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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Our covenant God reveals Himself to us
Text:LD 8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Trinity
 
Added:2013-03-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

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


LD 8 – Our Triune Covenant God

Ps. 146: 1 – 3

Ps. 73: 8

Ps. 102: 10, 11

Ps. 33: 2, 3, 6

Ps. 145: 1, 4, 5

 

Scripture reading:       John 1: 1 – 34; Mt. 28: 16 – 20

Text:                              LD 8

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

When Moses approached the burning bush, the Lord said to Him:

 

“…Do not draw near this place.   Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where You stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3: 5).

 

When we approach God, we stand on holy ground.  

This afternoon, when we look at the doctrine of God’s trinity, we approach God very closely as we look at the wonder of His very being.   And we have to do so with great reverence and fear.  

Spiritually we have to take the sandals off our feet.

 

We must also remember what Moses said about the secrets of God:

 

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of His law.” – Deut. 29: 29

 

We may not inquire beyond what is written.   We have to seek only that which has been revealed to us.   If something has not been revealed to us, then we have to leave it with God.   But the revealed things are for us and our children to walk in obedience to God’s law and in the light of His revealed Word.

 

When we turn to the doctrine of the trinity we have to limit ourselves to that which has been revealed to us, and not speculate or inquire beyond what has been revealed to us.

And even when we look at the revealed truth of God’s trinity, we have to acknowledge that it is beyond our comprehension to understand how this trinity is possible.   We simply believe what God says, and live by this revelation.

 

We will first of all turn to Scripture to note the doctrine of God’s trinity as it has been revealed to us, and then we will also note the importance of this doctrine so that we may rightly know our covenant God and walk in the light of this revelation.

 

The theme for this afternoon is:

Our covenant God reveals Himself to us

 

We will note three things:

1.      That there are three Persons who are called God

2.      That these three Persons are distinct and yet one God

3.      That this triune God made a covenant with us and with our children

In the first place we note that…

There are three Persons who are called God

 

 

In the first place we see that the Father is called God.    The Father is often called “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.    For example when the apostle Paul says:

 

            “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” – Eph. 1: 3

 

There are many such examples.

 

But the Son is also called God.    Hebrews chapter 1, for example, speaks about the Son of God, and says that the Father spoke of His Son when He said in Ps. 45:

 

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever….” – Hebr. 1: 8.

 

And there are more such passages where the Son is called God.

 

We are not yet speaking about the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the flesh; we are not yet speaking of the incarnation of the Son of God, and we are not yet speaking about the two natures of Christ, that He is God and man at the same time – which is another mystery.   We will deal with that in Lord’s Day 14.   But now, here in LD 8, when we speak about the Son, we speak about the second Person of the Trinity: the eternal Son of God who has been with God and who was God from all eternity.

 

So then, Scripture clearly says that the Father is God, and also that the Son is God.  

 

When we turn to Scripture to read about the Holy Spirit, we see that the Spirit is also God.  

I will mention only a few examples.

When the prophets said “thus says the LORD God”, the New Testament refers to these same words of God, and says: the Holy Spirit spoke these words.    What the prophets ascribed to God, the apostles often ascribe to the Holy Spirit.

We read for example in Ps. 95 that God said: “…I swore in My wrath: they shall not enter My rest”, but Hebrews quotes these words from Ps. 95 and says that the Holy Spirit said this – Hebr. 3: 7.    God said it; the Holy Spirit said it.   And there are more examples in this regard.

 

The apostle Peter asked Ananias:

 

“…why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…?...You have not lied to men but to God.” – Acts 5: 4, 5

 

Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit; he lied to God.   And, again, there are more such examples where a reference to the Holy Spirit is at the same time a reference to God.

 

So then, the Father is called God, the Son is called God and the Holy Spirit is called God.  

But they are not three Gods; they are one eternal God.

 

Dear congregation, both the unity and the trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, are so clearly stated at our baptism.   According to Christ’s command we are baptised in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Mat. 28:19.   We are not baptised into the names (plural) of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.   No, we are baptised into one Name: “the Name” (singular!) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

 

There is only one true God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

At the same time these three Persons, who are one God, also have to be distinguished from each other.   The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father.   Neither is the Spirit the Father or the Son.  

The Father did not die for our sins, but the Father sent His Son.   And the Spirit did not become flesh, but the Son only.

Three distinct Persons, but one God!

 

We will note this closer in the second place, that…

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons yet one God

 

Dear congregation, the trinity of God is denied by all false religions.  

There are also many sects in our own day that deny the trinity of God, for example the Jehovah Witness sect, and the Old Apostle sect.

 

In church history the first great heretic in this regard, Arius, acknowledged that Jesus is indeed called God, but said that the Son is a created God, and not the eternal God Himself.   And so He refused to acknowledge that the Son is one eternal Being with the Father.  

Arius acknowledged three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but denied that these three are one eternal Being.

 

Later on, another heretic, Sibelius, said that the Father, Son and Spirit are indeed one God, but denied that they are three distinct Persons.   He said that Father, Son and Spirit are simply three different Names for God.

So Sibelius denied that there are three distinct Persons in the Godhead.  

 

While Arius denied that Father, Son and Spirit are one eternal Being, Sibelius, on the other hand denied that there are three distinct Persons in the one Being of God.   And these two heresies have remained the two basic heresies with regard to the trinity.   Some deny the unity, and others deny the diversity in the unity.

 

Now, some people, in an attempt to explain the Trinity, try to use all kinds of illustrations.  

Some say, look: the Trinity is like a circle.   There is one circle, but the circle is divided into three sections: Father, Son and Spirit.

This is, however, a heresy.   God is not made up of three parts: Father, Son and Spirit.

The Father is not one part of God, the Son another part of God, and the Spirit a third part of God.   If God would be illustrated by the circle then the Father would be the whole circle, the Son would be the whole circle, and the Spirit would be the whole circle – and not three small circles or sections in one big circle.    And while each of the three Persons would be the whole circle, there would yet not be three circles, but one circle only – undivided and unduplicated.   And, of course, it is impossible to draw such a picture.   It is impossible to draw a picture of the Trinity.

 

God is one.   And His being is one.   He is not made up of different parts.   And so, in accordance with Scripture, we confess in the Belgic confession that…

 

“We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth that there is only one God, who is a simple and spiritual Being…” – Art. 1.

 

When we confess that He is a “simple” Being, that means: He is not made up of different parts.  

 

Others try to illustrate the trinity of God by comparing the tree forms of water: water in its liquid form, water in its solid form, ice, and water in the form of steam or clouds.   The three forms are different but all three forms are water.  

However, these people make the same mistake as those who draw a circle.   The Father, the Son and the Spirit are not three forms or manifestations or parts of God.  

 

And in fact, all such illustrations lead to idolatry.   God is unique and He cannot be compared to anything in creation.   As He Himself said by the mouth of Isaiah:

 

“To whom then will you liken God?   Or what likeness will you compare to Him?” – Isaiah 40: 18.

 

Every image or likeness that man imagines, to compare God to, is idolatry.   We have to refrain from any image by which man tries to explain the trinity of God, for it is a mystery beyond our comprehension.  

 

At the same time we do have to know God in the way that He revealed Himself to us as one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

With regard to the diversity of the three Persons, we note the diversity for example when we read that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son.   When it is said in various places that God gave us His only begotten Son, His eternal Son who has been equal to Him, then it is clear that the Father did not send the Father.   He did not send Himself, but He sent His Son.   The Father did not become the Christ, but the Son did.

And when the Son says that He came to do the will of His Father, and that He subjects His own will to the Father, then again it is clear that the Father and the Son are not one and the same Person, but two distinct Persons.  

Listen for example to this pronouncement of the Son:

 

“…I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.   If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.   There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.” – John 5: 30 – 32.

 

And again He says:

 

“…My judgement is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me.   It is written in your law that the testimony of two men is true.   I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.” – John 8: 16 – 18.  

 

In these passages it is said that the Son is one witness, and that the Father is a second witness, so that the Son is not alone when He witnesses or when He judges.   He and the Father are together two witnesses.  

 

And at the same time Christ is able to say: “I and My Father are one” – John 10: 30.

They are distinct, therefore they count as two witnesses; and yet, at the same time, they are one.

 

When we turn to the third Person in the trinity, the Holy Spirit, it is important to emphasise that He is indeed a distinct Person, and not merely a power that proceeds from God.

 

Electricity is a power and energy, but electricity is not a Person.   Electricity does not have a mind and will and emotions.   And so there are many non-personal powers and energies.   But the Holy Spirit is a Person.   He has a will and mind and emotions.

 

And so we read that the Holy Spirit distributes gifts “as He wills” – 1 Cor. 12: 11

The Holy Spirit makes decisions – Acts 15: 28

The Holy Spirit can be grieved – Eph. 4: 30

The Holy Spirit witnesses, and He teaches and guides us in the truth – John 15: 26; 16: 13

The Holy Spirit speaks – Acts 13: 2; Hebr. 3: 7

 

The Holy Spirit is not simply a power, but He possesses power.   Therefore Scripture distinguishes between the Spirit and the power of the Spirit – Acts 10: 38 and Rom. 15: 13.

 

There are not two Persons, Father and Son, sharing one Power, but three Persons who possess power.

 

So then, there are three distinct Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Furthermore, we have to note that there is a certain order in the trinity between these three Persons.   They are equal and co-eternal, and yet they act together in a certain order so that the Father is always the Initiator, acting through His Son, and both the Father and the Son acting together through the Spirit.  

 

Therefore we call the Father the first Person of the trinity.   The Father is from none and also not begotten.   The Son is from the Father; not made or created, but begotten.   The Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son, not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeds from the Father and the Son. 

 

This order is also seen in the way that God created the world.   The Father created all things.   He created all things through His Son.   And the Father and the Son acted together through the Spirit who proceeds from both. 

We also see this in our salvation.   It starts with the Father.   God the Father elected us from all eternity, and gave us to His Son and sent His Son to save us.   The Son came to do the will of the Father.   And the Father and the Son together gives us life and sanctifies us through the Holy Spirit.

 

And we have to respect this order in the Trinity.   We cannot, for example, pray to the Holy Spirit through the mediation of the Father.   Such an order does not exist.  

We have to draw near to the Father through the mediation of His Son.  

And so we pray: in the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father.

 

Scripture does not teach us to pray to the Holy Spirit, but in the Spirit, though our Mediator Jesus Christ, to the Father.

 

Although God always acts as Father, Son and Spirit together, we have to acknowledge the distinction which Scripture teaches us, and honour the order within the Trinity.

 

So then, we believe in God the Father – the first Person of the Trinity.  

We believe in God the Son – the second Person of the Trinity.

And we believe in God the Holy Spirit – the third Person of the Trinity.

Three distinct Persons; one eternal true God.

 

In the third place we note that…

This triune God made a covenant with us and with our children

 

The Apostles’ Creed is divided into three parts. 

The first part deals with God the Father and our creation.  

The second part deals with God the Son and our redemption.  

And the third part of the Apostles’ Creed deals with the Holy Spirit and our Sanctification.  

 

Now, this Apostles’ Creed is also a summary of the whole gospel.   You will remember the question in Lord’s Day 7:

 

            “What, then, must a Christian believe?

 

“All that is promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic and undoubted Christian faith teach us in a summary.”

 

And then the 12 articles of the Apostle’s Creed followed as a summary of “all that is promised us in the gospel”.   

 

All that is revealed to us about God the Father is gospel to us.

All that is revealed about the Son is gospel.

Everything that is revealed to us about the Spirit is gospel too.

 

Why?

 

Because this triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has become our God.   This triune God made a covenant with us and promised to be God to us and to our children.  

It is this gospel that we confess in Lord’s Day 1.   It is also this gospel that is spelled out to us in the Form for Baptism.

 

“When we are baptised into the Name of the Father, God the Father testifies and seals to us that He establishes an eternal covenant of grace with us.   He adopts us for His children and heirs, and promises to provide us with all good and avert all evil or turn it to our benefit…”

 

And you know the rest of the promises that follow – what the Son promises us when we are baptised into His Name, and what the Holy Spirit promises us when we are baptised into His Name.

 

It is the promise of the covenant: I will be your God and the God of your descendants.

 

Dear congregation, to have this triune God as our God, is to receive all blessings in heaven and on earth.   To have this God as our God is the fullness of salvation and life and all riches.

 

In the next Lord’s Day, LD 9, we will start to unpack this gospel, starting with the Father.   And what a comfort!   Read Lord’s Days 9 and 10 and you will bow down in adoration and worship to thank God for the riches of His mercy! 

From Lord’s Day 11 up to LD 19 we confess the gospel of God the Son, our Redeemer.  

From LD 20 up to 22 we confess the gospel of the Holy Spirit who joins us to Christ and sanctifies us.

Yes, the whole gospel is summarised in the confession of our triune God.

 

In Him we find rest and salvation.   He is our hope and our strength.  

This God has become all our life and all our joy.  

Yes, when He promised us to be our God and to be the God of our children, He promised us everything.

 

Dear congregation, let us believe in this God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in whose Name we were baptised.  

 

In His mercy and grace this Triune God claimed us as His own.  

 

God the Father, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, has become our Father.  

His Son is our eternal Lord and Mediator. 

And the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is given to us to make us by true faith share in Christ and all the riches of His salvation, to comfort us, and to remain with us forever.   

 

Amen.  




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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