Christ, the Resurrection, and the Trinity - Holy Trinity Sunday
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Acts 2:36, John 3:16
May 30, 2021

It is Holy Trinity Sunday. It is the Sunday in the church year we especially focus on God as Tri-une: one in three, three in one; Trinity.

One of the things that fascinates me the most about God being the Holy Trinity is how Jesus fits into the picture and, actually, forces the issue. This is important in many ways but also in case it is thought that the teaching about the Holy Trinity comes from fancy theological speculation that is disconnected from Jesus, the Gospel, and His death and resurrection. But when we look at Jesus and the Gospel, the Trinity eventually comes into view. The linchpin of the Holy Trinity is that the Son is God. This is where it starts. If the Son is not God, then there is no Trinity.

Now by Holy Trinity we mean, as a matter of review, that we know God as one divine being, but in three distinct persons. One in three; three in one. Each person is truly and equally God, yet not three Gods but one God. We use the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday to spell this out for us. It does this fairly well from a number of different angles, as it says, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Yet there are not three gods, but one God, and so on.

God as Trinity transcends our reason. Still, we try to find analogies from nature that can help us. These analogies ultimately break down in some way, but how they break down can also teach us.

Some people point to an egg, as an analogy. There is the shell, the egg white, and the yolk, yet one egg. Where this analogy breaks down is that God does not have parts. This has to do with the One divine being aspect of the Trinity. One means no parts.

Then there is water or H2O. It is the same substance, yet can exist in three different states: water, ice, and vapor. So the one exists in three. This analogy, however, has the weakness of the different states not being different enough to accurately state what we mean by the distinction of persons. So analogies can help us think about the Trinity. But they also breakdown in some way.

Let’s do a little Trinitarian math. 1 + 1 + 1 = . . . 1.

The Trinity, though, is not a mathematical equation. Rather, we could think of it as viewing God from two different perspectives. One perspective is that God is One. God is one in the sense that there is only one God that exists, like in the First Commandment. God is also one in the sense that God is numerically one; One Being, and no parts. “I and the Father are one,” Jesus says (John 10:30).

The other perspective involves what we call the persons. This arises when we see things like the Father giving the Son, and the Son speaking of the Father. And then the Son speaks of the Spirit, and the Spirit speaks of the Son. And in this way we see that they have different missions, and that they are all engaged in certain actions. The concept of the distinction of persons arises from this fact, that we see them engaged in different actions.

The Father is source and origin of all things and begets and sends the Son. The Son reveals the Father and is the Father’s agent in dealing with the entire creation and the human race. The Son is also redeemer who reconciles us to the Father. The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son and shows us Jesus and the salvation we have in Him. The Spirit causes us to believe in Jesus and gives us eternal life.

The good news of the Son reconciling us to the Father does not seem possible if God were singular in person or mission, as well as in Being. How can an absolute One reconcile us to itself? For reconciliation involves a relationship where there is one person on one side and another on the other side. The Unity of God breaks forth into our world in redeeming light as the Father sends the Son so the Son could redeem us to the Father. The Son stands on our side in relation to the Father. So we have the Gospel of our salvation. God breaks into our world in redeeming action as the Holy Trinity.

Maybe this is why in non-Christian monotheistic religions and philosophical conceptions of God, salvation is by works and human achievement. For there is no Son reconciling us to the Father in such non-Christian monotheistic conceptions of God. The Trinity is revealed in God coming to us in reconciling and redeeming action.

So we see the origins of the Holy Trinity in the Gospel and in Jesus in two of our readings this morning. In the reading from John’s Gospel, we have the famous verse, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only [or only-begotten] Son.” The Father is the giver here. The Son is the gift given.

The motivation of the giving is love. This love is known in profound grace, for it is the giving of the Son to something not worthy to receive the gift, namely, the world. The world is not worthy because in all its glory, it is in rebellion against God.

This love by which God sent the Son is an emptying of self, or a denial of self-interest, on the part of God, and claims to honor and privilege. For the giving by the Father, who deserve all honor and privilege by right, is a giving of the Son, His dearly beloved Son, in sacrifice. 

There is no Holy Trinity without the revelation of God’s love in the giving of His Son. As God’s love breaks forth into the world in redeeming action, the Holy Trinity comes into view; it comes into view as we see it in action. It comes into action in Jesus the Christ, the Son of God; that is, God the Son in human flesh appearing.

And so we get to the reading from Acts chapter 2. There we find the Apostle Peter preaching to the children of Israel, as well as some non-Jewish proselytes. They were gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Peter is preaching as the Holy Spirit prompted him and gave Him what to say.

Peter tells them about Jesus of Nazareth, “a man attested to [them] by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him” (Acts 2:22 ESV). Then Peter tells them they killed this Jesus by the hands of lawless men, but God raised Him from the dead (Acts 2:23-24). Here the Father is also disclosed as God by raising Jesus from dead.

Here is something you can say in response to the question who is God: He is the One who raised Jesus from the dead. But having said this, we eventually come to the Holy Trinity.

We can view Christ’s resurrection as either Christ taking His life back again, as Peter says, it was not possible that Jesus could be held by death (Acts 2:24), thus demonstrating His own divine power as the Son. We can also look at from the standpoint of God raising Him from the dead, where the Father is active and the Son is passive. Both are true.

It is important that God raised Jesus from the dead when it needs to be made clear among human beings who the one chosen by God to be the Savior is; who the one appointed by God to be Lord and Christ is. This is made clear by God’s action of raising Jesus from the dead.

And so God raised Him and seated Him at His right hand. Peter quotes Psalm 110:1 here: “The Lord said to my Lord. Sit at my right hand util I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Acts 2:35). By raising Jesus God has appointed Him, Jesus, whom they crucified, to be Lord and Christ.

But wait. If this Jesus is also Lord; that is, Lord of all; then we have an immediate issue when it comes to our understanding of God. For to call Jesus Lord in Biblical talk is to put Him on the same footing as God. Indeed, it is to call Him God, to give Him the same status and prerogative as God. Psalm 110:1 shows this.

But God is One. Jesus Himself said, “I and the Father are one.” So this gets worked out finally as the teaching of the Holy Trinity; one God in three persons; three persons in one God. But the starting point for the teaching of the Holy Trinity is Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and being appointed by the Father as Lord and Christ.

Who is Lord? Jesus is. They could not accept this, so they crucified Him. God the Father rejected their judgment and raised Him from the dead. They thought they knew what they were doing by way of human judgment, but they did not know, and ended up crucifying the Lord of glory. But God raised Him from the dead, appointing Him as the one who will judge the living and the dead; appointed Him as Savior. This is good news for those who abandon themselves before God and rely only on grace; abandoning any claim of privilege, honor, status, name, achievement, or works.

So we see Jesus today, the Son sent from the Father. Jesus, raised by God and seated at His right hand to be Lord and Christ. In this we see the Gospel, and in this Gospel, we also see the Holy Trinity and are brought into the presence of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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