Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
Date: The Holy Trinity + 5/27/18
I remember reading some time ago a pastor wrote about this day, saying, “The Holy Trinity is the only Sunday devoted to a doctrine.” I fell for it at first. I think he meant that all other Sundays are about some words and acts of Jesus, His disciples, Mary, or one of the saints or martyrs, about people. Whereas The Holy Trinity is only more of a doctrine. There are those who think “doctrine” is only a dry, academic teaching, especially those teachings that engender disagreement or controversy among theologians. But if you stop to think about it, every Sunday speaks of doctrine, that is, the divine revelation and teaching of what we need to know about salvation. There’s the doctrine of man as God’s creation and then his fall into sin. There’s the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture and the Word of God given through the prophets and apostles. There’s the doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God, and the doctrine of the vicarious atonement by His death on the Cross. You get the idea. Doctrine is simply the teaching of God’s revelation in His Word.
When you think about it carefully there are very probably many things that God has not revealed to us as we don’t have the capacity to understand it or God has determined that we do not need to know about it. In my new member classes I would always begin by encouraging questions, saying, I may know the answer or I may know where to find the answer. But then I also would add there are some questions that do not have an answer. There are bone fide mysteries.
Nevertheless there are some mysteries about which God has determined we need to know and understand to our limited abilities. One such mystery is of the triune nature of God. Is it not a mystery when every Lord’s Day we confess, “I believe in one God,” but then describe this one God in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Why has God determined that we should know and understand this mystery? It is not merely for knowledge’s sake as some describe dry doctrine.
“The Christian knowledge of God calms the troubled conscience. In fact, it is our salvation. Scripture does not propose the doctrine of the Trinity as an academic question or a metaphysical problem. With the proclamation that in the one eternal God there are three Persons of one and the same divine essence Scripture combines the further gracious message that God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son into death as the Savior from the guilt of sin and death; that in the fullness of time, the eternal Son became incarnate and by His vicarious satisfaction reconciled the world to God and that the Holy Ghost engenders faith and thus applies to man the salvation gained by Christ. When the Christian confesses, “I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” he is saying, “I believe in that God who is gracious to me, a sinner.”
This definition by theologian Francis Pieper sounds more like a gracious, pastoral sermon of salvation and comfort for the sinner than a mere, dry, academic thing.
Now we could go on to describe and explain the doctrine of The Holy Trinity today. But I fear that would be to turn an otherwise Christian sermon into a dry lecture. The Triune nature of God is to be found throughout the Bible. We may think of the most obvious passages such as Jesus’ institution of the sacrament of Holy Baptism saying we are to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” One would even be tempted to think that the Trinity cannot be found in the Old Testament. But this is not so. And today we have the account of the call of Isaiah to help us out.
First, however, we should note a few things that are not so obvious in English and some that are. When the Bible begins by saying, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” it is not so obvious in English that the word for “God” in Hebrew is “Elohim,” a plural word! Right off the bat we’re told there is a plurality in God. Likewise Psalm 110 uses two different words translated “lord” when it says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Of even more help is when Isaiah speaks of “the Angel of His presence.” The Angel of the Lord is the appearance of God to Abraham, to Moses, to Jacob and the like.
That would be a problem when we remember the ancient rule spoken to Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20). So who was it they saw, Abraham, Moses and Isaiah? With Martin Luther we agree that when God appears and is seen by men with the eyes it is the incarnate Son of God.
In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord” (adoni). Then he saw the seraphim angels. “And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts (Yahweh).’” It seems appropriate to ask why the angels said “holy” three times! This is the comfort for us and the whole world that God has provided a way for sinners to see Him as the God of mercy, grace and salvation, namely, in the Son, Jesus the Christ and our Lord.
We see God by faith in the Son, faith created in the heart by God the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, especially that Word connected with the water of Holy Baptism as we heard Jesus explain to Nicodemus. For this is faith in the Savior who became man being born of the Virgin Mary. This is faith in the Savior who called the apostles to witness everything from His “baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us” (Acts 1:22). This is faith in Him whom Thomas called “my Lord and my God.” Whereupon Jesus mentioned you, saying, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Now you who have been baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” have been cleansed, redeemed, restored, forgiven by God to receive the eternal life God intended for all to have since Adam.
In the words of the ancient Irish confession, we claim today:
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three. [LSB 604]
We bind to ourselves the promises of God, by Christ’s Baptism, His cross of death for our salvation, His resurrection and Ascension and His coming again as Judge of the world. We bind ourselves to the Word of God. We bind unto ourselves the name, The strong name of the Trinity. Amen