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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)Liturgy from 1984 Book of Praise
Read: John 14; John 17:20-26.
Text: Lord’s Day 8
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There are times when we spend so much energy trying to get our head around the doctrine of the Trinity that we fail to consider just how amazing and mind-blowing our Triune God is – and the incredible comfort there is in having such as God as our Lord and Saviour.
Our creeds and confessions speak of our triune God in ways that are sometimes difficult to understand. The Athanasian Creed says,
“Now this is the catholic faith, that we worship one God in trinity and trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance.”
In a similar way the Belgic confession describes the Trinity in article 8 as follows:
“. . . We believe in one only God, who is one single essence, in which are three persons, really truly and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
And as both the Athanasian Creed and the Belgic Confession go on to describe the Triune God, they do so with precise but rather difficult language. But there is a reason for this: throughout the history of the church, particularly in the first 500 years, the church was rocked with many false teachings about the Trinity, and it was in response to this that the Church had to formulate the doctrine of our Triune God very carefully. But let us not be put off by the way in which the Trinity is described, for the doctrine of the Trinity is not a confusing, abstract, philosophical discussion that we just have to get out of the way before we get to the good news about salvation in Christ; rather, the doctrine of the Trinity seeks to explain God’s glorious self revelation of Himself! Therefore let us savour the mystery, the majesty and the glory of the Trinity, and rejoice in the blessing the nature of our triune God has for our salvation.
This afternoon I preach to you the gospel concerning the Trinity under the following theme:
The LORD reveals Himself as the Triune God of our salvation.
1. Revealed in Scripture.
2. A blessing for our salvation.
1. The Trinity Revealed in Scripture.
John chapter 17 contains an amazing prayer. This chapter contains the words of the prayer that God the Son offered up to God the Father. It is one of those few places in the Bible where one Person of the Trinity speaks to another Person of the Trinity. It is God speaking to God – but it is not God speaking to Himself! It is God the Son earnestly praying to God the Father – and He is praying for and about us!
John 17 is often called the High Priestly Prayer. In the Old Testament the High Priest had a very special role to play on behalf of the people of Israel. It was his task to come on behalf of the people before the presence of the LORD. He did so especially when He entered the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant was to be found. As he entered that Most Holy Place once a year, he wore a special breastplate containing twelve stones, with each stone representing one of the tribes of Israel. And so he entered the presence of the LORD on behalf of the people. And wearing that breastplate, he would bring smoking incense before the LORD, as a sign of the prayers of God’s people coming up to Him.
But now in John 17 we see Jesus, the Great High Priest, entering the heavenly throne room of God in prayer, praying to the Father on behalf of us, His Church. And this is what He prayed in verse 20,21 –
“I do not pray for these alone (that is, His disciples), but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they may also be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
Here Christ prays for His Church that we His Church might be one as the Father and the Son are one. Now there are two things that I would like to point out here. First, Christ is praying here for a perfect unity among His people, a unity that mirrors the unity between the Father and the Son. And second, the unity that we as the church may enjoy is a unity that is in the Father and in the Son! As it says in verse 21, “that they may be one in Us!” And verse 23 continues with this by saying,
“I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
So, according to John 17:23, God the Son is in us, and the Father is in the Son, and the Father loves us in the same manner as He loves the Son! Isn’t that amazing?! Isn’t that absolutely mind blowing: that God can love you, that He can love me just as He loves the Son?! And this is where the doctrine of the Trinity really begins to hit home. This is where God’s revelation of Himself as Trinity becomes a most beautiful doctrine to consider indeed!
So what exactly does the Bible teach us concerning the triune God?
In his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism Kevin deYoung summarizes the doctrine of the Trinity in seven short points:
1. There is only one God.
2. The Father is God.
3. The Son is God.
4. The Holy Spirit is God.
5. The Father is not the Son.
6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
7. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
The Bible teaches us that each one of these statements is true. But when we hold on to the truth of each individual statement, we must do so in such a way that none of these statements contradict any of the others. And it is in order to hold on and confess each of these seven statements at the same time that our creeds and confessions explain the triune God as being of one substance but three persons.
He is of one substance, or of a single essence. These are words we do not commonly use, but what we mean when we talk about the substance or the essence of God, is His being, His God-ness. We are talking about that quality that makes Him God. So when we confess that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of one substance, what we mean is they are all equally and fully God, and they are all the one true God. And that means you can not split the Trinity up like a pie, as though one third of God is the Father, one third the Son and one third the Holy Spirit. For all three are truly the One true God at the same time! Complete unity. Of one substance.
And that is how we need to begin our understanding of the nature of the Trinity, for the Bible itself begins with the one-ness of God.
Deuteronomy 6:4 says,
“Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one!”
And, in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 8:6,
“Yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”
In fact, that God is One is so undeniably true that even the demons are forced to admit it. James 2:19,
“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!”
So we begin with the One-ness of God. But from there the Bible teaches that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God.
Concerning the Father, Titus 1:4
“Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.”
Concerning the Son, John 1:1
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And Colossians 2:9
“For in Him [that is Christ] dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”
And concerning the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 3:16
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
So from these and many other verses in the Bible we must conclude that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all true God. But the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Spirit, nor the Spirit the Father. Even though we confess our faith in the One true God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all distinct from one another, they all have their own personality! The Father thinks, speaks and acts, the Son thinks, speaks and acts, and the Holy Spirit thinks, speaks and acts. And they can even speak to one another. That is why in John 17 God the Son could pray to God the Father. And why in response to the Son praying to the Father in John 17:28
“Father, glorify Your name”,
the Father could respond from heaven saying,
“I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”
And that is also why Romans 8:26 can say that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us before the Father with groanings too deep for words.
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are One, but they are also distinct from one another. We may not confuse them, as though the Son is the same as the Father, or the Father the same as the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity is distinct from the other. It was not the Father who was born but the Son and it is not the Son who is the Creator of heaven and earth but the Father. And the Bible teaches this in many places. For example, in Luke 1 the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would have a Son whom she was to call Jesus. And the angel said in verse 32,
“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.”
Here you see a distinction between the Son and the Father, with the Father giving things to the Son.
Then in verse 35, after Mary asked how this would be, the angel said,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”
So God the Father would send God the Holy Spirit to overshadow Mary, who would then give birth to God the Son. And so in the conception and birth of Christ, each Person of the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is distinct from the others but working together in perfect unity and harmony.
We can also see this in the gospel according to John. John chapter 1 begins by saying:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
So the Word, (that is the Son of God) is separate from God as the Word was with God, and yet at the same time the Word was God. And verse 14 says,
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
So when God the Son became man, He did not stop being God, but continued to be true God, and the glory of God was revealed in Him.
The gospel according to John continues to declare that Jesus is the Son of God and is Himself true God. Our Lord Himself said this in John, 8:58, when Jesus took on the covenant name of God by saying,
“Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was I AM.”
But God the Son does not present Himself as being a rival to God the Father in any way. To the contrary, He was sent by God the Father to do His will. And the Son did the will of the Father fully, for He is fully one with the Father. The unity between the Father and the Son is so complete that Jesus said in John 14:9,
“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”
And verse 10,11 of John 14,
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.”
So Christ not only declared Himself to be God, but also declared His perfect one-ness with the Father. And then in verse 16-18 of John 8 our Lord also declared His perfect one-ness with the Holy Spirit:
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
So the Son would pray to the Father, who would then send the Spirit and then through the Spirit, the Son would remain with His people.
So from these and many other texts of the Bible we can only conclude that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet these three Persons, Father, Son and Spirit, remain united together so that the Son could say that He is both in the Father and that He is present with us in the Spirit. And so God is the perfect fullness, the perfect one-ness, the perfect unity, the One Only True God.
One substance. Three Persons. The triune God. The Trinity.
2. The Trinity: A Blessing for our Salvation.
In Lord’s Day 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism we confess that we are grafted into Christ and saved by a true faith. Answer 22 says that this true faith consists of
“All that is promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic and undoubted Christian faith teach us in a summary.”
And that summary is the Apostles’ Creed.
Lord’s Day 8 then explains that the Creed can be divided into three parts:
“The first is about God the Father and our creation; the second about God the Son and our redemption; the third about God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.”
It is God the Father who is the Maker of heaven and earth, who brought into existence that which did not formally exist. It is God the Son who has paid the price and freed us from the power of the devil to be His own possession. It is God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us, who purifies us from our corruption and depravity and makes us new and holy creatures once again.
It is helpful and even necessary to recognise the distinct roles of each person of the Trinity. And yet we may not separate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as if the Son had nothing to do with creation and the Father had nothing to do with redemption. To the contrary, Scripture teaches us how the three persons of the Trinity work together in our creation and in our redemption and sanctification.
In Genesis 1 we are taught that it was God who created the heavens and the earth. But John 1:3 clearly says that the world was made through the Son – and Hebrews 1:2 says so as well. And Genesis 1:1 also says that
“. . . the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
So although the Creation is the work of God the Father, He did not do this separate from the Son or the Holy Spirit. And it is in this way that we understand why God said,
“Let Us make man in Our image.” (Genesis 1:26)
And different roles in the Trinity can also be seen in our salvation. It was not the Son’s decision to save us but the Father’s. John 3:16,
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”
And of his role Jesus said in John 6:38,
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
And then when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, both the Father and the Son sent the Spirit to complete the work that the Father and the Son had started.
One theologian (Wayne Grudem, Christian Beliefs, p40f) explains this as follows:
“So in both creation and redemption, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all had distinct roles. It was the Father who directed and sent both the Son and the Spirit. And it was the Son who, along with the Father, sent the Spirit. The Son was obedient to the Father and the Spirit was obedient to both the Father and the Son.”
(And by the way, it is because the Son and the Spirit did their work in submission to the Father that Christ said in John 14:28 that “The Father is greater than I” even though the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equally the one true eternal God.)
And so we see both the unity and the diversity of the trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit work together as the one true and eternal God for us and for our salvation.
And the blessing that the Trinity is for us is as follows: with the Trinity we get a salvation and are brought into the presence of God in a way that could never be if we had a single-person God. It is because our God is triune, Three in One, that we can be brought to God the Father and loved by Him in the same way that the Father loves His Son! We read that in John 17:23,
“I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
And to quote from verse 26 again,
“. . . that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Because of the grace of our triune God, salvation is so much more than to simply have our sins forgiven or that we will now get “let off the hook” and accepted into heaven. Rather through the grace of our triune God, we are brought into the very presence of God! In His love for us the Father sent the Son. The Son then made the way for us to come back to the Father. And the Spirit then brings us to the Father where we enjoy the pleasures of His right hand forevermore.
And that changes everything! For now, instead of seeing God as someone distant, we may embrace Him as our Father, for we are loved by Him with the same love that He has for the Son. And isn’t that the greatest Good News imaginable?
If anyone thinks or speaks as though the Christian life is boring, dull, dreary or lifeless, they have not understood the salvation that we receive in our Triune God. If anyone thinks or speaks as though the Christian life lacks joy and pleasure, they do not understand the position that we have in Christ. For our position in Christ is the most wonderfully good news ever! Not only are we saved from our sin, but we are brought in Him through the Holy Spirit into the bosom of the Father! And there we get to stay, having the Father’s perfect love for His Son lavished on us!
The Catechism teaches the doctrine of the Trinity in the section called “Our Deliverance”. It is good that we consider the Trinity here, for the doctrine of the Trinity has everything to do with our deliverance, our salvation. Not only is our salvation ultimately the work of the Triune God working in unity but the doctrine of the Trinity also teaches us what a great salvation we have. Our salvation is the deliverance from sin, but its not just that. Our salvation is the escape from hell, but its not just that. For our salvation means that God loves us in the same way and to the same degree that He loves the Son. Our salvation is being taken up into the arms, into the bosom of the Father through the Spirit, in the Son.
And that is the blessed gospel of the doctrine of the Trinity. Amen.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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