Monday, May 21, 2012

Do Christians Worship Three Gods? Part 2

Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves.” [John 14:8-11][NET]

In this way Jesus responded to Philip’s request for Jesus to show them the Father that they could be content. Jesus equates Himself with the Father; yet Jesus is the Son.  Therefore, through this response to Philip, Jesus reveals the mystery of the Trinity to us.

As I explained last time, all we can understand about God is what He has revealed about Himself.  This revelation has come to us by His Word that took on flesh and dwelled among us--Jesus the Christ—God’s Son—and through the written word—the Holy Scripture—the Bible.

Is the above encounter with Philip the only time Jesus equated Himself with the Father, and therefore reveals the Trinity?  The answer is no.  We will examine several scenarios to support this.

Probably the main reason the Jewish leaders sought to kill Jesus was Jesus’ mostly veiled claims of His oneness with God.  For example, consider the account of Jesus healing the paralytic:

Just then some men showed up, carrying a paralyzed man on a stretcher. They were trying to bring him in and place him before Jesus. But since they found no way to carry him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down on the stretcher through the roof tiles right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Then the experts in the law and the Pharisees began to think to themselves, “Who is this man who is uttering blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their hostile thoughts, he said to them, “Why are you raising objections within yourselves?  Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralyzed man – “I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher and go home.” Immediately he stood up before them, picked up the stretcher he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God.  [Luke 5:18-25][NET]

Jesus forgives the paralyzed man’s sins, something only God can do; the Pharisees were quite correct in their understanding of this.  For this reason the Pharisees cried foul in the most serious manner possible: “He blasphemes!”  Of course, any yahoo could come along and pronounce anyone forgiven; who would ever know if it was true or not?  Jesus addresses this by asking, “Which is easier, to say….”  Jesus’ claim of bearing the authority of God Himself, which I submit is tantamount to asserting Jesus’ divinity, was validated by the miracle He did.  Can you now see Philip nodding at the response of Jesus we started with? We should be nodding, too.  This situation should also tell us that Jesus is no mere prophet (more on this later).

It’s too important to miss, so I must digress for a wee moment and point out that the Father, by His son, through the power of the Holy Spirit was bringing about restoration—yes, re-creation—in the account of the paralytic.  You see, the forgiveness and healing, such as given the paralytic, that came through Christ weren’t parlor tricks, but real acts of justice in Love; because of His great love for us, and in the power of that Love, God brings order out of chaos, life back from death, and light into darkness.  He accomplishes this in part by His forgiveness and His healing balm made available through the faithfulness of His son.  And this would not be possible if Jesus were not perfectly God.

During the long confrontation between Jesus and some Jews who believed Jesus to be the Messiah but didn’t understand what that meant beyond political aspirations, Jesus would make a startling claim.  Let’s listen in….

Then the Judeans responded, “Now we know you’re possessed by a demon! Both Abraham and the prophets died, and yet you say, ‘If anyone obeys my teaching, he will never experience death.’ You aren’t greater than our father Abraham who died, are you? And the prophets died too! Who do you claim to be?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worthless. The one who glorifies me is my Father, about whom you people say, ‘He is our God.’ Yet you do not know him, but I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him, and I obey his teaching. Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Judeans replied, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” Then they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out from the temple area. [John 8: 52-59][NET]

Jesus, by calling Himself, I AM, equates Himself with God.  The Messiah (i.e., Christ) was never to be simply a human being set up by God to free Israel politically, but God, Himself, come in the flesh, to bring His eternal kingdom to all who acknowledge Jesus as King and follow Him by faith.  This was a huge stumbling block for the Jews.  Sadly, it remains a stumbling block for some Jews and non-Jews—even those professing religion.

In the account of the paralytic (above), Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man.  Indeed, the two most common terms spoken by Jesus the Christ during His ministry on earth were the Kingdom of God and the Son of Man.  One might think by the latter title Jesus meant His humanity.  In fact, Jesus is perfect Man.  But the name Son of Man refers to more than His humanity; it speaks to the fact of Jesus’ Divinity.  The name comes from the prophecy of the Messiah given to Daniel, and recorded in the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel in the Old Testament:

I was watching in the night visions, “And with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching. He went up to the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed.” [Daniel 7: 13,14][NET]

Only God deserves the worship afforded the Son of Man, here.  By referring to Himself as the Son of Man, Jesus again asserts the fact of the distinction with inseparable union of the Father and Son of the Trinity—God who took on flesh to save His world.

Okay, perhaps we can concede from all the discussion thus far that Jesus reveals the binitarian relationship of the Father and Son within the Godhead—that is, each person—Father and Son—is fully God, and one God.  But does Jesus ever reveal the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity?

Jesus’ clearest declaration of the Trinity is found in His great commission to His disciples:

Then Jesus came up and said to them,All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28: 18-20][NET]

In the Gospel of John 14: 15-31, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit and the purpose of His coming.  We can infer the Holy Spirit as a person from Jesus’ description; but we must look elsewhere for confirmation of this (more on this next week).

During another event where Jesus had cast out a demon, the Pharisee observers accused Jesus of doing this by the power of Satan.  Jesus’ response to them implies the perfect Trinity indwelling Christ:

Now when Jesus realized what they were thinking, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and no town or house divided against itself will stand. So if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you. How else can someone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can thoroughly plunder the house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. For this reason I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. [Matthew 12: 25-32][NET]

Now, scads of things can be learned from this account, but I would have us make three observations about the Holy Spirit: 1) He is equated with God because He is doing work only God can do, and receiving honor only due God (note also, the binding of Satan—the rendering him powerless—by the work of the Holy Spirit in casting out demons is all part and parcel of the justice I spoke of earlier in terms of forgiveness and healing, expressed here by Jesus holistically as God's kingdom purpose: “then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you.”); 2)  The Holy Spirit is seen as a separate person of the Trinity of the Son and the Father by the role the Holy Spirit takes in the overall redemption process; indeed, the church Fathers used the roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in creation and in salvation as one way of understanding the idea of persons (we’ll explore this more next week); and 3) it is by the agency of the Holy Spirit that Jesus casts out the demons.

The last point deserves a bit more explanation before finishing this post.  As I said earlier, Jesus is no mere prophet.  Other prophets did miraculous things, but only because God gave them the Holy Spirit temporarily to do them—that is, the Holy Spirit had been measured out to them.  But Jesus is perfect God.  John said,

For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he does not give the Spirit sparingly. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things under his authority. The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him. [John 3: 34,35][NET]

By “does not give the Spirit sparingly” John means, unlike a mere prophet, Christ has the Holy Spirit without measure.  We see this graphically illustrated when the woman who had been suffering from bleeding touched Jesus' cloak without Him seeing her, and power went out from him and healed her on the spot (see Mark 5: 25-34).

Therefore, it is God who touched the blind man’s eyes with Jesus’ hand and caused the man to see; God did it: the person of the Father willed it, the person of the Son spoke it, the person of the Holy Spirit effected it—God did it.  The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each fully God, and one God, took on flesh and dwelled among us as Jesus the Christ His one and only unique son.  And Jesus has revealed this to us by both His words and His miracles.

Reeling?  Join the club.  While we can never explain the Trinity, we can certainly appreciate it, and therefore fully trust God who loves us dearly.

Next week we will see if Scripture reveals the Trinity.  In the meantime, rest up.