John 8:48-59: Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity

Trinity LatinThe Trinity is all over the Scriptures.  In the first book of the Bible, Genesis describes God the Father speaking the Word as the Spirit hovered over the waters of the deep.  In the last book of the Bible, Revelation describes the Lamb, Jesus, who was slain but now alive.  He sits enthroned at the right hand of the Father, and the Spirit flows like a river of life from the Father and the Son.

In Deuteronomy 6:4, Moses tells the people of Israel: The Lord, Yahweh, is one.  Yahweh is the personal name of God, which comes from “He is.”  God is, He always was, and this God is one.  Hidden, however, is Moses’ statement of God’s unity is the plurality to God.  For Moses next says: Yahweh is God, Elohim.  Elohim is a plural noun.  So, God is a unity, one, but He is also a plurality.  He’s both.

Today’s Gospel reading tells of people who confronted Jesus about being God’s Son.  How can He be God’s Son when He’s a human right in front of us?  No human can be God!  So they stack one insult on top of the other.  “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”  You would have to search long and hard to find a worse put-down for a Jew.  Not only are You demon-possessed, but You’re a Samaritan!

What if I told you, “God is my actual Father”?  What would you be thinking?  How to slink away from this crazy man?   If you were to speak your thoughts, you would tell me to seek some psychological counseling.  You can’t blame the Jews for doubting Jesus.  He was a carpenter from Nazareth, who claimed—not only to be the Messiah—but even claimed God as His father.  Jesus said the Father sent Him and gave Him a glory far surpassing that of Abraham, Moses, or the other prophets.

From there, the craziness just increased even more.  Jesus claims Father Abraham rejoiced when He came to be the Savior of the world.  Jesus acts like they have seen each other.  Jesus acts like He and Abraham call each other by their first names.  Are you beginning to sense just how crazy Jesus sounded to the average Jew?

But Jesus isn’t done.  He now drops the theological bunker-busting bomb.  He hides behind no pleasantries: “Before Abraham was, I am.”  Jesus isn’t claiming to be older than Abraham.  He is using the name of God and applying it to Himself.  Remember, God’s personal name Yahweh means “He Is.” Jesus now calls Himself “I Am,” which was the name God told Moses when He spoke to him in the burning bush.

The Jews understood what Jesus said.  They did not mistake what He said.  They, at once, took up stones to throw at Him, for He claimed to be the human incarnation of “I Am.”  To them, this was not only the epitome of absurdity but even heresy.

Stones ready to harm and injure were now poised to become their projectiles.  A killing bloodlust overtook their emotions when Jesus called Himself the Son of God.  God doesn’t become flesh and tabernacle among us!  They wanted God to be “out there,” in heaven, powerful—but distant and remote.

Such a faraway God doesn’t save us from sin and rescue us from death.  For we aren’t holy enough come to Him.  God must come to us, becoming one of us.  He even needs to place Himself under His Law in obedience, even to death.  Why?  So He can receive what we deserve because of our sin.  But He also needs to rise from death and ascend in glory so, in Him, God may glorify us, as well.

The teaching of the Trinity centers on Jesus.  For when Jesus becomes incarnate, the truth of the Trinity now stares us in the face, demanding us to believe in such a God.  The Son of God shows His face to the world, dies on a cross, and rises from the dead, becoming the Father’s incarnation of love.  Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father, showing the unity of God in action lived out in the life of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus’ incarnation forced us to speak of God in mind-stretching and mind-bending ways.  God taking on human form keeps us from conjuring up a simpler God we could handle.  The god of Islam is such a god—the unity stripped of its trinity.  If Jesus never commanded the Apostles to baptize “in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” if He never said His name was “I Am,” we would all have an easy-to-explain God.

Luther told others he knew no other God than the one who nurses at the virgin’s breast and who hangs dead on the cross, bearing the world’s sin.  God comes to us in the eternal Son.  We know God in knowing Jesus.  We can know no other God but this Jesus.  He is the one who suffers, dies, and rises, and sends His Spirit, who brings us to the Father.

The Jews were fine with, “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”  They took the unity of God to cancel the plurality of God, Elohim.  One truth doesn’t override the other; they both stand, proclaiming the nature of God.  Where God referred to Himself as a “we,” they could do their theological backflips to explain how “we” didn’t mean “we.”  They had pat answers to support why a triple blessing from God in Numbers 6 had no connection to the plurality of God.  For them, the three repetitions of “Holy, holy, holy” in Isaiah 6 only highlighted God’s holiness, not testify to His triune nature.

For them, all is well until God confirms Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God by raising Him from the dead.  The entire elaborate scheme they had invented to explain God collapses.  Yes, the Lord is one, but He is also three.

The Father and Jesus aren’t the same: He is the eternal Son sent by the Father in love to save the world.  Jesus prays to the Father as a distinct Person and yet confesses, “The Father and I are one.”  Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father, and the Father sends the Spirit in His name.

You can ignore everything Jesus said as a crazy lunatic, except for this: He died and rose from the dead, leaving an open, empty tomb and load of eyewitnesses!  He predicted His death and resurrection at least three times before it happened.  If someone can pull that off, we need to stop our mouths and listen to Him.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—undivided, uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty—one God, one Lord in three distinct Persons.  Sometimes, we parcel out the works of God among the Persons.  The Father creates, the Son redeems, the Spirit sanctifies.  Everything is now more neat and tidy.

Scripture, however, won’t let us confine out thinking in such ways.  Oh, those descriptions are true—but also incomplete.  God is Creator, but so is the Son.  Jesus was busy in the beginning when God—Father, Son, and Spirit—made the heavens and the earth.  The Spirit moved over the waters.  Where we find one of the Persons, we find them all.  What one of them does, they all do together, each according to His Person.

Jesus is our Redeemer, who saves us from sin and death.  So also is the Father and the Spirit.  In love, the Father sends the Son to become Man for our salvation.  With the Son also comes the Spirit, who descended on Jesus at His baptism, marking Him as the One with the Spirit without measure.

Jesus releases the Spirit at His death, completing His work of redemption.  After rising from the dead, Jesus breathes out His Spirit, first on the Apostles and then on His entire Church.  Where we find one of the Persons, we find them all.  What one of them does, they all do together, each according to His Person.

Sanctification is to be made holy.  The Holy Spirit does this, but so does the Father and the Son.  The Spirit delivers the cross-purchased gifts of our life and salvation from the Son to us by the word of Baptism, the preached Gospel, and the Supper of the Son’s Body and Blood.

The Spirit calls us to faith, enlightens us with His gifts, and makes us holy with the holiness of Christ.  The Spirit brings us into the Church, the body of Christ, which places us under the reign of the Son.  The Son leads us to the Father, presenting us clothed in His spotless holiness.  Where we find one of the Persons, we find them all.  What one of them does, they all do together, each according to His Person.

In baptism, the connectedness of God being three in one and one in three come together.  We are baptized into the Name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We live, move, and have our being within this Tri-unity, worshipping the Father in the Spirit and the Truth, who is Jesus.  God is our Father, Jesus is our brother, and the Spirit is our Advocate and Guide.  The Father loves us in His Son, who bears our humanity, and the Spirit brings us into this Tri-unity.

Jesus said, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing.”  Self-glory is an empty glorification, a narcissistic vanity.  God doesn’t work that way.  The Father glorifies the Son.  The Son glorifies us in His death and resurrection by the Spirit, whom He breathes over us, and into us, in our Baptism.  Trusting that the Triune God is merciful and gracious to us because of Jesus, we then worship the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity.

All praise to the Holy Trinity and the Undivided Unity.  All praise to God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—one God in three Persons, now and forever.  Amen.