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Posts Tagged ‘trinity’

grunewald_crucifixion

Adapted from an earlier post

I’m all for trinity.  Trinity this and trinity that.  Clicking on my trinity tag is like typing Google into Google – you may just BREAK THE INTERNET.

But here’s the thing – “The Trinity” does not reveal God.  Jesus reveals God (might I add, by the Spirit).  That’s the trinity.  But “The Trinity” is not the image of the invisible God.  “The Trinity” is not the Mediator between a Distant-Power-God and today’s agnostic enquirer.  Rublev’s is not the Icon of the unseen LORD – Jesus is.

Today Christians are awaking more and more to the wonder of trinity and that’s very exciting.  Without trinity there is no gospel.  There is no other God but Jesus with His Father and Spirit.  And, in Jesus, we participate in that divine nature.  These truths need shouting from the rooftops.

But… in our excitement to lift up the wonder of the intra-trinitarian life, there is a danger.  The danger is that Jesus might not be the Way in to “God is love.”  Instead natural theology provides the in. The argument runs something like this: “We all know that love is lovely, well wouldn’t it be nice if God was love in just the way we all understand love….”  See the danger?

A million Facebook profiles speak of “Love” as ultimate.  But 1 John 4 has in mind a very particular kind of love when it describes the love that God is (1 John 4:8-10).  The love which God is shows up in propitiatory sacrifice.  Christ crucified is the Image of God.  He shows us the poured-out-life of eternity.  Trinitarian love is cruciform love.

This means we don’t have to be amazing orators, waxing lyrical about perichoresis and such.  In order to be trinitarian, here’s all we need to do:  We need to point to the Jesus of Scripture.  We don’t need to paint verbal Rublevs so much as paint Jesus in biblical colours.  We just need to hold Him up in His true identity: He is the Christ, the Son of God.

If you want to be trinitarian, obsess yourself with Jesus.

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unitarian worshipContinued from here

In his book, “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace”, James Torrance sums up much of the teaching we’re considering, especially as he highlights the difference between Unitarian and Trinitarian worship.

Unitarian and Trinitarian Worship

According to Torrance these are the two broad models of worship.  Unitarian worship is not necessarily that offered by Unitarians – most often it simply reflects the functionally monadic doctrine of God latent in our congregations.  Worship on this model sees only two parties – the LORD who is simply the recipient of worship; and the human worshipper (or congregation) who may be divinely enabled and empowered but who, nonetheless, is wholly responsible for performing the worship.

As against this, Trinitarian worship recognizes that God the Father has set forth God the Son to be the True High Priest who, by God the Spirit, offers to the Father that which He demands.  Worship is therefore not the efforts of humanity in approaching God but a participation in Christ’s perfect worship of the Father, graciously offered through the Spirit.

This, in turn, leads to different accounts of intimacy.  On the Unitarian model, intimacy is an ideal to be reached (if only we can raise our moral and mystical games).  We are external to God and must figure out how to approach Him in an acceptable way.  The only priesthood here is our priesthood.  The only offering involved is our offering.  The only intercession is our intercession.  And if we get all these things right, then, perhaps, we will attain to a measure of intimacy.

On the Trinitarian model, adoption into the life of God through the Son and by the Spirit is the incomparable intimacy which guarantees true and acceptable worship.  The order is thus reversed. Worship does not bring us near to God.  Rather ‘the blood of Christ’ has brought us near (Ephesians 2:13) that ‘through Him we… have access to the Father by one Spirit.’ (Ephesians 2:18).  Blood-bought intimacy with God is the beginning of true worship – not an added bonus when the mood is right.

The Perfect and Eternal Priesthood of Christ guarantees our acceptable worship before the Father.  Therefore we’re always late to worship. We’re always joining something that is already under way. We begin our worship in the embrace of the divine love – our worship is merely God’s appointed means of experiencing such intimacy.

How then do we worship?

When we think of “intimacy with God”, what do we picture?  Probably we’re thinking of a private experience.  But in the Bible our intimacy with the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit is expressed corporately.  In community we reflect the Triune life to which we have been called.  As a community we are Christ’s Body and Bride.  A merely private intimacy with God is a rejection of the terms on which we have been offered fellowship.  It’s true that worship of God is 24/7 (Romans 12:1ff).  And it’s true that I am continually ‘one with Christ’, whether by myself or with others. But consider the marriage analogy.  I may be ‘one with my wife’ even when we’re separated by oceans.  Yet our experience of intimacy comes with setting aside times and places.  So it is with our experience of intimacy – the Scriptures envisage corporate fellowship with God, as we gather.

The Gathering

Acts 2:42 gives four characteristic marks of the post-Pentecost church: the Apostle’s teaching, the fellowship (koinonia), the breaking of bread and prayer.

Firstly, the Word is set forth. This is essential.  The Spirit brings us Christ through the Word since, as Calvin would say, Christ comes clothed in His promises.  There is no unmediated or self-generated approach to God.  It is of the essence of grace that God approaches us at His initiative and by His appointed means.  In the Bible, Christ is offered to us freely in words of promise.  God has ordained that ‘faith comes by hearing’ (Romans 10:17), thus the Bible must be at the absolute centre.  There ought not to be any meeting without the Word. When Luther wrote ‘Concerning the Order of Public Worship’ he advised: ‘Let everything be done so that the Word may have free course… We can spare everything except the Word.  Again we profit by nothing as much as by the Word.’

‘The fellowship’ is an objective, Spirit-created, communion to which believers are to be ‘devoted’.  This fellowship subsists in the organic union we share as the Body of Christ.  In it we are given various gifts and roles for our mutual edification and mission to the world (cf 1 Cor 12-14).  To be devoted to this involves the exercise of gifts in ministering to one another (cf Romans 12:4-8) and practical, costly service (eg 1 John 3:17-18).

‘The breaking of bread’ we take to be sacramental (hence the).  Along with the preached Word, the dispensing of the sacraments was taken by reformers as the other defining mark of a true Church.  Christ has given us Himself in this supper through ‘visible words’ (Augustine’s phrase).  Via these, we ‘feed on Christ in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving’ (Cranmer’s phrase).  This sacrament is communal by its very nature – uniting us with Christ and each other.  It ought to be a genuine high point in our gatherings though always attended by the Word, by clear teaching on its purpose, and eaten in peaceable fellowship with all (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).

Corporate prayer is an essential part of worship.  The prayer Jesus taught His disciples was corporate – ‘Our Father’.  The Spirit equips the Bride to call on her Husband ‘Come’ (Revelation 22:17).  Prayer is an activity of the Church and one that expresses our complete dependence on, and devotion to, the Lord.  Our intimacy with God could not be more evident than when the Father sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts “who calls out ‘Abba, Father’” (Galatians 4:6).  All kinds of prayers should therefore be made in our services – prayers of praise (Revelation 5:9-14), of thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:20), of confession (Nehemiah 9) and of supplication (1 Timothy 2:1ff).

Conclusion

Right worship is possible only on the basis of our intimate union with Christ, under-written by His blood and sealed by His Spirit.  Intimacy should not be held out as the goal of Christian worship but the ground.  Our experience of intimacy with the Triune God comes as we appreciate that which is already ours in Christ.

Grace, therefore, is the very atmosphere of Christian worship since Christ, our great High Priest, has already performed the perfect service to God.  Even worship is a gift that comes from on high – not a work to be generated by us. We receive the benefits of His priestly worship through faith-union with Him, and we experience, understand and deepen that union especially in corporate worship.

The Communion of Father, Son and Spirit is known most fully in the communion of His people.  This happens as the Spirit works through word and sacrament, through a communal lifting of our hearts in prayer and through mutual encouragement, to awaken us to Christ’s presence in and with us.  As we grasp and appreciate Him we know our exalted position, caught up in the intimate life of God Himself.

 

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Dali CrossContinued from here.

Christ’s Work

“But now in Christ, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)

As we speak about intimacy with God we must never forget the way into divine fellowship. Ever since humanity rejected the LORD Christ and trusted Satan instead, the way back to fellowship has been blocked by fiery judgement (Genesis 3:24).  This fallen flesh and blood cannot participate in the life of God (1 Cor 15:50).  Only ‘the Man out of the Heavens’ could ever belong in the inner circle of God’s life (1 Cor 15:15:47-49).

Yet, with infinite grace and condescension, this Man came out of the heavens.  He took the very flesh and blood of our humanity and He redeemed it.  Where we had failed, He succeeded, where we had sinned, He obeyed, where we had fled, He stood tall, where we had hated, He loved, where we had erred, He taught, where we were enslaved, He set free, where we were ashamed, He gave dignity, where we grasped at glory, He gave freely, where we clung to life, He poured it out.

On the cross, God’s Man took on Himself all the sin, guilt and shame of this fallen humanity.  He endured the divine fury at sin, passing through that fiery judgement which bars the way into God.  And now, in His glorious resurrection body, Christ, the True Man, sits at the Father’s right hand.  He is beyond death and judgement.  Our Brother is now in the inner circle of the life of God.  We, in ourselves, would be swept away by God’s righteous anger at sin.  Yet Christ is the Way to the Father and in Him, Who “quenched the wrath of hostile heaven”, we have obtained access.

Why do I recount these gospel truths? A) Because they are glorious!  B) Because sometimes people (and I’m sure I’m guilty of this too), manage to speak of  “union with Christ”  as a warm ‘n’ fuzzy truth. Often the Fatherhood of God, adoption into His family, one-ness with Jesus can be articulated without the blood and fire of the Bible’s presentation.  But we desperately need the grit and grime – the sweat and tears – of Christ’s atonement if we’re going to experience true intimacy with God.  A toothless, bloodless message about a heavenly Father-figure doesn’t connect with people who live in the midst of suffering and sin.  It can’t connect, because the only real point of connection is a Bleeding Sacrifice choking to death on a cross.  But He’s who we really need if we want intimacy with God.  Because He actually meets us in the godforsakeness of life as we know it.

If all our talk of intimacy with God is not dripping in the blood of Christ we’re just holding out “a nice idea” to people who are burdened by shame and guilt and who will never connect with our words of “divine participation” – no matter how warm or inviting we sound.  More than this, if our talk of divine intimacy is not utterly cross-shaped then people will play off “taking up our cross” against enjoying life in God. Which would be absurd – yet it happens all the time!  But no, triune glory is cruciform glory. Therefore participating in God means participating in the cross. The way to God is through Christ and Him crucified.

Christ’s Priesthood

Our Great High Priest, Jesus, does not simply bring God’s life down to us. He also offers our life up to God. He is not just God-for-us, He is also Man-for-God.  Thus, from Christ’s representative humanity (for us) there is a presentation to the Father.  This is Christ’s Priestly work – again a work done for us.

By the Spirit, Christ has made the perfect offering to the Father:

‘Christ, through the eternal Spirit… offered Himself unblemished to God.’ (Hebrews 9:14)

Christ’s worship constitutes the fullness of all acceptable worship to God.  Without participation in His perfect obedience, His perfect sacrifice and His perfect Priesthood, there is no worship worthy of the name.  To offer true sacrifice to the Father we must be in Christ.  Only then do we have a share in acceptable worship.  Yet, in Him, we are pure, spotless and holy – as acceptable as Christ Himself (Colossians 1:22).

What place does our worship have?

If Christ is our Great High Priest, where does my worship fit in?

Worship is the gracious invitation which the LORD makes to us to share in His own worshipping life.  Just as Christ is the Righteous One (for us) and yet invites us to share in His holy life, just as Christ is the Great Sufferer (for us) and yet allows us to share in His sufferings, so we, His people are to share in His worship.

Hebrews 8:2 calls Christ our Leitourgos – ‘the leader of our worship’. Calvin, following Psalm 22:22, called Christ ‘the great choirmaster’, tuning our hearts to sing the Father’s praises.  Worship is the participation in Christ’s perfect worship.  As James Torrance says,

“Whatever else our worship is, it is our liturgical amen to the worship of Christ.” 

Every act of worship or devotion that we perform is grounded in and surrounded by Christ’s prior and perfect offering.  Thus we do not worship as those attempting to gain intimacy with God, but as those who have been gifted it. And the ‘direction’ of the activity is the gracious movement of God coming to us in Christ.  Any ‘upward’ movement is that done by Christ and we participate by faith.  Thus, the focus of all worship must be on the LORD Jesus.  In other words:

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father except by me. (John 14:6)

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union-with-christContinued from here.

Participating in the Divine Nature

The God who is an eternal communion is a God who wills to share.  He does this through creation and maintains His offer in redemption.

The Father, by the Spirit, has created a love-gift through and for the Son – the creation (Col 1:16).  His desire is that the Son be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29).  The Father wants many brought into the life of God through the Son and by the Spirit (Gal 4:4-7).  This is the goal of all His creating and redeeming purposes.

As Christ says Himself:

 ‘Father, I want those You have given me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world… I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me will be in them, and that I myself may be in them.’  (John 17:24-26)

The glory of our Triune God expresses itself in His will to share His divine life with us.  The love of the Father for the Son – that which defines both God and the creation – cascades over to His people when they are united, by His Spirit, to the Son.

By our union with Christ (discussed below), we are thus adopted as sons and daughters in the same Family.  In this way, we do not simply share in a favoured status external to the LORD, we share in the Father-Son relationship which is constitutive of the divine life itself.  To know and appropriate the love of God is to participate in that which forms the very being of God.

2 Corinthians 1 tells us that God bellows an exultant YES towards His Son (v19).  The incarnate Son answers with a mighty AMEN on our behalf (v20). By the Spirit we are sealed into Jesus and find ourselves responding to God with Christ’s own AMEN (v21-22).  In the Bible, we do not simply admire the LORD from afar, we participate in His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Union with Christ

The way in to this divine participation is the Son.  As John Owen says in his classic book “Communion with God”:

‘Scripture shows us that we hold communion with the Lord Jesus in grace by a marriage relationship…  This spiritual relationship is accompanied with mutual love, and so in this fellowship with Christ we experience and enjoy all the excellent things which are in Him.’

Christ is the Bridegroom, we (the Church) are His Bride.  In this union we enjoy all His benefits as though they were ours by right.  Not least of these is His status as the Father’s beloved Son.  Therefore Christ can say to His Father, ‘the love You have for Me will be in them.’  In this way we are caught up into God.

The bible speaks of our union with Christ at different levels.  In one sense, we share in Jesus’ benefits as co-beneficiaries:

As Christ is the Son, we can be called sons (Galatians 4:4-7)

While Christ is Heir, we are co-heirs (Romans 8:17)

While Christ is the Living Stone, we are living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5)

In this way we are graciously allowed to come alongside Jesus, to be treated to His blessings on the same level.

Yet, at times, Scripture tells of a higher level of identification.  Often we are said (in the plural) to be exactly what Jesus is in the singular:

While Christ is the Seed, we are the seed (Galatians 3:16 <=>3:29)

While Christ is the Light of the world, we are the light of the world (John 8:12 <=> Matthew 5:14)

While He is the Vine, we are the branches (John 15:5)

Note that, with this last example, it is not that Christ is the root structure and we are the branches.  Rather we form part of the Vine Himself!  The Vine is One, we are others, but in this organic relationship that He creates and sustains, we become part of Him.

This leads naturally to a third category by which the bible speaks of our union.  That is, in the sense of a symbiotic relationship.

Thus, Christ is the Head, we are the Body (Colossians 1:18)

Christ is the Groom, we are the Bride (Isaiah 54:5; Ezekiel 16; Ephesians 5:21-33; Revelation 19:6-9)

When the bible speaks in these kinds of terms, we are on hallowed ground indeed.  Christ unites His Church to Himself that our union might redound to His greater glory.  As He says in John 17:10, He is glorified in us.

This is not to say that we sinners complete Christ in the sense of contributing our worth to the equation.  In ourselves we could only bring shame to Jesus.  Yet Christ redeems and cleanses a Bride and then (Eph 5:26) presents her to Himself.  In this way Christ becomes more truly who He is because of His union with us.  After all, must not the Head have a Body?  Should not the Vine have branches?  Ought not the Bridegroom to have a Bride? If He did not have a Bride, would He not have to give up the glory of being Bridegroom?  Therefore Christ is very committed to His covenant partner – His own Person and glory is bound up in the fate of His Church.

Christ takes His own marriage advice and loves Himself by loving His Bride (Eph 5:28).  Thus when the infinite powers of the Father have been committed to the Son, He employs them solely ‘for the church’. (Eph 1:22).  All divine power in heaven and earth is employed for the good of Christ’s Bride. Thus the Church has its immeasurable status both conferred by divine right but also under-girded by divine commitment even to death.  No wonder Paul can ask ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ?’  This is more than impossible.

Our union with Christ could not be closer.  The Apostle Paul can speak of our history and identity as entirely bound up in Jesus: ‘When Christ, who is your life, appears, you also will appear with Him in glory.’ (Col 3:1-4) The believer is in fact seated with Christ in the heavenly realms and has not actually appeared yet.  We are hidden with Christ in God.

In this way, we are more united to Christ than we are to ourselves.  Certainly His identity and not our own determines our standing in God’s eyes both now and in eternity.

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Last Supper # 2“Those who receive and bear the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son.  But the Son takes them up and presents them to the Father, and the Father bestows incorruptibility.  Therefore one cannot see the Word of God without the Spirit, nor can anyone approach the Father without the Son.  For the Son is the knowledge of the Father, and knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.  But the Son, in accord with the Father’s good pleasure, graciously dispenses the Spirit to those to whom the Father wills it, and as the Father wills it.” (Irenaeus of Lyon)

“Christian worship is therefore our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father.” (James Torrance)

Introduction

Participation in the life of God is cherished by some as the very goal of God’s Gospel and it’s mistrusted by others as a spurious Hellenization of the truth.  In the next few posts I will outline a biblical case for divine participation. I’ll examine the precious doctrine of union with Christ that brings us such participation, and I’ll highlight the work of Christ as Mediator, guaranteeing and grounding the free offer of this relationship.

I want to show that intimacy with God is not an optional extra for the more ‘emotional’ among us.  To ‘know’ the Father and the Son is eternal life (John 17:3).  When we understand “knowing” in the biblical sense we cannot deny that profound intimacy with God is the essence of our Christian lives. It is not a carrot to be held out for the pious, nor a bonus given in response to particularly ‘successful’ worship. Intimacy is guaranteed to the Christian in Christ.  It is therefore the indispensable starting point of the Christian life – not an optimistic goal.

The intimacy of God

Any talk of intimacy with God must begin with the intimacy that is within God.  As a community of Persons united in self-giving love, the Triune God knows worship and intimacy within Himself.  The creation does not give rise to relationship, rather relationship gives rise to the creation. In other words, the Father creates for the Son (Colossians 1:16).  Thus, worship is not the self-willed response of creature to Creator but rather an eternal dynamic within the being of God.

Before the foundation of the world the Father delighted in the Son in the bond of the Spirit. Virtually every verse regarding the pre-creation life of God describes the Father focussing His affections and purposes on the Son: (Prov 8:22-30; John 3:35; 5:20; 17:5, 24; 1 Pet 1:20; Eph 1:4-6; Col 1:15-17; Romans 8:29.)

Likewise the Son, in the power of the Spirit, commits Himself to the service of the Father: John 17:4-5; 5:17; 12:27f; 14:31; 17:24; Hebrews 10:5-7; Revelation 13:8.

The Persons of God commit to one another in a common love and purpose.  To use the technical terminology of Trinitarian theology, these inter-relations are referred to as the perichoresis of the Persons. To get a sense of the meaning of this Greek word, think of a choreographed dance around a perimeter. The Trinity is described as performing a round dance, each of the Members committing to the Others in love, service and empowerment.  The divine life is a dance of giving and receiving in joyful communion.

Now this dance is not simply something the Persons do.  It is not a part-time hobby of the Persons.  We must not think of the Persons in isolation, deciding to come together.  If we could ever conceive of a time when the Father was not committed to the Son or when the Son was not obedient to the Father we have imagined the Father not being the Father and the Son not being the Son.  We have imagined false gods.  The Persons are who they are IN the relationships that they share with one another in this dance of love.

To “see” this dance is to witness the divine being.  As Colin Gunton says, ‘the ousia – general being – of God is constituted without remainder by what the persons are to and from each other in eternal perichoresis.’

Without Trinity there is no intimacy with God. Without this give-and-take to God’s being there would be no room for us to participate. We must say this.  But we must say more than this.

Intimacy Earthed

It is not enough to say that “God is a dance” and then expect the worshipper to “link arms and join in.”  It’s not enough to say “God is an intimate community – we should follow suit.”  We can’t just say “There’s room to God, come on in.”  If we did then intimacy with God would be our doing.  And it could only ever be as solid as our own feeble hearts.

No, there’s better news than that.  God does not leave us to make our own way to the party. If He did, then our intimacy would depend on us. It would be about our ability to spiritualize our humanity up to God.  But God in Christ does something much more profound.  He incarnates His divinity into our humanity.  He earths His own intimacy into our very being and raises it back up to the highest heaven.

At Christmas, He moves down into our life. At the ascension, He sweeps us up into His life: really, substantially, eternally, irrevocably. As we’ll see in the next post – the triune God does not make participation something that’s up to us.  The triune God takes the whole intimacy thing into His own hands.  And that’s the only safe place for it to be.

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you shouldnt have[A repost from the early days of the King’s English]

On the King’s English I’ve been thinking about a triune creation.

In the beginning

Let there be light

Let us make man in our image

Be fruitful and multiply

Behold, it was very good

God rested

The Breath of Life

It’s really striking me how profligate is the triune God of grace.  The Father, Son and Spirit bubble over in love.  A unitarian god needs creation.  And all relations between such a creator and its creature are quid pro quo arrangements.  The triune God does nothing about of necessity.  It’s all about gift and free overflow.

We can genuinely say “You really didn’t have to.”  And the Lord will reply, “I know, but I wanted to.”

So my friend, whoever you are.  Know in your heart: You are entirely unnecessary.  Entirely.  Unnecessary.  You are a profligate extravagance, a superfluous addendum, a needless flourish.  The Lord, His universe, His church, His kindgom purposes could so easily do without you.  You are completely surplus to requirements.

And you say “I need to be needed!  If my children don’t need me, I’ll fall apart.  If my church doesn’t need me, I’ll crumble.  If my work doesn’t need me, who am I?”

But you don’t need to be needed.  You only think you need to be needed because you’ve forgotten you’re loved.  So let me remind you…

You are wanted.  You are desired.  And not for anything ‘you offer.’  You are surplus to requirements.  But our God doesn’t deal in requirements, He enjoys the surplus.  He delights in you.

Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.  (Eph 2:4-5)

You are entirely unnecessary, but utterly loved.

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fountainLet me think out loud for a minute.

Jesus is the Radiance of God’s Glory (Hebrews 1:3). He is not a second Light shining as brightly as the Father. And He is not simply the object of the Father’s shining. He is the Father’s Shining.

Similarly, Jesus is the eternal Word of the Father (John 1:1). He is not a second Word, as vocal as the Father. He is not simply the hearer of God’s Word. He is the Father’s communicative expression – a Voice crying out.

In other words, God is outgoing. And eternally so. The triune God flows outwards even before creation. Creation becomes the in-time expression of the Trinity’s eternal life.

But, you might ask the question, Doesn’t this make God dependent on creation? Since He shines out, perhaps creation is necessary as the thing (even the darkness) to be illuminated. Since He speaks out, perhaps creation is necessary as an audience for the Word.  Have we made creation necessary to the expression of God’s eternal nature?

Well before I attempt a half-answer to that, let’s realise that there are problems on the other side of this question. You see if the triune God is not eternally radiant then what He reveals in, through and to His creation is something different to His eternal being. If God is self-contained pre-creation then He could A) remain self-contained (and true to His eternal triune life) or B) be over-flowing (and different to His eternal triune life). But if we want a God who is truly revealed then we need a God who is always expressing Himself – an eternal Word. Once we grant this, there is good news.  For if the Father has always shone outwards in Christ then when I receive that shining I’m receiving the eternal God in His eternal nature. Jesus then truly reveals, not obscures, God.

Ok, so it’s important to hold onto the outgoing-ness of God. But how do we speak of it without making creation necessary to God?

Well Jonathan Edwards in his unpublished essay on the trinity speaks of this eternal outgoing-ness like this:

[God’s pleasure]… is a pleasure in diffusing and communicating to, rather than in receiving from, the creature.

Here Edwards is affirming the primordially gracious character of the Trinity. God is Giver. And forever has been. To the person who objects that this makes God dependent upon a recipient, Edwards makes this wonderful point:

Surely, it is no argument of [neediness] in God that he is inclined to communicate of his infinite fullness. It is no argument of the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain, that it is inclined to overflow

The Fountain of Life does not become something He’s not in creation. Rather He is truly Himself in it. Creation does not fulfil a need in God, not at all. But it does express a super-abundance. It shows us a life-giving grace to the Father which goes all the way down and all the way back.

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Mike ReevesDavid Meredith The Trinity Applauded

Mike Reeves How the Trinity Shapes the Gospel

Mike Reeves How the Trinity Shapes Evangelism

Discussion: Mike Reeves, David Meredith with Melvin Tinker

David Meredith The Trinity Applied: Church life

The discussion time is particularly worth hearing.

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Jesus baptism 10
Which Gospel has the most trinitarian opening?  John right?

Nah! Binitarian maybe ;-)

I’m going to plump for Mark. That’s right, Mark: the Gospel we take refuge in because it doesn’t rub that Trinity stuff in our faces. Yep, Mark has the most Trinitarian opening of them all:

“The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

A whole theology is contained in the name “Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.  The true Joshua – the LORD who is salvation – comes among us. He is eternally anointed with the Holy Spirit (the Christ). He is eternally Son of the Father. And His coming is good news.

Why? Because, v2-3, He is the LORD of Isaiah 40, bringing “comfort” to the exiled people of God.

And He does it, v4-8, by joining us in our uncleanness and exile – entering into our baptismal waters, so that we might enter into His baptising Spirit. The Anointed One comes to draw us into His anointing.

As He joins us in our predicament, v9-11, the Father and Spirit do not abandon Him to our fate. The Spirit publicly refills Him, the Father publicly acknowledges Him. This is not only the triune identity declared in its clearest terms – it is the triune identity declared in salvation. The Son, as He enters into our exile, does so explicitly as the Father’s Son, filled with the Spirit.  The happy Trinity is passionately committed to our salvation: the Father sending His Son in the power of the Spirit.

And that Spirit, v12-13, drives Jesus into battle for us. Christ enters our wilderness and takes on our enemy as Champion – a true David to slay Goliath.

So here is the gospel, v14-15: the Kingdom has come because here is the King!  Good news people, rethink everything, trust that God really has shown up to save, because here is His Spirit-filled Son!

From this point onwards Jesus engages every power that enslaves us: sin, sickness, Satan, a chaotic world, death. In every encounter with these forces, Jesus does not simply prove Himself superior. He proves Himself Saviour.  All these powers dominate and destroy our lives. Jesus, the Spirit-filled Son, faces off against them in our name and on our behalf. If we belong to Him, His victory becomes our victory.

No wonder Mark opens by saying “Good News!”  These are glad tidings of great joy.  But only with trinity.

Without trinity, we simply have a Lord. And if we won’t explicitly understand Him as Son of the Father, filled with the Spirit, we will seek to establish His identity in other terms.  Without trinity, ‘divine identity’ become purely a matter of might.  And, without trinity, the whole baptism thing will be a bit of a mystery. In fact we’ll be hazy on most of the first 13 verses.  We’ll gain interest again right around verse 15: A call to repent!  But since Jesus is introduced in vague terms as ‘a Lord’ we will construe that to mean “bow the knee”… or something.

And as Jesus takes on the forces of darkness in Mark’s opening chapters we might consider these to be simply displays of power. We might just think that they establish “who’s boss”.  And, again, the point will not be to reassure us that the Christ has entered the fray as our Champion, it will be to drive home the point that Jesus really is big. And we ought to… um… “bow the knee.”

But with trinity we really will repent and believe. With trinity, we really will be overawed by our Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. With trinity, the Gospel really is good news.

 

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If we get God wrong, then we’ll get our mission and our motivation wrong too.

If God is a needy Individual, mission will look a certain way.

But what if God is Father, eternally and outgoingly loving His Son by the Spirit…?

Seminar Audio

Slides

Notes

 

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Thanks so much Dave Bish for putting on Tranformission on Saturday.  We had a blast.

There is no other message that liberates – only the gospel of the Beloved Son.  May this gospel speed forth and bring life throughout the land…

Main Session 1 – Mike Reeves
Main Session 2 – Mike Reeves
Peter Mead workshop: Adoption and the Bible
Dan Hames workshop: Adoption and church history
Glen Scrivener workshop: Adoption and Evangelism (slides and notes here)

Mike’s main sessions were powerful, pastoral, mind-expanding and heart-warming as ever.

I’m very much looking forward to listening to the other workshops. Apparently I get a Gold Star for the audio quality of my sessions.  Success!  No doubt in other departments I have only a frowny face and a Must Try Harder.

Enjoy!

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I’ve begun to explore how the three truths of 321 interact with the four planks of other gospel presentations (creation, fall, cross, repentance).  Those gospel events are vital.  But the three truths of Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ are essential if we’re to understand the four events rightly.

Today we’ll think about 321 and creation….

“God made you, therefore…”

How do you want to finish that sentence?

There are many implications of God’s creative work.  But so quickly we want to speak about what it means for us.  And even when we consider what it means for God we cite implications like: God owns everything, He has certain rights, He’s the legitimate ruler of the universe and of you.  Essentially we think Creator means Creditor or Creator means King – in fact it can be hard for us to think in any terms beyond this.  “God made you, therefore you owe him” is a pretty common way of unpacking the implications of creation.  And when it comes as the first point in an evangelistic presentation, it introduces God to us in profoundly unhelpful terms.

When Athanasius was battling Arius, he identified a grievous error in the heretic’s method: Arius named God from his works and called him “Uncreated”.  He should have begun by naming God from his Son and calling him “Father.”  (Contra Arianos 1.34)  If the first thing we know about God is that he is Maker, we’ll start our gospel on the wrong foot.

For one thing, God defined as Creator becomes quite a needy deity.  He’s like the workaholic who doesn’t know who he is unless he’s at the office.  God defined as Creator needs to work.  He requires a world in order to fulfil himself.  And then creation is not so much a gift of his love as a project for his own self-interested purposes.  Instantly the God-world dynamic revolves around God’s needs and we are the ones to fulfil him.

Nicene faith, on the other hand, begins “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”  Father comes first.  Which means, before anything else, God is a Life-giver.  Because of the truth of 3, He has lived in love long before He has lived in labours.  He does not achieve His divine identity by creating, instead creation expresses His eternal fruitfulness.  He has no need of galaxies, mountain ranges, rainforests and us.  We do not fulfil Him, He fulfils us.  We do not give to Him, He gives to us.

Therefore when the Christian says “God made you, therefore…” – how should we finish that sentence?  There are a hundred things we could say, but perhaps one of the first is, “God is Giver.”  “God is generous.”  “God is immeasurably expansive in His love.”   Whatever we say we need to avoid simply equating Creator with Creditor.  The whole direction of the gospel presentation will depend on this set-up.  Are we introducing God primarily as one who takes (because He’s earned the right by making us) or as one who gives (because He’s shown His life-giving character through creation)?

I hope you’ll see that 3 is a vital truth to surround the teaching of creation.

But 2 and 1 are important too.  Because what connection is there between God, the world and you?  Why does creation matter if, essentially, the gospel is God’s plan to save souls?  What relationship is there between the fall of humanity and the physical world?  What’s the link between Christ’s resurrection and the regeneration of all things?  And what does God actually want with the world?

If the gospel’s not about creation giving to God, then how does God’s giving nature express itself in creation.  Well He gives us our lives so He can give us His life.  He gives in order to give.  He creates a world through His Son and by His Spirit, so that He can enter that world through His Son and by His Spirit.  Again the direction of travel is vital.  God doesn’t create a world below so that we can learn to make our way back up.  He pours out His love in creation so He can pour out Himself in incarnation.  Creation is intended to receive its Lord so that He commits His future to us as a Bridegroom commits himself to a bride.

Creation is not simply a truth to be affirmed and then forgotten while we deal with the spiritual problems of sin and redemption.  Instead creation is the first stage in a unified movement of God, the goal of which is the summing up of all things under the feet of the incarnate Son (Ephesians 1:10)

Therefore the truths of 2 (Adam and Christ) and 1 (union with Christ) are vital – not just for the understanding of redemption.  They earth redemption’s story in creation.  The world, summed up by our Representative Man, is the place where salvation happens.  In this Man, on that cross, in our humanity God has worked.  And in this flesh, on this earth, with these eyes I will see my Redeemer (Job 19:25-27).

…More to follow…

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A re-post

I’ve just been at a wedding and was reminded again of one of my favourite marriage verses: “He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Eph 5:28).

It’s a striking verse isn’t it?  Imagine starting a wedding sermon with it.  “Jim, on this your wedding day, I charge you before God and this congregation to love yourself.  Extravagantly and without holding back.”

That would grab people’s attention right?

But then of course course you’d go on to unpack what that meant.  It means that Jim must sacrifice himself extravagantly for his bride.  In this way – and only in this way – will Jim love “himself”.  He’ll love “himself” because now, in covenant union, he is one with his bride.  There’s no solo-Jim anymore.  The only way to find himself is to lose himself for her.  Other-love is the only proper form of self-love that’s left to him.

But it occurs to me that Paul could not have written his verse the other way around.  In covenant union it’s true that loving the other turns out to be self-love because the other belongs to me completely.  But it is not true that loving myself turns out to be loving my wife.  In fact turning my love on myself works against the covenant of self-giving love.

In the marriage covenant, you can (provocatively) call other-love “self-love”.  But only because you lose yourself in service of the other and find yourself blessed by that love.

But – here’s the point – the reverse is not true: self-love is not other-love.  “He who loves himself does not love his wife.”  It doesn’t work both ways.  Next time Emma complains that I haven’t served her, I would be a brave, brave man to respond “Honey, I’ve been loving you by surfing aimlessly and watching Peep Show repeats.”  Self-love just isn’t other-love.

Now think of God.  If you really wanted to, you might want to talk about “God loving Himself.”  But you’d only do so in that provocative sense in which you’d preach a husband’s self-love.  i.e. It should only and immediately lead to a discussion of other-centredness.  For how does a husband love himself?  He lays down his life for his wife.   How does God love Himself?  The Father commits all things into His Son’s hands.

Any talk of self-love in God must be explicitly talk about triune relations – the Father loving the Son in the Spirit.  You simply can’t talk about God loving Himself without emphatically underlining the multi-personal, other-centred nature of this God and this love.  Otherwise you make Him like the selfish husband.

In trinitarian theology there’s an old argument about your method of doing theology.  Should you “begin with the One” and then show how there are actually three Persons in this One God?  Or  should you “begin with the Three” and show how those Three are the One God?

Well I think considerations like this push us firmly in the direction of the latter.  I’d say, from the outset, we must proclaim the tri-personality of this God.  Why?  Well if you don’t, everything you say under the category of “The One God” will start to sound like the selfish husband who, from the overflow of His self-centredness, manages to love another!   Does that even make sense?

So wherever we ‘begin’, three-ness must be on the table.  (More on this here).

There is a way from Trinity to aseity.  But there is no way from aseity to Trinity.

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If you don’t make clear the Trinity in your gospel presentations, here are three consequences…

They won’t understand Jesus

Jesus simply is the Christ, the Son of God.  That’s how all the Gospels identify Him.  By definition He is anointed with the Spirit and He is Son of the Father.  Jesus is intimately related to the Father and Spirit and cannot be understood without that Trinitarian context.

If God is introduced in single-Person terms, Jesus will appear on the scene – almost by definition – simply as Prophet.  Once God has been defined without Jesus, His entrance into the explanation can only ever suggest that He’s a lesser being.

If He comes late to the presentation, he is coming to solve a problem that is not really his.  Athanasius made much of the Word who made us in the beginning, remaking us in salvation.  But modern presentations have a maker on the one hand and a different saviour.  This feeds into…

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They won’t understand the cross

Who is the One on the cross?  Is Jesus a third party punished by God?  Is God hell-bent on judgement and destruction but this other force with this other will placates Him – almost in spite of Himself?  That’s precisely how it looks when we begin our presentations unitarianly.

People need to know that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).  This is not to deny penal substitution.  On the contrary, it’s to uphold penal substitution (2 Cor 5:21).  As John Stott says in his famous chapter “The Self-Substitution of God”, we mustn’t make Christ “a third party thrust in between God and us.”

At the root of every caricature of the cross there lies a distorted Christology…  In particular, it is essential to affirm that the love, the holiness and the will of the Father are identical to the love, the holiness and the will of the Son. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. (The Cross of Christ)

The One on the cross is the One who made us.  And He is perfectly expressing the love of His Father (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10).

So many gospel presentations look like (or even explicitly say that) Christ buys off a reluctant and angry Judge, rather than Christ demonstrating the very love of God in substituting Himself for sinners.

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You’ll define God as Creator and Judge

What’s wrong with that?  you might ask.  Well God is Creator and Judge, but the creeds speak first of “Father.”  Before there was anything made, before there was anyone to judge, there was a Father.  And He was pouring life and love into His Son by the Spirit.

Foundationally God is life-giving.  Yet, functionally unitarian presentations make God out to be, foundationally, Creator and Judge.  And His status as Maker is instantly framed in terms of His demands on us.  There’s a logic that says “God made us, therefore we owe Him.”  Do you hear what happened there?  Creation ought to first make us consider the life-giving, out-going, gracious character of God.  But if its spun unitarianly we have a self-focused God who makes in order to get.  And what he wants is regularly unpacked in terms of moral effort.

In other words, it begins to sound very much like Islam.  God, by definition, lords it over us – that is what it means to be this kind of God.  And what does it mean to relate to this kind of God?  It can only mean one thing: submission.  So the gospel can only be unpacked as “bowing the knee to our Creator and Judge” and salvation is essentially avoiding being crushed by the higher power.  In such presentations they might eventually speak of knowing God as Father or of “having a relationship with God”, but the whole set-up leaves the listener extremely dubious.

There’s bags more I could say, but I’ll leave it there.  You can add more in the comments if you like.  But even if these were the only reasons to do so, they really should move us to present a trinitarian gospel…

Now if only someone would write such a thing…

i f   o n l y  .   .   .     i   f      o    n    l     y    .       .         .

#StayTuned

 

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Ok, so Christians and evangelism.  Is everyone supposed to look like this guy?

Or do we send those few nut-jobs out on the street so that we can get on with the the kumbaya’s, the marshmallows, and “building the kingdom” (insert meaning here).

Well let’s see if Trinitarian theology can help.  Worth a shot eh?

The Ultimate community-on-mission is God who is a multi-Personal union moving outwards.  Two things are important here.  First, mission is not just one of the things God does.  His ek-centric (outgoing) life is His very way of being.  Second, the Three do not take on identical roles but Each depends on the Others in order to corporately perform the work.

So now, we are swept up into mission as the Spirit unites us to the One Sent from the Father.  “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  We will also share these two characteristics.

First, mission is not just one of the things the church does.  We are sent ones commissioned by the Sent One.  We are created by mission and for mission.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  (1 Pet 2:9)

It’s not that church, from time to time, decides to act in a missionary way.  It is missionary, that is its nature.  So when we became Christians we joined an evangelistic organisation.  If we’re in the body we need to know that the body is heading somewhere.  It’s always going to the nations to disciple them.  You cannot ‘buy into’ Christ without ‘buying into’ evangelism.  The Christian’s life and being is now oriented towards this mission.  There is not ‘love’ or ‘unity’ as well as ‘mission.’  But rather there is love and unity in mission.

You can put this truth two ways – and they both need emphasis: The church is missionary when it’s being itself.  And the church is being itself when it’s being missionary.  There are acts to be embarked upon, that’s true.  But first we need to understand our being.  Being comes first.

But as we contemplate our missionary being we need to consider the importance of roles.

Later in Peter’s letter he speaks about two broad categories of gifting – speakers and servers (1 Pet 4:10ff).  And he implores them to get on with their particular giftings.

And that’s great.  It’s so unfortunate when people think of ‘evangelism’ simply in terms of the guy in the picture!  And it’s tragic when  giftings aren’t recognized and encouraged.  We want diversity and we certainly don’t want to cram people into the same moulds.  So Peter speaks of different giftings – ‘speakers’ and ‘servers’.  But let’s not imagine that he has thereby set forth completely different spheres of operation!  That wouldn’t be a very good model of the Trinity.

No, think of the diakonos kind of serving spoken of here (which most basically means table-serving, ie hospitality gifts).  And think of combining this with the speaking gifts?  What if the differently gifted church members collaborated in the missionary task – good food and hospitality and those good with words are liberally sprinkled around the place – what a powerful gospel work!

At such evangelistic dinner parties it is very true that some are performing quite different functions to others.  But they are all being thoroughly missionary.  It’s a unified diversity and it’s going somewhere – to the nations!

If we get our trinitarian styled mission communities wrong…

The Tritheist church will have the speakers heading off by themselves and the servers serving a quite different agenda.  Some churches will be missionary, others not.  Some parachurch organisations will do evangelism for the church, some will do social outreach for the church, etc, etc, but there’ll be no unity on mission.

The Arian church will laud the noble few who do the real missionary work  (i.e. street preaching etc…)  Everyone will feel inferior to the gifted few.  (But perhaps also grateful that it’s not them).

The Modalist church will forget giftings altogether and fit everyone into the same mould.  Mostly, servers will feel inferior to speakers and bring them up to speed will involve making everyone stand on a soap-box.

How do you get a healthily Athanasian church?  I dunno.  Keep teaching 1 Peter?  But what will happen when we speak and believe the gospel is that the properly trinitarian church will allow particular giftings to flourish in the service of our one missionary being.

This is an edited re-post from two years ago.  It was prompted by this and this.  And I wrote some more about this back here.

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The glory of the triune God is other-centred love.  The Father pours Himself into His Son by the Spirit (John 3:35).  The Son offers Himself up to the Father by the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14).  The intra-trinitarian life is a cross-shaped life of self-giving.

Julian of Norwich said: “When I see the cross I see the Trinity”.  This is true for many reasons, chief among them is the fact that life poured out is the essence of both.

If this is so, triune glory cannot be understood via a theology of glory.  Triune glory is understood as a theology of the cross.  When this God acts for His glory it’s not because He or His glory are self-centred.  No He is other-centred and His glory is His grace.  Yet just because this is so, when God acts for the sake of His glorious grace He is simply determining to be Giver.

From eternity the nature of the triune God has been deference and other-centred praise.  When faced by creatures – even creatures who would ignore and spurn such love – this God determines to love with an almighty ‘nevertheless’.

It’s like my friend Craig who opened the door for a feminist.  She scowled, saying “I hope you’re not opening the door because I’m a lady!”  He replied, “No, I’m opening the door because I’m a gentleman.”  He acts not for her sake but for the sake of being the other-centred gentleman he truly is.  He acts for his own glory, but his glory is self-giving service.

Put it another way, it’s like the mother who is faced by a naughty and manipulative child.  She could cave in to the tantrum or she could withdraw and ignore the child altogether.  But she condescends in love, not because the child is good (he’s not) and not because she’s weak (she’s not).  She acts in accordance with her gracious motherliness, to love the child in spite of himself and in this way to lift him from his misbehaviour.

Put it another way, it’s like the man who is struck on the right cheek by an aggressor.  By nature his instincts are fight or flight – strike back or withdraw.  But instead he stands his ground and offers his left cheek also.  He opens himself out in grace and continues the offer of relationship.  This is God-like glory.   (More on cheek turning herehere and here).

Put it another way, it’s like Christ crucified.  He might have remained in heaven or merely sent us to hell.  Instead He acted for the sake of His glory.  He absorbed our blow and rather than retaliate He offered reconciling love.

The cross was the triune love laid bare.  And this is not simply because the Persons demonstrated how much they love each other.  More than this, they demonstrate how the glory of grace encounters what is outside this love.  In costly sacrifice the triune glory suffers what is outside in order to draw it in.

The triune glory is cruciform glory.

Among other things, this means that the mystical and the ethical elements of the New Testament are profoundly related.  Think of verses about participation in the triune God – adoption, union with Christ, filling with the Spirit.  Now think of verses regarding bearing our cross and following Christ’s way of sacrifice.  It’s so common to think of these as very different teachings.  On the one hand we imagine warm fuzzy mystical feelings, on the other it’s about the blood, sweat and tears of discipleship.  But no, essentially it’s the same thing.  Participation in God is participation in this life of self-emptying love.  That’s not the costly draw-back to life with God – that’s the very way of life.  Eternal life has always had a shape to it – arms-wide sacrifice.  When Jesus calls us to Himself He can do nothing else but invite us into His life.  Again, this is not an unfortunate counter-balance to the groovy-vibes of life in Christ.  This is life in Christ – it’s the glorious true life of loving service.

The glory of the cross lived out is the glory of the triune God applied.  Because the triune glory is the cruciform glory.

It’s a wonderful thing to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  And its daily application is the privilege of taking up our cross and following Christ (Mark 8:34).  That’s the life. That’s God’s eternal life, and we’re invited.

…Based on an earlier post from 2010…

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Behold My Son!

Here is Bert le Clos, the proud father of South African swimmer Chad le Clos (best version here).  After Chad’s gold, Bert was interviewed and could not contain himself:

“Unbelievable!  Unbelievable!  Unbelievable!  Look at him, he’s beautiful, I love you!”

Sounds just like the Father’s love for Jesus: “Behold my Servant whom I uphold, my Chosen One in whom is all my delight.” (Isaiah 42:1).

Eternity has been filled with the love of Father for Son.  That is the life of God, the life of heaven.  But then, something truly astonishing: heaven comes to earth in the Person of Jesus and as He prays in John 17 about His people, He says:

“Let the world know that you… have loved them even as you have loved me.  24 Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world… the love you have for me [will] be in themand… I myself [will] be in them.”  (John 17:23-26)

Believers in Jesus come in on this family affair – included in the glorious and overflowing love of the Father for His Son.  No wonder Bert le Clos said he felt like “he’d gone to heaven.”  He’s given us a snapshot of it – a heaven we enjoy now through Jesus.

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A Jubilee Sermon (on Trinity Sunday)
An alternative Trinity Sermon here 

“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”

So said Princess Elizabeth to the whole British Empire on her 21st birthday.  The year was 1947.  And as we look back on her 60 years as Queen, who can deny that her long reign has been devoted to “service.”

What an incredible marker for a monarch!  Not power, or wealth, or prestige, but “service.”

The Queen is not simply Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth, the Fount of Justice, Head of the Armed Forces, the Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.  She is also patron of over 600 organisations and charities.

And, routinely, Queen Elizabeth II is referred to as this country’s greatest public servant.  A sovereign who serves.  What’s her motivation?

She has told us.  In her Christmas message of 2000 she said this:

For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.

The Queen is following the example of Christ: the ultimate Sovereign who serves.  And this evening I just want to think about that remarkable combination of sovereignty and service.  Because there’s a reason we respond so positively to Sovereign Service.  When our Rulers are servants they show us something very profound.

Today is not only the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.  In the Church Calendar it’s also Trinity Sunday.  Today, ministers all over the world attempt to put words to the truth that our one God is Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Trinity is the truth that God is a unity of three – a tri-unity – a Trinity.

But perhaps you’re thinking, what on earth does the doctrine of the Trinity have to do with our Jubilee Celebrations?  Actually Trinity Sunday and the Queen’s Jubilee truly belong together.  Because with both we are dealing with that wonderful combination of sovereignty and service.  Let me explain…

John’s Gospel begins with these famous words:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

If we were in any doubt about who the “Word” is, our song has just told us.  Jesus is the Word of God the Father from before the world began.

So John introduces his biography of Jesus by affirming that Jesus did not merely found a religion, He founded the universe.  Jesus, “the Word”, existed before the world began, with God His Father and with the Holy Spirit.  So John gives us a picture of “the beginning” that is unlike any the world has imagined.

The world’s creation myths are full of conflict, killing and chaos.  They speak of wars in heaven, or cosmic storms.  Powers collide and the universe is the debris.  But John casts a very different vision.  In the beginning, there was love.

That’s the doctrine of the Trinity in a nutshell: “In the beginning there was love.”  Because in the beginning there was the loving relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Before there were people or planets or protons, there was love.  Love is the one thing God didn’t need to create because God is love.  The Father has always loved His eternal Son in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

And so at this Jubilee Celebration we remember that the Sovereign of Sovereigns is not a heavenly Tyrant – a distant individual, ruling in splendid isolation.  Before there was anything to rule, the Father, Son and Spirit related.  Their life is a life of caring, sharing, give and take, back and forth.  Before God’s life was a life of sovereignty over the creation, God’s life was a life of service among the Persons.  The Father pours His love and life into the Son in the power of the Spirit.  The Son offers up His love and life in the power of the Spirit.  The very essence of our Sovereign IS service.  God’s life is a life of mutual self-giving.

We have a saying don’t we: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Well apparently not.  Apparently the absolute power in this world is not a corrupt Dictator, but a loving Family in which service is supreme.  Do you start to see why Trinity Sunday and the Jubilee belong together?

Because of Trinity, no wonder we’re so attracted to the Queen’s humble example.  The servant-heart of the sovereign is a glimpse of something holy.  Because of Trinity: sovereignty and service belong together.

Now imagine if this were not the case.  Imagine if God were just a solitary individual. Think of him there “in the beginning”, with no-one and nothing besides him, just his own thoughts for company.  Such a god could not be a god of service.  There’s no-one and nothing for this god to serve.  There’s no caring or sharing.  This god would be defined by supremacy, not by love.

But not with Trinity.  With Trinity: service IS supreme.  With Trinity: self-giving is ultimate reality.  With Trinity: God is love.

And this love was too good to keep to themselves.  In John 1 verse 3, we see that the God of love wanted to share.  John writes:

Through the Word all things were made.

This is where we’ve come from.  From the overflowing life of the Father, through the Word – the Lord Jesus – in the power of the Spirit, the world was born.  It was as if the Father, Son and Spirit had said “This thing is too good to keep to ourselves.”  And so a world is made, that we might share in their love.

What’s the meaning of life?  It seems like such a bold question, but Trinity Sunday has the answer.  Trinity Sunday tells you: “God is love and you’re invited.”  The meaning of our lives is to be drawn into the love which both predated and produced the universe.  The meaning of life is to come home to the ultimate Royal Family.

Some of you, I’m sure have met the Queen.  Some of you have been honoured by the Queen.  One of her titles is “The Fount of Honours”.   For one thing, she writes to those who make it to 100 and to 105.  She also congratulates subjects on their diamond wedding anniversaries, as well as 65th and 70th anniversaries.  I won’t ask any of you if you’ve been so honoured.  But I can only imagine how proud a person must feel to appear on the New Years Honours List or the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Yet however wonderful that is, there’s something much greater.  The Queen can bestow honours on you, she can even make you a Lord or a Baron or a Knight.  But she can’t make you her child.  She can’t give you her inheritance.  She won’t adopt you into her family and take you home to the Palace.  That’s not how it works.

But with Jesus, there’s an honour that is out of this world.  He can and He does invite us home.  This is the meaning of our lives – not simply to be honoured by Jesus but to be adopted by Him INTO His loving Family life.

John chapter 1 verse 10 says this:

10 Christ was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-

The Son of God offers Himself to us.  All who receive Him are invited into His life.  We receive His Father as our Father and His Spirit as our Spirit.  God is love and Jesus invites us INTO the God of love.

Did you think Trinity was a dry, academic doctrine?  Did you think it was a tortuous logical problem? Did you think it was something impossible to understand?  No.  Trinity is the good news that God is love; that the ultimate sovereignty is self-giving service; and that we exist to find our place in their love.

Do you know how it happens?  It happens through the meekness of the Monarch.

Famously, John chapter 1 verse 14 says:

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, we have seen His glory, the glory of the only begotten Son who came from the Father full of grace and truth.

How do we enter into Christ’s life?  He entered into ours.  The Word became flesh.  Our Maker became a man.  A member of the Trinity became a member of the human race.

It’s the ultimate riches to rags story.  We all know the fairytales of Princes becoming paupers.  Well the myth is a reality.  The true Monarch did empty Himself.  As Philippians chapter 2 says “Christ Jesus made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!”

We love to hear stories of Royals who climb down off their thrones.  Apparently on V-E Day, Elizabeth and Margaret escaped out into the celebrations in London.  They wandered around anonymously, enjoying the moment along with the rest of the people.  The Queen still likes to get out anonymously – sometimes visiting a West End show with Prince Philip.  Only rarely are they spotted.

We like to hear about our Royals moving among us as commoners.  But what about the ultimate Royal becoming the ultimate commoner.  Incredible!

From heaven to earth, and not just to earth, He became a single cell in Mary’s womb.  And then a wriggling baby on the straw.  And then a defenceless refugee, on the run from Herod.  And then a builder’s labourer.  And then a penniless preacher.  A homeless dissident.  A stooping servant.  Yet He descends even further to be a victim of cruelty and injustice.  And finally a human sacrifice – dying a godforsaken death on the cross.  Never has anyone so Mighty become so meek.  Here is our Ultimate Sovereign – the ultimate Servant.

And because this is Trinity Sunday we see the true nature of Christ’s sacrifice.  Trinity Sunday tells us: Jesus is not just an example of human service.  He is God the Son.  He is our Maker.  His arms outstretched to the world are God’s arms – and they are opened for you.

What does Majesty look like?  When we think Majesty, we think Palaces and Crowns and Thrones.  Christ traded His palace for a manger.  His crown was made of thorns.  His throne was His cross.  The Great Prince became a Pauper.  More than a Pauper – a Bleeding Sacrifice.  And He did it for you.

For almost 2000 years the church has used a simple phrase to describe the Christian message.  It just says this: He became what we are, so that we might become what He is.

He – the Son of God – became flesh.  He entered into our predicament with all our sufferings and sins.  But He didn’t flinch.  He entered in and became what we are.  Why did He do it?  So that we might become what He is – a child of God.  The Son of God became human so that we humans can become children of God.

These are the Royal Honours that Jesus wants to bestow.  He is the true ‘Fount of Honours’ and He can bring you in to the ultimate Royal Family.

But His invitation requires a response.  It means a reality check for each of us.  We must realize that we live in a broken world with broken hearts and broken lives.  We need to acknowledge that our lives, naturally, are estranged from God’s Family.  That we need the forgiveness which Christ offers through His death.  We need Jesus in order to be reconnected to the love of God.  Do you recognize that need?

It’s something the Queen articulated so beautifully last Christmas.  Her televised message was, surely, the greatest Christmas sermon preached that day.  Perhaps you heard it.  She spoke of our need for Jesus – our need for forgiveness.  She said this:

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.

God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:

O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin
And enter in.
Be born in us today.

It is my prayer that on this [Christmas] day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

What a preacher our Queen is!  Do you have room in your life for the love of God through Christ our Lord?  He is offered to you, to forgive all your sins, to reconnect you to the Father, to give you His Spirit, to adopt you into the life and love of God.

The Ultimate Sovereign became the Ultimate Servant for you.  Our Queen trusts Him as her Saviour.  Do you?

John writes:

To all who receive Jesus, to those who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God.  (John 1:12)

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