God the Trinity, part 1
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The doctrine of the Trinity is foundational to the Christianity. We look at how it matters to virtually every aspect of our faith.
This picture that you see up on the screen, I don't know if I'm pronouncing this exactly right, but it is a place called Yardenit. It it is along the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee. So it's in the area of Palestine known as Galilee. I was there a couple of summers ago when we had the privilege of a trip to Israel. And it is a baptismal site. It is operated by a Jewish communal community and tour group stopped there and baptize people. There were several people, including one of my good friends, who was baptized there, Yardenit, that you're seeing the most scenic part of it. It is a little more developed where the baptisms actually occurred to make sure it's a safe place to baptize people. We don't know for sure that this is the site on the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus.
But this is probably representative of what it looked like very, very similar to what it looked like if it wasn't the exact site. You just heard Dennis and Carol read about that account at the end of Matthew, Chapter three, and I won't repeat it word for word. I will just note that John rightly questioned having some awareness of who Jesus was, whether he should be the one doing the baptism. But notice where Jesus says it is necessary to do this to fulfill all righteousness. That's a whole other sermon. Not for today, but it applies even as we come to the Lord's table today, that the righteousness, the perfect righteousness of Christ, that is the basis for him to be a sacrifice in our place, as our substitute is in part linked to his perfect obedience of his father all throughout his earthly life, including being baptized. There's more to that. But again, that is another sermon. What I really want to go to today is what happened upon him being baptized. And we see it particularly in verses 16 and 17. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water and at that moment heaven was opened, which is a biblical phrase of the eternal glory is revealed to humanize in some way - heaven was opened. And what does John see? He, John, saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him, coming upon Jesus, the son and a voice from heaven. This is the voice of God, the father saying, This is my son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.
And again, even what the father speaks, that anointing of the son is worthy of more study than I have time to go into this morning. But if you look at your discussion questions today in the Bulletin that you may use individually or as a small group, there are some Old Testament and New Testament references that that help you even pull in the significance of what God the father says, an anointing the son here.
But when I really want to focus on today in our continued study this month of understanding who God is is the picture that we get here of God the father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, all present at Jesus's baptism. We see Christ the Son being baptized, submitting to being baptized as part of his perfectly righteous life. We see God, the father speaking from heaven, anointing the son, commissioning the son as king, as Messiah.
And we see the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus as part of that anointing like a dove. Not that there was a dove. John just used the most present image that he could think of to describe what he was seeing of the Holy Spirit descending upon the Lord Jesus.
This is, by the way, this is directly tied into how we baptize, as we were instructed by our Lord Jesus in Matthew twenty eight, nineteen we baptized. How do we baptize in the name not names plural in the name singular of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit. So we follow the pattern of what we see here, acknowledging God, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit as we baptize. Well, this is just one of the numerous texts in the Bible where we see God reveal himself to us. And what I would say is a tri-personal existence as the father, as the son and as the spirit. And there are places in the Old Testament that I don't have time to go to today. There are other references in the New Testament where we see evidences of this is who God is. It's what we call the Trinity. In fact, our church's statement of faith as well as the evangelical Free Churches of America Statement of Faith - it begins, the first article in our Statement of Faith says this: "We believe in one God creator of all things." That was last week's sermon. "Infinitely perfect." And here it is, "eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine persons the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."
We believe in one God. That's that's that's what our Old Testament faith was built upon. Deuteronomy six for the Lord is one. We believe that God is one undivided essence.
And at the same time, though it seems contradictory, we believe, and three equally divine persons making up the Godhead. Three. In other words, distinctive personalities, three distinctive consciousnesses. They each - each of these - equally possess all of the divine attributes at the same time. They each equally possess the the divine essence. They share it fully and simultaneously. And we believe they have eternally existed as the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Trinity is not something that happens somewhere in human history. It has always been from the very beginning before creation, that God is father, son and spirit relating with each other. Now, if this seems hard to put all together, you're in good company. Great minds cannot fully comprehend this. I remember my my my first systematic theology class in seminary and probably the most intelligent professor that I ever had, John Feinberg at Trinity. And as he taught on this, he said this. I wrote it in my notes, The doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately a mystery. It is incomprehensible to human understanding. So it is one of those things that we accept is a mystery and we accept on faith.
There are many illustrations. There are many bad illustrations of the Trinity that that that are off just enough to not be the truth. I'll give you the closest one that makes sense to me. And and it uses the historic representation of the Trinity in the picture of a triangle. If you think of three equal sides of a triangle being father, son and spirit, think of a triangle with three equal sides. All three sides are equal and yet they're distinct. They're different sides. And yet each of those sides of the triangle, they share the interior equally and simultaneously. Well, in some way, that is an image of the Trinity. There are three distinct yet equal persons the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And yet all three share the same essence, divine essence, the same attributes of God. They all share all the attributes of God, and they don't take turns sharing these. They share them at the same time. They share them fully. They share them simultaneously.
Now know why. Again, this is part of the mystery. I don't have a good or certainly not a complete answer to why the Trinity I would make this one observation is the father and the Son and the Holy Spirit each have different primary functions in the way that they relate to the world. And we'll see some of that excuse me, as we go forward with the sermon. This is where we go from. Just that the Trinity is is is something academic that we need to understand and be able to to to explain to other people to where it becomes practical. And really, with my remaining time here, that's where I want to go - I want to answer the question, why does the Trinity matter? Or more specifically, why does the Trinity matter to us? And again, I have a few thoughts. They're far from exhaustive, but I want to speak to that. Why does the Trinity matter to you? Why does the Trinity matter to me? Well, the first point, I'm not going to go to much in depth on because Pastor Larry is going to be addressing it next week. But the Trinity matters, first of all, for our salvation. And I've got up on the screen the text that is part of the text that Pastor Larry will be preaching on next Sunday from Titus Chapter three. But without me commenting on it, just notice the trinity in our salvation, God saves us God. God the father saves "us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out generously on us through Jesus Christ the Son, our savior."
You see all three in our salvation. You see all three necessary to our salvation. Another text if you want to write it down and look it up later. Ephesians Chapter one you read through Ephesians. Chapter one. What do we see? The father chooses us. The father predestined us to salvation. The son we see redeems us by his blood, forgiving our sins and the Holy Spirit we see in Ephesians one. Sealing us, sealing us for heaven, sealing us for glory. Now there is much more, and I encourage you to come or tune in next week. And Pastor Larry will dig in deeper on why the Trinity matters for our salvation. But I will go on to the second one. The the Trinity matters for our assurance. And I'm not necessarily talking about assurance of faith. Am I saved? I am I am not saved. I'm not using the word in that sense. I'm using the word really in the sense of the power of divine presence. How do I know that God is in my life? How do I know being in Christ that I am connected to the father and the Son and the Holy Spirit? Well, we see throughout Scripture, we see the power of God's divine presence emphasized for each member of the trinity. We see as you see up on the screen there, we see the trinity, the presence of the father in passages like Joshua one nine, "the Lord, your God, God, the father will be with you wherever you go."
We have the presence of God, the father. We see the presence of God, the son in Matthew. Twenty eight twenty. When Jesus says "I am with you always." We have the presence of the son and we even see the presence of the Holy Spirit in passages like John Fourteen Seventeen where Jesus teaches us the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, "the spirit of truth ... dwells in you and will be with you." So the fact that these are all persons, distinctive persons, personalities, with distinctive consciousness means that they are each able to relate to you personally as a person. You can know the father, you can know the son, you can know the spirit. And there, I think, is great assurance in that that each one, because they share the divine attribute of omnipresence, they are always with us. There is never a place where we can be in the Christian life where the father, the son or the spirit are not present with us and accessible to us. There's never a time. There's never a place where that occurs. Do you know practically what this means? It means as lonely as you might feel right now, maybe you're watching at home and you have been isolated by covid. Maybe you are isolated in other ways, isolated relationally, and you feel alone. You are never alone. That is the truth of the trinity. The father, the son and the spirit are always present, always accessible.
I am praying for a group of believers in China right now. Their church is being persecuted by the Chinese government. Their pastor is in prison. Two of their elders are imprisoned.
The pastor's wife is in house arrest. And of course, we don't know details, but I imagine that pastor and those elders in a cell. And some cold, dark prison feeling very isolated, very alone.
And this is one of the ways that I pray for them that they would know the presence of the father, they would know the presence of the son, they would know the presence of the spirit that they would never feel alone.
So the truth for you and me of the Trinity is you have the assurance that the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are always present for you. Well, moving on, why else does the Trinity matter? The Trinity matters for our prayer. So Silverio Gonzalez has this wonderful praise. Prayer, he says, has a Trinitarian flow. We pray to the father in the name of the son with the help of the Holy Spirit. Let me break that down. We pray to the father. That's how Jesus taught us to pray. Matthew 6:9 tells us this is how you should pray our father. Now, are you in trouble if you pray directly to the son? No, no, no. God hears that. But this is this is the way that we're taught to pray. We pray to the father, our father, but we pray in the name of the son. Jesus taught us. John, 14, 13. I will do whatever you ask in my name.
And that's not an unqualified give me your wish list, because the very next phrase goes on to say so that the son may bring glory to the father.
When we pray for something that will glorify the father, that will bring glory to the father, and we pray in the name of the son, we have the assurance that our prayer is heard. And the third member of the Trinity is also present in our prayer. We pray to the father in the name of the son with the help of the Holy Spirit, and I fall upon Romans eight twenty six so many times in my prayer. We do not know what we ought to pray for. Do you ever get to that place where you're agonizing in prayer and you can't even put words together? Maybe you're so wrought with emotion, maybe you are so confused about the situation and you don't know how to pray to the father in the name of the son. What is the promise that we're given in Romans? Eight twenty six. "The spirit himself intercedes for us." The spirit helps us to pray. The spirit communicates even when we can't get the words out, communicates what's in our heart and what's in our mind. The spirit takes those feelings - maybe they're grief, maybe they're confusion, maybe they're fear and anxiety and communicates those to the father.
The spirit helps us as we pray. We need the Trinity. The Trinity matters to our prayers. Why else does the Trinity matter? The Trinity matters for our relationships.
The Trinity models relationship to us. Has has the isolation of covid taught us anything more than the fact that we are not designed to be isolated, that we're not designed to be alone, that we need each other? I think that is one of the great lessons of covid that that God is emphasizing to us individually and as the church that we were made to be connected with each other in relationship. And why? Because that is the Trinity. Notice what John 17:24 says Jesus teaches us. The last line is key. Father, "you loved me before the creation of the world."
Now think of the implications of that. Before God ever began to create anything, there was already the father, the son and the spirit in a perfect, loving relationship with each other.
God didn't create us because he was lonely. God was in perfect communion with himself as father, son and spirit. Father, son and spirit, their eternal relationship models, modeled and models, perfect unity, perfect diversity in love, united in love, and they - we see in creation - they related with each other. They plan together. They work together in perfect community, perfect harmony.
And that is the picture of relationship. That is the picture of community. And because we were made in the image of God, we were made in that way to have that kind of relationship.
Now we're under the the effects of the fall and none of our relationships are perfect like that yet on this side of heaven. But that is what God desires to remake in us by the sanctifying work of his Holy Spirit. We were in other words, you and I were designed for this kind of community. We're designed for the kind of community that we see in the Trinity, in our marriages, if we're married, in our families and certainly in our relationships with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and the local church. Ephesians four really to me, is an exposition of what this perfect relationship modeled in in the Trinity looks like in the community of the local church. "Be completely humble and patient", Paul says, "be gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace." Why? These all sound like good things. But why is it that we're to do this? Because there is one body, he says. There is one spirit. There is one lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all. You see how the Trinity is a model of relationship to us. One father, one son, one spirit, existing and relating in perfect unity, diversity, love and purpose.
And there is our picture of what our marriages are designed to look like, what our families are designed to look like, what our church community is designed to look like.
Why else does the Trinity matter? The Trinity matters for our outreach and by outreach, I just remind us all of the fact that the church was not created for the church just for us to serve each other. The church is created to complete, to accomplish the great commission to go out into the world. That's what we come here for, to become equipped and to minister to each other so that we go out into the world and we accomplish the great commission. We make disciples, we make followers of Jesus who make disciples. And the Trinity matters for our outreach. Let me give you one example of many that I could give you. Think of the growing Muslim community, even here in Rochester, just the way the world has changed in the last several decades. The world is coming to us. And in a place like Rochester, where the medical community and the engineering community, we have the Lord bringing people of the Muslim faith to right to our community. But think about what it means when we interact with them. They with their - what they think is God - Allah. And we were the one true God who who relates to us as a trinity. The Muslims reject the trinity. You may know that if you if you studied it or, you know, any Muslims, they maintain that there is one God, Allah.
But as you have conversations with people who are Muslims, what you find is (they won't say it), but I've heard someone say it's Allah is a hermit God. Allah is all alone. Allah is solitary. Allah has never been in relationship, and so never being in relationship. What kind of God is presented by the Muslims?
It's a God who who creates to rule. It's a God who who administers autocratic control and that permeates the Muslim faith.
That means, in fact, Islam means submit or submission. And so being one solo solitary God not in relationship, Allah demands submission and that that colors the whole Muslim faith. That colors really the way they look at government and the way they look at marriage and the way they look at families in. The way they look at every institution, it is about submission, it is about subjection, it is about control.
Now contrast that with what the Trinity teaches us about God. Think about John - first John 4:16, God as many things. But but what is John the apostle represent him here as foremost? God is love.
And when we understand that love flows out of the fact that we have a Trinitarian God who eternally has been in relationship, father, son and spirit in perfect, loving, united relationship, unity and diversity all bound together in love. Do you see how that transforms our culture? Do you see how that shapes how we think about marriage. If we were created in the image of this God who's in relationship.
Do you see how that transforms how we think about the family, how we think about government, how we think about all human institutions rather than submission, rather than control, rather than autocratic rule, the Christian faith and the Trinitarian God presents in all of our relationships the model of mutual respect, of honor, of sacrificial love.
What a contrast that is. And if you don't think that Muslim people are thirsty for that kind of relational truth, you're mistaken. They are hungry for it, especially when they see the contrast.
First, John, 4:19, a few verses later, we love because he first loved us, rather than being about control and subjection and and demanding submission in the Trinity, that is the model for all of our relationships, we see the loving relationship between the father and the son and the spirit. And so it teaches us what relationships are to look like. It teaches us what our marriage should look like, what our government should look like, what our church should look like. And that is the message of hope, along with the gospel that we take as we do outreach in the world. Well, there's more I could say about that, but let's move on. The Trinity matters for our worship. We have already and the selection of what we've sung today and what we're going to be singing and in the selection of the scripture that was already read, we've seen that theme of the Trinity highlighted. And obviously that is not accidental, but it is significant and it is important because the Trinity matters directly to how you and I worship. We see something of the central city of the Trinity and worship in Ephesians 2:18 for through him. That's the son Christ. We have access by one spirit to the father.
You see that even as we come before God and worship, true worship is defined and enabled by the Trinity. It is through the Trinity that we are able to even come before God in worship. And John in John 4:24 teaches a similar truth. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. And so what does that mean? As we come to worship, we come to the father because the spirit draws our hearts to the son, to Christ. We would not even desire to worship if the spirit was not working, drawing us through Christ and how he has saved us to the father. We are absolutely dependent upon the Trinity for our worship. And not only that, but the spirit draws our hearts to each other again. This gets back to a relationship. You see how these all of these truths overlap with each other. But we don't worship as solitary people. We worship together in community because we were created in the image of God who is in community. That's why in just a moment when we go to the Lord's table and take communion, we will take it together.
We are acknowledging that Trinitarian truth of what true relationship looks like and how that relationship is to characterise God's people, the church. So we are going to come to the Lord's table. We're going to sing a song in just a moment and prepare our hearts. And then we're going to come to the Lord's table and in coming to the Lord's table to celebrate communion, we have an opportunity to worship the father, to worship the son, to worship the spirit for each of their work and our salvation. We don't come to the table unless we know the truth of salvation. And it is the father, the son and the spirit working together that have made our salvation possible. We acknowledge and we worship that as we come to the table, we come to the table seeing it as an opportunity to acknowledge that the relational nature of our triune God calls us together in love and unity and purpose, however different we are, whatever differences we have about politics or covid or you name it, the table represents what the trinity, the truth of the Trinity that we are called together in Christ to demonstrate perfect unity in diversity, bound together in love.
And that's what we acknowledge as well.
When we come to the table. Let me pray and use this as the beginning of preparing your hearts and then we'll sing and we'll continue to worship, we'll worship the God, the three in one as we come to the table.
Let's pray, Father, again.
As Dr. Feinberg said, this is an incomprehensible mystery and you call us to embrace it by faith because you reveal at least some of it in your word. Maybe one day when we see you face to face we'll understand fully. But now we take it in faith. And we don't just take it as an academic doctrine, Lord as something to memorize as part of our systematic theology framework, we embrace it Lord because we see that it matters.
We see how the truth of the Trinity Lord matters. And in our salvation, it matters. In our prayer. It matters in our experience of your presence. It matters in our outreach. It matters in our worship. And so we take this opportunity at your table, Lord, to worship you, God, the father, God the son, God, the Spirit, God, the three in one.