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Holy Trinity Sunday Sermon — John 3:1-17 (LSB Trinity B)

June 7, 2009

June 7, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

How many times have you heard that sentence from the Scriptures? It is learned easily, taught even to the youngest of disciples. But within that statement is found great reference to the Holy Trinity, the greatest divine mystery that we focus on this day. With that sentence, the Evangelist states that the redemption of the world was accomplished by the Triune God: that your salvation has been given by the coordinated work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

This Sunday is when the Western Church confesses both the unity and the manifold essence of the Lord God. And the designated readings tell all who hear about the work of the Triune God. The mystery of God’s essence will not be fully known by us mere mortals. It isn’t given for us to understand, but to confess. The Lord God presents Himself in Three Persons, each one being described as divine in the Scriptures. But the greatest revelation in the Scriptures is not the Lord God’s essence, but that this Triune God has worked salvation for sinners.

You were given a glimpse of the Lord God from Isaiah’s vision of heaven. You heard the lyrics of the seraphic song, the praise given to the Lord God: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” In the presence of the divine majesty, even the seraphim have to cover themselves, using their wings to veil their eyes and conceal their loins. The prophet sees the grandeur of that heavenly worship, noticing even the thresholds shaking from the angelic chorus. And in response to this, Isaiah states: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

But why is Isaiah given this glimpse into heaven? Is it to bear witness of the Divine Majesty? Is it to bring him to a confession about his guilt and unworthiness? Yes, that is the purpose of his vision. But there is an even greater purpose of this vision: the calling of Isaiah to be a prophet. So his vision states: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said: ‘Here am I! Send me.’” Isaiah is there in order to be sent by the Triune God to deliver a message of salvation to His people. He is witness to fullness of the Lord God, the same who will use His ability and power to redeem the world. Isaiah bears witness to what he knows about the Lord God, including the divine statement: “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

You heard another description of the Triune God in the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus. You heard Jesus speak to Nicodemus about a rebirth, a new birth that must occur within human beings for their salvation. Jesus speaks about being born of the Spirit: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again/born from above.’”

Nicodemus needs to hear these words of Jesus, as well as Jesus’ words about Himself. And why must he hear Jesus’ words? Because in them his salvation is found, the salvation given by the Persons of the Holy Trinity working in concert with Themselves. Jesus can speak these things about the Triune God, because He is the Incarnate Son of God who had taken residence on earth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.The words of Jesus speak a mystery about the Lord God’s work in the world among humanity.

For what reason did the Son of Man descend from heaven? Why did the Son of God become flesh and dwell among us? Jesus gives the answer: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” The Son of God takes on human flesh, so that He can suffer and die to redeem a sinful, corrupt, guilty world. He does so, because it is the will of His Father. The Father wants the world to be saved through His Son. And the Holy Spirit causes sinful human beings to believe this great act of redemption, so that everlasting life can be their own.

This coordinated action of the Holy Trinity is what the Apostle Peter made known to the people of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. You heard the historical events of that day last week. But this morning, you heard the great proclamation of salvation that Peter made that day: “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.” The works and wonders and signs done by Jesus showed Him to be the Promised Christ. But it was the definite plan that this Incarnate Son of God would be crucified and killed and raised again so that your sins may be forgiven and His righteousness be made yours. That forgiveness and righteousness is delivered by the Holy Spirit to you.

Every single part of this—and even more—is incorporated into the Evangelist’s great statement that you heard earlier, that seemingly simple statement: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” The will of the Father, the actions of the Son, the work of the Spirit: all of this is the coordinated undertaking of the Holy Trinity to bring salvation to you.

The importance of this day in the Church’s life is to speak rightly about this Triune God who has done these great things. In a matter of moments, you will pray the words of the Athanasian Creed. That statement of faith will provide a detailed confession about the Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It will speak of the unity of the Persons, their equality of essence, the proper worship that is due to each of them. It will state the necessity things to believe about the Lord God’s nature. But even then, the focus will not be on the essence of the Holy Trinity, but on Its concerted work for your salvation.

All of the statements about majesty coequal and three eternals and the shared glory of the Persons are important. But they are always seen and understood through the prism of the Evangelist’s words: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Your confession of faith in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not simply about the Lord God’s existence. It is that this Lord God—and no other—is the source of your salvation. The Father’s great love for you, His creatures, caused Him to act for your deliverance. The Son in eternal obedience accomplished all that was necessary for you to be saved. The Holy Spirit has brought you to a right belief and has worked everlasting life in you. That is what gives this day all its importance.

You have confessed your guilt of sin and your desire for salvation. You also have heard the identity of the One who will bring it to you—the Eternal God: One undivided essence, yet truly Three Persons. That is who has saved you, according to an eternal, definite plan. And so you acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith. And you worship the Unity in the power of the Divine Majesty. For nothing other can be done by those who have received the salvation that the Holy Trinity delivers.

So today’s Divine Service began: “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and undivided Unity. We will give glory to Him, because He has shown His mercy to us.” The Holy Trinity shows His mercy to mankind. It is the mercy which Isaiah received in the purging away of his sins. It is the mercy that the people of Jerusalem received through Peter’s proclamation—even those who were absolved of the guilt of turning Jesus over to be killed by the hands of lawless men. It is the mercy that Nicodemus received by being born from above by the Spirit.

That same mercy has been given to you by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” So the Lord God definitively willed for you. And so He has acted to forgive your sins, to deliver you from Satan, and to bring you from death to life.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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