EVEN ON TRINITY SUNDAY, IT’S ALL ABOUT JESUS
- The Spirit points us to Jesus
- The Father is one with Jesus
Text: John 16:12-15
Although Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday of May, the actual date for Memorial Day is today, May 30. Memorial Day’s origins take us back to the days immediately after the Civil War. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued an order proclaiming May 30 as a day to decorate the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. “Decoration Day,” as it was first called, continued to be observed, and was celebrated in most northern states by 1890. After World War I, the day’s focus was expanded to remember soldiers who served in all wars, not just the Civil War, and southern states began to observe the day as well. Although it had been observed over multiple decades, Memorial Day finally became a national holiday in 1967. We Americans have a tendency to view Memorial Day merely as the three-day weekend that starts summer, but the real meaning of Memorial Day is certainly worth our attention.
The roots of Trinity Sunday are much older. We have reports of Trinity Sunday being observed in England in the twelfth century. We also have reports of church leaders in the eleventh and twelfth centuries opposing the idea of Trinity Sunday because Christians acknowledged the Triune God every Sunday. In the early fourteenth century, Trinity Sunday became a universally celebrated day among Christians on the Sunday after Pentecost Day.
Like Memorial Day, we Christians have a tendency to view Trinity Sunday as just another day, perhaps the day that kicks off those twenty or so “Sundays after Pentecost” that shift our focus from Jesus’ life to the Church’s life and the Christian life. But the real meaning of Trinity Sunday is certainly worth our attention. The Bible’s teaching that God is three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and yet one God is an absolutely essential biblical truth. If you don’t believe in the Trinity, you are outside the bounds of Christianity. And as Jesus explained in today’s Gospel, when we study what the Bible says about the Trinity, it will ultimately direct our focus to Jesus, one of the persons of the Trinity. Even on Trinity Sunday, our focus is all about Jesus. In John 16, Jesus shows us that the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, and that God the Father is one with Jesus.
Over the past few weeks, we have heard Gospel accounts taken from Jesus’ Maundy Thursday comments to his disciples in John 13-17. Jesus’ comments anticipated his suffering and death in the 24 hours that would follow; his comments also anticipated his resurrection, his ascension into heaven and the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would miraculously come upon the disciples. That was a lot of information for the disciples to absorb at once. Jesus knew how overloaded their hearts and minds felt. He said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
Jesus would have said more and taught them more if the disciples could have handled it. But that didn’t mean he lost his final opportunity to instruct them. He pointed them forward to the day of Pentecost—the day we celebrated last Sunday. When the Holy Spirit came, he would miraculously teach them and remind them of all the spiritual and eternal truths Jesus had taught. That’s why Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of [the] truth,” and that’s why he said the Spirit would “guide [them] into all [the] truth.” That little word, “the,” isn’t in our English translation, probably because its inclusion doesn’t sound as natural in English. But the little word “the” is significant. The Holy Spirit wasn’t going to fill them with a mystic feeling that would percolate in their bosoms and produce a vague spirituality. The Holy Spirit would lead them into “the truth.” The Holy Spirit would reflect the same truth and facts that Jesus taught them, including truths about the future of God’s kingdom. As Jesus said it, “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
Another important point we should note in Jesus’ words is that the Holy Spirit’s work would point people to Jesus. “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” That’s the Holy Spirit’s job—to bring glory to Jesus, to point people to Jesus’ work, to bring people to faith in Jesus. The Spirit would take the truth about who Jesus is—the Son of God—and the truth about what Jesus has done—redeemed the world from sin—and through his work he would make Jesus’ work known to the disciples, and then to all others who later came to faith in Jesus.
There is a motto that I’ve heard in some Christian circles: “Doctrine divides; the Spirit unites.” I don’t agree with that motto, but the thinking behind it is that a church that focuses too much on biblical teachings or doctrine will inevitably cause division, but a church that is focused on the work of the Holy Spirit will find unity. The problem with that thinking is that it assumes the Holy Spirit works apart from biblical teaching. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would not speak a different message than the one he had spoke and taught. Yet even some of the most “traditional” Christians today are confused with the idea that they have an inside track on the Holy Spirit, that their thoughts and emotions and ideas are a way that the Holy Spirit speaks to them and reveals something special to them.
The most obvious problem with that kind of thinking is context. Jesus promised a miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday. There’s no indication of the same kind of gift to all Christians of all times. But there’s another problem with that kind of thinking. What are we really “reading” when we look inside our hearts and minds for a spiritual message? Aren’t we just looking at ourselves? Isn’t this really a case of navel gazing? Why would we confuse our emotions and thoughts with the Spirit of truth? After all, our own lives are filled with plenty of mistakes that are better named sin. Our lives are filled with plenty of poor choices that are more accurately labeled rebellion against God’s will. Our lives are filled with repeated patterns of turning away from the Word of God instead of listening to the true voice of the Spirit of truth in the Word of God. We would do well to take Martin Luther’s advice to heart: “If we are to hold to Christ’s Word … and to judge all teachings and signs, life and activity, according to this, the Holy Spirit himself must be present with His revelation. If teachings, signs, life, and activity are in opposition to this chief doctrine and article of Christ … one should ignore and reject them, even if it snows miracles every day.”
Don’t listen to the rumblings of your sinful flesh. Listen to the true voice of the Holy Spirit, the voice found in the Word of God that points you to Jesus. For when you hear forgiveness announced, the Holy Spirit takes the “not guilty” verdict Jesus earned by his innocent life and gives it to you. When you hear the Word of God read, the Holy Spirit takes Jesus’ saving work from cradle to cross and applies it to you. When the waters of baptism touched your head, the Holy Spirit cleansed your heart with Jesus’ cleansing blood that has washed away your sins. And when you receive the Holy Supper of Jesus, the Holy Spirit takes Jesus’ own body and blood and feeds your soul with the food of heaven. That’s how you know the Holy Spirit is truly at work, because the Spirit’s job is to point you to Jesus.
In some Christian churches—including ours—it is a custom to speak the fifth-century Athanasian Creed as a statement of faith during worship on Trinity Sunday. After the sermon, we’ll speak the first section of that ancient statement of faith, which gives a very detailed and precise summary of what the Bible teaches about the Triune God. But if you’ve been around the Lutheran Church for a while, you know that there is a second section in the Athanasian Creed that deals with a second subject. The second part of this statement of faith talks about the biblical truth that Jesus is God and man in one person. There were plenty of false notions about Jesus floating around during the first few centuries of Christianity. One of those false notions was the idea that Jesus was not really God, or that he was somehow “less” than God the Father.
The Athanasian Creed had something to say about that false notion. So did Jesus in today’s Gospel. “All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” Everything that belongs to God the Father belongs to Jesus. God’s amazing glory, his divine nature, his incomparable power—all these things belong to God the Father and to Jesus, God the Son. That’s just another way to say what Jesus says here and what Christians have been saying for centuries: Jesus is God. And so if the Holy Spirit delivers something to us that originates with Jesus, he’s really bringing us something from God himself—and that’s something we ought not take lightly!
Trinity Sunday is a church holiday. Memorial day is a civic holiday. If you attend a civic ceremony for Memorial Day or any other national holiday, you might hear some references to God, but those references are always to a very generic “god.” A civic ceremony that helps us appreciate those who have given their lives to protect our national freedom is a very good thing. But the generic “god” referred to in some of those ceremonies is not so good, because that generic “god” isn’t the true God.
On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the true God—the triune God. And when we look at God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, we are ultimately taken to Jesus, God the Son. We have already seen how the Spirit points people to Jesus, and now we have learned that the Father is one with Jesus. And that means that Jesus of Nazareth who walked the face of this world some 2,000 years ago was not just a mere prophet or popular rabbi. Jesus is God Almighty!
Think about the ramifications of that truth! The God we worship is not distantly removed from us; he became one of us and entered into time for us. The God we worship is not unconcerned about us and our lives; he knows the struggles, pain, hurt, and disappointment of life because he lived life just as we do. The God we worship does not have earthly goals in mind; he came on a heavenly mission to die for us and rescue us from death. The God we worship is not focused on the manifest destiny of our nation; he came into this world and conquered death to secure the eternal, heavenly destiny of our souls. And all this has been done for you by Jesus Christ, who is your God and your flesh-and-blood brother.
A pastor once considered preaching a sermon series about the Holy Spirit. He shared this idea with a colleague for his reaction. The other pastor said, “Don’t do it.” When asked for an explanation, the second pastor said, “The Holy Spirit always points people to Jesus. If you try to preach about the Holy Spirit, you’ll end up preaching about Jesus.”
Trinity Sunday is no different. We have mentioned God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But our discussion about the Father and the Spirit has directed us right back to Jesus. And given all that Jesus has done for us and all that he means to our souls, that’s the right place for our attention to be on Trinity Sunday—and every other day of the year. Even on Trinity Sunday, it’s all about Jesus! Amen.