Introduction: building the Ark
(a) Our Noah moment. Heb 11.7: “By faith Noah, having been warned concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the salvation of his household. By so doing he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” Just as in the days of Noah, so now, it’s only a matter of time before divine judgment falls upon the earth. Our ark of salvation is the Church of God. I have been sent here as a shipwright of Jesus Christ to build it up by preaching the truth.
(b) How do we build the kind of ark that will stand fast in our generation? When a football team starts to struggle, the coach brings his players back to the “fundamentals”: blocking, tackling, holding on to the ball, etc. For us, this translates to the four parts of the Catechism:
(1) the Christian life = 10 Commandments
(2) the Christian Faith = Apostles’ Creed
(3) Christian prayer = Lord’s Prayer/Psalter
(4) the Christian mysteries = Baptism & Eucharist.
*We do the Four Parts each week in the liturgy. That’s no accident: the idea is that through this “catechetical” worship, we’re molded into discipleship. For the summer, I will preach the Christian Faith, i.e., the Creed (cf. Eph 4.11ff).
(c) Why preach the Creed? Because we need rock-solid Christian truth more than air to breathe or bread to eat. For Americans, the question that counts is not: “Is this true?” but “Does this work?” or “Does this feel good?” For Christians, truth is all: it is our meat and our drink, our purpose and our joy, our reason for living and (if called upon) our reason for dying. To know the truth of God, to confess his truth, to rejoice in his truth, to live his truth is more precious than life itself. Truth is what holds the ark together, and keeps it from breaking into pieces when the stormy waves of a truthless age rage against the Church of God. This summer, we will preach, confess, and celebrate together the core truths that make for the structural integrity of the ark of salvation: the doctrine of creation, the fall and sin, the Old Testament, the person & work of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit, the Last Things.
Today we begin with the most important truth of all: the Holy Trinity. Three things: 1. What is our teaching? 2. Is this biblical? 3. Why does this matter?
1. What is our teaching? (Gen 1)
Before the beginning, from everlasting to everlasting, the God who is, and who was, and who is to come is the Holy and Happy Trinity, one God in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Gen 1.1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” But the God who did this is never and has never been and never will be alone. For he is the eternal Father. There was once a time when I was not yet a father. Then, when Mary Clare came along, I became one. But God never “becomes” anything; there is no shadow of turning with him (James 1.17). He is the eternal Father, for he has always been the everlasting Father of his endlessly beloved Son. So the Son himself declares in Prov 8 (vv. 23f, 27, 30): “Before the beginning … I was brought forth … When God established the heavens, I was there … I was beside Him like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.” So the Father delights in his Son, and the Son rejoices before his Father. Before the beginning, the God who made all things and time itself was infinitely happy, because he was not alone, but accompanied by his Son. And not only this! The delight, the joy, the love, the peace, the friendship that Father and Son share between them – the Father for his Son, and the Son for his Father – is so infinitely real and glorious and full of being & life that “it” is in fact a “He,” a Person, the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as the Love that flows as a River of Life from the great heart of the eternal Lover, the Father, to his eternally Beloved Son, and from the glad Son back to his radiant Father. These three different persons, the Great Lover, the true Beloved, and Love itself, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are the one true God: the God who, according to St John, is love (1 John 4.8).
2. Is this teaching biblical?
The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, but the truth of the Trinity is present from the very first page. In the beginning, God created the heavens & the earth: the Father (Gen 1.1). And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep (v. 2). And when the time came to bring light out of darkness, how did God make light? By his Word: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (v. 3). For “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and all things were made through him” (John 1.1-3). The Father made everything out of nothing by his Word, his Wisdom, his Son. And as for the Spirit, he is the Lord and the Giver of life. Ps 104.30: “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” David wraps all this up in one verse, Ps 33.6: “By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the ruach, the breath or Spirit, of his mouth.” Yes, the Trinity of Persons is the Lord of Creation; and that is why at Gen 1.26, when the time comes to make Man in the image of God, God said: “Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness.” Not my image: our, for the Father made Man by his Word and Spirit. But these three persons are one God, as St Moses explains in v. 27: “So God created Man in his image.” Do you hear that? Plural in v. 26: “us … our.” Singular in v. 27: not our, but “his.” For the three different persons are hinted at in v. 26, and the one undivided essence is confirmed in v. 27. You see, people who think they’re rather clever because they know the word “Trinity” isn’t in the Bible fail to see that the truth and reality of the Trinity is literally taught from page 1. This, on the basis of the Word of God, is our catholic faith in the Holy Trinity.
3. Why does this matter? (Eph 1.3-14)
(a) To be honest, the question is not really a good one. Suppose a man wants to marry a woman because she’s rich, and doesn’t give a hill of beans about what she is like. He doesn’t want to know her, because he doesn’t love her; he just wants her stuff. That’s how we often relate to God. We don’t really want to know him, because we don’t really love him that much at all; we just want his stuff. But if a man loves a woman, he wants to know her. He regards her. When she tells him about who she is, he listens eagerly and marks every word. If you love God, then press on to know him. When he speaks to you in his Word, and reveals to you who he is, listen eagerly to him and mark every word.
(b) Even so, I do think it’s important to explain one reason why the truth of the Holy Trinity matters. In reality, nothing makes sense apart from the truth of the Holy Trinity, because the Holy Trinity is God, and nothing makes sense, nothing holds together, nothing – to quote Switchfoot – is sound apart from him. But above all, the truth of the Holy Trinity matters because if we lose hold of this doctrine, we will lose hold of the truth of the gospel. That is the conviction that drove men of old like Athanasius to fight against the heresy of Arius (who denied that Christ is true God) with all their might. It’s really that simple: if we do not confess the true Faith of the catholic Church in the Holy Trinity, then we will have no good news, no gospel of grace, to preach at all.
(c) St Paul makes this crystal clear in Eph 1.3-14, for the gospel is the good news of the love of the Father, the blood of the Son, and the promise of the Holy Spirit.
(i.) The gospel begins not with Christmas or the cross, but with the eternal, free & loving purpose of the Father. Hear in v. 4 the good news of a grace that is stronger than you are. Before he laid the foundation of the world, Father had more important business to attend to. He chose us for salvation in Christ, not because he foresaw that we’d make ourselves holy by our works, but because he resolved to make us holy by his grace. St Paul explains this further in vv. 4c-5: Father predestined us for adoption as sons through his Son, Jesus Christ, not because we earned this, but because he loves us with an everlasting love (Jer 31.3). If that’s true—if my salvation does not depend upon my will or my effort, but upon the purpose and grace of the God who chose to become my Father for the very, very simple reason that he loves me—if this gospel is true, then there is hope, even for men as deeply sinful as me.
(ii.) If the gospel begins with the eternal love of the Father, the heart & soul of it is the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. The Father so loved the world, that he gave his Son. Hence vv. 6-7: all the riches of grace Father lavishes upon us are heaped up in his Son, the Beloved; it is in Christ, by his shed blood, that we have redemption, the forgiveness of all our sins.
Now, all this is tomfoolery if our confession about the Holy Trinity and the incarnation of the Son of God is not true. Think about it. If Jesus Christ were not true Man, how could he have suffered for us in our place? He’d have no blood to shed, and no reason to shed it, if he were not a Son of Adam. But if he were not also true God, how could his blood possess the power to atone for the sins of the whole world? Maybe your sins aren’t quite as sinful as mine. But I assure you, if God himself hasn’t taken my flesh to die in my place, I am a dead man. Without the truth of the Trinity, the cross is a tragedy and not a triumph, and we are still in our sins. What about the resurrection? If Jesus were not true Man, how could he rise again from death? But if he were not also true God, how could he destroy death’s power? Without the truth of the Trinity, the tomb is still empty, death still stings, and we have nothing to hope for.
In sum: If an extraordinary Man died for a good cause or even rose again from the dead, I suppose that might be very interesting. But it wouldn’t do us a lick of good. But if the blood of God has paid the debts I owe, then I am free. And if the perfect life of the living God has vanquished death itself in his own tortured body, then even if I die, through faith in the first-century Jewish peasant who is also the second Person of the eternal Trinity I will live forevermore.
(iii.) Ah, but how does this love and grace come to me? The Father, you say, chose me before the foundation of the world; Jesus died so long ago; how can this have anything to do with me? The gospel really comes into its own when we hear the good news about the Holy Spirit and his grace and power. For the Spirit is the One who takes the redemption prepared by the Father in eternity and won for us by the Son 20 centuries past and makes it powerfully effective in our present here-and-now.
When we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ (Eph 2.5). How? By giving us the gift of his Spirit, who is the Lord and Giver of life (John 6.63). The Spirit is the One who, by an act of almighty power, causes still-born sons of the first Adam to be born all over again in the Last Man, Jesus Christ (John 3.3-8). The Spirit is the One who opens up our blind eyes, so that we can see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4.4-6). And by bringing us to Christ, the Spirit leads us by the hand to the loving embrace of our Father (Eph 2.18). For he is the Spirit of adoption. He is the One who pours Father’s love into our hearts, and it’s the gift of this fatherly affection that knits up our scarred hearts & emboldens us to cry out to the Ruler of the universe, “Abba, Daddy, My Father, my dear, dear Father!” (Rom 8.15, 5.5). And as it is the Spirit who first brings us to the Father through Jesus the Son, so it is the Spirit who keeps us in this grace and love to the very end. Hence Eph 1.13-14: when we trusted in Christ, we were “sealed” with the promise of the Holy Spirit. It’s his presence, grace, and power in us that guarantees to us that we really are the children of God (Rom 8.16). And if children, then heirs. And if children of such a loving, kind, faithful God as this—who has given his Son to redeem us and his Spirit to reassure our wavering hearts—then most beloved children whom Father will never cast off.
It comes to this: we weakling Christians will persevere, because the Spirit will preserve us; and this Spirit is no weakling, but the Third of the Three, the Lord God, the Almighty. Because the Spirit is Lord; because Christ’s grace is strong; because Father’s love is unflinching: we beggars rightly boast that nothing can separate us from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13.14, Rom 8.39).
This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it, and give glory, laud, and honor to the God of all grace, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.