The Only True God

Text: John 8:48-59
Date: The Holy Trinity + 5/30/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

In our synodical explanation of the Small Catechism, one of the first things, under the First Commandment (Question 19 of the 306), we teach our children, asking, “Who is the only true God?” Answer, “The only true God is the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine being (the Holy Trinity).” This is the characteristic that sets the true God apart from all other false gods. The Athanasian Creed, which we usually recite on Trinity Sunday, claims the necessity of understanding the Triune nature of God by “whoever desires to be saved.” “Whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity.” In our worship we gather for the Divine Service “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” we are baptized and absolved, married and buried “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and we are taught to stand especially for a doxological stanza of a hymn in praise of the Holy Trinity.

Isn’t it odd, then, that when we say a doxology, baptize, absolve, or say the invocation we do not make a sign of the Father (whatever that might be), nor of the Spirit (I don’t know of one), but the sign of the cross, a sign uniquely significant of only the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God incarnate, crucified for us and for our salvation. There are many “proof texts” to which we traditionally point that speak of the Trinity. None of these, however, is in the readings for this festival today. Our reading from Proverbs speaks mysteriously only of “wisdom,” and there is no reference to the Holy Spirit in today’s Gospel! That is because, though the only true God is the Triune God, and whoever desires to be saved must believe in the Trinity, the only way to such saving faith, knowledge and wisdom is only through the Son of God, the only-begotten, the wisdom possessed by God from the beginning, the incarnate Son of Mary, Jesus, the Christ who said to His Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

First we heard from the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Wisdom calls. The question is, is this wisdom a concept, a thought spoken about with personification, that is, as if it were a person? Or is this Wisdom an actual Divine Being? This is answered clearly in the New Testament when the Apostle Paul says, “but we preach Christ crucified…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24). In Colossians 1 he describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…and he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15-17), and in the next chapter he speaks of “God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3). Finally, the Son says of Himself in Revelation that He is “the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation” (Rev. 3:14).

With that insight we read in Proverbs that the Son of God was “possessed (by God)…at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old” (Prov. 8:22), “possessed” meaning, as in the Athanasian Creed, that “the Son is neither made nor created, but begotten of the Father alone” (Athanasian Creed, 21).

So in today’s Gospel, the issue is, as Christian apologist C.S. Lewis has written, “You must make your choice. Either this man (Jesus) was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”[1]

That was the dilemma of Jesus’ opponents who were forced to the conclusion, asking, “Are we not right in saying that you…have a demon?” Jesus denied it, but pressed the issue as He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” “Now we know that you have a demon,” said His opponents. Abraham died. All the prophets have died. Dead is dead. “Yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’”

Then the most impossible claim. Jesus said to them, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Locked in to their limited worldview they asked skeptically, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” With an oath Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” And here is the most clear assertion by Jesus of His Divine nature, using the very name of God, “I AM,” for Himself, which is why “they then picked up stones to throw at him.” John then tells us Jesus disappeared to them. His hour had not yet come.

The main issue of our readings on this Holy Trinity Sunday is the eternal, pre-existence of the Divine Son of God who, nevertheless, entered our time and space in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. This Jesus is none other than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Lord whom Isaiah saw in the temple, whom Abraham saw and heard in the promises that were spoken to him. This is the only true saving God who said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.”

Now most of us have attended plenty of funerals, many of them Christian funerals. And we all have, to some extent, given at least some thought to our own impending death. Anyone who has been baptized is to know that they were there buried with the Lord into His death, that there they died so that Christ could give them life. With the promise of Jesus the question is no longer about death, you see, but about life, as He who existed before time began said earlier in John’s Gospel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has”—not might have or even will, definitely have, but has already—“has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). What does this mean? In Christ we’re truly alive already; that eternal life is a present possession for Christians; that there is no waiting until death, that eternal life begins now. My pastor in my youth used to announce the death of a Christian by using the phrase that he or she had “entered life.” Actually, if we already have eternal life, as Jesus here says, then the death of the Christian is, at best, an entering into rest and safety. But eternal life is the possession already of all who are baptized into Christ.

On this Trinity Sunday we acknowledge and believe in the one, true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But the reason we acknowledge and believe is because of His own revelation to us in the Person of the Son of God. In Jesus God put a human face and a human touch on His own outreach of love. More than that, in Jesus God has now exalted our own human nature to be more than it was at creation, that is, exalted with Christ to reign with Him as sons and daughters, eternal children of God. And this exaltation and eternal life has already begun now so that we no longer fear death, for death has been destroyed. And we look for the promised resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

[1] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952, p54-56.