Sermon preached by Seminarian Jason A. Mabe on May 26, 2013
The Feast of the Holy Trinity
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the only true and living God, dearly-beloved hearers of His precious Word:
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity, the fourth major festival in the Church Year. The doctrine of the Trinity is a primary fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, one which dare not be denied as is done flagrantly by the anti-Trinitarian cults — the Unitarians, the Universalists, the false Witnesses of Jehovah, and the Mormons, to name a few — by all so-called “modernists” of our day and time, who reject the Holy Scriptures as the only source and norm of the Christian faith and deny almost all fundamental teachings of the Bible; and the doctrine of the Trinity is also rejected by the Lodges and the Scouting organizations. We confess in our Small Catechism that “the only true God is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three distinct persons in one divine being or essence” (Q/A #26). This doctrine is admittedly a mystery of the highest order, impossible for the human mind fully to comprehend; for in this Trinity, as we confessed before in the Athanasian Creed, “the glory [is] equal, the majesty [is] co-eternal…and yet they are not three gods, but one God.” The Apostle Paul says in his first letter to the church at Corinth, chapter 8, “There is but one God” (v. 6), and “There is none other God but one” (v. 4). One God in Trinity and Trinity in unity is the universal Christian faith, “which faith,” we confess further in the Athanasian Creed, “except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” Why? Because he does not believe in the Father or in the Son or in the Holy Spirit. He does not believe in the true God at all! In the Gospel of John, chapter 5, Jesus says to the Jews, “All men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father, which hath sent Him” (v. 23). Though the words “Trinity” and “Triune” are not specifically stated as terms in the Bible, the concept and the doctrine is taught throughout the Scriptures and is particularly evident in our text before us wherein we
Behold the Triune God at the Baptism of the Lord Jesus
— (I) The Son, manifested as the obedient substitute for sinful mankind; (II) the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove as He descended upon Jesus; and (III) the Father, heard voicing His approval of His Son as the Redeemer of the world.
Earlier in this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we read that John the Baptist, whose coming was foretold already in the Old Testament (Isaiah 40:3), had been sent to “prepare…the way of the Lord” (Matthew 3:3); and this he did by preaching the message of repentance (v. 2) and by baptizing those who “confess[ed] their sins” (v. 6). John baptized “with water unto repentance;” however, One “mightier than [he]” would come and baptize “with the Holy Ghost,” he said (v. 11). Imagine John’s surprise, therefore, when Jesus, the Lord, came “to be baptized” by him (v. 13). John said to Jesus, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” (v. 14).
So then why did Jesus, “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,” as St. Peter records in his first epistle chapter 2, verse 25, come to John to be baptized? The sinless Son of God, who needed no repentance, came to John’s baptism, “to fulfill all righteousness,” as we read of Him saying to John in verse 15 just preceding our text. In His lowly state of humiliation, Jesus had been “made under the Law,” as St. Paul writes in Galatians chapter 4, verse 4, to fulfill the Law of God in the place of all mankind as their substitute “to redeem them that were under the Law” (v. 5). It was God’s will that the people be baptized of John “unto repentance” (Matthew 3:11). However, Jesus, having and knowing no sin in His divine person as the Son of God (I Peter 2:25a), had no personal sin of which to repent, but God had “made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us” (II Corinthians 5:21); He had imputed the world’s sins to His sinless Son. Jesus was baptized, therefore, not for His own sins but for the people’s (cf. Hebrews 7:26–27). John himself testified of this when he identified Jesus to his own disciples in John chapter 1, verse 29, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” Submitting to John’s baptism belonged to Christ’s active obedience, by which Jesus obeyed His Father’s will, the work that He Himself delighted to do and to finish (John 4:34), and thereby, as “the Lord, our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6), to earn, for every disobedient sinner, the only righteousness that avails before God (Romans 5:18–19).
“It is necessary to salvation,” we confessed earlier in the Athanasian Creed, that we know, accept as true, trust in and rely on with firm confidence the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Neither is there salvation in any other,” St. Peter declared in Acts chapter 4, verse 12, “for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” This Jesus, “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds” (Nicene Creed; cf. Psalm 2:7), the long promised Messiah, John himself beheld at His baptism. And we behold for ourselves this same “Jesus,” the Son of God, the vicarious Redeemer of all mankind, “when He was baptized, [going] up straightway out of the water” (v. 16a).
Now secondly, in our text, we behold the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending upon Jesus. We read, “And, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him” (v. 16b). This was the Holy Ghost, “who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,” as we confess in the Nicene Creed. In John chapter 15, verse 26, Jesus, before His glorious ascension into heaven, promised the disciples this same Spirit, calling Him “the Comforter…, whom [He would] send unto [them] from the Father.” Jesus said that this Holy Ghost, “the Spirit of Truth, …shall testify of [Him].”
What testimony of Jesus at His baptism was the Spirit giving? We learn in John chapter 1, verses 32 to 34, that God Himself had told John the Baptist in advance that this very descent of the Spirit upon Jesus would occur for the specific purpose of identifying to John who Jesus was, namely, “that this [was] the Son of God.” This descending “Spirit of God” had been specially active thirty years earlier not only in the conception of the baby Jesus but also in divine revelations to Elisabeth, to Zacharias, and to Simeon that He was “the Lord’s Christ,” as we learn in Luke’s Gospel, chapters 1 (vv. 35, 41, 67) and 2 (vv. 25–26). In fact, this was the same “Spirit of God,” who breathed into His holy penmen the prophecies of the Savior’s coming —prophecies “which have been since the world began” (Luke 1:70; cf. II Peter 1:21).
Now while the “Spirit of God” comes upon us by the Word of the Gospel and by our baptism to “[save] us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which [God] shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5–7), the Spirit’s coming to Jesus at His baptism, however, was not to regenerate Him. No! From heaven the Holy Spirit came and “light[ed] upon,” that is, landed upon, Jesus (v. 16b), in testimony that He had anointed Him for His Messianic office, as we learn in Acts chapter 10, verse 38 — for the office to which He had been chosen in God’s eternal decree of redemption (cf. Hebrews 10:7; II Peter 1:20).
Thus, the Spirit, in His descent upon Jesus at His baptism, identified Him to John as the Chosen One of God, who would complete in time the work of redeeming all mankind. And still today, in the Holy Scriptures, the “Spirit of God” continues to bear testimony to Jesus, our Savior, that we too might see Him and believe in Him as our Redeemer. Behold the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus, testifying to “Jesus [as] the Christ, the Son of God, …that believing [we] might have life through His name!” (John 20:31).
Now in the third place, we behold at Jesus’ baptism the Father voicing His approval of His Son as the Redeemer of the world. “And, lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (v. 17).
Whose voice from heaven was speaking? This was the voice of the Father, who, as we confess in the Athanasian Creed, “is made of none, neither created nor begotten,” but who had begotten the Son from eternity. Only a father can say, “This is my son.” In John chapter 1, verse 18, the evangelist states by inspiration of God Himself, “No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”
The Father, who, in Christ, loved all fallen mankind already in eternity, sent His Son in the fullness of time (cf. Galatians 4:4) to be their Savior. The Apostle John teaches us in his first epistle, chapter 4, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (vv. 10–11) — “and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). We know that God loves us because He sent Jesus to be our Savior by perfectly satisfying the demands of God’s justice in our place.
Exactly what was the Father’s testimony of His Son at His baptism? First, the Father declared His Son’s person. He said: “This is My beloved Son” (v. 16), echoing the words of Old Testament prophecy in Psalm 2, verse 7, where we read the Father’s own declaration of His kingly Messiah, His “Anointed,” (v. 2): “Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.” His words: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (v. 16), echo also the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 42, verse 1, where the Father testifies about His chosen Servant, the Messiah: “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, Mine Elect, in whom My soul delighteth.” Jesus, during His public ministry, pointed out to the Jews this prophetic voice of testimony in John chapter 5, verse 37, saying: “The Father Himself, which hath sent Me, hath borne witness of Me.” Later in Matthew chapter 17, verse 5, in the account of the miraculous transfiguration of Jesus, we see again that the Father for the second time in Matthew’s Gospel bore the same witness to Jesus as He did at His baptism: “‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him.’”
In our text, the Father also declared His good pleasure in His Son’s work. Jesus says in John chapter 8, verse 29, “He that sent Me is with Me…I do always those things that please Him.” The works done by Jesus, pleasing to the Father, included all the Savior’s acts to fulfill perfectly the Law of God in the stead of all poor, wretched, helpless sinners, including you and me; for “by the obedience of One shall [the] many be made righteous,” St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 5, verse 19. But those works also included His suffering and death to atone completely for the sins of all mankind, including yours and mine; for “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God,” St. Peter tells us in his first epistle, chapter 3, verse 18. The blessed result, yea, the wonderful fruit, of the Son’s work of redemption was that “in [Him],” God “reconcil[ed] the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19), including you, including me, who otherwise would be judged according to His justice and subject to His wrath (cf. Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 1:18; 3:19; 6:23). By faith in this objective reconciliation, this gracious amnesty, we are the beneficiaries of Christ’s vicarious atonement and have for ourselves the blessings of the forgiveness of our sins, eternal life and salvation as the “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26).
My fellow hearers of His Word, behold the Triune God at the baptism of your Lord Jesus: The “Son” of God, “[coming] up out of the water;” “the Spirit of God,” descending upon Him in the form of a dove; and the “voice” of the Father, testifying to “Jesus” as the One who is pleasing to Him on the basis of His perfect work as our Redeemer. “This is the catholic (or universal) faith,” we confessed earlier in the Athanasian Creed, “which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”
Behold your Triune God and your redemption, wrought in Christ, who, as St. Peter says in his first epistle, chapter 1, verse 20, was “foreordained” in eternity, “before the foundation of the world,” and who was “manifest” in time “for you” as the propitiation for your sins (I John 2:2). What He accomplished for you and for all mankind is God’s free gift of grace, the forgiveness of sins, made known in the Gospel (cf. Luke 24:47), announced in the “Word of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:19). That Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), the means whereby the Holy Ghost converts men to saving faith (Romans 10:17; II Thessalonians 2:14) and also preserves them in the same unto final salvation (I Peter 1:5, 9). Let us, therefore, by faith lay hold on the preeminent work and blessing of the Triune God for our salvation: God’s eternal decree of redemption (I Peter 1:18–19); the vicarious satisfaction of God’s justice by Christ (Isaiah 53; Romans 3:25–26); God’s reconciliation of His “enemies” unto Himself (Romans 5:10; II Corinthians 5:19); His justification of “the ungodly” (Romans 4:5; 5:19b); His earnest desire that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of these blessed truths (I Timothy 2:4); yea, all of these benefits from your loving Triune God, received by all true believers.
Glory to God, the Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit, Three in One!
To Thee, O blessed Trinity,
be praise now and eternally!
(TLH 245, 6)
God grant us such steadfast faith in the Triune God, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
Soli Deo gloria!