Sunday, June 3, 2007

Seeing Who's There

Texts: Proverbs 8:1-5, 22-36; John 14:8-21

HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED HOW HARD it is to see things that are really close to you?

Like last month when I went to the dentist for some fillings. I couldn't see the Novocaine needle. I couldn't see the drill. I couldn't see the little mould for the filling being fitted on my teeth. Same with the filling goop and the tool the dentist used to put it in. Couldn't see any of it.

No, it wasn't because I had my eyes shut. They were wide open, just like my mouth. I couldn't see any of these things, because they were Just Too Close.

You might say, "Good. When I go to the dentist's I don't want to see any of those things, either. In fact, I don't want to hear them or feel them, as well!"

If that's your opinion, I don't blame you. But there are some important things we had better see, but we don't because we're too close to them. Even something as important as God and who He is and what He wants for our lives.

Today is Trinity Sunday. It's the day the Church particularly celebrates the great truth that God has revealed Himself to humanity as God in Three Persons. This God isn't just "our" God or "the God of the Christians"; He's the one and only, true and living God. This Truine God is the Holy One who made heaven and earth and everything in them. He's the God in whom we live and move and have our being. He's the God before whom every knee will someday bow, whether they want to or not. This God calls out to us to open the eyes of our hearts and see Him as He really is.

But a lot of people say that the doctrine of God as Trinity is irrelevant. It's irrelevant, they say, because it's incomprehensible. How can a being be three, and also be one? They say it doesn't make sense, and no one can expect them to believe it. Not just pagans say this, but also people who call themselves Christians. But you go down that road, and you're not only failing to see the God who is actually there, you're also losing out on who you can be in relation to Him.

The doctrine of the Trinity is far from irrelevant; it's the framework for our creation, our redemption, and all our hope for meaning and joy. As our hearts begin to understand it, God enables us to step back and see Who is really there.

In our reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus is gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room. They have finished their last supper together, and the Lord is preparing them for what will happen as He goes to the cross. He comforts them, letting them know that He is the way to God the Father, and that He's going away to make it possible for them to come to the Father as well.

But Philip doesn't want doctrine, he wants experience. What does all this talk about Jesus going away and returning again have to do with knowing the Father? He says, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."

Meaning, "Teacher, show us the all-powerful Divine Being who is Out There Somewhere. Be like Moses who brought the Law down from Sinai a long time ago, like Moses who saw God's back and lived."

We can't blame Philip. We would probably have been just as blind. Jesus answers him, "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."

Did you get that? That is doctrine that illuminates experience! An ordinary human being could have said, "I'll point you to God." An ordinary teacher could have said, "I'll give you an example of how God wants you to live." Jesus says, "I am in the Father and the Father is in me." For He isn't just an ordinary human being. He's God in human flesh. He's the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, standing right in front of them!

If He isn't God, if the Muslims are right and, quote, "Allah has no son," then what Jesus said about Himself was either totally crazy or totally depraved.

But even our Lord's enemies have to admit that He comes off as the most sane, sensible Man who ever lived. This sane, sensible Man declares that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. In fact, He is so identified with God that there is really no separation between them.

The disciples had been so close to Jesus, they hadn't seen this. They got so used to marvelling over His miracles, they hadn't really understood what they meant, what they demonstrated about who Jesus was.

But now they must begin to understand and see. So Jesus introduces the disciples to another divine Person who will be given to them by the Father and the Son, the Holy Comforter, the Spirit of truth. He tells them the Spirit already lives in them and will be with them forever. The disciples don't yet realize that they already know the Spirit, but the day is coming when they will. They will see who's there.

But the unbelieving world cannot see the Holy Spirit or know Him. Even if they think they do, they don't understand who He is. They say He's an impersonal force, or an extension of their own human spirits. They don't recognise that the Holy Spirit is true God, working in power in the world. His particular work is to call people to Christ and salvation in His shed blood. By His divine power Christians see and understand exactly who Jesus is and are built up in the loving obedience of faith.

A lot of people-- the author Dan Brown, say-- think the doctrine of the Trinity is something a bunch of theologians made up in the 4th century to grab power or to confuse people. Not at all! Rather, the writers of the New Testament books knew God and what He was like. So did the apostles and teachers of the Church who came after them. These men and women knew that Yahweh was the one and only God, and apart from Him there is no other. But they saw what Jesus did in His miracles and they heard what He preached and taught. They saw Him raised from the dead. And they had to conclude that He was true God, come to earth to live among us. And they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. They felt His power. They understood that to go against the Spirit's leading was to go against God Himself, because the Spirit was and is God.
How could they put all this together? They had to conclude that God was both One and Three. That He was God in Three Persons, God the blessed Trinity.

And they studied the Old Testament with the new, open eyes that the Holy Spirit gave them. And they saw that this truth about the triune nature of God was nothing new. It was there in the old writings all along.

In so many places in the Old Testament we read of the Spirit of God being sent by God to do His will. We read of God Himself promising to come to earth in person to straighten things out and bring in His kingdom of righteousness. And we have passages like today's in Proverbs 8, all about the call of divine Wisdom.

Please don't be distracted by the fact that Solomon has cast Wisdom as a noble lady. The Book of Proverbs is not really a book of human rules to live by, it's a call to live in covenant relationship with the God of Israel. In the first nine chapters Solomon sets the stage by contrasting holy Lady Wisdom with wicked Lady Folly. Holy Wisdom is the way to God and blessedness. Folly-- by which is meant all kinds of sin-- is the way to Hell and damnation.

But here's something interesting. Lady Wisdom is constantly portrayed as a distinctive person, not just as an idealized principle. She asserts that she existed before the dawn of time. She rejoices that she was there working with God when all things were created. She claims that to find her is to find life and favor from the Lord.

Who is this personage? Is she the so-called goddess Sophia or "Woman Wisdom" that the feminists are always going on about?

No. Rather, the Holy Spirit led our ancestors in the faith to understand that this picture of Wisdom in Proverbs is truly a picture of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians we read that He is the Wisdom of God. In Colossians we learn that He is supreme over all creation, and that all things were created by Him and for Him. In the Gospels He cries out to men and women to believe in Him and be saved. And in our John passage, Jesus declares that He is the one way to find life and love in our heavenly Father, the Lord.

Christ our Wisdom calls out to us to hear and understand. He calls us to stop listening to our human wisdom that says the Trinity is irrelevant, and listen to the Wisdom of God instead. Christ our Wisdom teaches us to stop taking Him for granted as a great moral teacher or a good example, but to step back and see Him for who He really is-- God in human flesh, crucified for our sins, and the one and only way to the Father.

The truth about God is right here in front of us. It is close as the Bible on your nightstand, that testifies to Christ and all His works. It is as close as God the Holy Spirit witnessing in your heart that this Word is true. Jesus our crucified Saviour can show us the Father, because He is God. The Holy Spirit can show us the risen Christ, because He is God. Every promise Jesus made to us is faithful and sure, because every last one is the promise of God.

The doctrine of the Trinity helps us step back and see who is really there. And the doctrine of the Trinity helps us step forward again into deeper fellowship with our Lord and God. Other religions tell us to love God but they don't tell us how. Other religions say we should do good, but our best is never good enough.

But our faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit assures us that we can love God because He first loved us. We know because He died for us, to save us from our sins! We can keep His commands because Jesus the Son of God kept God's commands perfectly for us. We're assured of a place at the the Lord's great eternal banquet, we join in the divine everlasting dance that is God, because the Spirit of truth has united us with Christ and brought us into the fellowship of the One, Holy, Blessed, and Undivided Trinity.

Don't fret if you cannot understand how God can be Three in One and One in Three. God and His nature is too big for our human minds to comprehend. But what He does for us and who He is for us, God has given us that to see. Let the Holy Spirit open your eyes and your heart. See and understand that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as He has revealed Himself to be. See that your life and hope in this world and the next depend on God being who He is-- not one god all alone, not three gods working together, but One God in three Persons.

See who is there. With the eyes of faith, look upon your triune Lord, and give Him all worship, adoration, honor, obedience, and love.

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