Baptism And The Trinity
St. John 3:1-17
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Immediately following the sermon today we will confess together the Athanasian Creed. It begins with these words: “Whoever will be saved shall, above all else, hold the catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone keeps whole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish eternally. And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in three Persons and three Persons in one God, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the Substance.”
Now I hope that was perfectly clear to everyone. Every time we read the Athanasian Creed together on Trinity Sunday, I sometimes feel like asking at the end, “Are there any questions?” I’m sure there would be. Just look at those words! Trinity in Unity, Unity in Trinity. Person. Substance. Incomprehensible. Coeternal. Coequal. Begotten. Proceeding. You need a dictionary just to get through it. And then there’s that dire threat of hell fire hanging over our heads unless we believe it “firmly and faithfully.” It causes one to say, “No wonder we recite it only once a year!”
Now please don’t get me wrong; the Athanasian Creed is important, even if St. Athanasius didn’t write it. For that matter, the apostles didn’t write the Apostles’ Creed. And the Nicene Creed, as we confess it, wasn’t from Nicea but Constantinople. But that’s not important. What matters is not where these creeds come from; what matters is what they say. They summarize what the Bible teaches about God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and they unite us with all believers past, present, and future who confess the triune Name of God.
The Athanasian Creed says just about everything a person could possibly say about who God is as the Holy Trinity. One God in three Persons, three Persons in one God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three distinct persons yet one undivided God. A trinity of persons. A unity of being. There is no other God like Him, for there is no other true God.
It is not easy to plumb the depths of what God has revealed to us. We struggle to put these things into our own words. We even have to invent words like “triune.” What a great honor it is for us to know the only true God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
For those who think that ours is just one of many man-made religions, we would say to them “think again!” Who in their right mind would make up a God like the Triune God and seriously expect anyone in their right mind to worship Him?
Our creeds remind us that what we believe is catholic and universal, which things are always and everywhere the same. The Christian faith doesn’t come in varieties and flavors. There is one Lord Jesus Christ, one faith, one Baptism, one Father, one Holy Spirit, one Lord’s Supper, one forgiveness of sins. There is one Christian faith. And that faith is not a private opinion or interpretation.
One of the great heresies in the modern church is the notion that faith can be something private and individual, something you keep to yourself, like a secret affair between God and you carried on in your own heart. That appeals to the individualist in all of us, and to the individualism of our culture. We hear people say all the time, “No one can tell me what to believe. That’s between God and me.”
The Christian faith is catholic, it is universal, it is community-oriented. Baptism means death to the individual and life as a member of the body of Christ. We are a community of believers, a family of the baptized. We believe what baptized believers always and everywhere have believed. And we’re not saying anything new when we confess our creeds. We are saying what Christians have always said.
We may drive cars, and fly into outer space, and watch cable or satellite television, and heat our food with microwaves, and listen to our mp3 players. But God remains the same, He does not change, He is still our Father who made us. His Son is still our Savior who bought us with His blood. And the Holy Spirit is still the one who rouses faith in our hearts with the Word. And so we sophisticated, modern people stand up and recite those dusty old creeds every Sunday for many reasons not the least of which is that they give us something to pass on to our children.
We are not the first believers in Jesus, and if He delays, we won’t be the last. There is comfort in that, for we are not alone no matter how isolated we may otherwise be. We are members of a community of faith, Christ’s baptismal body, the holy catholic and apostolic Church.
I recall reading about a Vacation Bible School program a few years ago called “Come, Meet My Jesus.” The title bothered me. Why not “Come Meet Jesus”? Why my Jesus? It sounded private and precious. We talk about my dog, my cat, my car. But “my Jesus?” It was cute, but it did not speak truthfully about the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
There’s only one Jesus. Not mine, not yours, not Luther’s, not Calvin’s, not the next guy’s. There is only one Jesus who can pull you out of your sin and the grave and give you eternal life. He’s the one in the Scriptures, the One the Father sent into our human flesh, the God-man who came down from heaven, and was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered for our salvation, who was lifted up on a cross and buried in a tomb, who rose bodily on the third day, who appeared risen to over 500 eyewitnesses, who reigns at the Father’s right hand, who sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts to work faith, forgive our sins, and raise us from unbelief and death. And that Jesus, dear friends, is the same Jesus for you as He is for me as He is for all His baptized believers.
Another heresy that has slipped into the modern church is that salvation is neat and tidy. Moms and Dads sometimes get a little perturbed when the baby gets a little too wet at his Baptism. Adults who are baptized don’t want their hair messed up or water spots on their clothes. Do you know how Christians were baptized in the early church? Naked and fully immersed. And after you came up from the water, they wrapped you in a white robe and poured scented oil on your head and made the sign of the cross in it as it ran down your face. Obviously this was before there was carpeting. There was nothing neat and tidy about it.
Salvation is a birth, and there is nothing neat about birth. If you have ever watched a baby being born, you know that. And so is our new birth of water and the Holy Spirit. I’m afraid we may be guilty of sending the wrong message. We’ve sanitized and sterilized salvation. We have a huge theology of Baptism but little baptisms. Unless you’re paying attention you’re liable to miss the main event: a splash of lukewarm water. The water is where the action is, for the water is where the Holy Spirit is working through the Word of God. Luther preferred immersion because it looked like burial and resurrection. But we seem to say, “Don’t worry, you won’t get wet. It won’t even mess up your hair.”
Baptism is supposed to be messy. Salvation isn’t neat and tidy. It involved a bloody death on a cross and a burial.
Think about your own journey, how you came to faith in Christ. Probably most of you were baptized as infants. Some of you were baptized as adults. Some may have been baptized in a Roman Catholic congregation or a Baptist congregation or a generic Christian congregation. Some people are baptized in the ocean, others in a pool, others in a font. Salvation is messy. God is gracious.
Baptism messes everything up. Talk to people who have been baptized as adults or those who have recently affirmed their baptisms after being away from church for a long time. They will tell you that Baptism changes everything.
You can only kill what is born. And that is what we do when we neglect to hear the forgiveness of sins or refuse the Lord’s Supper or when we don’t bring our baptized children to church to be touched and taught by Jesus. We are starving a spiritual life that was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born in the waters of Holy Baptism.
Jesus said, “Unless one is born again he cannot see God’s kingdom.” Our first birth from our parents won’t do us any eternal or spiritual good. We are corrupt; we are full of sin, full of evil, full of death; there is a cancer deep within us, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
We need to become totally different. We need to be reborn; we need to be regenerated not rehabilitated. You can’t rehab the old Adam, no matter how many 12-step programs you try! Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” We need to be born anew, “born again” as some people say. We need a new, spiritual, heavenly birth.
Birth isn’t some decision or choice on our part. How much say did you have with with your first birth? Did you decide the time and the place you were conceived and to which parents you wanted to be born? Were you consulted as to when it would be convenient for you to be born? Were you asked if you wanted to be born?
That’s how little we have to do with our second birth of water and Spirit. Being born is something that happens to you. Being born anew from above is the work of the Holy Spirit in the water, delivering Jesus’ death and life to us, bringing us into a loving relationship with the Father, making us part of God’s family.
Baptism works rebirth and renewal. St. Paul calls Baptism “a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). I Peter 3:21 says “baptism now saves you” just like the flood saved Noah and his family. It saves you from sin and death through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It places you into the Name of God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
To be baptized in the Name of the triune God means that we are born into the triune life of God. God is our Father – He is our Maker, Provider, and Protector. Jesus is our Savior, Redeemer, and Brother. The Holy Spirit is our Advocate, our Guide, our Comforter, our Lord and Giver of life.
Baptism gives us the certainty that God is God for us. He is our God and we are His people. “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” How do you know that He sent His Son to die for you? You are in the world. Jesus died for all. Jesus died for you. Your Baptism tells you that for certain.
God is your God, and you are His people. You are the object of the Father’s love. He gave His only Son to die for you, to save you, to raise you from your death, to free you from your sin and the Law. You are free children in God’s kingdom: born in Baptism, fed at His Table, forgiven. You are free to love God back with your whole heart, soul, and strength. You are free to love Him in your work, in your play, in all of your life. You are free to worship Him without fear – to receive His gifts to you, and to pray, praise, and give thanks to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.