Pre-incarnate Word

Text: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Date: The Holy Trinity X Pentecost I X 5/22/16

This is a rather unusual day in the Church Year in that at first it appears to be concerned not with an event in the life of Jesus nor a saint but with a doctrine: the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It is more than appropriate therefore that we should celebrate this day as a congregation which has taken for our name not that of a saint but the doctrine of the incarnation: The Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word. Some wish to ignore or even disparage “doctrine” as something spun out of human origin. But of course when we speak of “doctrine” we mean nothing else than the all-important teachings of the Bible. Yet the celebration of the Holy Trinity by the Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word is not merely of dry doctrine but really is primarily of a Person. He is the Incarnate Word, the Word and Wisdom and Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. He is the one and only Person by whom alone we are asked to grasp God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. In the end, you see, like everything else, this day and these doctrines are all about Jesus!

Our text is from the book of Proverbs where “wisdom,” σοφίαν (sophian) in Greek, is personified as a good woman. But it is in verse 22 that Wisdom is also personified as the pre-incarnate Christ. The term “pre-incarnate” means to confess that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity existed from already the beginning until His incarnation by the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary at Christmas.

Today we recall, confess and believe, in the words of the explanation of the small catechism, that the one, only and true God has revealed Himself in holy scripture as the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine being (the Holy Trinity). As we confess in the Athanasian Creed, “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.” It is the greatest mystery that God is a unity of three co-equal Persons and yet one God. Like almost everything else about God the human mind cannot understand this but must only believe it. To attempt to explain it “can get you into all sorts of trouble.”

Our text says of this Person called Wisdom, “the Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.”

Now allow me to introduce to you our guests today. First and foremost is the man named Arius called an heresiarch. Next to him is our friend St. Athanasius of Alexandria, the famous defender of Nicene theology. Accompanying Mr. Arius are his latest followers Joseph Smith founder of the Mormons and Charles Taze Russell founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The heresy or false teaching that the Council of Nicea in 325 ad condemned has come to be called “Arianism” after Mr. Arius. He taught against the Trinity emphasizing the Father’s divinity over the Son. Our text is cited as the word correctly translated “possessed” is also translated in other contexts as “created.” So the Jehovah’s Witness “New World Translation” of the Bible has verse 22 read, “Jehovah produced me as the beginning of his way.” In this way Wisdom appears to be created, that is, that He existed before the world began but not from eternity, but originating in time. It is against this false teaching that the Church included the important word in the Nicene Creed claiming Christ to be “of one substance with the Father.”

Again to the explanation of the catechism we ask who is Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary.” Jesus Christ is true God according to the apostle Thomas who acclaimed the risen Lord, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). St. Paul calls Him “God over all, blessed forever” (Rom 9:5). And St. John says it straight out, “[Jesus] is the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn 5:20). As God we confess He possesses the divine attributes of eternity, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:1-2); He is almighty, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Mt 28:18); He receives divine honor and glory as the book of Hebrews says, “Let all God’s angels worship Him” (Heb 1:6).

Now it was necessary for our Savior to be true man in order that He could act in our place under the Law and fulfill it for us and to be able to suffer and die for our guilt. But today we emphasize that it was necessary for our Savior also to be true God in order that He might be a sufficient ransom for all people in His holy life and sacred death, in order that He could overcome death and the devil for us.

We worship God, the Holy Trinity in Unity, and the Unity in Trinity. The mystery of the Trinity is the three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But how do we know and acknowledge the mystery of the Unity? The answer is, Jesus! As He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Mt 11:17). “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known” (John 1:18). And as Jesus said to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). To see the Father you need to look at Jesus.
We confess God the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father (and the Son). The Holy Spirit does not speak of Himself. He speaks of Jesus as He said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak” (John 16:13). Jesus and His Word is the key to knowing the Trinity in Unity.

You remember my favorite little story Martin Luther told about a coarse and brutal lout. “While the words ‘And was made man’ were being sung in church, he remained standing, neither genuflecting nor removing his hat. He showed no reverence, but just stood there like a clod. All the others dropped to their knees when the Nicene Creed was prayed and chanted devoutly. Then the devil stepped up to him and hit him so hard it made his head spin. He cursed him gruesomely and said: ‘May hell consume you…. If God had become an angel like me and the congregation sang: “God was made an angel,” I would bend not only my knees but my whole body to the ground! …And you vile human creature, you stand there like a stick or a stone. You hear that God did not become an angel but a man like you, and you just stand there like a stick of wood!’ …With this illustrative story the holy fathers wished to admonish the youth to revere the indescribably great miracle of the incarnation.”[1]

No, Mr. Arius, if you insist that Jesus is not divine, is not the Wisdom of God, the eternal Word of God, the incarnate God, you have no Gospel to preach. There will be no atoning death of anyone worthy to bring salvation and the forgiveness of sins to light from God. But we believe that the Son of God came to earth to deliver us from our sins, to bring us life. And it is only through Jesus that we can know God the Father and hear God the Spirit, one God now and forever.

[1] Luther’s Works, Vol. 22, 105.