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The Feast of the Holy Trinity

May 26, 2024; Rev. Kurt Lantz, Pastor
holy trinity.jpg

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Unsearchable Judgments, Inscrutable Ways

At the end of the 11th chapter of his epistle to the Romans, St. Paul gives a 3 by 3 doxology to the God whose will it is to have mercy on all. Starting with three aspects of God’s character which we cannot fathom:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches
and wisdom
and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

Then come three rhetorical questions revealing that mankind is in no way equal to God:

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counsellor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”


And finally, three prepositions that show God is the source and sustainer and purpose of all things:

36 For from him
and through him
and to him are all things.
To him be glory for ever. Amen.”

The threefold nature of God is everywhere in Scripture. In our Old Testament reading the prophet Isaiah heard the angelic seraphim praising God and saying, “Holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3). We are privileged to be taken up to join their song in our Divine Service as we sing the Sanctus. In fact, our entire liturgy is full of the threefold mention of God, as revealed in the Scriptures: beginning with the invocation that our Lord Jesus provided at the end of the Gospel of Matthew in regard to our baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19); and ending with the threefold blessing of Aaron the high priest to put God’s name upon the people: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).


Yet, nowhere in the Bible is the word “trinity” used. It is our feeble attempt to encapsulate this God according to the manner in which He has revealed Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; one God, yet three persons. There is no adequate way of expression in our fallen human nature to fully comprehend or express the nature of God. Many have tried and they all come up short. St. Patrick always takes a hit for comparing the Triune God to a shamrock.


Attempts to describe the nature and action of God in His three persons have resulted in the great heretical condemnations through the history of the Christian Church. To correct teaching that has gone too far in one direction or another, we have the three ecumenical creeds, including the Athanasian Creed which we confess on this day, saying just as much what God is not as what He is. It highlights the mistakes of fallen humanity to try to define God beyond what He has revealed about Himself so that we might not speak about God contrary to what He has revealed about Himself.


St. Paul, however, and all of the writers of Holy Scripture, do not concern themselves so much with the problem of not knowing the exact nature of the God whom we worship. Rather, they are more compelled with the problem of not understanding what God is doing in relation to mankind. The question is not how we can understand God’s existence as one divine being in three distinct persons, but how can we understand what this God is doing for us and for all people. As the Holy Spirit has inspired all the writers of Holy Scripture, we can be assured that this is also where God would like our thoughts to centre.


The 3 by 3 statement of praise that Paul puts at the end of chapter 11 comes as he reveals the incomprehensible strategy of God in bringing salvation to all people. The depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God is hinted at by the way that he has dealt with mankind. God is so rich and wise and knowing that He has a way for all people to be saved from the condemnation of their sin. He has secured redemption for the whole world.


But if we try to probe into it, we cannot figure it out. In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul reveals that God not only chose the children of Abraham to be His special possession, the recipients of His special care and blessing; but also that God allowed them to fall into disobedience and to reject their own Messiah, in order that He might be the Saviour not only of the Jews, but of all people. Yet this was not so that the Jews would lose their salvation, but so that seeing the superabundant grace of God extended to all, they might all the more come to love the God who has compassion not only on them, but on everyone.


We might think that it didn’t work out so well. The Jews seem to have rejected Christ. Yes, Christianity has spread to all nations and peoples and languages, but in large measure the Jews have not returned to the God who has sent their Messiah. That was certainly in the mind of Paul and the other Apostles who were bringing the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ into the world. They saw more and more that the Gentiles converts were increasing in number as the number of Jewish converts was waning.


We might think it is not happening so well in our day in North America. It seems to us that the large number of European immigrants to North America that caused the Christian Church to dominate the landscape is rapidly falling away, while most of the new converts to the Christian Church are from other nations.


We might think it is not happening so well in our own families. And this is where it hurts some of us the most. It seems to us that our children and grandchildren have given up on God and this congregation. The Sunday School is filled with children from families who were not part of our congregation when it was founded. There are only a few of the old member families left.


Yet in contemplating this very thing the Apostle Paul breaks out in praise to the unsearchable God. He doesn’t understand what God is doing. He cannot figure it out. But likewise, if he tires to trace backwards the way in which this same God established a Christian congregation in Rome, he finds it just as inscrutable. As he considers his own history and this God’s dealings with him personally, he knows that he didn’t see it coming. Somehow the Lord saved him.


Paul knew and expounded very clearly how the salvation of the Lord is ours through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the complete and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. He understood and preached that clearly. Paul knew how this gift of salvation comes to sinners through the preaching of the Gospel and through Baptism and incorporation in the Holy Supper. That he grasped perfectly well. But how and why it comes to one people and not another, or to one individual and not another; that question tore at his heart as it does at our own.


The three questions that St. Paul puts into his doxology reveal our sinful desire to hold God to account. “Who has known the mind of the Lord”? Who are we to call into question His actions and strategy? “Who has been His counsellor”? Who are we to expect that God should follow our advice? “Who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid”? What have we done for God that He should owe us anything?


These are the three sinful thoughts that lurk behind our lamentations for our nation, our church, and our family members. Why doesn’t God explain Himself to us? Why doesn’t He just do what we tell Him to do? Haven’t I done enough that God should do something to save my congregation and my children?


Well, no! You haven’t done enough, not even to save yourself. Yet you are saved, and somehow God pulled that off. In His unsearchable judgments He pronounces you forgiven of all your sins. In His inscrutable ways He has brought you into the faith and kept you in His Church. You cannot even figure out how He has done that for you, so don’t presume to understand or to advise Him on what He should be doing for others.


Rather, praise Him for bringing salvation to you. Through His compassionate love for you as your heavenly Father, through the redemption paid by the life of the eternal Son, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit working faith in your dead heart, somehow you are a child of God, forgiven of all your sins, and an heir of eternal life with all the saints.


It was all accomplished for you by the action of this unfathomable God, without any consultation from you, without any contribution from you, without direction given by you. It will be the same for all who are to be saved—all of the Jews who are to be saved, all of the Muslims who are to be saved, all of the Hindus who are to be saved, all of the unbelievers who are to be saved, all of your children who are to be saved.


The mystery and miracle of the salvation of all people is tied up with the God whose ways and whose being is beyond our comprehension. That means that it is never a lost cause. It is never hopeless. It is never beyond the realm of possibility—only beyond the realm of our comprehension and understanding. There is hope for the salvation of all people, every one, all of our friends and neighbours and brothers and sisters and children and grandchildren. With this God whose ways of mercy and grace are untrackable, there is always hope, always a reason to pray, always an inspiration to tell others the good news of Jesus.


So, Paul praises this God whom he saw on the road to Damascus and yet whom he did not fully comprehend. He praised this God while he did not understand how salvation went out to the Gentiles and how it would also continue to be for his own people. We join St. Paul in praise of this God, whom we feebly refer to as the Trinity, the God who is beyond our understanding, yet who has revealed Himself so clearly to us in His Son, the Saviour of all.



“25 Now to Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, 

according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations,

according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory for evermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Romans 16:25-27).

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