The disciples had belief in God down pat. They knew about His blinding light, His consuming fire, His dwelling in a mystery, His mighty kingdom, His infinite majesty. But these truths brought them no comfort. They were still very troubled. So, Jesus said to them, "Don't let your hearts continued to be troubled. You believe in God, now believe in Me." Then He goes on to tell them about how God is His Father, how there are many rooms for them in His Fathers's kingdom, and how if you want to know about this God don't look at His blinding light, His consuming fire, His unspeakable glory. No, look at Jesus. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father," Jesus told those disciples, and He tells us.
Augustine was right. We cannot fit the infinite God into our finite brains. We can't fit eternity into time. We can't fit uncreatedness into a creature. We can't, but God can and did. Colossians 1 reveals to us the astounding truth that "all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Christ." In Jesus eternity stepped into time. In Jesus, the uncreated God placed Himself into the womb of a created woman. In Jesus, the finite is capable of the infinite. In terms of the Augustine illustration, all the ocean could fit into a hole if Jesus dug it.
I know, I know, to some of you this still doesn't help. Let me try again. The Triune God has put one ladder down from heaven to earth. One ladder is located on earth on which you can climb up to heaven and safely look around. All other ladders that people try to climb to heaven on: horoscopes, psychics, seances or even things like visions, dreams, and the Holy Spirit, are not safe ladders. O they may look like they're going straight to heaven, but when you stand on them and poke your head in, you're really looking into hell not heaven.
"No one comes to the Father, but through Me," is what Jesus says in John 14. He's the ladder for you to climb on and find out all about God. John, after saying that no man has seen God at anytime, goes on to say, "But Jesus who is in the lap of the Father has explained Him." Looking at Jesus, you see that none has to deny the Trinity nor understand it. You don't have to deny it because Jesus is the One who plain as day says we are to baptize into the Name of the Triune God. And we don't have to understand it because Jesus never points us to the Trinity but to Himself. Listen:
The 11 came to Jesus, and for the first time, it's recorded that "they worshiped Him." The worship that only God should receive they give to this Man, Jesus. But some are doubtful, some are befuddled, some are uncomfortable because of what they cannot understand and yet they know they may not deny: Jesus is God, all the power and infiniteness of God dwells in the Man Jesus. Well what does Jesus do? Over against their feeble doubts Jesus speaks about all He has, all He wants, and His always being with them. Friends, if you talk about ALL the power of the Trinity, ALL that the Triune God wills, or Him ALWAYS being with you, there is more confrontation then comfort in these. Don't go there; go where Jesus points you: to Himself.
Jesus knows that some of His 11 disciples are doubting, but it didn't stop Jesus from coming to them. Just as He came to the 11, though some of them were doubting, and just as He came to doubting Thomas, so He comes to us in our doubts too. He says, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." You know who we are to picture as having the whole earth and heaven too in His hands? Not God, not the Trinity, but Jesus. The power and authority of God are now with a Man. A Man whom Scripture says was in every way tempted like you are but without sin. A Man whom Scripture says can sympathize with our weakness because He Himself knows what's in us.
Friend, it isn't a nameless, faceless Divine Being who hurls lightening bolts from the sky. It's your Jesus. The hands that hold the lightening bolts are the very same one's that were given to the executioners to be nailed to the cross for your sins. The hands that hold the world are the hands that picked up children tenderly, healed the sick, raised the dead, and were raised to heaven on our behalf. The hands that hold your future, are the very Ones who give to you His Body and Blood for your forgiveness. Notice that when we chant the hymn of praise to the Triune God, the Gloria in Excelsis, the primary focus is on Jesus: the only begotten Son, the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world, the One who sittest on the right hand of God the Father.
Apart from Jesus Christ we know no God. None. We can only talk about God in Christ. God outside of Jesus doesn't wish to be known or approached by us. It's only in Jesus that can we say what the true God desires, wants, and will. And what might that be according to our text? He desires ALL nations to be saved. Jesus uses all the authority He has over heaven and earth to send His saving Gospel out to all nations. He could have sent into all the nations to get gold; He could have sent to get people who would do things for Him. But no, He sends His Gospel into all the world to make disciples by means of baptizing and teaching.
Now don't go making that word "disciple" a Law word, as if in the end the true God, Jesus Christ, is just like every other false god wanting people to do for Him. No, Jesus wants all the nations to be baptized into the Triune God. Baptism is something the Triune God does for us, not something we do for Him. What a glorious thing to, literally, be brought INTO the Triune God. What safer place could there ever be?
I know what you're thinking. But what about "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you?" That sounds like the Law. Well, are the commandments of Jesus burdensome: "Follow Me, and I will give you rest," He says. "Be baptized and wash away your sins." "Confess your sins one to another." "Take eat, Take drink for the forgiveness of your sins." "Do this often." The commandments of a God shrouded in smoke and lightening might be burdensome, but not so those of Jesus. "Be baptized, be forgiven, be fed" are all commands to receive His gifts. It's like giving your child the command, "Open your birthday presents." No, child thinks that command is a burden, do they?
Jesus says all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, the Man Christ Jesus. Jesus says that His desire is for His saving Gospel is to go out to all nations. Moreover, Jesus promises He is with His those going out with His saving Gospel all they way to the end of the world. That tells you two things. One, the baptizing and teaching by which the Lord makes disciples of the Triune God will continue till the end of the world. There is not going to come a time when we will be without His baptizing or teaching in this fallen world. We will always have the means by which the Lord Jesus brings us to the Triune God.
Two, it tells us that this baptizing and teaching will always be efficacious. It will always be powerful. The Lord, the Ruler of heaven and earth is with it. When His ministers Baptize, it is Jesus the Ruler of heaven and earth who escort the baptized into the Triune God. When His ministers forgive sins, it is no less than Jesus sending them away. When His ministers give you Holy Communion it is no less than Jesus giving you His Body and His Blood.
Friends, Trinity Sunday sweeps us up to the realm of the eternal and infinite. We speak of mysteries so wonderful, so beautiful, so powerful that not even in heaven will we understand them. But what we find out on Trinity Sunday, indeed on every Sunday, is that the wonderful, beautiful, and powerful things of God are wrapped for us sinners safely in Jesus. The Holy Trinity is like a million kilowatt power plant. There are "Danger No Trespassing" signs and the awesome hum of electricity hanging in the air. If you approach the Trinity wrongly, in a way He has not willed, there are shocks and even death there for you. Not so in Jesus. Jesus is the power outlet in your home. All the power of the million kilowatt Triune God is safely in Him for your benefit. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Feast of the Holy Trinity (5-26-02), Matthew 28:18-20