Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Holy Trinity: God For Us!

Acts 2:14a, 22-36 This morning we confessed our Christian faith in the words of the Athanasian Creed.  We confessed that “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.”  We confessed that Jesus is one Christ “not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God.” 
As we did so--as the lines of this Creed went on and on, carefully distinguishing between, and defining, the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, perhaps there was the temptation to say to ourselves, “What on earth does this have to do with me?”
Hopefully we will felt a little bit of guilt and unease in thinking that way because at the beginning and end of the Creed we affirmed that those who do not believe in the Christian Faith confessed in the Athanasian Creed—those who do not keep it whole and undefiled—those who do not hold to it faithfully and firmly—cannot be saved-- and will instead perish eternally.
That’s a sobering thought-- and it is meant to be-- for the Creeds deal with the questions at the center of our human existence:  who is God- and how can I know him- and what must I believe to be saved? 
The Creeds of the Church answer those questions this way:  1. There is one God in three distinct, yet equal persons and 2. Jesus Christ, the God/Man is the only Savior of the world and 3. we must believe in him and what he has done to be saved.
The truth about the Trinity and the truth about Jesus as they are confessed in the creeds are the two irreducible biblical truths that must be believed for salvation. 
In stark contrast to the religious pluralism that is so prevalent in the world today, and especially in our own country, the Christian Church confesses (and has always confessed) that those who do not believe in this one true faith confessed in the creeds—no matter how outwardly pious or kind or religious they might be—will not be saved.
You see, it matters eternally what we believe—salvation is at stake--which is why for a lot of Christians Trinity Sundays makes us a little bit uneasy. We want to believe that these things about God and Christ are true—but the Athanasian Creed in all its careful details seems difficult to understand.  We can’t quite get our minds around the central mysteries of the faith.
That is why it is important for us to recognize and remember that the ecumenical creeds—even the Athanasian Creed--are simply a summary of what the Bible teaches-- and so long as we believe what is written in the Bible we can be confident that we are abiding in the Truth and will be saved.
 In our lesson from Acts we have a beautiful picture of the truths about God and Christ that we confess in the Creeds, that:  the gift of the Spirit was given by the Father so that the world could call upon the Son and be saved.  The Bible says:
Hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 
            If you knew nothing else from the Bible, if you had never heard of the Athanasian Creed, it would be enough for salvation to know what the Bible says in these verses:  That God loves you and that he has sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to live and die and rise again so that you might have eternal life through faith in him. 
God is not content that even one of his children should not live with him forever --and so before we were ever born—God knew us and loved us and planned for our salvation—and to do that, the Father sacrificed that which was most precious to him—his own Son—so that WE could be his sons and daughters through Spirit-worked faith.
And so, in light of the Holy Trinity’s saving work, let me ask you a question in all seriousness:  Since our salvation is GOD’S first priority for our lives—shouldn’t it be ours too—shouldn’t every thing we do and say and hope for and plan for--be done with a view towards strengthening our life with God? 
We have all kinds of plans for our lives—all kinds of things that we want to accomplish—so many things that compete for the first place on our “to-do” lists—but God has only one:  that we live with him as his children for time and eternity—and everything else that he allows in our lives and accomplishes in our lives is done for that one, loving purpose:  that we would be his own precious children in time and eternity.
When we live apart from his purpose—when we show with our decisions that we are headed in a direction away from God—when we break our fellowship with him through our sinful choices—when we are unconcerned for taking care of our spiritual life--what we discover about ourselves is that it is not just Adam’s disobedience that has wrecked our lives and broken our relationship with God—but our disobedience as well. 
That is why God sent Jesus—to be that obedient Son he desired each of us to be and to restore what we have destroyed by our sins. 
The words of our text are such a wonderful summary of what Jesus did to save us from sin and death—a summary that is beautifully mirrored in the Creeds:  that by Jesus’ birth to the Virgin Mary he was the promised heir of David--that he was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men—that God raised Jesus from the dead-- and at his ascension the Father exalted him to his right hand where he rules over the world for us. 
That is what Jesus has done for our salvation and for the salvation of the world and God has made him both Lord and Christ.  In other words:  our Savior and our master. 
The question for us on this Trinity Sunday:  Do we believe it?  Not just the historical data about Jesus—even the devil knows that is true.  Not just that we can say the words of the Creed—even atheists can do that. 
But do we believe that this Jesus of Nazareth that the Bible reveals and the creeds confess-- is our one and only Savior from sin and death?  Do we believe that Jesus is our one and only King-- who has the right to rule over every part of our lives? 
Do we believe that is was for us men and for our salvation that Jesus came down from heaven?  Or do our lives reveal something else?  Sadly, often times they do.  The Bible says: 
“Know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  “WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED.”
The Jews to whom Peter is preaching, thousands of them assembled for the harvest feast of Pentecost, may have been in Jerusalem for the previous Passover when Jesus died—but many of them were not.  Some of them may have raised their voices when the crowds called out to crucify Jesus—but many of them did not.  Some of them may have mocked the Lord as he died—but many of them did not. 
And yet by their sins they crucified Jesus just as surely as Judas and Caiphas and Pilate and the soldiers who drove the nails—and so did we! 
From God’s perspective the consequences of our sins is not just that we have harmed our neighbor—not just that we have hurt feelings of others- but that we have offended the Almighty God and contributed to the death of his Son by our sin. 
This is why the words of the Creed must never be for us a dry recitation of the facts of ancient history or a testimony of what some Christians believe or merely one perspective among many when it comes to who God is.  No!  The words of the Creed are the story of God’s saving work for sinners.
God the Father knows our helplessness in the face of sin and death and has planned for our salvation.  God the Son has accomplished our salvation by his death, resurrection, and ascension.  The Holy Spirit has called us to faith in Jesus and has joined us together in a confessing community known as the Church where that same saving faith in the Holy Trinity is confessed and taught and lived out.
The truth about God and the truth about Jesus confessed in the Creeds is not some theological abstraction that has nothing to do with our lives.  But rather, it is the truth about God revealed in the Bible—truth that changes our lives for time and eternity.
In that light, I hope that when we confess our faith in the word of the creeds you will give them your thoughtful attention because the biblical doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the most wonderful and comforting doctrine in the Bible.
It tells us of the Father who has known us and loved us from eternity.  It tells us of the Son who has saved us by his death and resurrection.  It tells us of the Holy Spirit who has brought us to faith and into fellowship with one another in the church.  Father-Son-and Holy Spirit.  One God in three persons:  the Holy Trinity.  Amen.

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