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John

Introduction to the Trinity

John 14:8-31

No part of the Gospel is more puzzling to modern Christians than the Trinity. Evidently the Apostles felt the same. But in the passage below, note that the disciples asking the questions are not Peter, James or John. These three have seen the Transfiguration. They may not understand the Trinity any better than the rest, but they have some idea of what’s going on. They show an early sign of being modern students: they let someone else ask the hard questions.

The Holy Bible, New International Version

 

8Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

9Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

15“If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be£ in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

22Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

23Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25“All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

“Come now; let us leave.

John 14:8 through John 14:31 (NIV)

Beginnings of the Trinity

It is a mark of the early church that practically no one was a theologian. Those who had encountered the risen Lord needed no theology; their worship was for a person, not a system. But as the years went by more and more people asked the question: how could God be three – and yet one? And therefore, how could Christ be God, and God be one? We shall look at some of the answers.

Christ – equal with the Father

It is interesting that Christ’s answer to Philip’s question is, “Don’t you know me?” He expects Philip to put two and two together. Philip is not buying it. So Christ explains it to him:

  • First, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Have you ever seen a Moëbius strip? It’s simply a strip of paper, given a half twist, with the ends taped together. If you try to color the “outside,” you will find that the outside is also the inside! If we can do that with paper, then perhaps we have a picture of what Christ is saying here.
  • His words are not his own; they are the Father’s words. If you don’t think so, then why would God give him the power to work miracles? Do you not see that the miracles authenticate the message as being from God?

Philip, I suspect, is still working through this. Jesus’ focus on this last night is on the future – the establishment of the church. For that reason he gives them further understanding in terms of what will happen after Pentecost. The church will need these proofs if the world is to understand that Christ and the Father are one – yet separate.

·         He tells them that they will be able to work such miracles. How? By the coming of the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity.

·         Indeed, they will do greater things. (Remember that Jesus did not preach outside the boundaries of ancient Israel.)

·         But they will do them in the name of Christ.

This happened (and I’m not at all certain it’s finished). So it is we see the equality between Father and Son.

Christ – Inferior to the Father

The Father is greater, says our Lord. He makes this point explicitly. But he gives us further detail:

·         He asks the Father; the Father does not ask Him.

·         Indeed, it’s the same relationship we have with Him; we ask Him, we plead with Him – not the other way around.

·         He is obedient to the Father, doing exactly what He commands.

There it is: in the same passage of Scripture, in plain language answering a plain question, the contradiction of the Trinity is shown. This we must now resolve.

The Trinity

The problem has occupied better minds than mine for millennia. Here are two explanations which may assist us.

First, let us take the problem of being more than one, and yet one. Dorothy Sayers gave us an excellent answer to this one. Consider a book; in her case, a detective novel. It comes in three forms:

  • There is the story as it exists in her brain. Anyone who has written will understand this. There must be a conception of the book in the brain first.
  • The book is then incarnate in paper form.
  • The book then has an effect on the reader; the book may now be said to be “in” the reader.

God the Father is like that story in her brain. Unseen, but definitely knowable by others, it gives rise to a physical form (the paper version of the book). As we read it, it “dwells in us” by having an effect on us.

The ancients would have put it this way: The essence is the same; the attributes are the same; the accidents are not. That last is rather a technical term, so let’s take an example.

Consider a rose. Not just any rose, but a rose which exactly expresses just what it is to be a rose. It has the essence of rose; it shows us “rosy-ness.” That essence is not just in its genetic material; it also includes such things as the effect that roses have on ladies.

Then that rose has attributes – things that roses must have to be a rose. These are things like petals, roots, and thorns. Finally, any specific rose has accidents – those things that are true, but not “must haves” – things like a specific color, a specific fragrance, a specific location.

The ancient writers can then speak of God in the same way. The essence of God is his existence; all three persons have that. Of all three it can be said, “I AM.”

But “I am” what? God is his attributes. We say that God is love, for example. The three persons have the same attributes as well. It is only in the accidents – physical form, for example – that they differ.

Enough of the theology and philosophy. Let’s look at the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Third Person Singular

That the Holy Spirit is a definite and distinct person in the Godhead can be seen here in Christ’s words. He (that’s one) will ask the Father (that’s two) to send the Holy Spirit (that’s three). Christ describes the characteristics of the Holy Spirit to them:

  • He is the spirit of truth, and therefore a counselor. Isn’t that characteristic of the Holy Spirit in our lives? There is no bludgeoning, just the still small voice telling us, “You’re wrong, you need to repent of this.”
  • He is “in us.” The “in-ness” He has is the same that Christ and the Father have.
  • He is with us forever – God, the Eternal I Am.
  • And – significantly – He comes in Christ’s name. Each person of the Trinity gives glory to another.
The Mission of the Holy Spirit

Christ reveals to them the purposes of the Holy Spirit.

  • First, He is to be our Counselor.
  • He is also the Spirit of Truth. For this reason, the church cannot remain in error – but is always corrected by the Truth.
  • He will remind the disciples of everything Jesus has said (both in terms of recording them and in terms of living by it).
  • He is also the teacher of these things.
  • Finally, He is “in” us – just as Christ is in the Father.
The world cannot accept Him

Some make the mistake of thinking that Christ and the Holy Spirit are mutually exclusive – both can’t be at the same place at the same time. But recall that at Christ’s baptism the Spirit was there. The real reason for the delay is to give time for the sacrifice to be made. It is interesting: Passover marks the start of the spring planting season; Pentecost is the harvest festival. Jesus is slain at Passover – and the fruit of the Spirit begins at Pentecost.

Why are Christians so “different” from others in this world?

  • The Spirit is “in” us – in the same sense that Christ is in the Father, and the Father is in Christ. But – like the book in the novelist’s head – the world cannot see it. Only the results can be seen.
  • The world cannot see that. But we know what’s going on inside us. The still small voice can only be heard from between the ears.

The world cannot see the Holy Spirit, but we know who is in us.

Promises and Conditions

This section of Scripture contains within it some of the great promises Christ has made for us. Promises, to be valid, must be claimed.

  • He promises that we (the church) will do what he has done. The church is the Body of Christ on earth, and continues his mission: to seek and save the lost.
  • He promises we will do even greater things. We have gone where he never walked; spoken to those unspoken to; carried his name to the farthest reaches of the planet.
  • He promised he would not leave us as orphans. He did not. He gave us the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
  • He promised that we would have his peace – the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Great promises; but there are conditions.

Conditions

One of the difficulties with the “chapter and verse” division of the Bible is that we can take words out of context. As long as we quote the entire verse, we feel it should stand alone. Much evil has come of this. Here are the conditions Christ attaches to his promises:

  • First, we must be obedient to his commands. How often we find ourselves wondering why our life is so powerless – as we ignore his commands. Our disobedience disconnects us from the power of God.
  • We must also have faith in him. Do we believe God will act, or is this just an afterthought to our plans? Do we plan with him in view, or out of view? Do we trust him first, or only when desperate?
  • Finally, we must love Him, deeply.
After the Resurrection

It is a remarkable fact: Jesus was crucified at Passover; the Spirit comes at Pentecost. These two festivals mark the beginning and end of the harvest season. God’s timing is displayed in this.

But in between those festivals, Jesus appeared to his disciples many times. But as far as we know he never again appeared to those who did not believe. There is a reason for that. If you wish to see God, you must use the right instrument. A microscope will show you no stars; a telescope no bacteria. The right instrument for seeing God is the pure heart.[1]

“The heart,” said Marechal de Saxe, “is the starting point of all things pertaining to war.” It is true of spiritual warfare as well.


[1] Matthew 5:8

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