Festival of the Holy Trinity + May 24 & 27, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin Download PDF
Text: John 3:1-17
Justify. I’m not talking religion or theology. I’m talking horse-racing. Justify is the name of the horse that won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. If Justify wins the Belmont Stakes on June 9, he will accomplish something very rare and difficult. He will win the Triple Crown. In the ninety-nine years of the Triple Crown’s history, only twelve horses have won all three races in the same year. Only twelve percent of the time does a horse win the Triple Crown.
Justify. Now I’m talking religion and theology. The Formula of Concord, defines justify this way: "[It] means to declare righteous and free from sins and from eternal punishment of these sins on account of the righteousness of Christ which God reckons to faith.” (III.17).
To put it another way: to justify someone means that God declares a sinner "not guilty" because, by God’s grace alone, the sinner receives Christ’s perfect holiness as his own through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith.
Or maybe, we can put it in even simpler words: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (v 16)
Perhaps you noticed in all three definitions of justification that all three persons of the Triune God were at work. God, the Father, declares the verdict of “not guilty.” God, the Son, Jesus Christ, gives his righteous and holy life as the payment for sin. God, the Holy Spirit, creates faith and by faith the sinner receives the holiness and innocence of Jesus.
So again, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all do their part to save you and me and any sinner. And that’s better than a horse winning the triple crown. After all, a horse is a horse. And a race is only a race. But eternal salvation means that you escape the torments of hell you deserve because of your sins. Eternal life means that forever and ever you will always be perfect—healthy, holy, and happy without ever being able to lose this perfection. The good news is that our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, have won the Triple Crown of your salvation. So there’s not a twelve percent chance that you might be saved. Your salvation is one hundred percent accomplished by our Triune God. God’s Word tells us: the Triune God is the trifecta of your salvation.
Now, the mystery of the nature of God is beyond normal definition. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Yet, there are not three Gods but only one God. This one God is three distinct persons yet only one Divine Being. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully God but the true God is only one Being. Again, the nature of the Triune God is a logical impossibility. But, because we’re talking about God, it is a certain reality.
But not only is God amazing in who he is, he is also amazing in what he does. To appreciate our Triune God, let’s take a closer look at how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each does his unique to justify us.
First, God the Father loved us. This is no ordinary love. God’s love surpasses any kind of love humans can ever give to each other. Saint John tells us in his first letter: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (I John 4:10)
Consider God’s love by comparing what God gave to how you give. Sometimes you give gifts to your friends and family because you love them you and they love you. Sometimes you give out of a sense of duty. You give to charity because you feel an obligation to help your fellow human.
But God loved us for deeper reasons than friendly love or a sense of duty. God loved us even though we humans are by nature enemies of God and rebel against his rules. Saint Paul tells us in Romans, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) So God did not wait for us to be so loveable before he loved us. Even when he should have hated you and cursed you, God loved you.
Pure, immense, unchangeable love—that’s why God gave his one and only Son to be your Savior. And what a price God paid to prove his love to you and to gain your salvation. That price was the life of his pure and holy Son.
Again, compare that to the prices you pay. You pay a high price in terms of money for housing, your car, your education, or your medical needs. You pay a high price in terms of time and energy to succeed at your job or at school or in a relationship. And in some cases, you might even pay the ultimate price of sacrificing your life to save a loved one.
But even if you did surrender your own life, that still does not compare to the price of Christ’s life. That’s because your life is still the life of a sinner. Even if you gave all you had—even if you sacrificed your life, your life is worthless when it comes paying for sin. But Christ’s life is different. Christ’s life is worth everything. That’s because Christ was and is a perfect human being. He was and is the perfect Son of God, and true God himself. Saint Peter tells us, "it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life…, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (I Pet. 1:18-19)
So the perfect, holy, sinless Son of God paid the price to save you. Therefore, your salvation is paid in full. You never have to wonder, Does God really forgive all my sins? What about those big sins? What about those sins I keep doing over and over again? Does God forgive me even though he knows that I don’t really struggle that hard to resist committing my favorite sins? Will God really save such a hypocritical, habitual sinner like me?
Well, you never have to doubt your forgiveness or worry about your salvation. That’s because God loves you with a limitless love. On top of that, Jesus paid for every one of your sins with his holy, precious life. But there’s also another reason why you don’t have to worry about your forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Holy Spirit has given you faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, faith in Jesus Christ as your only Savior is absolutely necessary to get to heaven. Jesus himself tells us, "whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:15-17)
But how do you get faith? Is it your decision to believe? Do you have to prove to God that you deserve faith? Thankfully, the answer to both those questions is, no. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us how the Holy Spirit gives you faith: "No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (v 5-6)
In other words, the Holy Spirit gives birth to your faith when you are baptized by water and the Spirit. Or, as Saint Paul says in our epistle lesson, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." (Rom. 8:16) In other words, the Holy Spirit, who is God and cannot lie, testifies in God the Father’s courtroom that you have faith. By faith you are God’s child. Since you are God’s child, you have a place in God’s house. That means you are part of the Holy Christian Church on earth. It also means you will inherit eternal life in heaven.
So Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all do their work to give us a victory more impressive than any horse winning the Triple Crown. By God’s grace, by the life and death of Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith you have won the crown of life. You have won the triple victory over sin, death, and the devil. You have God’s blessings on this earth and everlasting paradise in heaven. And that victory does not depend on you. Your Triune God has already done it all for you. Therefore, to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be praise and thanks and honor and glory forever and ever.