Monday, June 20, 2011
The Heart of the Holy Trinity in the Person of Jesus
In Nomine Iesu
St. Matthew 28:16-20
June 19, 2011
The Holy Trinity A
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~
I really do enjoy a good ending (like most people, I suppose). Lately I’ve been reading a lot of mystery/suspense novels. And the endings always manage to surprise me. There’s always a last-minute, unexpected twist in the plot that I didn’t see coming. And just when it appears that the criminal/villain is about to succeed in carrying out his murderous scheme, somehow the good guy manages to turn the tables. Truth, justice and the American way prevails. Virtue is rewarded. Evil-doers are punished. In my estimation, that’s a pretty good ending.
On this Trinity Sunday we get to consider another pretty good ending—the ending of Matthew’s Gospel. It’s a rather well known ending compared to most books of the Bible. We hear part of this ending at every Baptism; for this is precisely where Jesus commanded the eleven to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. “And behold,” Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” But like any good ending, there are a few unexpected twists and turns in this plot—things you may have overlooked. Best of all, this is an ending that reveals the heart of the Holy Trinity in the person of Jesus.
For me, the biggest surprise in this ending comes right before Jesus speaks. St. Matthew reports that Jesus met the eleven on the mountain in Galilee. St. Matthew reports that when they saw Jesus they worshipped Him. St. Matthew also reports, however, that “some doubted.” Some doubted?! I didn’t see that coming. Who doubted? It wasn’t the crowds. It wasn’t just the fair-weather followers of Jesus (or a few of His Facebook friends). It was some of the Eleven—the inner circle (minus Judas). Now, these men would ultimately go to the ends of the earth to preach Christ crucified. Nearly all of these men would ultimately be martyred for their passionate confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God—the only mediator between God and man. But surprisingly, even Jesus’ most intimate confidants—even those who stood there looking and listening to the risen, resurrected Lord—even among them, it says, “some doubted.” I find that surprising. There’s an unexpected twist in the plot.
The word “doubt” used here is different from the “doubt” of doubting Thomas. Remember, Thomas’s problem was really that he didn’t believe—didn’t believe that Jesus was living. Thomas was literally “faithless” on that first Easter. That’s not the case here, at the end of Matthew’s gospel. Here it’s not that the Eleven don’t believe—or that they are faithless. What “doubt” means here is that they were hesitant. They were unsure, unsteady and unconvinced about what was going to happen. Even as they saw Jesus, and believed in Jesus, and worshipped Jesus—even then, they weren’t all brimming with confidence. Some doubted.
On the one hand, I find that shocking and surprising; but on the other hand, I can see it. In fact, that kind of doubt is a doubt we all know perfectly well. It’s the kind of doubt that can eat away at you even while you’re sitting in church, on a Sunday morning, singing Holy, Holy, Holy. Even as you will confess your faith today in the glorious words of the Athanasian Creed—even as you confess with certainty all the big articles of the Christian faith—even then, this kind of doubt will find you—and rob you of the joy and confidence that could be yours.
This doubt doesn’t deny that Christ is risen; it simply denies you the benefits of that belief. To have this kind of doubt is to be like the Eleven—hesitant, unsure, unsteady, unconvinced of God’s presence and God’s plan for your life—that He is working all things for your good—that you are the apple of His eye—that the heartaches and fears that loom large today are somehow beyond the grasp of God the Holy Trinity. Maybe you think that your sin-filled life isn’t worthy of God’s attention. Maybe that’s why the Eleven doubted too. After all, they had abandoned Jesus and denied Jesus. When the going got tough, they ran away and hid behind locked doors. They didn’t have a proud record of spiritual success to build on. And neither do we. Our record is a sad record of broken promises, selfish desires, and sinful self-centered words and deeds. With a record like that, there are plenty of reasons to doubt God’s gracious care.
But then, in Matthew’s great conclusion, something happened that changed everything: Jesus started talking! And the words of Jesus changed everything. The Eleven didn’t overcome their doubt by trying harder; and you won’t either. They didn’t overcome their doubt by re-doubling their commitment to the Lord; and you won’t either. They didn’t overcome their doubt at all; Jesus did. He spoke. He put His Words in their ears and hearts. The same God who said, “Let there be light,” is the same God who said, “Go and make disciples of nations, baptizing them and teaching them.” In both cases, it happened—it happened because God spoke the Word. And by that Word, doubt and uncertainty were overcome.
What was true for the Eleven on that Galilean mountain is also true for you: “God doesn’t call the qualified . . . He qualifies those He has called.” God chooses to use uncertain, unsteady sinners to accomplish great things in this world! God chooses to use you! Do you have your share of doubts today? Are you unsure, unsteady and unconvinced that God will do for you exactly what He has promised? Do you feel like you’re losing in your daily struggle with sin? Are you teetering on the edge of depressing, feeling that your faith is futile, disgusted with your own personal performance as a disciple of Jesus? If so, then I say, “Great!” You are in a very good place—a place where the only thing you can do is repent. You are right where the Eleven were before Jesus came and commissioned them and included them in His purpose and plan for all the nations of the world.
Here at the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a glimpse into the heart of God the Holy Trinity. And there, in the heart of our great and awesome God, is a place for you. Uncreated, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty—God is all of that and much, much more. But behind all the theological jargon and the weighty words of the Creeds, we dare not overlook the simple fact that God is love. This love isn’t a fuzzy feeling or a fleeting emotion. This love is Jesus, God’s Son, who came to earth as your substitute—who bore your sin in His body, who took your punishment, who suffered your sentence of death. On the third day He rose again from the dead; and He promises that one day you will rise too.
The love of God the holy Trinity was poured into your life when you were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Those words—together with the water—changed everything for you—gave you a whole new identity as one redeemed by Christ the crucified—as one who is loved and treasured by the holy Triune God. Being a baptized disciple also means being taught—taught to observe all that Jesus has entrusted to us.
Notice that little word “all.” It’s important! We are to observe all that Jesus has commanded. We don’t get to pick and choose which of Jesus’ teachings to observe and which to disregard as unimportant or outdated. It’s all—all or nothing with our great God. God withholds nothing from you because He wants the absolute best for you.
But Matthew has saved the best for last. It’s the final sentence of His gospel that seals the deal for doubting disciples. “Behold,” Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” At the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, the baby Jesus is described with the Old Testament name “Emmanuel,” which means, “God with us.” Here at the end, Jesus spells out what it means that He is Emmanuel: “I am with you always.” He is with you—but not in some complicated, complex way. He is with you in the Words of the Scriptures. He is with you in the washing of Holy Baptism. He is with you in the bread that is His body and wine that is His blood. He is with you, bringing forgiveness and faith and joy and doubt-dispelling confidence.
In this ending, Jesus shows us the very heart of God. And there we find compassion for doubting disciples. There we find comfort that He will use us for His plans and purposes. There we hear His commitment to be with you to the end of the age. It’s a great ending for Matthew’s gospel. But for you it signals a life that has no ending—a resurrection ending—a “to be continued” ending—happily ever after. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.