Acts 2:14–36

Holy Trinity Sunday – 6/7/2020

Today, God's person's very identity and essence are being challenged and questioned. We expect this from the secular progressive and atheist crowds, but even so-called Christians are waging war on God by trying to redefine or re-image Him. I suppose this is nothing new. Throughout the millennia of our human existence, humanity has attempted in vain to learn God's true identity and mold God into the image they want.

Of course, even casual observers of the physical world around us can readily discover that God must exist and must be of omnipotent power. The physical world and our whole universe are so highly ordered and complex that they cry out for an omniscient and omnipotent designer. Accordingly, Scripture says, "Everyone is without excuse", concerning the knowledge of God's existence.

When it comes to knowing God's true identity, however, that is an entirely different matter. God in His essence and true personhood is beyond all human discovery capacity. Again, Holy Scripture assures us that God's mind is beyond our figuring out. And since no one has ever actually seen God and been able to come back and tell the rest of us—except for Jesus, who is, as Scripture states, "the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father" (Jn. 1:38). God's true identity can only remain, at best, a mystery to even the most intellectually gifted of us. That is why our world has many different religions and conceptions of God. People have imagined God in their minds and created Him in their image, which often bears no resemblance to the true God as He has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

A growing challenge to the truth of God's identity is the religion of Islam. Many, even some evangelical Christians, celebrate Islam's growth and influence in the world because, at least, Islam is monotheistic and not polytheistic like so many cults that fill our world with the false notion that there is a whole panoply of gods. Yet, this very insistence on God's singleness makes Islam such a dangerous challenge to the real identity of God. You see, along with Islam's insistence on the singularity of God, it also insists that this one God is revealed alone by the prophet Mohammed. Mohammed identifies this god as Allah. Islam claims that Allah is a single divine person and that any teaching that the one true God is a unity of persons is heresy and punishable by death!

That makes Islam a direct threat to the teachings of the Holy Bible and in direct opposition to Jesus Christ! Even though Islam rightly insists that there is only one God, it presents an entirely false god to the world and, consequently, leads people to hell instead of heaven. After all, as we recall on this particular Sunday of the Holy Trinity, the teaching of all of God's true prophets as found in the Holy Bible reveals that the true Creator of heaven and earth, the one and only true God, is three distinct persons in one divine being! For lack of a better term, Christians have always referred to this true nature of God as the "Holy Trinity." The term is a compound of the Latin words for three (tri) and one (une).

The revelation of the multiple persons in the one divine Godhead is already embedded in the first and oldest book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis. As we heard moments ago in our Old Testament reading, the account of creation itself already clues us in on the true nature of God's being. The text records God's deliberation over the creation of human beings. He said, "Let us make man in our image." Did you hear that? God referred to the plurality of His own Godhead. He used the plural pronouns' us' and 'our."

In Deuteronomy, when God teaches Moses and His people about Himself, He says, "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God; the LORD is one!" (6:4) The Hebrew word for "one" here has the meaning "unity." "The LORD is one unity!"

This revelation, of course, is fleshed out further in the rest of the Bible, as we can see from our Gospel reading. Even in Jesus' commissioning of His followers, He identifies the three divine persons of this one unity. Jesus says, "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

But in this account of Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost that is before us, we are also taught that apart from Jesus Christ, we cannot know of the Divine Trinity. I'm afraid Islam also tries to pervert and destroy this critical truth. You see, Islam insists that Jesus was simply a prophet who erred. This puts Islam not only in denial of the Holy Trinity but also in denial of the truth that Jesus Himself is the very truth of God (Jn. 14:6), that Jesus is the complete revelation of God (John 1:14), and that only in Jesus' flesh do we come to know the true God and the Trinity of His very nature, being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one divine being!

Peter's original audience, of course, was not Muslim. Islam would not even be a religion for another five centuries. Peter addressed his people, the Judaioi (people of Judea), and those who inhabit Jerusalem. Yet Peter still had a difficult time preaching to these people. They might have been his people, but they were not of his faith.

The occasion was the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus' resurrection and just ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven. What made this a tough crowd to speak to was the fact that, like the people of Islam and even the Jews today, these people were among those who had opposed Jesus. Many of them had been on hand to witness Jesus' crucifixion personally. Some, no doubt, had approved of it.

If Peter were alive today, he would be coached to preach a visitor-friendly sermon. In other words, he would be expected to preach in such a way as to be both politically correct as well as inoffensive as possible so that no one in his audience would in any way feel uncomfortable or, most especially, feel guilty that he had done anything wrong or, heaven forbid, had a false concept of God.

We all, especially every preacher, should note how Peter addressed his hearers. He does no soft-soaping. Peter doesn't try to be diplomatic or tiptoe around people's precious sensibilities. He cuts right to the chase. He confronts his hearers with their grievous sin and opposition to the true God. Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men."

Imagine being the one to whom Peter leveled this charge! You hear Peter not only accuse you of murder, but he also charges you with doing it in a cowardly way, that is, by having Jesus killed by lawless men, that is, by people who didn't even have the blessing of knowing the truth of God's will. Peter finally says, "You even murdered your very own Messiah!" Let all the house of Israel know for certain," Peter concludes, "that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."

Peter made it quite clear to his audience just who it was that they attempted to "annihilate" (v. 23) and did crucify (v. 36). We need to be just as bold and direct in our preaching and witnessing to Jesus as was Peter. After all, if we genuinely love people, we will not let them go to their graves believing a lie about themselves or God. No one alive today can be technically charged with murdering Jesus. No one of us was alive then. Yet whoever opposes Christ, denies His true identity, belittles the necessity of His cross, or even simply ignores Jesus as though He were no one of any importance to them, cannot escape the charge of being an enemy of Christ, thereby an accomplice to His murder. "You are either with me or against me," Jesus says.

As the tragic events in the cities of our country this past week have demonstrated, people today also need to be confronted with their lawlessness. Looting, destroying other people's property, and racial bigotry are offenses against God as our Creator. They also reveal a genuine lack of love for our neighbor. Such rebelliousness leads to damnation. But even those of us who claim to be followers of Christ also need to be confronted when we oppose the real Christ, and hence, the real God. As the writer to the Hebrews states, "Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severe punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified and has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:28,29).

The reason for this is simple: to oppose Jesus is to resist God. As Peter states, God made Jesus both Lord and Christ. The Old and New Testaments clarify that there is only one Lord and one God (Deut. 6:4; Eph. 4:5). If God makes Jesus Lord, he is God. To be sure, Jesus is the "incarnate God," that is, the Son of God in the flesh, yet, as the apostle, Paul notes, "the fullness of the deity dwells in Him" (Col. 2:9).

Peter drives this point home further by pointing out to His Jewish audience that even their revered King David preached that the resurrection of the Messiah and His ascension to the right hand of God is proof that Jesus is the Lord—that is, God and the only Savior.

Therefore, the very flesh of Jesus is evidence of God's multi-person nature. The fact that there is a "son" necessitates that there is a father. Jesus frequently spoke of the unity of this Father and Son, saying, "I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me." God created and loved us in this filial unity: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall be saved" (John 3:16).

God even testified to the Lordship and Messiah-ship of the Man Jesus by doing all sorts of wonderful miracles through him. Jesus didn't simply create over 120 gallons of wine to make the wedding guests drunker, feed over 5,000 people from five loaves of barley bread and two fish to show Himself a magnificent caterer, still, the storm to show off, or raise dead people back to life simply so that they could die again someday.

God performed these divine signs, wonders, and miracles among His people to attest to Jesus' true identity as the Son of God in human flesh. God the Father revealed to the world His Son, who, as we confess in the Athanasian Creed, "is begotten from the Father before all ages, and is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age." As Robert Schuller insists, Jesus didn't suffer the humiliation and pain of the cross to sanctify his ego trip. Even though the devil and the enemies of Jesus delivered Him up to the cross to try to eradicate him, God, according to His eternal will, had Jesus crucified so that He, in the flesh of Jesus, could atone for the sins of all of us! The blood of the Triune God, therefore, redeems you and me!

God, the Holy Trinity, is therefore only revealed in Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God, sent out of God the Father's love for sinners. Jesus has come among us so that we might know of the Father's genuine love for us and to lead us all back to Him as our Father through His atoning work on the cross. The Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, not to make a big show or to draw attention to Himself, but to empower Peter and the other followers of Jesus to truthfully and boldly testify about Jesus so that through that testimony, people might be brought to repentance and faith in Christ and, therefore, obtain forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Not only are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit united in the Godhead, but they also have one mind when it comes to God's desire to save sinners like you and me. They work in total coordination and unity to create, redeem, and sanctify us.

No one can understand Jesus apart from the Father's love and the Holy Spirit's testimony. At the same time, no one can comprehend the true nature and identity of the one true Triune God apart from Jesus. It is impossible! Only in the flesh of Jesus is the Triune God indeed known. It is just as impossible for anyone to be saved from eternal condemnation under God's wrath if they first do not comprehend the severity of the sin of rejecting the true Jesus and, second, if they do not cling in faith to the good news that Jesus atoned in death for the very ones who opposed him, denied him, and even murdered him! "Father, forgive them," Jesus said. "For they know not what they do!"

All this tells you and me that we cannot afford to be timid in our witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. The eternal fate of millions of Muslims and non-Muslims is at stake! O Holy Spirit, grant us such boldness of confession! Amen.

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