[I didn’t really want to type this out, but I forgot my recorder]
The Holy Trinity
“Worshiping and Wavering”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have come to the end of the festival half of the Church Year. The Festival of the Holy Trinity is the last Sunday of that part of the Church Year that began back in December with Advent, which proclaims to us the life of Christ, from birth to death and resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost. By it we have been bound closer to the life of Christ, and His life has been applied to our lives. Now we look out over the long, green season of Pentecost; twenty-some Sundays after Pentecost, after Trinity. And at the end of the festival season, we have come to the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the last five verses. And here we stand with the Apostles on a mountain, as we overhear through the mouth of Matthew what happened to the disciples when they saw Jesus after the resurrection.
Jesus said that He would go ahead of them to Galilee after His resurrection (26:32), and Jesus told the women at the tomb that the disciples would see Him in Galilee (28:10). So the Eleven find themselves on the mountain to which Jesus had, at some time, directed them. There they see Jesus, and when they do, they worship Him. This, in itself, is highly significant. The disciples, as Jews, knew that you don’t worship any man, unless that Man is God. Jesus Himself, in Matthew 4, when He was being tempted by Satan, said, “You shall worship the Lord your God only” (4:10). And yet, here the disciples worship Him and Jesus doesn’t rebuke them, as the angel does John in the Revelation; no, He receives their worship, and acknowledges that He is God in the flesh.
They worship, but they waver. The English says “some,” but that word is not in the Greek. I think it much more likely that they worshiped and, at the same time, wavered. These two words in close connection should remind us of another time that Jesus came to the disciples, not on a mountain but on a lake. Jesus had sent His disciples out in the boat alone, and He had gone up on a mountain to pray. In the middle of the night, Jesus comes walking on the water, and they are afraid. He says, don’t be afraid, it’s Me. Peter says, “Lord, if it is You, tell me to come to You on the water.” A bold request. Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter climbs out of the boat. As long as His eyes are fixed on Jesus, he is walking on water. But then he looks around at the wind and the waves; he starts to waver, and then he starts to sink. He cries out to the Lord to save him, and immediately, Jesus reaches out and pulls him up. And He says to Peter, “Little-faith one [one word in the Greek, oligopiste], little-faith one, why did you waver? I am here with you. No matter what happens around you or what happens inside you, I am here.” Jesus pulls Peter into the boat, and those disciples in the boat, like the disciples on the mountain, worship Jesus. They say, “Truly, You are the Son of God” (14:22-33).
Peter wavers, and the disciples worship. It seems that not much changed between the lake and the mountain. They worship and they waver. And I, for one, am not surprised. Matthew gives us some hints in these verses that things are not as they should be. He begins by saying that the “eleven disciples went to Galilee” (28:16). Eleven is not Twelve. Their number is not complete; one is missing. Judas, one of Jesus’ hand-picked disciples, betrayed his Lord for a few pieces of silver, and instead of turning in repentance to his Lord for mercy and forgiveness, he took his own life in despair. These disciples have come to the end of their resources, the end of their strength, the end of their reason and ability to figure out what God is up to. They have not yet received the Holy Spirit, and they are worn down, worn out from the experience. Frustrated and discouraged, they have come to this mountain looking for a glimpse of hope.
And Jesus comes to them and speaks to them. He doesn’t tell them that they should try harder, work harder. He tells them, instead, something about Himself. “All authority in heaven and upon the earth has been given to Me.” All authority has been given to Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, who took flesh from the Virgin, was baptized by John and anointed with the Holy Spirit, lived, died, and rose again; this one, Man and God, has all authority in heaven and on earth. Just as He earlier said when He was about to heal a crippled man: “So that you know that the Son of Man has authority upon the earth to forgive sins, rise and walk” (9:6). And, as He said in another place, “The Father has given all things to the Son” (11:27). Therefore, by this authority, “Go”–although that’s not the main verb. It might better be translated, “When you have gone; when you get to the place where I will put you.” The main verb is “make disciples,” or simply “disciple.” That is the mission of the Church, which Jesus entrusts to these worshiping, wavering disciples. But He doesn’t leave them without the means of the mission. He doesn’t say, “Go make disciples,” and figure it out as you go along. Not, “Go make disciples,” and you can do it however you want, as long as it’s culturally relevant. Not, “Go make disciples,” and I’ll leave the means up to you. No, Jesus gives them the means: “Baptize all nations, all ages, all people into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to keep, to guard, to cherish, to hold sacred, all the things, whatsoever I have commanded you.” Baptism and teaching are the means by which Jesus creates and sustains His Church, and the means have not changed since that mountain. Disciples cannot be made any other way; and this is how they will continue to be made until Jesus returns.
Here we see as well that the Holy Trinity is not some abstract concept which we consider and reflect upon in a sterile environment; it is concrete every time someone is baptized. The Holy Trinity is concrete every time you enter this place and the Name is put upon you again; it is concrete every time your sins are forgiven in that Name. That is why we are here to worship the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity. We worship, and yet, sometimes we waver. And I am not surprised. Perhaps you have come here at the end of your resources, at the end of your strength, at the end of your ability to figure out what God is up to; at the end of your faith. Maybe you’re frustrated and discouraged, and you’ve come to this place looking for a glimpse of hope.
And Jesus comes to you and speaks to you, and tells you something about Himself: “All authority in heaven and upon the earth has been given to Me.” This is My mission, and these are My means, and I will be faithful to them. I have authority upon the earth to forgive your sins. Little-faith ones, why do you waver? Look and see: wherever the baptized and taught ones are, I am with you all the days, until the completion of this age. I am with you, no matter what happens around you, no matter what happens inside you. I am with you, even when, as Jesus said to His disciples (and to us), many fall away–even the baptized and taught–they will betray each other and hate each other. False prophets will arise and lead many astray. Lawlessness will increase, and the love of many will grow cold” (24:10-12). That fire kindled by the Holy Spirit, which desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth; which falters in the midst of disappointment; which ceases to desire that all nations be baptized and taught–has our love grown cold? Jesus comes to kindle it again, to breathe on it, so that it burns with His own love. He will create and sustain His Church by His own means.
But we shall be church, real church, His church; and we shall live forever. We shall rise from our graves and break through the gates of death when He shall come and cry once more, [as He did to His disciples in Matthew,] ‘Follow Me!'” (Martin Franzmann, Follow Me, 226)