Sermon on the Augsburg Confession, Art. I: Concerning God

Sermon for midweek Advent 1

Colossians 1:12-23  +  Luke 1:1-25

As St. Luke points out at the beginning of his Gospel, the events of the life of Christ were carefully passed down by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.  Luke himself was concerned with writing down for Theophilus—and for every generation since—an orderly account…that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.  Christianity is a historical religion, not based on myths, not founded on philosophies, or on truth that’s buried somewhere under six feet of fiction.   The Christian faith is based on real facts.  Real events.  Real historical figures and a historical revelation of God through inspired words that record His real thoughts and His real actions performed for mankind’s salvation.

For example, there was really an elderly priest in Jerusalem named Zacharias, with his elderly and barren wife Elizabeth. There was an angel Gabriel, and the divine promise of a son given to this elderly couple—a son who would go before the Messiah as a forerunner, who would fulfill the real words of the real prophet Malachi to come in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.

Because ours in a religion founded on history and fact and communicated in doctrine that comes from inspired words, because doctrine is nothing more and nothing less than the teaching of Christ Jesus, because our very life and our eternal salvation comes from Christ and revolves around Christ, doctrine matters.

The doctrine—the teaching—of Christ is a unit. There is one teaching of Christ which we speak of in various points or various “articles.”  But there is only one teaching.  As Jesus commanded His apostles, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” So the Christian life is not about learning a few doctrines in a Bible information class and then being baptized and confirmed and then you’re done.  The Christian life is a life of ongoing catechesis—ongoing, lifelong instruction in the doctrine of Christ.

The doctrine of Christ has been summarized in various ways: in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.  It’s been summarized more extensively in Luther’s Small Catechism.  And it has been passed down to us in a most exquisite and comprehensive summary form in the Augsburg Confession of 1530.  This is the foundational confession, not only of the Lutheran Church, but of the catholic, Christian Church. And the real beauty of the Augsburg Confession is that there’s nothing new about it.  There was nothing new about it in 1530.  It simply outlined the doctrine of Christ as the Christian or catholic Church had been confessing it for about 1500 years.  It is still our confession as a congregation and it remains the confession of the Christian Church, so much so that any doctrine that is not in line with the Augsburg Confession cannot be called Christian at all, in any real or historical sense.

So. For the next 52 weeks we will be considering the 28 articles of the Augsburg Confession in our midweek services.  During Advent and Lent we will meet every Wednesday, and in the other seasons of the Church Year, we’ll meet every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month to continue our brief study of each article—as many of you and whoever else wishes to embark on this doctrinal journey.

Now, in this penitential season of Advent when we seek to walk in repentance and in preparation for the coming of Christ, the first thing for us to know and understand is what the first Article of the Augsburg Confession discusses: What is God like? Who is the God in whom we believe and for whom we are waiting? What has the Christian/catholic Church always believed and taught about Him?

Our churches teach with common consent that the decree of the Council of Nicaea about the unity of the divine essence and the three persons is true. It is to be believed without any doubt. God is one divine essence who is eternal, without a body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness. He is the maker and preserver of all things, visible and invisible

In full accord with the ancient, historic, catholic Church throughout the world, we teach that God is one divine essence.  Rome teaches the same thing.  One divine Being who is eternal—without beginning or end. Without a body—God is a spiritual Being, not a physical flesh and bones Being.  Without parts.  Human beings have parts, even a right brain and a left brain that have different functions.  You can’t divide God up into parts.  He’s infinitely good and powerful and wise, the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible, as we heard in the first lesson this evening from Colossians 1.  And this is important.  All things can be placed in two basic categories.  There’s God.  And there’s God’s creation—everything in the universe that God made and still preserves.  There are many, many parts to the creation.  But there is only one God.

Yet there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are of the same essence and power. Our churches use the term person as the Fathers have used it. We use it to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself.

Our one God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  None comes before or after the other. The Father is not the Son.  The Son is not the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not the Father.  But the Father is God. The Son is God. And the Holy Spirit is God. Yet they are not three gods, but one God.

Simple, right? Actually, it is.  Simple enough, at least, for a child to grasp it.  And it’s important to get this right, because if you worship the wrong God—some God who isn’t Father, Son and Holy Spirit—then you’re an idol-worshiper and your faith is in vain.

That’s why our Lutheran Fathers were also quick to point out and condemn some of the wrong teachings about God that the Church had to deal with over the centuries.

Our churches condemn all heresies that arose against this article, such as the Manichaeans, who assumed that there are two “principles,” one Good and the other Evil. They also condemn the Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Muslims, and all heresies such as these. Our churches also condemn the Samosatenes, old and new, who contend that God is but one person. Through sophistry they impiously argue that the Word and the Holy Spirit are not distinct persons. They say that Word signifies a spoken word, and Spirit signifies motion created in things.

We won’t look at each of these false teachers individually tonight.  One thing they all had in common: They all taught that Jesus is not true God.  They denied the article concerning the Holy Trinity.

We might add to the list the big-name Trinity deniers of our day.  The Muslims are still with us. There are also the Mormons who teach that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three gods who do not share the same essence, and that both Father and Son have physical bodies.  Actually, they teach that all people and even Lucifer himself were begotten of the Heavenly Father. Or there are the Jehovah’s Witnesses who teach that only the Father is really God (Jehovah), while Jesus, as the first creation of God, became sort of a lesser god like the Arians taught, and the Holy Spirit is not a person at all, but a power or a force, like the Samosatenes taught.

Again, why is it so important to get all of this right?  Because you only have redemption through the blood of Christ if Christ’s blood has the value of God’s blood.  St. Paul said to the Colossians about Christ: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  He was not, like Adam and Eve, “made in the image of God.”  Paul says He “is” the image of God, and that it pleased the Father that in Christ all the fullness should dwell.  All the fullness of who God is.  The Bible says that there is only one Mediator between God and man—the Man Christ Jesus.  You only have a valid Mediator between God and man if Jesus Christ is both God and man.

You see, then, the connection to Advent? What child is this whose birth we await with eager anticipation?  It isn’t an angel who would be born in Bethlehem, or the first creature that God created long ago.  It is the very Son of God who is in the Father’s bosom from eternity.

The Apostle Paul both comforts and warns us in the First Lesson that you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard.  The Gospel which we have heard is that simple Gospel of who God is and what He has done to save us.  God is the Father who loved our fallen race and ordained in eternity that He would send His eternal Son to be born as one of us, to live and die for us, and to save us from our sins through faith in His name.  And that the Holy Spirit would work faith in our hearts through the means of grace and so bring us into fellowship with the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To continue grounded and steadfast and unmoved in this faith, to wait for Christ rightly, we must know who it is we’re waiting for; we must be able to distinguish Him from all the false gods men have set up in their hearts. We must know and believe in the one true God, the very one whom we confess as our God in the first article of the Augsburg Confession. Amen.

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