Sunday, June 3, 2012

One Mission, One Love, One Glory

Texts:    Isaiah 6:1-8; John 16:12-25; 17:20-26

        DOES IT REALLY MATTER what sort of Being we believe God is?  Our Christian confessions teach us to worship one God in three Persons, eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But what does that have to do with daily life? With all the confusion, turmoil, and economic upheaval of our times, with all the cares and responsibilities we have on our shoulders, why not simply think of God as God and not worry about theology?  Shouldn't we just love our neighbor and try to make ourselves worthy of spending eternity in God's presence, whatever we conceive God to be?  After all, doesn't getting too picky about doctrine just make trouble with other people and add more stress we can't afford?

    . . . In case you might be wondering if I think we should give in to this way of thinking, let me make it very clear that I do not.  The fact that God is a Trinity is crucial for our life in this world and our hope for the next.  We Christian believers all must reject any other way of thinking about God first of all because He Himself has revealed Himself to be one God in three Persons.  And the Scriptures make it clear that it's only because the one, true, creator God of the universe is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it's only due to the wonderful reality of who and what He actually is, that He is able to redeem, renew, comfort, and guide us as we travel through this painful and perilous world.

    Why do people so often say it doesn't matter how we imagine God?  It's because we have a mistaken and distorted imagination of ourselves.  We're inclined to consider ourselves pretty good people at heart, and all we need from our deity is a little encouragement and reward to make us even better.  The job description for a god like that isn't very strict.  Any old god will do, providing he, she, or it is nice enough.

    It's not just unbelievers who're prone to think this way.  That's what we were born believing about ourselves and God, too.  But then the genuine Triune God bursts in on our darkness and we discover a whole lot of things about our sinfulness and His holiness that shock and disturb us terribly.  We learn that only a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can rescue us from the mess we're in and transform us into the glorious human creatures He intended us to be.

    Remember what happened to Isaiah.  Compared to most people of his time, he was a righteous man.  He was God's prophet.  But that day in the temple the Triune God chose to open Isaiah's eyes to what divine holiness really is.  He revealed Himself to Isaiah-- as the Scripture says, "I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple."  Isaiah saw the seraphim and heard them cry that the Lord is not merely "Holy!" but "Holy, holy, holy!"  The doorposts and thresholds shook with the power of their voices and the whole temple was filled with the smoke, the incense of God's glorious presence.

    What a wonder, to be granted a vision of the living God!  But at the same time the Lord God revealed Isaiah to himself-- and he was devastated.  He, who seemed to be so righteous and good, was convicted of his utter wretchedness and sin. "Woe to me," he cried.  "For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!"

    What is Isaiah to do?  The very holiness of God condemns him!  "Unclean lips"--Bad language-- speaking slightingly of his neighbor-- grumbling about the gifts God has given-- that doesn't seem very bad, does it?  But Isaiah understands that his unclean lips are the fruit of an unclean heart, and under the vision of the threefold holiness of God he stands utterly and justly condemned.

    But one of the seraphim touches Isaiah's lips with a live coal from the altar of sacrifice.  He declares, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."  How?  Could a man have been saved by a piece of glowing charcoal from the high altar of the temple in Jerusalem?  No, but the fire represents the atoning sacrifices offered on the altar and those animal sacrifices looked forward to the final and totally sufficient sacrifice that 700 years later was to be offered by the Son of God Himself on the altar of the cross.  Isaiah is redeemed in advance by the second person of the Trinity, and called to take God's message to his world.

    What is the mission the Triune God gives Isaiah?  Initially his job will be to show to the people their sin in light of God's holiness.  But when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will send Isaiah with the good news of the love of the Father to be shown to Israel and all the world.  That love will come in the person of a Son, a Servant who is a Man, but who can claim all the rights and prerogatives of God.  The Lord's ultimate goal is to cleanse His chosen ones from their sin, that we might live with Him and see His glory.

    By the power of the Holy Spirit, we have faith that this promised Messiah was the Man Jesus of Nazareth.  Again, those who do not believe, those who underestimate the terror of their sins, think that Jesus was simply a good man who came along to urge us to try a little harder.  And that doctrines like the Trinity were just made up by theologians to confuse laypeople.  Our readings from St. John show us how false this is.

    What does Jesus say of Himself?  In chapter 17 our Lord is concluding the great prayer He prayed for all His disciples in the Upper Room, before He was arrested and crucified.  In verses 20-26 He is interceding not only for the eleven apostles and the other disciples who had followed Him up to then, but also for those who would believe in Him thereafter.  That's us!  Jesus is praying that we-- us-- might participate fully in the life of the Godhead, be incorporated, wrapped in, enfolded into the glorious reality of who God is, now and forever.   Think on this, next time life hardly seems worth it, when this world seems meaningless and even those you love don't seem to care.  Jesus declares that He was sent by God the Father to bring you into total union with Himself! 

    But how can we, mere fleshly human beings doomed to die, think of being one with the everlasting God unless one who is both God and Man comes to bring the divine and the human together?  And how can Jesus claim to be in the Father and the Father in Him if He Himself is just a good man and not Himself God?  It would be impossible!  God in His holiness is so far above the best of us, we could never approach Him in our own power without being totally destroyed.

    But Jesus Christ the Son of Mary declares that He has this union with the everlasting Father God.  He claims that in Him all who believe the good news about Him are able to enter the unity that is the One and enjoy the community that is the Three.   He prays that even now among ourselves, in our everyday lives as members of His church, we will begin to taste the delights of the blissful fellowship that is Almighty God! 

    He prays that as we are brought to complete unity with Him and with one another, we will be loved by God the Father even as He loves the Son, and the world, the unbelieving, God-rejecting world-- will be forced to sit up and take notice. 

    And again in verse 24, Jesus prays that we would share His divine glory, the glory given to the Son in the Father's love before the creation of the world.

    Brothers and sisters, if Jesus is not God; if God isn't Trinity, this prayer is meaningless.  It would even be blasphemy.  Jesus would have no claim on the Father and no divine glory to reveal.  In Isaiah 42:8 the Sovereign Lord says, "I will not give my glory to another, or my praise to idols."  But Jesus has the right to God's glory, for He is one with the Father.  He didn't just say this, He proved it by rising from the dead.

    And what of God the Holy Spirit?  In our passage from John 16, Jesus declares that the Spirit of truth will take what belongs to Himself-- His truth, His mercy, His power to save, His resurrection life-- all the benefits we have in Jesus-- He the Spirit will bring this to us and so bring glory to Christ, glory that is His by the will of the Father. 

    Jesus' will is that we should see His divine glory, and love and worship Him all the more as we are drawn by the Spirit closer into the heart of our Father God.  But didn't Isaiah see God's glory, and didn't it nearly destroy him in misery and fear?  What has changed?

    What has changed is that as He prays Jesus the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, is preparing to go to the cross.  There He would offer Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice to God for the sins of the world.  Because He is Man, He could die for us.  Because He is God, He could perfectly satisfy the holiness of the Father.  Because the Holy Spirit is God, He can bring all the good of Christ's atoning death to you, to save you and cleanse you from all that makes you unclean.  You don't have to struggle for God's favor-- God the Son has gained it for you!  You don't have to worry that God would never accept you-- Jesus has made you one with Him and therefore one with the Father.  God the Holy Spirit comes to remind you of these things.  He is the Spirit of Christ within you, keeping you in God's love and care even when you're so upset you can't even pray for fear.  The Spirit makes Christ known to us, even as Christ reveals to us the Father, that the love the Father has for Him might be in us and Christ Himself might fill us in every part of our being.

    Does it matter whether we believe that God is Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  It matters; yes, it matters more than anything else in all of life ever can.  Reject this truth about God, and we worship nothing but an idol of our own making; we will be excluded from His presence.  Accept the Triune God, and know unity with Him who has no beginning and no end. God the Father sent His Son into the world to show His love to His chosen children, that we might see His glory.  Receive His gracious love by the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing us truth in the word of the apostles.  God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, holy and blessed Trinity.  He dwells forever in joyful, glorious unity, and He invites you together with all believers to enter in and find your salvation, delight, and eternal glory in Him.