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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:A Life that is Stamped by the Triune God
Text:LD 8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Trinity
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-04-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 113:1,2                                                                                          

Hy 7:1,2  [after Athanasian Creed]

Reading – Ephesians 2

Ps 67:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 8

Hy 6:1,2

Hy 5:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord Jesus, no one likes to be impolite. We don’t want to be intolerant, but agreeable and open-minded. So what do you think about these words? I quote, “Whoever desires to be saved must above all things hold to the catholic faith.” Not bad so far. But it goes on, “Unless a man keeps [this faith] in its entirety, he will assuredly perish eternally.” And later, “Unless a man believes [this faith] faithfully and steadfastly, he cannot be saved.”

Those are tough words. Intolerant in an age of tolerance: those who don’t ascribe to the Christian faith will perish forever. Would we put it that way? If we had visitors from the neighborhood among us, would we want to be so strong in our language?

Perhaps you recognized where these words are from. They’re from one of our creeds, the Athanasian. And this creed is especially focused on the doctrine of the Trinity. It was written in the fourth century, a time when many people—even in the church—were rejecting the idea of the Trinity, or coming up with peculiar teachings about it.

Certainly the Trinity is very distinctive. We know that, because of the negative response that it still gets. Many a sect will bungle this doctrine. People from other religions find the Trinity hard to swallow, and some will mock this article of our faith. So how important is the doctrine of the Trinity? Is it really something we need to insist upon—that we can’t even be saved without it?

Look again at that one line in Q&A 25, “Why do you speak of three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Because God has so revealed himself in his Word…” I always tell my Catechism students that that’s the most important line in LD 8. It’s the foundational truth that we rest in: “God has so revealed himself in his Word.” We hold to that.

At the same time, we need to see how the Trinity is so involved in our lives. We need to recognize how He is embedded and intertwined in all we do. So how much is the Triune God a part of your identity as a Christian? How much is He a part of your life as a believer? Let’s marvel at how Father, Son and Spirit are together at work for our salvation. That’s our theme from LD 8,

Our faith and life rest in the Triune God alone:

  1. He is Father
  2. He is Son
  3. He is Holy Spirit

 

1) He is Father: When we talk about God the Father, we have a slight problem. The problem is that there aren’t that many texts in the Bible that say who the Father is. This is especially true for the Old Testament. When we look at these pages, God the Father isn’t mentioned by name very often at all.

But if you stop to think about it, it makes some sense. God becomes our Father only through faith in Jesus Christ. The Son and Spirit have to reveal the Father to us. So even when we get to the New Testament, the Father is mentioned most often in connection to God the Son. As an example, consider what Paul writes in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”        

Yet all the same, the Father has always been there. He was present throughout the Old Testament, gracious and powerful, merciful and wise. But God’s revelation of himself has always been progressive; it’s gradual, as He reveals more and more of himself to his people. It’s sort of like one of those dimmer switches you might have in your house. The living room can be in the dark, but you can slowly increase the amount of light, simply by adjusting the switch, a little at a time. Objects that were covered in shadows gradually become clear and distinct.

In the same way, through the centuries of the Old Testament, the Father was showing progressively more of himself. So what was somewhat unclear or vague in the time of Abraham became much more defined by the time of Isaiah. And then during the ministry of Christ, the light was turned on completely! The shadows vanished. The Son revealed him: this is your God. Even better: this is your Father!

So when we now look back on the Old Testament—when we shine the full light of the Word back into those distant corners—we see that the Father is actually spoken of very often. It’s the Father who was preparing all things before time began. It’s the Father who called all of creation into being with the word of his mouth. It’s the Father who guided every event of history, moving it along with a faithful and steady hand.

For this reason, theologians sometimes call the Father the “first person of the Trinity.” When we speak of him in that way, we have to be careful. To say that He’s the “first,” might suggest that He’s the most important, or that He’s the oldest. It could lead someone to conclude that the Father is the one in charge, while the Son and Holy Spirit are just employees, carrying out his commands. Yet all three are equally God. In the words of the Athanasian Creed, “In this trinity there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less, but all three persons are co-eternal with each other and co-equal.”

So we do say that the Father is the first person of the Trinity—but in the sense that “He is the cause, the origin, the beginning of all things” (B.C., Article 8). It was through his creating activity that everything came into being. The Father speaks about this in Isaiah 14:24, “As I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand” (NIV). The Father arranged everything, and then the Father also made it happen. And all things remain dependent on him. Without the Father’s care and sovereignty, it would end in an instant. But in faithfulness to his purpose, He keeps it all going.

It’s the Father’s hand sends the seasons in their time. It’s his hand that causes new life to form in a mother’s womb. It’s his hand that keeps the earth hanging in its place in the solar system, just the right distance from the sun. It’s even his hand that sends cyclones and earthquakes. In perfect wisdom, Father knows best. In perfect power, Father carries out his will.

And here’s the first of countless miracles of the Trinity: this Almighty God is our Father! He might be omnipotent Creator, glorious King, all-knowing Judge, but He’s not distant from us in the here and now. He might be sovereign and reigning in heaven, but He’s not unconcerned about his people on earth. No, He cares for us deeply. This is what the Bible says in the familiar words of Psalm 103, “Like a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.”

This truth comes out of Paul’s prayer, a little past where we read in Ephesians, in chapter 3. He says, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (vv 14-15). Though God is independent and self-sufficient, though He can exist in perfect blessedness without anyone but the Son and Spirit, the Father has seen fit to start a family. And we, sinners and mortals, have been included in it!

That’s not an irrelevant reality. Having God as Father means you can always call on him in prayer, no matter where you are or how you’re feeling. Having him as Father means you can expect his constant grace and steadfast mercy, for it’s guaranteed by his Word. The Father is able to give what we need for our physical life, and to keep us from all harm. He’s also strong enough to protect us from Satan’s power and cunning. He’s able to do this, because He’s the mighty Maker. And He’s willing to do this, because He’s faithful Father.

Just remember how at your baptism long ago, God the Father put the seal on your adoption as a son or daughter. With that sprinkle of water, He confirmed it as a lasting promise: “You’re mine, now. You’re a child of the Father, now. And as your Father, I promise to take care of you for always.” God the Father has given all of his promises to us, and He has made us his family, even “members of [his] household,” it says in Ephesians 2:19.

Think of what it means to be part of God’s household, part of his family. What will a decent earthly father do for those living in his home? Well, in a perfect way, God grants privileges and blessings to the children who live under his roof. Because we need it, He disciplines us, but still in love. The Father opens his Word and He patiently teaches us, his sons and daughters.

All that is true. We praise the Father for his grace! But if we’re his children, aren’t children also expected to live a certain way? The boys and girls all know that every household has rules, that there’s a standard to live according to. You’ve got to clean up after yourself. You’ve got to be kind to your siblings. You’ve got to be home by 11.

So also if we’re going to live under God the Father’s roof, every one of us is called to be children who are faithful. We’re called to trust the Father’s wisdom and faithfulness when there’s trouble. We’re called to obey the Father in all our choices and decisions. And we’re called to do these things for one important reason, says Jesus, “So that men may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

It’s like the old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” People notice when kids are a lot like their parents, resembling them in the good and in the bad. That’s how it should be for us, in the most positive sense: when people see the children, they should see the Father. People should be able to see in us what’s important to our Father. By the way we lead our lives, they should be able to see the Father’s reflection. “Your Father must be merciful, and kind, and generous. Because that’s what I see in you.” Beloved, do other people notice that you’re a child of the Father? You’ve been baptized, so does your life really bear his mark and stamp?

 

2) He is Son: People have always argued about Jesus. During his ministry, there was great controversy over this central question: “Who do people say that I am?” we hear the Lord asking. And He knew that people would fight over the answer. For Jesus certainly made big statements about his identity. He acknowledged He was the Messiah. He claimed authority to forgive sins. He overruled the old traditions of the Jews. He said He was greater than Abraham, greater than David, greater than the temple.

The Christian writer C.S. Lewis once said this about Jesus Christ and the claims that He made when He was on earth. Lewis said only one of three things can be true about Jesus Christ: “Either He was a liar, or He was a lunatic, or He was the Lord.”

That is, maybe Jesus was trying to fool everyone. He was just exploiting their hunger for redemption from the Romans, and persuading them with fancy-sounding words—a liar. Or maybe this Jesus had spent a few too many days in the hot sun, and He wasn’t able to think straight anymore: He was out of his mind, going on like He did about the Kingdom of heaven and calling himself the Son of God—a lunatic. Or maybe—just maybe—this Jesus was actually telling the truth. Maybe He was the Lord!

How would we know? How would we decide what kind of person He is? The place we always need to begin is the Scriptures. For Jesus is revealed as the one who fulfills Old Testament prophecy. It’s disputed, the exact number of the prophecies that he fulfilled; a conservative estimate would be around 60.

So someone sat down and calculated the mathematical odds of any one man—the same man—fulfilling even just eight of these 60 different prophecies. And the odds that Jesus could’ve fulfilled even eight of them was something like 1 in 1017. That’s a 1 with a lot of zeroes behind it! In other words, considered from a human point of view, it’s basically impossible than any person’s life could be so in line with the Scriptures, in such a detailed way.

Yet in Jesus’ life we hear the constant refrain, that such-and-such took place “to fulfill what was written.” He was born of a virgin. Born in Bethlehem. Lived in Nazareth. Baptized in the Spirit. Healed the sick, preached to the poor. Suffered, died and rose. No one else did this, but He did all these things, in fulfillment of ancient Scripture! It’s like his life was unfolding according to a script, except that the script had been written hundreds and thousands of years before. You could hardly deny that He was the promised Messiah.

What’s more, Jesus was recognized as God himself. When he met the resurrected Christ, remember how Thomas cried, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). And hear how there’s no word of correction from Jesus: He is Lord, He is God.

When we go beneath the surface, we see it more clearly. For the Scriptures portray Jesus has having many of the attributes of God. For example, Jesus knows what’s living in the hearts of people. Jesus shows that his power is unlimited, when He raises the dead and calms the storms. He is also said to have no beginning, and no end. Everything that the Father is, Jesus also is. What’s more, Jesus receives the same names as God: He is called Lord, He is called Redeemer, He is called King, He calls himself the great “I AM.”

And if we confess that Jesus is God, we quickly reach a second marvel of the Trinity. The One who is our Messiah is no weakling. He is mighty, but much more than a superhero like the ones portrayed in the movies: Batman, Superman, the Black Panther, or whoever. He’s much greater, for He is none less than the living God!

And why is that so necessary? Why does the Athanasian Creed put it so strongly, that also Jesus must be true God? If He wasn’t, the entire project of salvation collapses. If Jesus was just a man, he would’ve perished on the cross, and God’s plan would’ve perished along with him. But Christ was up for the task, and He did it completely.

Does this answer the question of who He was? Can we say for certain that He wasn’t a liar, nor a lunatic, but the Lord? We have to answer this one in faith. Was Jesus truly the Saviour and God himself? In the end, we can’t prove it to the Jehovah’s Witness standing at the door. In the end, we can’t make it scientifically certain to our neighbor who’s asking questions.

Yet we can talk about what Christ has done, and what He’s done for us. Without him, we’d be weak and unbelieving, living for ourselves, and in the misery of being unforgiven. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which He loved us,” says Paul, “even when were dead in trespasses, made us alive with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5).

Here is the great evidence of who Christ is: what Christ is doing in us, and how He’s making us alive! He gives us faith, and makes us a thankful people. He causes us to be willing to serve and work and give and love. He unites us with other sinners, so that we can form a church where there is harmony and peace. These are the works of the living Christ seen in us—not the deeds of a liar, or a lunatic. So we confess it boldly: He is our Lord, our Saviour, and our God!

 

3) He is Holy Spirit: The Spirit doesn’t always get the attention that He deserves as eternal God. This might be because the Holy Spirit is often viewed as merely the “power” of God, the “force” of God—like He’s something we can plug into when we need a quick boost. Even Christians sometimes refer to the Holy Spirit as an “it,” as if He’s something impersonal.

But because God has so revealed himself in the Word, we must confess that the Holy Spirit is God. Again, the Athanasian Creed summarizes it well for us: The Holy Spirit is infinite; He is eternal; He is almighty; He is Lord.

And in fact, Scripture so often portrays the Spirit in a personal way. The Spirit is not disconnected from us, but someone who’s very involved, present right in the midst of our lives: there in our joys, there in our sorrows. For instance, the Holy Spirit is called the Counselor, like a close companion alongside us able to teach us God’s wisdom. Scripture says the Spirit prays for us when we don’t what to say, prays for us in the presence of the Father. The Spirit also bears witness to our hearts about Christ, reminding us, encouraging us, pointing us to Him.

Why is this so important? Why does the Creed insist upon it, that the Holy Spirit be the living God himself? It’s salvation itself that is at stake. For think of what the Holy Spirit must do. He has to change us completely. He has to transform us into someone new!

Sometimes you hear it said that it’s impossible for a person to change. You are what you are, and that’s that. You’ve always had a lot of fears, or you’ve always been angry, or proud, or you’ve always found it hard to get along with other people. And certainly, to overcome certain weaknesses and develop new habits is a hard thing. Can a person really do it? Can a person really change, and take on a new direction? But we rest in the Spirit, who is God.

For we were once dead in our transgressions and sins. And being dead means there’s nothing you can do, there’s no way to reverse your condition. You’re locked in. But the Spirit has made us alive. Though we were dead, He has raised us by his power and grace—that’s a work of God!

That’s not just theory, but we see his work in us. The reason we hate evil is because of the Holy Spirit. The reason we want to do good is because of the Spirit. The reason we turn to God in faith and prayer is because of the Spirit. No, as Christians we’re far from perfect. Every day we have to wrestle with that reality. We still snap at our loved ones. We’re still so centred on ourselves and our own happiness. We’re still so often ungrateful and untrusting.

But look a bit closer, and see the Spirit’s power. His fingerprints are all over us. Even our little bit of joy is a gift of the Spirit. Our beginnings of self-control have come from him too. And our sometimes-faltering love for each other has come from the Spirit as well. Paul writes to the Ephesians, and to us, “You are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2:22). You are being built. Like any renovation and rebuild, it’s a process—it’s not done yet. The sanctifying of our hearts is going to take time. But it will get done.

For now, that means we need to be filled with this Spirit, more and more. That’s our calling: to know the Spirit’s voice in the Word, and to respond to him. To keep in step with the Spirit’s leading, and to be a beautiful temple for the Spirit’s dwelling. Ask for the Spirit every day, and He will keep changing you, for he is God.

In closing, let’s return to our first question: Is it important that we hold to the doctrine of the Trinity? Or is it necessary that we remember often what Father, Son and Holy Spirit once promised at our baptism? Does it really matter that your humble forehead has been marked by his Triune Name? It does matter.

The Athanasian Creed is to the point, but more importantly, Scripture’s answer is clear. We need to know, we need to confess, we need to believe in the Trine God. And we need to have true communion with this Triune God, a communion through prayer and worship and his Word. Our life has the Trinity stamped all over it. So more than just a confession with our lips, He must be a reality in our lives.

With good reason then, we end every Sunday, and we start every week, with those words from our Triune God in 2 Corinthians 13. They’re words we need to hear. They’re a blessing we need to receive. So let’s receive it, and let’s depend on it, all week long: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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