Figuring out the Triune God
Trinity Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 22, 2005
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
I once knew a little boy who was asked by his Sunday school teacher what he would say to someone who didn’t believe in God. He answered his teacher, “I’d say: ‘Look at that tree! Somebody had to make it.’ Then, if he didn’t believe me, I’d push him down.” Isn’t that typical of boys, thinking that violence is the solution to every problem? But while we don’t endorse pushing people down because they don’t believe in God, the first part of the answer was good. “Look at that tree. Somebody had to make it.” That’s right. Someone had to make it. The world didn’t create itself. In Hebrews we read: “For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God.” (Hebrews 3:4) The Bible teaches that people know by nature that God exists. They have a natural knowledge of God. Without having read a word of the Bible or ever having heard of Jesus people know certain things about God. St. Paul writes in Romans 1:19-20,
. . . what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.
There is no reasonable way to explain the existence of the orderly world and universe in which we live without appealing to the existence of an intelligent Being who created it. The creation points to the Creator. As the psalmist said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.”
But to know that God exists and that He is wise and all knowing and almighty is not to know God. It is know things about Him. Knowing things about God is not the same as knowing God. To know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent is to know eternal life. You cannot know the Father apart from the Son. You cannot know the Son except by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. This is why you must be born from above. You must be born again. You must have a new birth, a spiritual birth. God Himself brings this birth about by means of Holy Baptism. As Jesus said,
Most assuredly, 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. (John 3:5-6)
Unless we are born by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit we will remain spiritually blind. Jesus asks, “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?” (Luke 6:39)
It is the height of presumption for us to believe that we can figure God out. Part of our text for this morning is taken from the words of Isaiah chapter 40 where we read:
Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand,
And His arm shall rule for Him;
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him.
He will feed His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
And carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
Measured heaven with a span
And calculated the dust of the earth in a measure?
Weighed the mountains in scales
And the hills in a balance?
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has taught Him?
With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him,
And taught Him in the path of justice?
Who taught Him knowledge,
And showed Him the way of understanding? (Isaiah 40:10-14)
The wisdom and knowledge of God are too rich and too deep for us to plumb their depths. When God speaks we tremble at His word because He calls into being what was not and He governs all that exists by His holy will. He is not accountable to us. We are accountable to Him. He does not answer to us. We answer to Him. We don’t advise Him, counsel Him, command Him, or instruct Him. He is God and we are not.
Only sinners who can see in their sin their spiritual poverty and helplessness are fit to receive God’s grace in Christ. In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans the doctrine of God’s grace in Christ is laid out more thoroughly than anywhere else in the Bible. St. Paul teaches with crystal clarity two fundamental Christian truths: First, all people are disobedient sinners who deserve God’s eternal punishment. Second, God’s grace in Christ is the only hope for any sinner. At no point may we appeal to anything good in us when we stand before God. We must rely solely on God’s grace in Christ. We may not begin with our works and then proceed to rely on God’s grace to finish our salvation. We may not begin with God’s grace and then proceed to rely on our works. If we live by faith and die in the faith we live and we die by God’s grace in Christ alone.
This grace is God’s goodwill toward us. It is revealed to us in Christ’s suffering and death. The Son of man must be lifted up. In His suffering on the cross we see God’s grace. Those who presumed to stand in judgment of God and Moses received their just punishment when snakes bit them and injected poison into their bodies. Their sin called for their death. But God was gracious. If they looked to the snake uplifted on the pole they would live. God is always gracious. Those who look to Jesus lifted up on the cross to take away their sin also live. But they live by grace and by grace alone. The crucifixion of Jesus is where the Father reveals His love. The crucifixion of Jesus is where the Holy Spirit reveals His power. The crucifixion of Jesus – where the Son of man is lifted up – is where the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God are to be found.
The words of our text form a doxology to God to conclude the apostle’s discussion of Israel. Those who were Israel by blood rejected the gospel and relied on their works instead. Therefore they were cut off from God’s grace. God used their disobedience to be gracious to the Gentiles who became part of Israel by faith. But they could not regard themselves as any better than the Israel according to the flesh that was rejected. After all, the law condemns everyone alike and we stand by grace alone. The verse immediately before our text reads, “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all.”
You don’t make deals with God. You don’t give Him something for which He must repay you. He doesn’t think like a man. His ways are pure and holy. Yet as it has always been, is now, and will be until the end of the word the creature stands in judgment of his Creator! He subjects God to human standards and then finds Him wanting. Without true knowledge or true wisdom He judges the knowledge and the wisdom of God. C. S. Lewis called this putting God in the dock, as if God, not we, are on trial.
Those blinded by their own sin and limited by their own finitude toss out challenges to God and question His wisdom. Sin is laid at His door, as if the Holy God is to blame for the brutality, murder, and violence of those who turn their backs on Him! The blame for the ruin we in our sins have brought upon God’s perfect world is assigned to God as sinners accuse the holy God of wrongdoing! Suffering, death, disaster, and every kind of calamity that sin has brought into this world is blamed on God.
There is only one way to escape the delusion that so blinds people that they would blame the holy God for the sins of sinners. That way is through the new birth. It is through holy baptism. It is through dying and rising. It is through faith in Christ as we who were bound in slavery to our own disobedience receive God’s promised mercy in Christ. Then we learn to know and confess the true God. We learn to know and to confess the Father, from whom are all things, for He created us in His image and loved us even after we forsook Him. We learn to know and to confess the Son, through whose merits and mediation we receive all good things God has to give. We learn to know and to confess the Holy Spirit, by whose holy inspiration we are enabled to trust in God and to give to Him all that we are and have. As we look to Jesus lifted up on the cross for us all, taking upon Himself all our sins in order to remove them from us as far as the East is from the West, we see our Triune God of whom and through whom and to whom are all things. We not only know things about God. We know God. We know the Holy Trinity to whom be glory forever.