Trinity Sunday – Seminarian Chase Lefort
In the Name of Jesus. (Amen.)
If you look on the front of your bulletins, you will find a painting from a Spanish fellow
named Jose de Ribera. It is called The Trinity. We see God the Father, ancient and regal; God the
Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove; and God the Son, pierced, and a corpse, within the Father’s
outstretched hands. At the bottom, cherubs reverently hold a cloth to catch the blood dripping
from the pierced side of the eternal Son.
It’s almost silly to say something this obvious, but this painting is unique because it does
not present the Trinity in majesty on a throne with the angel host singing praises. Instead, it
presents the crucifixion of God the Son as part of who God is. With this scene, Ribera is
confessing that the crucifixion is something that actually happened to God in Christ. Many folks
would rather say that Jesus the man died, but that God didn’t die. This is because we know that
God is immutable, unchanging, and we sinners prefer to think that there has to be some kind of
separation between the divinity and the death of Jesus. But when we think rightly, we do not say
the Father was crucified. We do not say the Holy Spirit was crucified. But we do “confess that
our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man—” and this means
that the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, was crucified for our sake—and nowhere
do we see God who is Trinity more clearly than in the Son who is crucified. The glory of the
Trinity is in the crucified Son.
These are the two things that this painting from Jose de Ribera confronts us with: first,
that we can’t separate the divinity from the crucifixion. The second is that we can’t know God,
we can’t know who he is apart from the crucifixion. In a way, this sermon on Trinity Sunday will
be less about the Trinity itself, and more about the place of the crucified Son in the Trinity.
Folks get into trouble trying to keep God safe from the crucifixion. This leads to
problems, because when you try to keep God safe, well, you’re being silly, because God can take
care of himself just fine, thank you very much! When we do things like that, we run into error.
Yes, we know from philosophy and scripture (e.g. Num 23:19; Ps 102:27; Mal 3:6) that God is
unchanging. And, knowing this, we have this temptation to say that Jesus was crucified, but God
was not; we’re tempted to say that the divinity did not suffer crucifixion. The way we would like
to think about it, God is all the way up there, he’s perfect, big man in the sky, and creation is all
the way down here. Big bearded man in the sky can change things down here, but he doesn’t live
This is wrong! The Truth is that God is perfectly at home here in creation. The second
person of the immutable, divine Trinity, the eternal Son, who fashioned the stars, he dove into
creation at his incarnation like an olympic swimmer dives into a swimming pool. In a way, he
belongs here! He made it, after all. And, the eternal Son who gave life to Adam died like any
mortal man, because he made his home in our mortal flesh. And the eternal Son, who is the man
Jesus, rose from the dead like no mortal man before him. And in this way God in creation
brought fallen creation into unity with God, a unity that is paradoxical, it is beyond our
understanding. It is mysterious, and it is wonderful. In Christ, the immutable, unchanging God
and fallen creation… touch! To say it straight up: Christ’s crucified humanity is part of the
Trinity, because the crucified human nature belongs to the eternal Son. This is the first thing
Ribera confesses with his painting.
The second thing that Ribera confesses is that we know God best through the cross. Sure,
philosophy can teach us some things about God. But for Luther, and for orthodox Christians, just
knowing some facts about God doesn’t mean it helps you know God. No, you need to base what
you know about God on some real specifics on who he is. Think about it this way: imagine I’m
describing somebody and I say: hey, there’s this guy. He’s taller than a housecat, he wears
clothes, and he enjoys fun activities like breathing. You’d know I was describing a person, but
you’d have no idea who I was talking about!
We know people through what they say and what they do. For example, there’s a man
with some wrong opinions, who thinks albs are dresses and that Revelation is not scripture; this
man doesn’t always get along with his district but he has very entertaining and most importantly
very edifying sermons, even when those sermons deal with individuals named Leroy who enjoy
shooting at police officers. He is also a wonderful and faithful pastor. You all know that this man
is your dear Pastor Martin. And you know who he is because of what he has said and done.
Like any other person, what’s really important for knowing God is what we know about
him through what he has done for us, what he has done in history. David shows this in Psalm 86,
he says: “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, / nor are there any works like
yours… you are great and do wondrous things; / you alone are God” (Ps 86:8-10). Peter, in
his sermon in Acts for today, tells those in Jerusalem that the man they crucified was confessed
to be Lord by the works God performed through him.
The scriptures tell us who God is through his deeds, through his works in history. And
while he has done many things, there are only three events in history that really matter. First, our
God is the God who created the heavens and the earth. But more than that, the second event: he’s
the God who parted the Red Sea and brought Israel out of Egypt. The importance of this event is
a topic for another time, but suffice it to say that the Red Sea would become the paradigm for
how Israel saw God: yes, he created them, but more than that, he had a relationship with them as
But the third event, the third great work of God is his Death and Resurrection. Here God
shows that he is even more than ‘the God of Israel’ in Christ. He is the God who suffered
crucifixion and rose from the dead to save his whole creation.
Really, even this list has two events too many, because the Death and Resurrection of
Christ is the only event in history that really matters, because all history comes together in the
cross: the first creation just points us to the new creation, where the crucified Son of God makes
us into new men in his image; and the first Exodus just points us to the new Exodus, where the
crucified Son of God frees us from bondage to sin, death, and the devil. The crucifixion is the
center of all history. It changes how we see who God is and it changes history for us us. Your
God is not the generic monotheistic creator God. Your God is not even the God of the Jews in
our reading, who do not acknowledge God in Christ. Your God is the God whom you see on the
cross, crucified for your sins and for your sake.
In the crucifixion, God touches creation in a way we would never believe if the scriptures
did not tell us and the Holy Spirit did not give us the faith to believe it. In the event of the Son’s
crucifixion, God’s heart is laid bare for us as the spear opens his side. Through this heart from
which flowed blood and water, we know the love of the Father in the sacrifice of his Son.
Through the flesh of the Son who died we receive unity with God in the Holy Spirit. And
through the Son’s death we receive life eternal with God, whom we know with our ears through
his scriptures; and whom we touch in his sacraments. We fallen creatures could not truly touch
God without the crucified Son. We would not truly know who God is without the crucified Son.
May we always remember, when we consider our Triune God, that the eternal Son of the Father
is the Crucified One.
In the Name of Jesus.