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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
 Singapore
 ferc.org.sg
 
Preached At:
 
 
Title:The (In)Comprehensibility of the Triune God
Text:LD 8 Ezekiel 1:1-28, Psalm 19:0 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Trinity
 
Preached:2021
Added:2022-05-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

TH 38 - Immortal Invisible
Psalter 42  - Love for God's Word 
Psalter 255 - Adoration and Submission 

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


There’s a limit to human understanding and logic. There are many people in the world who are intelligent - far more intelligent that you or me. But there’s a limit to their intelligence as well. There are limits which are caused by culture and history. Medieval Europe was very different in learning compared to the Ottoman Empire of the same time. China in the 1800s was primitive compared to the European inventiveness of the same time. North Korea today is limited in its knowledge compared to South Korea.

There are limits that are also caused by age. Toddlers are still discovering and learning. They learn about a four sided shape - the rectangle. They learn about a three sided shape - the triangle. But ask them what a square triangle is and they will be confused. Or a rectangular circle. But as they grow, they learn about the pyramid and the cylinder! It requires growth in years to understand. But for many of us, despite age and intelligence, we can’t understand hyperbolic geometry. Well, some of you can.

Therefore, there are limits to our knowledge. We do not understand all things. And one thing that limits our understanding of spiritual matters is sin. Romans 1:21 says that because of sin, our foolish hearts are darkened. Whatever understanding we have of spiritual matters is worthless. And one of the ways our spiritual understanding is limited is in our understanding of God. This is why people make idols and images of wood, stone, and gold - as if what they made, made them; they worship animals, which they also use to till the field; they feed their idols - which they claim are able to bless them; or they even deny the existence of God. Until we are taught, we don’t understand who God is. He is, after all, incomprehensible. But when we are instructed, and when we understand, we receive the comfort that comes by that knowledge.

From today’s passage and catechism questions, we learn 3 things. Firstly, God’s incomprehensibility gives comfort. Secondly, God is comprehensible from the Scriptures. Thirdly, Scripture reveals to us a caring God.

Firstly, God’s incomprehensibility gives us comfort. In Ezekiel, we read of a great sadness. Verses 1-3 tell of the sad situation that Ezekiel and God’s people were in. Ezekiel and God’s people were in exile. They were in captivity by the river Chebar in Babylon - the land of the Chaldees. It was during King Jehoiachin’s captivity. And that reminds us of what happened in 2 Kings 24. God’s people were a kingdom - a nation of people. They were supposed to glorify God. But because they didn’t but rather sinned against him, God chastised them. He sent the Babylonians to destroy Judah to take Jehoiachin captive. During the siege, King Nebuchadnezzar took all the treasures from the temple and from the palace. All the gold vessels in the temple, he cut in pieces - presumably to melt. No more golden altar, no more golden washbasin, no more golden lamp stand. The ark - it was taken. Not only that, the princes, and all the young men, the craftsmen and the smiths he took. 2 Kings 24:14 says that no one remained in Jerusalem except for the poorest of the poor. There was no more temple. No more body politic. No more people of God in Judah.

Five years later, they were still in Babylon, at the Chebar River. They were made to be slaves. Some suggest they were doing the most menial tasks, and chained up in all likelihood. Psalm 137 may have been written on these very shores. Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple was burned to the ground, they were listening to a strange foreign language, they were mocked, they couldn’t sing. It tells us that these people had lost hope. There was great sadness in their lives below. They believed that God had failed them; that he was not there for them. What they needed was to be comforted. And that is why God sent a vision.

He saw the wonder of heaven above. Verse 4 says that there was a whirlwind, a great cloud, and there was a fire unfolding itself with a brightness - in other words, there was lightning, smoke, and fire. Where else did we see this? At Mount Sinai. There, God descended in a smokey cloud with fire. The whole mountain was shaking. And so Ezekiel was ushered into the very presence of God in that vision. And just as there were in Sinai, in verse 5, he saw the angels of heaven. What magnificent creatures! They are described for us. There were 4 of them, described as living creatures. These were the cherubim - part man, part beast, part vehicle, part winged creature. They had 4 faces each, 4 wings each, they had straight legs with bronze calf hooves. They had 4 arms each. And they were flying, wing to wing in one direction. But each of them had a wheel. And they could move together in any four directions they faced without turning. The rims of the wheels were covered with eyes. And it was the Spirit that moved these beings. When they flew up, they came to a ceiling of crystal. And when they flew, their wings made a terrible sound - like waves crashing, or like the voice of God Almighty, or like a shouting of an army. 

What does this description mean? This was a wondrous and frightful vision. Imagine dreaming about eyes on the tires of bike. But the symbolism has meaning. These were powerful beings that saw all things.  They looked at the 4 cardinal points - north, south, east, west. They saw what was happening to Judah. They knew. They were also led by God - they were powerful angels moved only when God’s Spirit moved them. And when they moved, their wings sounded like a huge army. They could conquer if God moved them. This vision would’ve assured Ezekiel of God’s power - they were more powerful than the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. 

But lo, they were still not as awesome as God. They could only fly as far up as the sea of glass. They could go no further. And then in verse 25, there is a voice that spoke from beyond that sea of glass above them. Above that glass ceiling was a blue throne and on this throne was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. And this wasn’t any kind of man - from his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. From his waist down, he was a burning bright fire. And all around him, was a bow - like a rainbow. Ezekiel said in verse 28 that this was how God’s glory appeared to him. What’s the significance?

As mighty as the angels were, as powerful as they were, as much as they could assure Ezekiel of what they saw, what they could do - yet they could not rise above that glass ceiling. What was a ceiling for the cherubim, was a floor for that superman. He sat on a royal blue throne - and he was surrounded by a halo - a bow like a rainbow that shone. This was God, surrounded by his glory. And Ezekiel in his vision, fell face down. Why? Because the glory of God was too awesome. And then God spoke to him with his voice.

The God of heaven spoke to Ezekiel in his distress. And the rest of the book records that vision. Ezekiel’s vision goes on to predict how God will restore his people. He would provide his people with a far better temple than the one destroyed. How he will raise up a dead pile of bones and give them life. So Ezekiel weeping by the rivers of Babylon, might have hope. Why? Despite God’s incomprehensibility, he condescends to speak to man. What wonder is this? The incomprehensible God, all powerful; too wonderful and awesome to be known. He sits in heaven, even separated from these mighty angels by a glass ceiling. But he reveals himself. He speaks. When he spoke, Ezekiel understood. It was a message meant to give comfort during a difficult time.

We can’t know God without him revealing himself to us. And that leads us to the second but short point. God is comprehensible from the Scriptures. We learn in question and answer 25 that there is one, true, eternal God. And he has revealed himself as 3 persons - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The way he has revealed himself is through his Word.

Ezekiel would not have known the future and the care of God if God had not revealed it. And so, it is the same for the very nature of God. What God is, what he is like - these are impossible to know unless he tells us. Psalm 19:1 tells us that while the heavens declare the glory of God and all nature speaks of God, verses 7-8 says that the law of God, his precepts and statutes and commandments reveal more about him. The Scriptures revive the soul, make wise the simple, and give light to the eyes. Without the Word of God, we would never know that God lives in a place that is inaccessible to human eyes - beyond the angels in the highest of heavens. 

And the Scriptures reveal to us that God is a trinity - he is one God but in three distinct persons. The most distinct verse in the Bible, is 1 John 5:7 which says, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Yes, these verses here are disputed, but even if this is not accepted as being part of the Bible, there are plenty of other verses that show the plurality of persons in the Godhead.

When God first created, his Spirit moved over the face of the waters. He said, “let us (not let me but let us) make man in our own image.” In Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6, the seraphim in heaven cried - “holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts.” Why thrice holy if not for 3 persons? And when God asked whom he should send, he asked, “whom shall I send, who shall go for us?” When Christ was baptized, God the Father spoke from heaven, the Holy Spirit descended on Christ as a dove. Even in baptizing people, it is done in the name and not the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In short, we can’t rationalize this. How can one God have 3 persons? We can’t understand this with our current stage of logic. But perhaps that’s what it is - we’re not there yet. We do not, and cannot understand this in a way that we can harmonize it in our hearts and minds. Like the square triangle, or the rectangular circle to the toddler. We are still hampered by that glass ceiling - we can’t go beyond it and understand the incomprehensible God fully. But he has made himself comprehensible to us, as far as he wants to by his word. And while we may not be able to understand all there is to God, what he has revealed in his Word is that he is one God, in three persons who cares for his people. He is working to restore them. That’s the third point.

Just as God spoke to Ezekiel while he was by the river of Babylon, perhaps with the rest of the exiles, weeping and thinking about the destruction of God’s city; and God gave this Word of comfort; God through his Word speaks to us, and reveals who he is.

And what we are to believe he is, is well stated in the Apostles’ Creed - this is a summary of our Christian faith. And it reveals 3 things about God - that he is caring. Firstly, God created us. “I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” He created heaven and earth. Now it is stated here that it is the Father that has created. Yes, it is true that God the Son was involved in creating - Colossians 1 tells us that; and the Spirit was also involved, Genesis 1; yet it was God the Father’s main function to create. And as such, he cares for his creatures. In Matthew 10:29-31, Jesus compared the care of God towards his creation - “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” God cares for the sparrows. But he cares more for his people because we are his chiefest creation. He intended for man to be a great nation of people who would serve and worship him. A people that he could dwell together with. 

But something happened to that creation. Sin. Adam and Eve sinned, and were exiled from the Garden of Eden. They plunged creation into sin. Creation was cursed. Thorns and thistles, increased pain in the world. The world is devolving. And God is working to redeem that creation. The Word tells us that he will recreate all things new.

This is why the God that created, sent his only begotten Son to save this people. The Apostles’ Creed continues to say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only-begotten Son, our Lord; he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell. On the third day he arose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Because the one who ruined God’s creation was a man, the world can only be redeemed, if man is firstly redeemed. Man is part of God’s creation - he is God’s chiefest creation. Therefore, God came to save sinful mankind. And the byproduct of that salvation is the restoration of the world. So for this to happen, Christ came to be born as one of his created creatures so that he could be the restorer of those that believe in him. And when he conquered sin, he conquered the effects of sin - which is death. He rose victorious.

And in order to prepare his people for that new created order, God the Holy Spirit comes to make them holy. It says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit; I believe a holy catholic Christian church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.” If the purpose of God is to reconcile his people to himself, he starts now - by preparing them for heaven. Adam and Eve were in a beautiful garden with a tree but were kicked out because of sin. Judah had a nation with a magnificent temple, but was kicked out because of sin. That vision of Ezekiel was of God restoring his people, and providing them a temple, and God raising his people who were once dead spiritually - this is what the Spirit does. He restores us by forgiving our sins, makes us born again, and gathers to himself a church - which is a kingdom of priests - not in Judah, but all over the world - it is catholic or universal. And one day, he will bring us to the better kingdom, the better promised land, the better garden above in heaven when he recreates all things.

Dearly beloved, when Ezekiel saw the vision of God, Judah was in great turmoil. But that vision gave him comfort. The incomprehensible God who wills all things, shows us that he cares for us. And without his revelation, we cannot understand who he is. But he has revealed in his Word, that he cares for us. He is the Triune God, that has created us, he has redeemed us, and he is making us holy in his kingdom today, that we may be with him for an eternity.

Today, there may be many things that confuse us. We may be in times of great difficulties. Things we do not comprehend - because of age, culture, sinfulness, our own limitations. But there is one that comprehends all things - he knows all things from the beginning. And he is bringing the to pass. And we can comprehend him from his Word - because he has revealed himself to us there. And if our future is bright and sure, we can go through our difficulties here, as we live by our rivers of Babylon.

Sermon Outline:

1. God’s Incomprehensibility Gives Comfort

    A. The sadness of life below

    B. The wonder of heaven above

    C. The awesomeness of God

    D. The condescension of God

2. God Is Comprehensible from the Scriptures

    A. God can only be known from his revelation

    B. God is three in one

3. Scripture Reveals to Us a Caring God

    A. He created us

    B. He saved us

    C. He makes us holy




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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