“A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” That’s how Winston Churchill described Russia in a radio broadcast to the British people only weeks after Nazi Germany had invaded Poland, the spark that ignited World War II. He meant that he could not with certainty predict whether Russia would ally itself with Germany or with those nations allied against Hitler’s imperialism. “But,” he said, “perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” In other words, in Churchill’s opinion, the key to understanding and predicting what Russia would do was understanding what was best for Russia. Churchill strongly doubted that having a well-trained and dangerously aggressive German army camped on her border would be in Russia’s best interest.  History has proved the wisdom and accuracy of Churchill’s prediction.
The Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God in three persons and three persons in one God is seen by many people as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” For good reason: the profound truth about the essence and being of the one, true God is simply beyond our comprehension. The infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent God of the universe can’t fit in the space between our ears. The obvious question is: then why should we spend a Sunday focusing on a doctrine that we admit beforehand we cannot understand? Quite simply, because it is the truth God has revealed to us in his Word. It is an essential foundation of saving faith, without which no one can be saved – as the Athanasian Creed boldly states. So even as we admit that we cannot and will never understand the mystery of the Trinity, the Church has confessed for 2000 years that we must believe it in order to be saved. Fortunately, God has given us a key to the riddle, the mystery, the enigma of the Trinity. That key is Jesus.
Jesus is still speaking to his disciples on Maundy Thursday – either in the Upper Room or on their way to the Mount of Olives. He spoke candidly to them about a broad variety of things; teaching them not only his suffering and death in less than 24 hours; but also his resurrection, his ascension into heaven and the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would be poured out on his disciples. It was a lot of information for the disciples to absorb – especially late at night after celebrating the feast of the Passover. Jesus knew how lost, how overwhelmed they felt. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. Jesus could have told them more if they could have handled it, but they couldn’t. They were so overwhelmed by the knowledge that their friend and Lord was going to be arrested and crucified that they weren’t ready to hear any more. What else might Jesus have wanted to tell them? With the hindsight of the rest of the NT Scriptures, we don’t have to guess. The disciples weren’t ready to bear the knowledge that they too would suffer and die for their faith, that the Gospel would reach beyond Israel to the people of all nations, that the rest of human history would consist of a great war between the dark forces of hell and the power and glory of heaven, and that false teachers would distort and destroy the Gospel.
But that didn’t mean that Jesus would leave them to figure it out for themselves. He pointed them ahead to the day of Pentecost – which we celebrated last week. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. This is important. Jesus is revealing what the Holy Spirit’s job is. Jesus had called himself the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6) which the Holy Spirit would guide them back to. The Holy Spirit wasn’t going to fill their stomachs with a mystical feeling that would make them feel vaguely “spiritual.” Nor would the Holy Spirit introduce all sorts of “new” teachings and doctrines which undermined or contradicted what Jesus taught. No, the Holy Spirit would lead them into the truth; the same truth that Jesus taught them; including, but not limited to the simple facts of salvation: that Jesus was true God and true man in one person and that he had to suffer, die, rise, and return to his Father in heaven to pay for the sins of the world and bring them into the kingdom of God. Jesus spoke clearly and definitively: He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. In other words, the Holy Spirit would serve as heaven’s press secretary – delivering the wisdom and work of the Trinity to the world.
But perhaps the most important detail Jesus reveals about the Holy Spirit is this: He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. Is this yet another riddle? No. The Holy Spirit’s primary job is to point people to Jesus, to bring glory to Jesus, to proclaim Jesus’ work for salvation and bring people to faith in him. Some of you have heard my go-to illustration for describing the primary work of each person of the Trinity: picture a movie set, the Father is the all-knowing director, the Son is the superstar actor, and the Holy Spirit is the diligent but invisible…camera man – he points people to Jesus. To use Jesus’ words, the Holy Spirit would take the truth about who Jesus is – the Son of God; and the truth about what Jesus has done – redeemed the world from sin by his death on the cross; and make it known to the disciples and through the disciples to the world.
Is that how you’ve always understood the work of the Holy Spirit? In some circles it’s taught that “doctrine divides; the Spirit unites.” Meaning that the church that focuses on biblical doctrine will sow and reap division while the church that focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit will find unity. Underlying this belief is the false assumption that the Holy Spirit works apart from biblical teaching. But Jesus specifically says that the Holy Spirit will not speak a different message than the one Jesus himself had spoke and taught. And Jesus taught doctrine! And yet, even many “Bible-believing” Christians today are utterly confused about the Holy Spirit and imagine that he works through their own feelings or reason to reveal new and novel teachings to them.
The most obvious problem with that thinking is the context of Jesus’ words. Jesus is promising that the Holy Spirit would come in a miraculous way to those disciples who were with him in the Upper Room. But there is no promise in the Bible that this gift would be given – or necessary – to all Christians of all times. But there’s another, deeper problem with that line of thinking. What are we really “hearing” when we search our hearts and minds for messages from God? Aren’t we just looking at ourselves? Isn’t it just glorified navel gazing? It is profoundly stupid to confuse our own thoughts and feelings with the voice of the Spirit because Scripture tells us what our hearts and minds – our thoughts and feelings are really like. Jeremiah says the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9); and Paul says the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:7) More practically, wouldn’t we all have to confess that when we’ve chosen to do what felt right or seemed logical that it often led us to do something God calls sin? Our lives are littered with plenty of decisions based on logic and emotions that have had disastrous effects on our lives and the people around us. Our problem is not that we aren’t heeding the mystical voice inside of us; it’s that we have a pattern of disregarding God’s Word and following our own hearts and minds. When it comes to following your thoughts and feelings versus the Word of God remember the words of Isaiah: to the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. (Isaiah 8:20) To summarize: does God want you to follow your thoughts and feelings – because that’s where the Holy Spirit works? Absolutely not!
The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak through our reason or our feelings, he speaks through the Word of God. And the Word of God points to Christ. That’s what we should be listening to because that’s where we find some actual good news. Because when we hear that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2) the Holy Spirit takes that “not guilty” declaration and applies it to us. When we hear about Jesus’ life and work, the Holy Spirit takes Jesus’ perfect life and covers our sinfulness with it. When the water of Baptism touches us, the Holy Spirit applies Jesus’ blood to us to wash away our sins. And when we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood we receive life-giving food for our faith and the absolute assurance of eternal life. Only when you hear this Gospel message and receive these sacraments instituted by Christ himself can you be certain that the Spirit is at work – because the Spirit’s job is to point you to Jesus.
If you paid careful attention as we read the Athanasian Creed earlier, you may have noticed that there are two distinct sections. The first gives a very detailed and precise summary of the nature and essence of the Trinity. The second part confesses and defends the biblical truth that Jesus is God and man in one person. There were plenty of false teachings about Jesus floating around during the first few centuries of the Christian church – just as there are today. One of those false teachings was the idea that Jesus was not really God, or that he was somehow “less” than God the Father. The Athanasian Creed clearly and forcefully disputed that false teaching.
More importantly, so did Jesus. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. Everything that belongs to God the Father belongs to Jesus. God’s unapproachable glory, his divine, eternal nature, his almighty power – all these things belong to Jesus too. That’s just another way of saying what Christians have confessed for 2000 years: Jesus is true God. And so if the Holy Spirit delivers something to us that originates with Jesus, he’s really bringing us something from God himself – and nothing in the world is more important than receiving what God wants to give us!
Today God wants to give us himself. But the only way we can receive God the Father and God the Holy Spirit is through God the Son. The Spirit points to Jesus and the Father is one with Jesus. And that means that Jesus of Nazareth who walked the dust of this earth 2000 years ago was not merely a delusional prophet or a dedicated martyr – he was and is God Almighty! Consider what that means! The God we worship is not distant and unknowable – he broke into human history and became one of us. The God we worship is not coldly unconcerned about us and our lives – he knows the struggles, pain, hurt and meaninglessness of life because he lived it too. The God we worship doesn’t want to give us our “best life” or make us “healthy, wealthy and happy” now – he lived and died and rose so that we might live with him in heaven forever. The God we worship isn’t dependent on our works, our energy and excitement and determination to save us and preserve his Church – he annihilated the power of sin, death, and the devil all by himself. The Triune God did this all for you. And when the Spirit leads you to see Jesus as one with God the Father – our access point to the mystery of the Trinity – then you have in your hand the key – not to understanding, but to believing the Trinity.
Ours is an age of tolerance and acceptance. All religions and all beliefs about “god” are tolerated and even assumed to have some element of truth. Our world will tolerate anything except the proclamation of the truth that the one true God is triune – and that there is no other. (Pay attention to all the mentions of “God” by celebrities and athletes and politicians. Never is the Triune God referenced so as not to offend Jews or Muslims or Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.) But we boldly confess in the Athanasian Creed that “whoever wishes to be saved must, above all else, hold to the true Christian faith. (Including the Trinity.) Whoever does not keep this faith in all points will certainly perish forever.” Does that make you uneasy? Does that make you question your own faith or doubt your salvation? Does that leave you thinking that maybe the true God really is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”? It shouldn’t. Yes, we will never, ever comprehend the Mystery of the Trinity. But we don’t have to and that’s not the goal of Trinity Sunday. Our goal is to teach and take hold of what the Bible says about the one true God. And today, we have been given the key. It’s Jesus. The Holy Spirit points us to him and the Father is one with him. If you believe Jesus and his Words and work for you then you have the Father who sent him and the Spirit who proclaims him – and by that faith you will be saved. Amen.