(The 1st Sunday after Pentecost) May 18, 2008
246, 236 (WS 2000 alt. 784), 333, 336 (WS 2000 alt. 785)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
God grant you the grace to comprehend and appreciate ever more fully the gifts and blessings of our Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Have you ever experienced total contentment? Have you, in other words, ever experienced a situation where you felt that all was right with the world and that there was really no other place you would rather be than right where you are at that moment? Though probably unrealistic, it is nonetheless my prayer that each one of us would experience that tranquility and contentment each Sunday as we gather here to hear the Word of God and to offer Him our praise and worship. So also here and now let this be the only place you want to be at this moment, and may God so bless each one of us with the joy expressed long ago by the psalmist David, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD’” (Psalm 122:1).
Today, however, I want you to try to picture another such place in the secular realm—outside of church and the worship of our God. Formulate in your mind the sort of place where you would feel as happy and content as is humanly possible for a Christian living in a sinful world. The setting that you picture would naturally fill you with joy and delight—a bright and shining place, full of beauty, peace, and harmony.
Do you have such a place in your mind? It doesn’t even have to be a real place. You get to make it up if you wish. Got it? Now imagine that such a place actually exists but, search as you will, you simply cannot find it. Even worse, if you could somehow manage to find it you would be denied entrance.
Not such a great fantasy is it? What you quickly discover is that no matter how grand, how idyllic such a storybook fantasyland might be, it is actually worthless to you if you cannot gain entrance. Discovering such a place would, in fact, be worse than useless because you would forever be tormented by knowing that such a place exists, yet it all remains inaccessible to you. It is unattainable. Access is denied!
Such a story is certainly not the stuff fairy tales are made of. In fact it is a rather disappointing little adventure all around. Yet it is all still just a story until you transfer these simple truths into the spiritual realm, to our very lives, and to the events we celebrate on this day.
Today is Trinity Sunday. This is the Sunday of the Church Year which we set aside to study and reaffirm our understanding of and belief in the triune nature of our God—one God yet three persons. This is also the Sunday of the Church Year that some congregations set aside as Confirmation Sunday—the time when we celebrate the confirming of the Christian faith by our youth together with our own recommitment to the vows we took in our youth.
With that introduction we turn to our text which will not only verify the triune nature of our God, but it will also demonstrate how we have indeed, even now, been brought to that very good place. Our text is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the fifth chapter:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
So far the very words given to us by our Triune God. Reminding ourselves of the source of these words will surely make them all the more precious and worthy in our hearts and minds. That our God would bless us through the study of these His words, so we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
Dear servants and friends of Jesus Christ, having first imagined the perfect place of peace and tranquility, I want you now to go to the opposite extreme. Have you, in other words, ever experienced a problem or frustration in your life so profound that it spoiled not only your whole day but several days, even weeks? These are often the times when everything seems “bad” to you somehow. You find yourself upset, grouchy, out of sorts, and you don’t even know for sure why that is. And then suddenly it dawns on you that your personal problems have spilled over into every other aspect of your life. One source of frustration or one bad relationship has made your whole life miserable. On the other hand, how wonderful life can suddenly become when that deep and troubling conflict is finally resolved. It's like the sun suddenly breaking through after countless cloudy days and your outlook on everything takes on a sudden optimism.
The fact is we were all naturally full of turmoil, bitterness, and pessimism because we all have, or had, a terrible conflict in our lives that tainted every other relationship, every other thought, every other emotion. Try as we might we could not, on our own, get to the bottom of this turmoil. We needed very specialized help. With that specialized help we have now come to realize that the one thing that was causing such great turmoil in our lives was our relationship with our Creator God. The Bible tells us that “your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Because of this alienation from our Creator God there was and could be no true peace in our lives. Always something deep within us recognized our need to be reconciled to God, and yet we were powerless to bring it about. We had become God’s enemies and because of this, nothing in our lives seemed complete or thoroughly good. There was always something missing until we came to know our Savior.
Here is where we return to the magical place described above. This is where we all wanted to be. We wanted to stand once again in God’s good graces, in God’s glorious, blissful presence. As we heard in Isaiah, our sins had caused God to hide His face from us. Yet we longed to stand accepted in God’s presence once again. We tried all sorts of things to accomplish this reconciliation on our own. We tried work righteousness—the futile attempt to make ourselves lovable to God by doing whatever we had convinced ourselves would please Him. We tried denial—refusing to admit that anything was really wrong. We tried to make up a god who would accept us “just as we are.” We tried it all and in the end nothing worked. When we looked at ourselves and our lives honestly we had to admit that we were not where we wanted to be, and by ourselves there was no way for us to get where we wanted to be. There was simply no way for us to return to the presence of our Holy God.
It is then that God the Father provided us with an entrance. That door is Jesus Christ. He Himself once said, “I am the gate (door); whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). We wanted to stand in God’s grace. Our text tells us that it is only through Jesus Christ that this can be done: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace…” [vv.1b-2]
Oh, to what a blissful place we have been led! Millions upon millions have died trying to find the door to this good place that we now occupy only to know utter and eternal failure in the end. You and I have been told that there is only one door. What is more, we have been told exactly where that one door is to be found. Jesus is our access to God the Father.
How has He done this? That which separated us from our God was our own sin. That was the obstacle that barred our entrance. But now our text tells us that “we have been justified through faith.” [v.1a] To be justified means to be declared “not guilty” by God. It means that our sins have been removed by God because he placed the punishment for those sins upon His own Son. Our text says that it is “through Jesus” that “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” [vv.1-2] Access could not be gained by trying to do good. We couldn’t talk our way in, bribe our way in, charm our way in. The door was Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ Heaven would be of no value whatsoever to us sinners. The most beautiful paradise is useless if it has no entrance through which a human being can enter. So too heaven is of no value to us if we are denied entrance.
Without question then we see the need for both God—the Father and for God—the Son. Both, of course, have infinite value for God the Father created and provides for us, and God the Son saved us by erasing our sin debt. Yet isn’t it interesting that neither has value to us personally without the other? Without God the Father we have no existence. Without Jesus Christ we remain God’s enemies and thus could never enter eternal paradise with the Father. This we know and believe, but what of the Third Person of the Trinity? What of God the Holy Spirit?
To introduce the work and value of the Holy Spirit think of the last time you locked yourself out of your car or house—frustrating, isn’t it? What’s really frustrating is when you lock yourself out of your car and it’s really nasty outside. Through the glass you can see the keys dangling from the ignition only inches away inside the car where you want to be—inside where it is warm and safe. The truth of the matter is that those keys might just as well be Botswana for all the good they do you. You are outside where it is cold, raining, and miserable. You know exactly where the door is, but you can’t open it. The cozy dry interior of your car is useless to you without the key or someone to open the door for you.
This is where the third person of the Trinity comes in. The Holy Spirit is the one who alone can open the door to us from the inside. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we have been brought to saving faith. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we have been born again of water and of the Spirit. Our text puts it this way: “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” [v.5] Heaven itself would be worthless to us if not for the Holy Spirit. No matter how hard we struggled, no matter how fervently we wished for Heaven and to be living in the presence of God the Father, entrance would be denied us if not for the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who brings us to saving faith in Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who keeps us in that faith. It is the Holy Spirit who thereby opened the door to heaven.
Can you now see just how destructive it is to downplay or to deny the triune nature of our God or any Person of that triune God? Our God is of no comfort or value to us without all three persons. The Father created us and we long to live forever in His presence. The Son, Jesus Christ, is the one who has removed the great sin barrier and reconciled us to the Father. The Holy Spirit opens the door to Paradise by bringing us to faith.
Praise God that our full and complete Triune God has worked completely in you! That is why Paul in our text says “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” [v.2] Hope should be thought of as “confident expectation.” With confidence we now look forward to Judgment Day because we even now have eternal life within us. We even now are in that good place. Jesus told us that “…he that lives and believes in Me shall never die!” (John 11:26). Though we do not now enjoy Heaven, we are at this very moment standing in God’s presence with our sins forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
This represents the heart and soul not only of Trinity Sunday, but also of Confirmation Sunday for it is the beating heart of the Christian faith. These things you parents have taught to your children. Well done! But see in the confirmands not your marks upon them but God’s, see them not as the proud product of your labors, but as the handiwork of our Triune God. Today we honor our God for the grace shown to our children, for it is our God who has brought both them and us to the good place where both we and they now stand holy and righteous in the sight of their God. Having brought us to this good place, may that same God continue to preserve both them and us. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.