From Eternity to Here
From Here to Eternity is the title of a famous book and movie about pre-WW II military people. But the phrase comes from an 1890's poem by Rudyard Kipling about British soldiers who have lost their way and are "damned from here to eternity." Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity rejoicing that we are saved from eternity to here.
Today is one of those Sundays to step back and take in the big picture. The Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit, have existed from eternity. Before there was time, before there was space, before there was matter. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit existed. Three Divine Persons in one Divine Essence, the Father always begetting, the Son always begotten, and the Spirit always proceeding from the Father and the Son. A perfect being neither wanting, needing nor hoping for anything.
The Holy Trinity is a mystery not a secret. A secret is something that is never meant to be known. A mystery is something that can be known but never understood. A mystery in the Bible is something that man can only know because God reveals it. From Genesis on God made Himself known as triune 3 Persons in 1 essence. In Genesis 1 God the Father creates; God the Son, the Word, speaks, and God the Spirit hovers over the waters. In Numbers 6, when God commands that His one name be put on Israel, He directs the high priest to put His name on in a 3-fold way: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you. Jesus directs that we baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Clearly the doctrine of the Trinity is taught, but if you try to get your head around it, it will explode. The Trinity is a blinding light, a consuming fire, to see the Trinity is to die. The Glory of the Trinity drives sinners out of the temple. Ezekiel sees that glory in a vision that can hardly be pictured in the constraints of time and space. There is flashing fire, with a cloudy presence, with the likeness of 4 living creatures each with 4 faces and 4 wings. Each creature goes straight forward without turning the other. There are wheels beside each creature and their rims are covered with eyes. Seeing this all we can do is what Ezekiel did: fall on our faces.
From eternity the Holy Trinity is complete, all powerful, all knowing. It is a mystery we can only confess, own, and worship. We can't understand the Holy Trinity, nor are we to focus there. We are to focus on God the Son as indeed the Holy Trinity does. Jesus tells us, "All that belongs to the Father is Mine." And, "The Spirit will take from what is mine." The Holy Trinity deals with us in, with, and under the Person of the Son. It's in the Triune Name we're baptized, yet Paul says we put on the Son. We're absolved in the name of the Triune God, yet the pastor speaks in the place of the Son. At Communion we sing the trice holy Sanctus to the Triune God, but it's the Son we greet as blessed.
All this indicates that the correct way to think about God is from below not from above. We think about God from the humanity of Jesus not from the majesty of the Triune God. As Luther frequently said, Jesus is the only ladder the Triune God ever let down from heaven for us to climb up on. We think about God based on the Light of the world, not based on blinding light. We approach God from God the Son whom we can see, not the Triune God no one can see. We come to God by Him who won't crush a dimly burning wick, not by Him who is a consuming fire.
We think about the Triune God who existed from eternity by focusing on God the Son who walked among us in visible flesh and blood and now walks among us in visible Water, Words, Bread, and Wine. When we focus on God the Son our focus is on redemption, salvation which is the will of the Holy Trinity. The will of the Holy Trinity is that no one perish but that all come to repentance and everlasting life. The Holy Trinity doesn't desire the death of even the wickedest person. The Holy Trinity doesn't delight is suffering, death, and damnation.
But how can that be when so many, indeed, the majority of people do indeed suffer, die and are damned? In the Old Testament only one nation knew the Triune God; the rest did not. Think of all the noble Greeks and Romans who didn't? All dead and damned for as we confessed today the only way to be saved is to believe in the Triune God.
Therefore, don't focus on what the Holy Trinity does in history, in space and time, focus on the Person of the Son. When James and John wanted to call fire down from heaven to smoke those unbelieving Samaritans, Jesus wouldn't let them. When Peter drew his sword to strike those unlawfully arresting Jesus, Jesus said, "Put it back." When a woman was caught in adultery, even then Jesus wouldn't pick up a stone to throw at her.
Love so amazing, love so divine. Who can get their head around that? You want to focus on why more aren't saved, when the real question is why is anyone at all? You know what it took to redeem just your sinful soul? You know what it took to save just your sinful body from the fires of hell? It took Jesus' holy soul being overwhelmed with sorrow till the point of death. It took Jesus' holy body and blood being given and shed to pay for your sins. The fire, the sword, the judgment that Jesus wouldn't let fall on sinners who deserved it, the Holy Trinity brought down on perfect Jesus who did not.
Jesus' suffering, sighing, bleeding dying is your salvation. Look no farther than that. Don't look to what the Triune God may or may not be doing in the world. Don't look to tragedy, disaster, and suffering for what the Triune God thinks about you. Look to the Son. For despite what you see and others tell you about what God is doing in the world or about what the Spirit of God wants you to know, Jesus says: "All that belongs to the Father is mine; the Spirit takes from what is Mine and makes known to you." So if you want to know for sure what the Father and the Spirit are doing in the world Jesus says that you must look to Him and only to Him.
Jesus says the Holy Trinity is all about you. The pronoun you shows up 5 times in this short text. The Spirit will guide you into all truth; He tells you what is to come; Twice we're told He takes what is Jesus' and makes it known to you. And finally, Jesus tells the disciples in the upper room, "I have much more to say to you more than you can now bear." Remember it is Jesus who is about to go to hell for their sins; it is Jesus who will be betrayed, beaten to within an inch of His life, and then savagely crucified, yet He is concerned for what the apostles who are about to desert Him can bear!
After His resurrection, they could bear the other things the Holy Trinity through Jesus wanted to make known to them. We're told that Jesus opened the minds of the apostles so that they could understand all things written about Him. We're told that Jesus brought to theirs mind everything He said to them through 3 years of seminary training. Therefore, the Apostolic Word, your New Testament, is all that the Triune God wants you to know for your salvation. The Apostolic Word is the fulfillment of the promises Jesus makes here in our text. The Apostolic Word is the "all truth" Jesus promised the Spirit will guide them into. Your New Testament is how the Spirit brings glory to Jesus and gives you all that belongs to Him and the Father.
What am I saying? All the majesty, power, glory, and mystery of the Triune God around whom the 4 living beings are constantly singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy," comes to rest in the Bible, the Word, the Scriptures. The Book men scoff at and feel free to ignore is all that the Triune God wants you to know about them for living, for dying, for everlasting life. Those who rely on speculations about the Father in His majesty can only go astray or mad. Those who claim the Spirit apart from the Word directs them grab on to their own feelings, urges, opinions, and emotions thinking they have the Triune God. No, the Triune God only makes Himself known in the Word - God the Son, the Word made flesh; in the Word Holy Scripture written down by prophets and apostles; in the Word Holy Communion the Bread and Wine made the Body and Blood of God the Son.
The Word is always Satan's point of attack. In Eden it was, "Did God really say?" In the New Testament, Satan came with edicts to murder the Word made flesh and tempting words to make Jesus deny His Son-ship. The offense that rests upon the Bible and the Person of Jesus rests also on the altar. Wherever the Word of the Holy Trinity is: in Flesh, in Scripture, in Bread and Wine, there's where you'll find the Devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh attacking.
Why? Because here, in the Word, is where the Triune God is powerful to save sinners. In truth, only in, with, and by the Word, is the Triune God present to save anyone. Without the Word, whether infleshed, inscripturated, or imbreaded,' the Holy Trinity has no saving contact with fallen mankind. He remains in heaven perfect, powerful, and apart; we remain on earth, lost, helpless, and damned.
It is by the Word, that the Triune God comes forth from light that is unapproachable, from fire that consumes, and from majesty that maddens to save sinners. Here in these Words, here on this altar, here in this Book is Triune God for you. From eternity the Triune God comes here in the Word so sinners might be saved from here to eternity. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Holy Trinity (20070603) John 16: 12-15