The Holy Trinity and Christ’s Baptism

…and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.. (Luke 3:22)

In worship and in various church rites the Name of the Holy Trinity is repeatedly invoked. Thus as we begin a Divine Service the pastor invokes God by saying, In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is not a mere reminder of our Baptism, nor is it simply a reminder of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but it is an invoking.  As such it is a sacred calling upon God which can only be done by calling forth His Name.  Appropriately, the Name invoked is the one Christ gave at His ascension.

The Christian Church has also, through the centuries, invoked this most sacred Name in pronouncing absolution:  I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Other invocations of this Holy Name are found at the ordination of a pastor, the installation of people into various church offices, and the pronouncement of a man and woman as husband and wife. These and other ecclesial acts are done In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

We not only repeatedly invoke God’s Trinitarian name, but our liturgical praises and doxological hymn stanzas are directed to the Triune God with words such as, Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.  A Trinitarian blessing is given at the end of the Order of Matins when the pastor blesses God’s people with the blessing first used by Saint Paul: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God [the Father] and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all [2 Cor 13:14]. Other less obvious references to the Holy Trinity are found in liturgical expressions such as the singing of the “triple holy”, the thrice repeated plea for mercy, and the Aaronic Benediction (The Lord bless you…. The Lord make His face to shine… The Lord lift up His countenance…).

References to the Holy Trinity permeate the theology and practice of Christianity. This is so because God’s identity is Triune, which we realize from the numerous references and allusions to this triune nature throughout Scripture. The Triune God is the true God.  Though we confess this reality in the Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian), we frequently fail to sufficiently identify and thoroughly teach this core doctrine about God. Though the liturgy gives repeated exposure to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the pastor’s preaching and teaching should frequently point out the numerous biblical references to, and the basic meaning of, this foundational doctrine of God.

For the next several weeks we will consider the doctrine of the Trinity primarily utilizing the three-year lectionary readings. We begin with this Sunday’s account of Christ’s baptism. God is Triune:  He is but one God, as repeatedly confessed in Scripture, and yet there are three distinct persons in the Godhead, each person being 100% God. Various aspects of this essential doctrine are found throughout Scripture, but rarely do we find the doctrine fully set forth in a given text. The account of the Baptism of our Lord presents an important aspect of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It is one of the rare texts that presents each person of the Trinity as clearly separate from the other two persons.  The Holy Spirit, apart from the Father, uniquely descends in the form of a dove upon Jesus.  The Father, apart from the Spirit, speaks to and identifies Jesus as His beloved Son.  Each person remains distinct.  This clear presentation of each person of the Trinity as distinct from the other two disproves the heresy called Modalism.  Modalism taught that there is one God, but that he appeared in three different “modes”…sometimes He appeared as Father, sometimes as Son, and sometimes as Holy Spirit.  As Sunday’s Gospel simultaneously yet distinctly presents the three persons of the Trinity, we realize God is not Modalistic.

Ultimately, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity treats of our salvation.  The Father’s Beloved Son is conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, that we may be saved.  He becomes flesh to live, die, rise, and ascend in our place.  This salvation can only be realized if God is Triune.