Let Jesus Be the One
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity. We confess that the true God is 3 distinct Persons in one Divine Being. If I catechized you, you have seen the slide where the word God is in the center of a triangle and the corners of the triangle are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This slide teaches the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God. The Father is not the same as the Son; the Son is not the same as the Spirit; and the Spirit is not the same as the Father.
This is a correct expression of the Trinity. Yet you know that while every blade of grass bears the inscription "God has made me," no creature in all creation bears the inscription "The three Persons of the Godhead made me." Yes, there is only One God who reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit, but when you think of that One God whom do you think of? It's the Father, isn't it? As a Christian when you see "In God we trust" on your money or hear the Pledge that we "are one nation under God," you think God the Father don't you?
I'm here to change that. Luther calls the knowledge of God outside of Jesus "'a knowledge of the wrong side of God'" (Pieper, I, 389). In an even bolder statement he says that outside of Jesus "no other god is to be worshipped or sought" (LW, 12, 352). So when you confess that the True God is 3 in 1, let Jesus be the one you think of.
You know the famous Jack Nicholson line, "You can't handle the truth?" Well, we can't handle God apart from Jesus. Could John 1:18 be any clearer? "No man has seen God at any time." Where do you think the Greeks got the myth of Medusa whom if you looked upon you were turned to stone? Where else but the Old Testament where God tells Moses, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!"
God apart from Jesus is unapproachable. Paul says He dwells in light unapproachable. Does blinding light comfort you? Do you move towards a blinding light? Don't you look away, and put up your hand to shield your eyes? When we put up manger scenes and put a light bulb in the manger, no one uses a 500 watt halogen bulb do they? That would be off-putting to say the least. This is God apart from Jesus. He lives in blinding, unapproachable light. But that's not even the worst part.
God apart from Jesus isn't just blinding; He's burning. Hebrews 12:29 says the same thing about God as Deuteronomy 4:24 does. "You God is a consuming fire." We're afraid, or at least ought to be afraid, of a consuming fire. It's something we flee. We literally can't handle a consuming fire. Long before paper starts to burn at 451 degrees, humans have to back away.
We can't handle God apart from Jesus; we can handle God in the Son. The God whom no man can see, approach, or handle wills, wants to be, handled, approached, and seen in the Person of Jesus. I mean this quite literally. Jesus was pawed upon by shepherds, swept up in the arms of Simeon, worshipped by wise men. Jesus wasn't an image of God; a picture of God; a reminder of God. When you touched Him, you touched God. Paul says, "All the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Jesus." Do you get that? The Deity that man can't see, approach, or handle is in Jesus. You want to know about the true God, the Triune God? The only way you can safely do this is in Jesus.
John 1:18 doesn't stop with "No man can see God at anytime." It goes on to say, "But the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father He has explained Him." Literally John says, "He has exegeted Him." If I read a passage in Greek and tell you what it says in English, I have exegeted that passage. Jesus is the exegesis of God. Or if you want to put it in terms of seeing go to John 14 where Jesus plainly says, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." Look at God apart from Jesus you see only a blinding light. Look at Jesus and you see the face of God.
God apart from Jesus says, "Approach no further." God in Jesus says, "Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden." God apart from Jesus is a consuming fire that can only burn sinners up. God in Jesus eats with sinners. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God apart from Jesus, but in Jesus those hands have nail holes.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given into the hands of the Man Jesus, and those hands have nail holes. Nail holes He willingly suffered to redeem you, to forgive you, to help you. As God the Son, Jesus always had all authority in heaven and earth. Whether Jesus was in Mary's womb or in the manger, whether He was a 12 year old in the temple or a 30 year old waiting to be baptized, Jesus as true God, had all authority in heaven and earth. But He didn't always use His divine power as a human being. Why? To redeem you, you poor sinner.
Think about it. Jesus came into the world to redeem humans. To do that He had to keep God's laws in the place of humans. If He used His divine power to resist the temptations of the Devil, that wouldn't have been in place of our falling to temptation. When He went down to Nazareth and was subject to His mom and stepdad for 18 years, if He had used His power as True God, He couldn't have been obedient in the place of sinful human children. If Jesus feared, loved, and trusted God above all things because He used divine power that First Commandment would be hanging over all our human heads as un-kept unfulfilled.
And how could Jesus have suffered our punishment if He didn't forego using His divine power as a Man? How could He suffer the hunger we deserve for our sins? Had Jesus not hid His divinity the ravens would have flocked to Him with bread and meat in their beaks the way they fed Elijah. How could Jesus have suffered the thirst our sins deserve? Water would have welled up from the rocks like it did for Moses? And how do you think whips, nails, spear, and thorns could have pierced the flesh of God if He had always used His divine powers as a Man? It would have been like it was in the last Superman movie. The bullet struck Superman in the eye but it was the bullet that shattered.
After His hands had done everything perfectly the Law requires, Jesus offered up those holy hands to be nailed to the cross, and the nails went through. So, as a Man Jesus not only deserved but paid for the right to have all authority in heaven and on earth. All this authority is in the hands of a Man like you - the Man who suffered and died for you. Let me ask you. If someone rescued you from death, risked everything to do it, suffered to do it, paid an impossible amount to do it, would you ever, could you ever, be afraid of that person doing something to harm you?
We can't handle God apart from Jesus. We can handle God in Jesus, and God wills to handle us through Him. On the Mount of Transfiguration, God the Father booms, "Listen to Him." Jesus says when He sends us God the Spirit, "He will take of Mine and give to you." All three Persons of the Trinity come together in the Person and Work of Jesus.
Jesus today commands the baptizing of all nations "in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Yet Peter in Acts 10:48 orders Cornelius' household "to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." And in Romans 6:3 Paul tells us we were baptized into Christ Jesus. Paul says, Baptism joins us to Jesus' life and death; Baptism buries us with Jesus; Baptism clothes us with Jesus. When we're baptized it's the sign of Jesus' cross that is put on our head and heart. Yes, Baptism is in the Name of the Triune God, but it's all about Jesus.
It's the same thing with Absolution. I say, "I forgive you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." But it is Jesus who instituted Absolution. It is Jesus who showed up in the upper room and said, "As the Father sent Me so I send you." So Jesus does the sending of Absolution into the world even as He sent Baptism to all nations. And what did Jesus do after saying He sends them? He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." And He assured them that the forgiveness from their lips is real forgiveness. If it's real forgiveness to the One who has all authority in heaven and earth, then who can say otherwise?
Finally, when Jesus leaves His disciples, how does give them comfort, assurance, and hope? Does He say that the power of the Spirit will be with them? Does He say that the Father will be with them always? No, He says, "I am with you always to the very close of the age." And where do we find Jesus with us? Where do we touch Him, taste Him, see Him, smell Him? In the Bread that His is Body; in the Wine that is His Blood.
I have a cousin who use to forward me every pious religious story on the internet. I noticed that about half of them were about God not about God in Christ, and even when they were about Jesus, they weren't about Him working in Word and Sacrament. That's not how it is to be for us. Let Jesus be the one you think of when you think of God, and let what Jesus says and does in Word and Sacraments be how you approach, handle, and see God.
As Luther said trying to know God apart from these is knowledge of the wrong side of God. It's like looking at a tapestry from the back. All you will see is a mass of threads running every which way showing no picture but only confusion. In Jesus' Words, Water, Bread and Wine all authority in heaven and on earth is working, molding, shaping, painting, and weaving your life into the work and the beauty that the True God would fulfill in you for Himself and for others (Lutheran Worship, 311). Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Festival of the Holy Trinity (20110619); Matthew 28: 16-20