It’s that time of year again, when we pull off the Athanasian Creed from the shelf, dust it off, say it one time, then put it back on the shelf until next year. Some might wonder what’s the point in speaking this Creed or even having it if we only say it once a year. It is important that the Church have this Creed, as well as speak it, because it confesses all that is necessary for salvation.
As we look at our Gospel reading today, once again Jesus is coming under fire for what He has said and done. Stung by the unveiled truth from Jesus’ lips regarding who He is and who His Father is, the Jews resorted to name-calling. They call Jesus a Samaritan, something that is downright nasty. Why is this such a big deal, being called a Samaritan? When Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan, an expert of the Law tried to test Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. The response was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Wanting further clarification, he asked who was his neighbor. Jesus then goes on to tell the parable of the good Samaritan. In short, a man is beaten and left for dead. A priest and a Levite both pass by the man as he lays dying. It is a Samaritan, someone who is an outcast and considered public enemy of the Jews who helps the beaten man. Here, for the Jews to call Jesus a Samaritan, they sought to ensure that Jesus had no credibility among the Jews.
To make matters worse, they accused Jesus of being demon-possessed because He spoke such nonsense that He was the Son of God, that He knows the Father intimately, that He is, dare He say it, the Messiah. What Jesus says here is the proverbial nail in the coffin: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Surely this man must be a raving lunatic. Everyone dies, that’s the truth of it. Yes, there were the exceptions of Enoch and Elijah, but they don’t really count for the Jews here as they accuse Jesus.
Our Gospel reading for today shows how crucial the truth about Jesus is: Jesus, as the Son of the Father from eternity, gives us life. That is what Jesus tries to teach yet again, and once again, the people doubt and do not believe.
Rejecting the person and work of Christ rejects the Trinity. The Jewish leadership intentionally attempted to dishonor Jesus, referring to Him as a religious outcast and demon-possessed. They attempted to nullify His message. As a result, they were dishonoring the Father, in sum, the entire Trinity. Jesus comes to honor the Father. He does that by living the sinless and perfect life we were meant to live. He lives that sinless and perfect life in our place, dying on the cross having committed no sin Himself, but taking our sin upon Himself.
Today is no different than it was then. Today, various religious groups dishonor Christ and His work, thus dishonoring the Trinity as well. Islam views Christianity as distorted and calls Jesus merely a human prophet. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, who claim to be Christian, see Jesus as a good, but not the eternal Son of God being of one substance with the Father. You have the prosperity preachers and prosperity Gospel that views Jesus as some divine vending machine, that by saying the right things or doing the right things in life will reward our faithfulness with worldly success and happiness. This view ignores our sin and our need for a Savior from sin. It overlooks Jesus’ role in the Trinity as the truly divine and human Redeemer from sin.
Throughout her history, the Church has had problems with the understanding of the Trinity. Everytime there was serious debate regarding the Trinity, the Church produced a creed, a statement of faith acknowledging who the Trinity is and the work of each part of the Trinity. Beginning with the Apostles’ Creed, we have the breakdown of the Trinity and what each person of the Trinity did. However, the Church continued to argue who the Trinity is and what each part of the Trinity does, and so it produced the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed was due in part to the teaching that although the Son was divine, he was a created being and therefore not co-essential with the Father. This made Jesus less than the Father. To further combat the false teachings of the day, the Athanasian Creed was written. It is the first creed in which the equality of the three persons of the Trinity is explicitly stated.
But even before all of the Creeds of the Church, Jesus clearly said who He was. He identified from where He came from: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” I AM was a divine name of God. He also says in our text, “I honor my Father.” Throughout the Gospels, Jesus says that He is the Son of God, that He comes from the Father and that He will one day return to His Father. The Jews wanted nothing to hear of this and did not glorify Jesus because they didn’t really know their own God anymore. For them to say they knew God but then to reject Jesus made them liars. They had lost sight of the Word of God that promised Christ’s coming. They had kept God’s Word only selectively and added to it. Jesus was keeping God’s Word to the letter. Each claim Jesus made confirmed the feelings of the unbelieving Jews and their hearts continued to harden.
Does this sound familiar to you, having the Word of God before us but rejecting it? That is the picture of today. Here is God’s Word clearly presented before us and yet we continue to disbelieve. Jesus tells of His mission of salvation time and time again and yet we want nothing to do with it. Jesus was sent by the Father to give life. All who keep His word will never see death, that is, those who have faith in Him and His saving act of salvation will inherit eternal life. It is only by the forgiveness won for us by Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, are we granted eternal life.
Today as we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday, we take joy in the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and for the saving work they have done in our lives: God the Father creating us, God the Son redeeming us by His blood, and God the Holy Spirit giving to us faith, keeping us steadfast in our Christian faith so that we receive the Lamb’s crown of life. As we said in our Introit earlier, “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.