Festival of the Holy Trinity Sermon Proper B
Rev. D.K. Schroeder
Acts 17:22-23; 29-30 Sermon
June 7, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
131 "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty"
138 "Most Ancient Of All Mysteries"
136 "Come Thou Almighty King"
198 "Saviour Again To Thy Dear Name We Raise"
"GODS, GODS EVERYWHERE"
TEXT: "Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: 'to an unknown god.' Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone-an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent."
I have a couple questions for you this morning. Do you believe in God? Do you believe that he exists?
Of course those are ridiculous questions. I'm certain you believe in God, or you wouldn't be sitting here in the first place. And by like token, you can be assured that I believe in God, or I wouldn't be standing up here doing what I'm doing. If none of us believed in God, then I'm sure we could find other things to do on a Sunday morning rather than sitting in a worship service. And in my case, I couldn't stand up here and tell you a lot of things and convince you to believe in things that I personally didn't believe in myself. It just wouldn't work. If we were all unbelievers, this is the last place any of us would want to be.
But we're not. We're here as a family of believers, as a community of faith. And most of the time when we come together for a Sunday worship service, we will confess our common faith by the use of a creed. Usually we use the words of the shorter Apostles' Creed; or on Communion Sundays, we'll use the longer Nicene Creed; and on days like this Sunday, we will use the much longer Athanasian Creed.
The purpose of a creed is to be a brief but concise statement of the Christian faith. The creeds are not intended to be long and intricate studies of Christian dogma. Rather, their intent is to give a Biblical explanation of the Holy Trinity; viz. who God is, and what one must believe in order to be a Christian.
Now I know that not all branches of Christianity utilize these creeds in their worship services, and not all of them will include them in their constitutions or doctrinal statements. The verbatim usage of these creeds isn't the important thing, so long as people don't take issue with what they're saying. Agreeing in principle is the important part of all this. In order for one to be a Christian and to be saved, the important thing is what a person believes and confesses, over against what a person does.
In order to be Christian, a person has to believe in the one true God, as opposed to some nebulous "supreme being." That is why the church fathers so many years ago carefully studied and systematically presented the Biblical doctrine of the Holy Trinity. That is the description of the one true God; and any other explanation or denial of the Trinity does nothing more than replace the one true God with a god of man's own creation.
This morning, I'm going to briefly define the various views of God that people have, which seem to be as popular today as they were so many years ago.
First we have the ATHEIST. An atheist is a person who denies that there is any god at all above that of people themselves. Atheism in effect makes people into their own gods and masters of their own fate. Of course we have to remember the words of Psalm chapter 14 verse 1, "The fool says in his heart 'there is no God.'"
Then we have the AGNOSTIC. That's a person who claims they can't be certain as to whether or not a god of some description exists. Agnostics are usually people who are pretty much atheists, but they want to try to keep their foot in the door, just in case they're wrong. There's an old saying that goes, "An agnostic is somebody who just doesn't have the guts to admit he's an atheist."
Then we have those that are DEISTS. Unlike an agnostic, a deist is a person who knows there is some kind of god or supreme being out there, but he just doesn't know who or what that god is. Many of our early patriots in this country were deists and not Christians, like Thomas Jefferson. That's why you'll find words like "endowed by their creator" used instead of the name of the one true God.
Next we have what are called UNIVERSALISTS. These are people that believe there are many roads to the same god. They teach that all religions are equal, because they all sincerely believe they are attaining the same goal in their own unique fashion. Consequently according to them, the road of faith becomes a matter of personal choice, because they feel everybody is going to achieve the same destination in the end.
Closely related to the universalists are the PANTHEISTS. These are people who believe there are many gods, and often equate them with various forces of nature. This would describe some of what we might call the native religions, which have a lot to do with the worship of things over which people have no control.
Then we come to those we would classify as HEATHENS. Even though this can be a broad category, yet we can get a bit more specific, because a heathen is a person who directly contradicts the one true God, and replaces him with a god or gods of their own invention, and will accept no other teaching. This would describe people like the Jehovah's Witnesses, who openly deny the doctrine of the Trinity, and who reject the teaching that Jesus Christ is indeed true God.
I could come up with others in this category, because there are so many different shades and cross-overs when it comes to false gods. However, I'd like you to keep these anti-Biblical definitions in mind as we look at what is going on in our text for this morning.
I have chosen the scene in Acts chapter 17 as a basis for my sermon this morning, because we see all of the false gods and false religions Paul was having to deal with amongst the men of Athens.
The Greeks were big into philosophy. They had many different scholars who did nothing else except to sit and ponder new gods and theological systems. And then they would go into the marketplace and try to gain followers as they would proclaim whatever type of religion they had dreamed up. The most gifted of these people would then be taken to the Aeropagus, or Mars Hill where all of the great philosophers of the day would dialogue and exchange ideas. Verse 21 of our text for today explains this: "All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas." What a way to make a living, huh?
Anyway, the Apostle Paul, speaking with all of the authority of the Holy Spirit, was spotted as being one of the gifted ones. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers weren't so kind, and called him a "babbler" because he was proclaiming the resurrected Christ as being true God. In any event, he was finally escorted to Mars Hill where he could be amongst these guys who made a living at being the best philosophers, and debate his cause there.
The problem with all of the false religions and false gods was that they all fell short. Something was lacking. They had altars and shrines to all sorts of specific gods, but they all knew there was more they didn't know. And so they erected an altar dedicated "to an unknown god." Of course the sight of all of these altars bothered Paul greatly. But the altar dedicated to the unknown god was all the opportunity Paul needed to tell these people exactly who the one true God was. As verse 23 of our text explains: "For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: 'to an unknown god.' Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you."
This is what today is all about. Today is what is known as the "Festival of the Holy Trinity." This is a Sunday set apart where we examine exactly who the one true God is, and what kind of relationship we need to have with him in order to inherit eternal life in heaven.
However we're not like those men assembled on Mars Hill back in Paul's day. As Christians we don't worship a God who is nebulous or hidden or vague. We don't have altars dedicated to an "unknown god."
We know God exactly as he has chosen to reveal himself to us in the Bible. God is one being in three separate and distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost if you prefer--it refers to the same person). And just as God has revealed himself in the Bible, we use a creed, which is a statement of faith, where we collectively affirm that we believe exactly what the Bible teaches.
We don't have to look too hard into the Bible to know that Jesus the Son is as much true God as God the Father is, and the Holy Spirit is as much true God as both the Father and the Son. All persons of the Godhead are equal, because there is only one God.
One important thing we have to remember is that people cannot accept only part of the Trinity. You can't believe in just God the Father without also believing in the Son and the Holy Spirit too. They cannot be divided. As Jesus says in Matthew chapter 10 verse 40: "...he who receives me receives the one who sent me." And in 1 John chapter 2 verse 23 we read: "No-one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also." And Jesus himself attests to this when he speaks some very simple words in John chapter 10 verse 30: "I and the Father are one." You can't get any more direct and to-the-point than that.
The Bible talks about God a lot; but the one over-riding theme is that we have a God of grace. Everything God does is motivated by his grace, which is his undeserved love that he continually bestows upon us.
When mankind fell into sin, God didn't destroy the world and send everybody to hell. Instead, he promised to send a Saviour so that all who would come to him would be saved. That's a love for humanity that involved the giving of a life. And also because of that same love, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives to give us the gift of faith so we can believe this and make it our own. We aren't saved because of anything we have done, but because of what God has done for us.
God has made salvation and heaven so simple for us to attain. We are saved through nothing more than faith alone. God gives us everything, and heaven is ours, just as long as we don't reject this priceless gift he has given to us. God has laid out the plan of salvation so plainly in the Bible, that it almost seems too simple. I guess that's why people have come along and have tried to complicate things.
There are so many false notions about God floating around out there. As I mentioned earlier, there are the atheists, agnostics, deists, universalists, pantheists, and just plain heathens. With all good intentions, you will hear people say, "Well it doesn't matter what someone believes, just as long as they're sincere about it." Or, "There are many roads leading to the same god."
The intentions may be good, but they couldn't be any more wrong. The old saying is true: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Jesus says in John chapter 14 verse 6: "...I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me." And in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verse 3 we read: "...no-one can say, Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit."
So there we have it, all three persons of the Godhead, all working together for us, out of nothing but pure grace. To deny one part of the Godhead is to deny the whole Godhead. They can in no wise be separated to conform to the various non-Christian religions and philosophies of the world.
In talking about the Athanasian Creed, there are a couple of paragraphs in there which are known as the "damnatory clauses." They are right at the beginning and ending of the creed. The clause at the beginning reads: "Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all else, hold to the true Christian faith. Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever." And the clause at the end reads: "This is the true Christian faith. Whoever does not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved."
A saving faith is far more than just sincerely believing in some vague or abstract supreme being. Our salvation is centered upon what we believe. The good works we do that spring forth from that faith are important, but our good works do not in any way earn our salvation and buy our home in heaven. Jesus our Saviour is the one who secured that salvation for us through his holy and precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. Faith alone in Jesus is the only thing that will save us; and that is a faith that we must always hold dear and never deny.
In our society today, it seems as if there are "gods, gods everywhere." In the Bible, we can plainly see who the one true God is--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our faith and trust in the one true God is never misplaced.
Therefore I will close with the exhortation Paul uses to close his second letter to the church at Corinth, chapter 13 verse 14: "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."
THE ATHANASIAN CREED
This creed is named after St. Athanasius, a staunch defender of the Christian faith in the fourth century. It was prepared to assist the Church in combating two errors that undermined Bible teaching. One error denied that God's Son and the Holy Spirit are of one being or Godhead with the Father. The other error denied that Jesus Christ is true God and true man in one person. The Athanasian Creed continues to serve the Christian Church as a standard of the truth. It declares that whoever rejects the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of Christ is without the saving faith.
Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all else, hold to the true Christian faith. Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever.
Now this is the true Christian faith: We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, without mixing the persons or dividing the divine being.
For each person -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit -- is distinct; but the deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory and coeternal in majesty.
What the Father is, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit. The Father is uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated; the Father is infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Spirit infinite; the Father is eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal; yet they are not three who are eternal, but there is one who is eternal, just as they are not three who are uncreated, nor three who are infinite, but there is one who is uncreated and one who is infinite.
In the same way the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, and the Holy Spirit is almighty; yet they are not three who are almighty, but there is one who is almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord; yet they are not three Lords, but one Lord.
For just as Christian truth compels us to confess each person individually to be God and Lord, so the true Christian faith forbids us to speak of three Gods or three Lords.
The Father is neither made nor created nor begotten of anyone. The Son is neither made nor created, but is begotten of the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeds from the Father and the Son.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
And within this Trinity none comes before or after; none is greater or inferior, but all three persons are coequal and coeternal, so that in every way, as stated before, all three persons are to be worshiped as one God and one God worshiped as three persons.
Whoever wishes to be saved must have this conviction of the Trinity.
It is furthermore necessary for eternal salvation truly to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ also took on human flesh.
Now this is the true Christian faith:
We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son, is both God and man.
He is God, eternally begotten from the nature of the Father, and he is man, born in time from the nature of his mother, fully God, fully man, with rational soul and human flesh, equal to the Father as to his deity, less than the Father as to his humanity; and though he is both God and Man, Christ is not two persons but one, one, not by changing the deity into flesh, but by taking the humanity into God; one, indeed, not by mixture of the natures, but by unity in one person; for just as the rational soul and flesh are one human being, so God and man are one Christ.
He suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty, and from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
At his coming all people will rise with their own bodies to answer for their personal deeds.
Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.
This is the true Christian faith. Whoever does not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved. Amen.