Today is all about mysteries. Three Persons in one God. Rebirth, even if you’re old. Belief gives eternal life. God has come to save the world, not condemn it. The Christian faith is full of mysteries. We cannot explain these things and a host of other things, but we say they’re true—a Virgin conceives and bears a Son; God says ‘Let there be’ and fully mature things come into existence; bread and wine deliver the Body and Blood of Christ to countless altars across seven continents, even though the Jesus who comes to us returned to heaven nearly 2,000 years ago; salvation is a gift and nothing we can buy or earn. We affirm as core beliefs things that science and logic cannot verify, and even more than that, things that science and logic say are false. But St. Paul teaches us to embrace mystery. He doesn’t grapple with this, but joyfully exclaims: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”
This Feast Day for the Holy Trinity is a reminder that we as Christians walk by faith. Faith embraces mystery. Faith takes things that do not and cannot make sense and says they’re true simply because of Who said them. This is what it means to have a child-like faith. There’s a difference between childish and child-like. Some would say that a child-like faith is to reject anything more complex than “Jesus loves me.” Anyone who’s spent time around kids knows this is not a child-like faith. That’s being childish and immature, a gross underestimation of what kids are capable of understanding. What’s a kid’s favorite question? Why! A child-like faith wants to know more. It is like children—they want to ask questions to understand, to grow in knowledge, to try to wrap their minds around concepts they don’t necessarily understand. But children accept the answers given. They may not understand how electricity makes the light bulb light up, but they accept that answer when mom and dad give it. So is child-like faith the same. It approaches mysteries like rebirth through Holy Baptism or life being given through the death of Jesus and says, “I don’t get how that works, but Jesus said it and that’s good enough for me.”
The problem comes when we get older. We want everything to fit into the neatly organized boxes of what we comprehend and can understand. If it doesn’t fit neatly within logic and reason, or the laws of nature, it has to be false. Nicodemus reveals that perfectly when he asks if he’s somehow supposed to re-enter his mother’s womb to be born a second time. He’s trying to show Jesus’ statement, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God,” to be completely absurd by making his own absurd statement in return. It’s his way of saying “See, now I sound just as crazy as You do!” The same thing happens with the denominations who deny Christ’s physical presence in the Lord’s Supper. Using logic and reason, they know that two things cannot occupy the same space, nor can one thing be in multiple places at once, so Jesus can’t possibly be here. They look at us and say “Jesus is in Michigan and Iowa and Alaska, and China, and France, and in heaven?” The absurdity is supposed to make us back down, to second guess ourselves. But we know the answer to that question is, “Yep. He is. He said so. ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them.’”
While the Trinity and the Lord’s Supper are certainly at the center of the greatest Christian mysteries, things we take by faith, one of the most jarring is the central teaching of Christianity, that man is justified freely by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is a doctrine that defies logic, and, most importantly, experience. Not even the parent-child relationship is a perfect reflection of this divine love. Not one bit of our life works this way. We don’t give gifts equally. At Christmas you certainly don’t spend as much on your cousin-in-law who lives 4 states away as you do on your child. At work or school you partner with those people who you know will pull their weight, not ones who will make you do double duty. You love those who are the most lovable. You associate with those who are the most popular. Nothing in our lives looks like God’s full forgiveness dispensed freely for Christ’s sake.
Look at Isaiah. “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” He knew that he was in God’s presence and was wholly unworthy to do so. The Old Testament priests, despite the ritual washings, the sacrifices offered on their behalf, and the thick cloud of incense that preceded them still went into the Holy of Holies with a rope tied around themselves so they could be dragged out if they died for coming into God’s presence unworthily. This is deeply ingrained in us—we need to be good enough, to work off as much sin as possible, to earn our way into God’s favor. But it’s false. No one can do enough. You can fast every day of your life, shun every material possession, and essentially live in a persistent vegetative state free from the commission of sin, and you’re still not worthy to enter God’s presence. We all know well—and believe—that confession: “I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips.”
But in the greatest mystery of the Christian faith, the Triune God, without any merit or worthiness on your part, forgives it. He forgives it, as St. Paul says, while you were still a sinner, still turned away from God. The Father sends His only-begotten Son to be born of a Virgin, to live a perfect life only to die bearing all your sin. The Son obeys and takes on your punishment. But the Son rises from the dead and gives His victory over sin and death to you. The Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies you, and keeps you steadfast in the one true faith. God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Of all the Christian mysteries, this is the one that should blow your mind day after day, moment after moment. In infinite, unsearchable love, you are forgiven, you are made an heir of eternal life, and the Triune God will not stop giving you that perfect gift all the days of your life.
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Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.