Friday, February 27, 2009

Trinity Series - small group notes # 6

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
God the Son, Week of February 15, 2009

Ø Almost all of the teaching in the New Testament tells us that we are to pray to the Father (Luke 11:1-4; Colossians 1:3; Ephesians 3:14). The Son’s role is to mediate (argue for us in the face of Satan’s accusations) for us before the Father (Romans 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25). The Spirit’s role is to help us to pray and “translate” our prayers for us so that they are in line with God’s will (Romans 8:26-27; Ephesians 6:18). Is it appropriate to pray to the Son?

Read all the passages. Each member of the Trinity has His particular role in our prayer lives. There is no command to pray to Jesus (beyond the gospels when He encouraged His followers to bring their requests to Him) in the New Testament, but we can infer that Paul communed with Jesus in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 (The “Lord” in vv 8-9 was almost certainly referring to Jesus, as vv 9-10 would indicate). Also, for Paul to “know” Jesus at the level he expressed in Philippians 3:10, it is almost certain that interpersonal communion was required – more about that in another question.

Ø Jesus was 100% God and 100% man. He was tempted just as we are. Was it possible for Jesus to sin? Armenian theologians usually say, “Yes, because otherwise the temptation was invalid,” while Reformed theologians say, “No, He was God.” I say “No” but this question is probably one of the least useful and fruitless theological questions about Jesus’ humanity. The outcome is ultimately the same – Jesus was tempted and yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:14-16). While the aforementioned theological debate renders little that is good, the fact of Jesus did not sin, though He was tempted just as surely as we are is a wonderful encouragement to us! How does this knowledge help you in your Christian life?

God has always understood our weaknesses (Psalm 103:13-14), but the emphasis in the book of Hebrews is that now WE know that He understands. In Hebrews 4:16, both God’s mercy, in forgiveness, and grace, in help for overcoming temptation, are available.

Ø In Philippians 3:10, the Apostle Paul expressed a desire to “know” Jesus. He had followed Christ for some 20-25 years by this point. Clearly He meant that he wanted to know Jesus more intimately than he already did. No doubt, this required interpersonal communication with the Son, which thus speaks to the question about prayer to the Son. Consider the depth of Paul’s desire as evidenced by the rest of this verse and discuss how we can follow Paul’s example to know Jesus more intimately than we do now.

It would be good to read Philippians 3:7-14 for context. Paul had come to the end of himself in his attempts to become acceptable to God and had put all of his hopes in Jesus (vv 7-9). He so badly wanted to know Jesus more intimately than he already did that he was willing to suffer and to put his own desires to death every day. In this way, Paul would know the power of the resurrection, but it would only be a by-product of knowing Jesus.

How do we get to know Jesus better? The same way we get to know others better – we talk, we listen (prayer, Word and Spirit). In our early walk with the Lord, we tend to imitate the actions, words, and responses of Jesus. As we grow in Jesus, we tend to become more like Him – because we know Him. For instance, when confronted with a situation that requires a thoughtful response, a young Christian would say, “What would Jesus do?” A more mature believer would know what Jesus would do – because, He knows Jesus!

One last thought. We grow to know Jesus as the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see Him in God’s Word. A low view of Scripture (questioning miracles, questioning the accuracy of historical accounts given in Scripture, its contemporary relevance, etc.) will inevitably lead to a low view of Jesus, no matter how clever the objection to such a charge might sound. The ONLY way to know Jesus more intimately is to spend more time with Him in the Word.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon #5

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
God the Son – Jesus!
Colossians 1:3-23

Would you like to be famous? No, really. Would you like to walk into a strange place and a number of people walk up to you and say, “Excuse me, aren’t you so and so? I just love the way you do that thing you do!” I am not talking about Tiger Woods famous or Brittany Spears famous, but famous enough. Well, I hope you wouldn't want to be Brittany Spears famous!

Whether you say you would like to be famous or not, we are teaching our children that fame is something to be highly prized. And, if you can’t be famous, maybe at least you can know and be known by someone famous. I heard Jake Halpern being interviewed this week about America’s shift in its worship of God to worship of celebrity. You know old Jake, don’t you? In 2007 he wrote Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America’s Favorite Addiction.

Halpern conducted a survey of high school students in three different schools that were representative of American students across the country. The students were asked, “Which profession would you choose if you could be any of the following: A) CEO of a Fortune 500 company; B) President of Harvard or Yale; C) Navy Seal; D) Assistant to a star; or, E) US Senator. Can you guess which choice was the most popular? You guessed correctly – assistant to a star. The choice was not even to be a star, but to carry the star’s water. Girls in particular picked this option, choosing 2 to 1 over being a US Senator, 3 to 1 over being President of Harvard or Yale, and 4 to 1 over being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

In the same interview, Halpern referred to an ongoing survey among American teenagers called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory in which students are asked if they think they are important. In the 1950’s, 12% said “yes.” By the late 1980’s, 80% said yes. Halpern went on to say that while it is a good thing for teenagers to think they are important, perhaps we have overshot the mark and have caused our children to move from self-esteem to narcissism.

In a society made up of individuals increasingly looking for their place in the son, their 15 minutes of fame – no, scratch that – whatever time they have left of fame – there is little room for an exalted Savior. Oh, lip service may be paid to Jesus, but does He really have the place of priority, even in the church? He certainly has the exalted status in all of the Creation that really knows the deal, such as in the spirit world, and one day we are told that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

This morning we are going to read from Colossians 1 where we are told that Jesus is preeminent in the universe, the famous one. Just before we read, would you ask the Lord to take away your desire to be famous and put in your heart a desire for Jesus to be famous in your heart? We are going to read verses 3-23 of Colossians 1, but our focus will be on the last half of this passage. Last week we learned of God the Father’s place of authority in the Godhead, and today as we read you will notice many of the truths we learned about God the Father last week, but you will also see the Father’s plan to exalt His Son, Jesus, and to make Him famous in all creation. Would you please stand as we read God’s Word together?

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,
5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,
6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,
7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved follow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf
8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,
12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
16 For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him.
17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
18 And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.
19 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
22 He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him,
23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

How many Sundays do you think we could spend talking about Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity? Let me rephrase that – how many years do you think that we could spend talking about Jesus? No telling! So, how can we possibly say all that needs to be said on one Sunday morning? We can’t. We are going to let today’s text be our primary guide, though such a vast subject requires an additional passage or two. We will be concentrating on three different facets of this wonderful one we call God, the Son. I think you will find that these are all important areas for us to consider, though if you are thinking deeply about this series on the Trinity – and, I hope you are – you will no doubt wonder why I did not cover a particular aspect that you were wanting to think about at a higher level. It will help if you consider this message in context of all of the messages thus far in this series. For this morning’s content, I can only apologize and claim limited time. But, enough talk about how little time there is! The first aspect of Jesus that we want to consider this morning is His nature:

I. Jesus – 100% God, 100% man (vv 15, 17, 19)

You will recall several weeks ago when we talked about why it is so important to be precise in our definitions of the Trinity that many people could never accept Jesus’ full divinity and full humanity in the same person. How is it possible to be 100% God and 100% man at the same time? It just isn’t logical? The first answer to such a dilemma is that it doesn’t have to be logical – God is so much higher than we and what is impossible in our realm is not so with God. Nothing, in fact, is impossible with God. But, Scripture gives us more than enough information to enable us to form our beliefs.

Our text in Colossians speaks mostly to Jesus’ divinity. Verse 15 tells us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. It was understood in the Old Testament that to see the face of God was to die. Even though we are told that Moses spoke with the Lord face to face, we understand that to be symbolic, not literal. In fact, when Moses asked the Lord to show him His glory, God told Moses that it would be impossible to see His face and live. So, what does God look like?

Well, Ezekiel had a vision of God that he recorded in the first chapter of his book. There was somewhat of a shape of a human, but the vision was very murky and Ezekiel fell on his face in the presence of the glory of the Lord. John had a similar vision in Revelation 4 of God the Father. Again, the image was murky and distance between the Father and John was all too evident. Isaiah’s vision of God recorded in the sixth chapter of his book was also a terrifying experience. The difference in Isaiah’s vision and the other two was that John 12 tells us Isaiah saw Jesus, not God the Father.

And yet, Jesus came to earth and lived here as one of us. He was the image of the invisible God (v15), which means He was an exact representation of God, but in a form – human, to be exact – that made God accessible to us. Now, we can see God.

Colossians 3:17 tells us that Jesus is before all things. In other words, He is coeternal with the Father. He has always existed. Verse 19 informs us that He embodies all the fullness of God – not partial deity, as some of the heresies we have talked about purport, but all of God is in Jesus. Indeed, you will recall last week when we read from John 14 that Jesus told Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

I want to say something with which I know some will disagree. As far as I can see in Scripture, Jesus is the only face of God we will ever see in eternity. John’s vision in Revelation 4 indicates that we will be aware of God the Father’s presence, but we will never get a handle on His appearance. No one ever questions who Jesus is – He will be recognizable to all creation. He restricts the fullness of His glory so that we can approach Him. In addition to Isaiah’s terror, Revelation 1 tells us that when the Apostle John saw Jesus in heaven in all of His glory, he fell as though he were dead. Remember, John was the one who had laid his head on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper. Jesus mercifully holds back the effulgence of His glory in order that we might commune with Him.

So, Jesus is 100% God, but was He 100% man when He was on earth? Philippians 2:6-8 says “Yes.”

6 (Jesus), though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

There is no way to go into the details of this passage. You may recall that we had a rather lengthy and technical couple of sermons about these verses back in May of last year. You can access the messages online, plus I can e-mail you a study guide to go along with the messages if you are interested. The truth we need to glean here is that though Jesus was and is as much God as the Father was and is, He did not hang onto His position of glory, but rather in humility became a man and lived His entire life in total obedience to the Father. Jesus did not give up His divinity, but rather He took on human flesh, which means that He gave up some of the privileges He had as part of the Godhead. That is why Luke tells us that as a boy Jesus grew in wisdom as well as in body. Jesus willingly limited the use of some of His divine attributes to the leadership of the Father and the power of the Spirit for the purpose of identification with humanity. Just think of the implications! You will, this week, at Home Fellowship.

Consider how different Jesus is than us. Adam was a human who sought to be God. Jesus existed as God yet chose to unite Himself with humanity. That is what it means that Jesus emptied Himself. It is the essence of the incarnation – a union of perfect humanity and undiminished deity. Jesus added a human body to His glorious self. For us, adding something means an increase, but for the Eternal Word, adding a human nature involved a process of emptying Himself.

A human nature – that raises so many questions about Jesus’ sinlessness. There is not time to go into all of the details, but let me just say a few things about Jesus’ nature. Does the virgin birth ensure Jesus’ sinlessness? Well, I suppose, if the sinful nature is received only through the father. But, Mary was sinful. The Catholic Church understood this problem, so they decided that Mary must have been miraculously kept from sin. But, that’s not what the Bible teaches. I will put what I am about to say on the screen, but you may not have time to write this down. It is very important, so please access it online next week if you are interested.

We do not receive our sinful nature genetically, but representatively. We do not receive it because Adam and Eve were our ancestors, but because Adam is our federal head, or, the representative of the entire human race. But, Jesus is not a member of Adam’s race (and the virgin birth does speak to that). Jesus is the 2nd Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) and He conquered sin. It was necessary for Him to have a human soul in order to meet the requirements necessary to be a perfect substitute for our sin.

Well, I have spent almost the entire time on the first point. There is no way to tell you how difficult it was to decide what to talk about today – the material is overwhelming. I do want to briefly, and I do mean briefly, consider two more thoughts from our text in Colossians 1 about Jesus, the first of which is:

II. Jesus is the Preeminent One in the Universe (vv 15-20)

Our text says so, very plainly in verses 15-20. This was the Father’s will. He is Creator. All that exists was created by Jesus. He is Sustainer. If Jesus did not hold the universe together, it would cease to exist. He is Redeemer. Verse 20 says so, even though it is not on the screen. Jesus rescues us from certain eternal punishment – He does so through the literal blood of His literal body that was nailed to a cross as the perfect substitute, the only one eligible to absorb God’s judgment of our sin. Have you trusted Jesus as your Savior? Have you believed that He died for you? Ask God to forgive your sin and ask Jesus to save you – He will gladly receive you to Himself on this day.

Jesus is also the Head of the Church. Today, we will vote on an amendment to our Constitution about the terms of elders. Let me assure you that as elders, we recognize that this is not our church – Jesus is the head of Grace Community Church. We verbally acknowledge that at almost every meeting we conduct, and we conduct all the business of Grace under His headship. Does that mean we get it right every time? No – Jesus was the only perfect human, remember? But you have to know that there is not one elder who takes his responsibility as a steward of Jesus’ church lightly. And, they didn’t tell me to say that!
Oh, that all of us would make Jesus preeminent at Grace Community Church! In fact, let’s put that into contemporary vernacular and:

III. Make Jesus famous in our hearts, minds, and lives (vv 21-23)

Christianity. Think about it. Without Jesus, it doesn’t exist. And, yet, a lot of people who speak freely about God are reticent to utter Jesus’ name. The temptation for the believers at Colossae was to remain spiritual, but to not make such a big deal about Jesus. They had just been told in no uncertain terms that the entire universe will recognize Jesus as the preeminent one in all of creation. He identified with us, we should now proudly identify with Him!

Verse 23 comes across differently in the Greek than it does in our English translations. Paul wrote this verse in such a way as to communicate his confidence that they would continue in the faith, which meant “faith in Jesus.” He did not expect them to turn away from Jesus. Indeed, to renounce Jesus is to indicate that one never had genuine faith in the first place.

Well, that’s the easy interpretation of verse 23 for those of us who believe in eternal security. But, let’s not miss the call for Christ-followers to think and live as though we do, indeed, belong to Jesus. What do Christ-followers do, after all? We follow Jesus! That will not be easy if we allow ourselves to be swept up in the current of our society’s obsession with famous actors, politicians, and athletes in our midst. God’s call on our lives is for us to keep our focus on the preeminent one in all of creation – Jesus is the famous one.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Trinity Series - small group notes #5

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
God the Father, Week of February 8, 2009

Ø We call God the Father the first person of the Trinity. Why? We have already clearly established (and will continue to stress) that Father, Son, and Spirit are coequal and coeternal. Yet, there is order in the Trinity. Each person of the Trinity has a particular role. The Father’s role is to lead. Talk about how Psalm 2, Matthew 6:9-10, and 1 Corinthians 15:28 all show God’s supreme authority, even in the Godhead.

Acts 2: Verse 7 is referenced in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5; 5:5, thus the Son of Psalm 2 is none other than Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, and God in Psalm 2 is God the Father.

Matthew 6: It is God the Father’s will that is asked to be accomplished

1 Corinthians 15:28 – a powerful verse!

Ø Ephesians 1:3-14 (the passage we covered on Sunday February 8) and Colossians 1:3-20 (the passage we will cover on Sunday, February 15) both tell us that Jesus is the centerpiece of history. He holds this position, though, at the Father’s direction and pleasure and for God the Father’s glory. Read these passages to see how the Father lovingly exalts Jesus.

Ø James 1:17 says that God the Father is the source of all good gifts. EVERY single good thing in our lives can be attributed to God’s goodness. Name some of God’s gifts to us that are listed in Scripture, then name some of His good gifts to you as an individual or family, and to Grace Community Church.

1) Jesus and salvation – John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9
2) Good works – Ephesians 2:10
3) Spiritual blessings – Ephesians 1:3 (we tend to look for blessings in all the wrong places, such as material possessions, health, etc. – our blessings are spiritual – from the Spirit – and are in heavenly places)
4) Above all, God’s presence – Romans 8:31-39

Ø How does the authority of the Father over the Son and the Spirit speak to our relationships today, such as husbands being the head of wives (Genesis 3:16; Ephesians 5:22-33), employers over employees (Colossians 3:22-25), and elders leading the church (Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Timothy 5:17a)?

The following excerpt is from Bruce Ware’s book, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance. Our small group leaders are using this excellent resource to help them prepare for these lessons. Absorb Ware’s cogent thoughts on a very important, yet controversial, issue in our time:

“There exists today a widespread movement to remove from Christian vocabulary, hymnody, and even from the Bible itself, references to God as Father. Motivated by misguided and radical feminist convictions that reject all male headship and see fatherhood language about God as promoting the domination of the male, some would seek to change the very language of God’s own self-revelation in order to further their social agenda. But the fact is that we as Christians are not at liberty to modify how God has revealed Himself to us. He has chosen specifically masculine language, and this includes terms such as ‘king,’ ‘lord,’ and ‘father.’ Do we claim to know better than God how God Himself should be named? It seems clear that what stands behind this movement, at bottom, is really a fundamental dislike of the very notion of authority, and in particular of male authority in settings of the home and the believing community. Sinful resistance to authority in general and to the authority of husbands and elders (both male) in particular leads to a desire to undermine the language used by God as Father. We in the evangelical church need to reaffirm and celebrate the fact that God is our Father. Rather than chafing at this language, it should inspire in us deep and profound thanksgiving, confidence, faith, and hope. It should not surprise us that something cherished in the Christian faith is despised by the world, and we should not be swept along by a movement that turns us away from Scripture’s clear teaching and from God’s own self-revelation of who He is and what He wants to be called. Yes, naming God as Father helps us see just how radical it is to be a Christian in today’s culture. May God grant us grace and strength to be faithful to Him by giving Him our most sincere respect, obedience, love and devotion, for He is none other than ‘our Father.’”

Ø The perception we have of God the Father is often clouded by the poor relationships we have/had with our earthly Fathers. Close your eyes while your leader – or, someone he designates – reads Psalm 103 to you (read notes below before doing this on your own). Consider your heavenly Father’s great love for you!

Before you close with this following exercise, it is important to note that Jesus is the only face of the Triune God we will ever see in eternity (at least, as far as I can tell). When we are confronted with images of God the Father (Ezekiel 1, Revelation 4), the picture is very, very murky and mysterious. Then, the Lamb (Jesus, of course) of Revelation 5 and Revelation 22:6-21 comes into view! .

Read from the New Living Translation if you have a copy. Close your eyes and picture yourself crawling up into the Lord’s lap and allowing the Father to put His arms around you. Then, read Psalm 103 slowly and deliberately (is that redundant?). When you finish reading, take time to thank God for His many mercies and blessings to you.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon #4

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
God the Father

My father has dementia. That is a shame for so many reasons, but one of the reasons is because he always had such a quick mind. He was a funny man. No, let me rephrase that – he is a funny man. He still has his sense of humor. He also was a great singer. He especially loved singing with his granddaughter, who is my daughter, Autumn. One day at lunch, Autumn asked my dad of all the songs that he had sung through the years what his favorite song was. He said that his favorite song of all time was I Feed my Baby Onions So I Can Find Her in the Dark. When we quit laughing, Autumn asked him what his second favorite song was. He said, “When that’s your number one, you don’t need a number two.”

You know, I think God has a good sense of humor. I also tend to think that He likes music. While there is biblical support for both assertions, I guess the main reason I think about God that way is because that’s the way my father is. We tend to do that, you know – project the image of our earthly fathers onto God the Father. If our fathers were fun and free-spirited, that is most likely the way we see our heavenly Father. If our earthly fathers were overbearing and controlling, that’s how God is to us. If our fathers were absent, where is God when you need Him?

But, God is not like our human fathers. Now, if we are very blessed, our earthly fathers are godly, or – like God. Our heavenly Father, though, is the perfect Father. And this morning, we are blessed to think about the one we call the first Person of the Trinity – God the Father.

At the end of the message today, we will read from Matthew 6 and marvel at our perfect Father. We must look first, though, into the role that God the Father has in the Trinity and why it is we call Him the first Person of the Trinity. Our text, today, is Ephesians 1:3-14. There is much truth here that we will not pursue because our focus is on God the Father’s position in the Trinity and His work in relation to the Son and the Spirit, and His work in our lives. There will be no trouble spotting those truths in this text and in several more I will mention today. As we read, look for all three Persons of the Trinity. Would you please stand as we read from God’s Word, Ephesians 1:3-14? (ESV)

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
4 even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love
5 He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will,
6 to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.
7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace,
8 which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
9 making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ
10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.
13 In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,
14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.

I cannot emphasize enough just how important this week’s Home Fellowship study is. There is so much – and much in the way of application of this truth about God the Father – that we will not possibly be able to cover this morning. If you are not attending a Home Fellowship, you can find the notes for this week’s lesson on my blog – next week. Everything there is a week behind. If you regularly attend a Home Fellowship and can’t be there this week or if you don’t attend but you want those notes while this message is fresh on your mind, e-mail me and I will send you a copy of the notes that will be published next week on the blog.

This morning we begin talking about the Persons of the Trinity. Though God is one, He is three Persons. Today we are going to focus on God the Father, the first Person of the Trinity.

Now, if God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are coequal and coeternal, why we would label them as first Person, second Person, and third Person? Is Jesus as much God as the Father? Is the Holy Spirit as much God as the other two? Yes. Then, why the order? Well, some shy away from doing so today, but it is not incorrect to identify them this way because, Scripture presents a very clear order within the Trinity. There is tremendous love and respect among the Persons of the Trinity – and we will cover that before this series is over – but each has His particular role to play and there is order, which includes authority and submission.

Did you pick up the clear references to all three Persons of the Trinity in our text? Did you also notice the priority given to the Father as the architect of our redemption? Next week we will talk about the preeminence of Christ – He is, after all, the centerpiece of history. He is so, though, because it is the Father’s good pleasure for Him to be in the spotlight. It is the Father, in our text, who is at the beginning of all that is good for us and in the end, He rightly receives glory.

Ephesians 1 is often used to make a point about election. It is, indeed, a good text for that purpose. But, may I encourage you to put aside those theological ruminations as we work our way through this text and instead, concentrate on the blessings of God’s calling on your life? If you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, you are the apple of His eye. Focus on the blessing of election, adoption, and redemption, all part of the Father’s plan for you in Jesus.

It is the Father who is the author of these blessings to us. (vv 3-6) “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as HE (the Father) chose us in Him (Jesus) before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” It was God the Father who planned that we should become His children, who blessed us in Christ, which means that He sent Jesus to die for us. It was the Father’s design that we become holy and blameless, something we have no hope of doing on our own.

We often speak of how much Jesus loved us by going to the cross for us. That is so very true! It is also true that God’s Word often tells of God the Father’s love in sending Jesus to die in order that we might have eternal life. It seems like there is a verse that starts off, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. . .” Have you ever heard that one? :)

Then, according to the purpose of His will, God the Father adopted us as His children through Jesus Christ. Praise His name! Praise His glorious grace! He has blessed us greatly in the Beloved – in Jesus! What a loving Father!
God the Father’s plan provides for our redemption through the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice. (vv 7-10) What is the significance of this statement? If you were not here last week, you should get the disc from last week or listen online to Law Professor Jim McLaughlin’s clear explanation of why it was necessary for Jesus to die and absorb the Father’s righteous wrath, even though Jesus is every bit as much God as the Father is. Jesus often said that He had come at the direction and pleasure of His Father, and He did only that which His Father directed Him, through the Spirit, to do. It was the Father’s plan to lavish His grace upon us and to reveal the secret plan of salvation that is now known to us, but is a mystery, nonetheless.

A lot of people spend their lives hoping that they will get lucky with the lottery or in Vegas or that a previously unknown relative will die and leave them a large sum of money. The inheritance we have in Jesus (vv 11-12) is astounding beyond imagination, but when we understand the power and majesty and wisdom of God the Father, especially with regard to His plan of salvation through Jesus, it really should not be that much of a surprise. We can do little more than marvel at the Father’s goodness to us – bringing us into His family, cleaning us up and making us worthy to be in His presence, a promise that we have for all eternity!

And it is no empty promise. (vv 13-14) If it was not enough that the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins, He also sent the Holy Spirit to guarantee that He is not a whimsical God who will change His mind about our place in His family. When we believe in Jesus, He seals us with the Holy Spirit – a seal, by the way, that cannot be broken. He gives the Holy Spirit as a non-refundable down payment, or deposit, of our salvation and inheritance. No wonder we praise Him so!

God the Father is the chief architect and instigator of our salvation. He sent the Son and the Holy Spirit as agents of His plan. He exercises authority over them, even though they are 100% God, just as the Father is. And, there is not a hint of jealousy or rebellion from Jesus and the Holy Spirit, only loving submission to the Father’s plan. This truth is proclaimed over and over and over in the New Testament. If you will look for it, you will see it everywhere.

If you attend a Home Fellowship, a few weeks ago you spent time in John 14-16 where Jesus’ last instructions to His disciples before His crucifixion were given. Chapter 17 records Jesus’ prayer to the Father in which we discover even more about the Father’s relationship with Jesus and with us, His children. Jesus’ lesson for His disciples that night was about the Trinity. I want to take a few minutes and talk about the Father’s role with regard to Jesus and with regard to us. I will give you a list for each with references – you may want to write these down and take a look at them later – we will not take time to read these verses, but I wish you would write them down and investigate them on your own. If you will, I am confident that your understanding of the Trinity will grow. All of the verses are from the Gospel of John.

First, with regard to Jesus, the Father:

Ø hands all things over to the Son (13:3; 17:2)
Ø has sent Jesus (13:20; 15:21; 16:5, 28, 30)
Ø glorifies Jesus (13:31, 32, 17:1, 5, 22)
Ø reveals Himself through the Son (14:6-11; 17:6, 11)
Ø is in Jesus (14:10-11, 20)
Ø instructs Him what to say and do (14:24, 31; 15:10, 15)
Ø grants His requests (14:16)
Ø is greater than Jesus (14:28)
Ø loves Jesus (15:9; 17:23, 26)
Ø gives people to Him (17:6, 9)
Ø is one with Jesus (17:10, 11, 21-22)

In order to give those who are writing time to get this list on paper, I want to read one of the passages referred to in this list – John 14:6-11: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.’ Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever 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 authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”

Did you catch that Jesus said, “I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works?” Jesus recognized the Father’s authority and submitted to it. But, God the Father works in our lives, also. Let’s consider how He works with regard to believers. Once again, all of these verses come from John’s Gospel and were spoken by Jesus to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion and these are all promises about the Father’s relationship with His children.

Ø there is adequate space for them in His house (14:2)
Ø He will send the Holy Spirit to them (14:16, 26; 15:26)
Ø He will love His children (14:21, 23; 16:27)
Ø He will come and stay with them (14:23)
Ø He will care for them in order that they may bear more fruit (15:2)
Ø He will grant their requests (15:16; 16:23)
Ø He will protect them from the evil one (17:15)
Ø He will enable them to be one (17:21-22)

We are getting just a glimpse of God the Father this morning. There is a little more to come, but the real application will come at the Home Fellowships this week. If you cannot get there, then let me encourage you next week – not this coming week, but next week – take a look at my blog, which you can access through our church’s website.

Before we finish with one closing thought, I wanted to read a passage from Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus tells us of our heavenly Father’s tender care for us. We will look at Matthew 6:24-34 in the New Living Translation as Jesus speaks at the Sermon on the Mount:

25 So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing?
26 Look at the birds. They don’t need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to Him than they are.
27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not.
28 And why worry about your clothes? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing,
29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.
30 And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t He more surely care for you? You have so little faith!
31 So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing.
32 Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs,
33 and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.
34 So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

We were not naturally the children of this loving and caring heavenly Father. When we trusted Jesus as our Savior, we were brought into His family. We were adopted as His sons and daughters. Adopted!

Years ago, a young mother sent a note to a national magazine telling about a visit with her parents. Here is what she said: “I stayed with my parents for several days after the birth of our first child. One afternoon, I remarked to my mother that it was surprising our baby had dark hair, since both my husband and I are fair. She said, ‘Well, your daddy has black hair.’ ‘But Mama, that doesn’t matter because I’m adopted.’ With an embarrassed smile, she said the most wonderful words I’ve ever heard: ‘I always forget.’”

Let’s pray.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It's A Girl!

Autumn and Brian will be bringing home a girl in July, Lord willing! There was a slight concern about problems with the baby last week, but those concerns are past - everything looks good and it is a girl for sure! Autumn is beginning to feel the baby move, and a quite active baby she is. That, of course, is right in line with her mother. Autumn was extremely active in the womb. We are all excited for the Staffords.

On another note, my three and a half year old grandson, Judge Price, went to his first day of pre-school yesterday - and took swimming lessons! A spot opened up in the class and Liz and Ben decided to let Judge give it a shot. He loved his first day! I was able to see Laurel, Judge, and Willow last week. What a great time! I learned, when Laurel first arrived a little over six years ago, how true the saying is that I used to hear from Jimmy Johnson, a minister in these parts - "The Bible calls God a Father, not a Grandfather. If He were a Grandfather, He would be too good!" Oh, the joys . . .

Speaking of seeing my grandchildren last week, of course I saw their parents (Ben and Liz) and I also spent time with Michael and Laura. I can't tell you how blessed I feel to have the children and in-laws (really, it feels like six children) with which God has blessed me. While I was in the mountains, Michael's condition was confirmed as Crohn's, which we knew anyway, but he was also told that it had not spread. Thank You, Lord! He is feeling better and has a first rate caregiver, also (Laura is awesome in the way she helps him!).

I had better stop. I guess most people who muse in the blogging world don't talk about grandchildren - thank you for indulging me!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

You Don't Want to Miss This!

My good friends, James and Jenny Tarpley, are launching new websites today. James and Jenny are extremely gifted photographers - you will likely recall (if you visit this site often) that the Tarpleys captured the joy of Michael (my son) and Laura's wedding. One of their first weddings was Brian and Autumn's (my daughter) several years ago. Watching them in action was quite a treat! It is no surprise that they are able to get the shots that reveal the tender, yet intense, emotions of a most special day. There is no way to count the number of people who told me how much they enjoyed viewing Michael and Laura's pictures online. If you are interested in more, check out the new sites at

Trinity Series - small group study #4

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Our Triune God, Week of February 1, 2009

Ø God is transcendent – He is far above His creation and He is independent of it. We sense this to be true. The very Word that God gave to us to reveal Himself to us confirms our suspicion that He is far above us. In addition to our text from Sunday, Acts 17:22-34, can you think of other passages that state this truth?

Isaiah 55:8-9; Job 38:1-4;42:1-6; Read all of Psalm 50

Ø God is immanent – He remains in His creation, and, indeed, interacts with it. God specifically revealed Himself to us through His Word, but it is through His Son that God has come to us. Identify where in Scripture we are told about God’s immanence and discuss what it means to us.

2 Corinthians 4:1-6; Hebrews 1:1, 2; John 1:14-18; God’s transcendence and immanence are both seen in Ephesians 4:6.

Ø The Trinity helps us understand both God’s transcendence and His immanence – God is the eternal Creator (Psalm 102:25-27), yet He entered His creation to bring peace to us and establish God’s kingdom on earth (Isaiah 9:6). His kingdom rules only in our hearts and in the church for now. How, as a church, can we give testimony to our relationship and, thus, the existence of, the Triune God?

Ø God is immutable – He does not change: Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8. How does this truth bring comfort to you?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reflections on Living Alone

Yesterday would have been Linda’s 54th birthday. It was about this time last year that she took a noticeable turn for the worse, spending less than three more weeks with us. She graduated to heaven on March 3, 2008. I have been thinking much more, of late, about her joy in heaven than I have my sorrow here on earth without her. Maybe that is partially due to the fact that the holidays – from Thanksgiving until after New Years – were so difficult that I am intentionally keeping those sad thoughts at bay.

Either way, I miss her terribly and I thought it was a good time to reflect on living alone. So, here goes:

1. I am not really alone

If one is a Christian, that is not the desperate cry of faith; it is the reality of God’s presence patiently sustaining those of us who are left behind. That doesn’t mean it is easy. Au contraire, it is painful beyond explanation. But, we have known for a long that this life is difficult, and it is not nearly as tough for us as it is for people who are trying to find only enough food to stay alive today, or who are watching, from a hiding place, their loved ones being hacked to death because they were born into the wrong tribe.

But, we always lived life within our own context, and that is to be expected. That is why I redirect the conversation when someone says to me, “Well, this situation is hard for me, but it is nothing like you are going through.” True enough, but you can’t know what I am going through until you experience it (and, I pray that you will not experience it until you are 97 years old!), so whatever you are facing right now is tough enough for you at the moment – and, I care.

Back to the main point, though – we are not alone, no matter what it feels like. But, I am in the place where I have opportunity to experientially embrace the reality of God’s presence like I never have been in my life. Not that I am doing it. I am, in fact, taking a bit of time away from church this week to seek the Lord.

2. Looking up is more natural from the bottom

Why is it that we have to come to the end of ourselves before we will really learn to trust God? Is it because we are self-absorbed and self-preservationists in every area of our lives – materially, emotionally, even spiritually as we seek to justify our paltry faith that passes for a “walk with the Lord?” Yes. Oh, to learn the lesson in an easier fashion! Our failure to look up expectantly is only an indication that we have not reached bottom – and, do we really want to take that plunge? Better to look to the Lord NOW!

3. It is almost as expensive to live alone as it is with another


4. It is hard to cook for one

That’s what Linda used to always tell me. I would ask, incredulously, “WHY? You need to eat, and better to eat well than to scrounge!” I would not ask that question, now.

5. I am a better dancer

Well, a less inhibited one, anyway!

6. Life is about priorities

You know that anyway, but it absolutely comes into focus when you live alone. The tendency, especially when you live alone and you are grieving, is to fill your life with noise. Another way of saying that is that it is extremely easy to waste time. I am very busy, thank goodness, but when I have free time, the temptation is great to avoid the important so that I can “check out” emotionally. There are a lot of good TV shows on these days – I could not have told you anything of note about more than one or two shows that were playing for the last 35 years, but I find myself attracted to the trivial these days. I don’t know if this is a grief thing, or a living alone thing. Doesn’t matter – life is about priorities for all of us.

7. The value of friends

God has always blessed me with good friends. In every stage of life, He has provided those who want to make my life better. My friends are especially important, now. As the great theologian John Mayer said, “You know it’s nothing new, bad news never had good timing. Then, the circle of your friends will defend the silver lining.” How true! Thank you for your love, care, and friendship.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon #3

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Our Triune God

As most of you know, I spent 20 years at TVR Christian Camp in the NC Mountains. One of the great burdens of the job was the requirement to go snow skiing anywhere from 10 to 15 times a year at Beech Mountain or Sugar Mountain. Tough job, but somebody had to do it.

The winters were a good bit colder than they are here with typical winters seeing a lot more snow than we do here. Since the camp was located at about 3,000 feet above sea level and we would go up to 5,400 feet above sea level to ski at Beech Mountain, we found ourselves in the clouds a good bit. Here, we would just call it fog.

There is a climb of some 1,200 – 1,300 feet from Banner Elk to the top of Beech Mountain. It is more than that, but as far as the road is concerned, it is about 1,200 feet or so. You have to climb that distance in about 3 miles, so you can imagine how steep and how curvy the road is. Sometimes when we would take a group skiing on Beech Mountain, we would drive into the clouds. There is no way to communicate to you how thick that fog can be unless you have been in it. I have been driving on Beech Mountain when you could literally not see more than 10 feet in front of you. The white line on the side of the road was the only thing you could see, so you can imagine how hairy such a trip would be with a 500 foot drop off the side of the road just a few feet away.

That doesn’t mean the fog was all bad, though. When the temperature was below freezing, the moisture from the clouds would freeze on the trees. When the clouds would lift, they would, as you would expect, do so from the bottom of the mountain and go up. If you happened to be on top of Beech Mountain on a cold winter’s day when the fog lifted, you were in for a sight that is rarely seen this side of heaven. We called the moisture that froze on the trees ice fog, though most people call it hoar frost. On a brilliant sunny day with ice fog everywhere you could see and views for miles and miles in several directions from the top of Beech Mountain – what a treat!

We are in the beginning weeks of our series on the Trinity here at Grace Community Church. Some of you feel like you are in a fog. A thick fog. You may even feel like you are just a few feet away from taking a big plunge. Hang in there – the view will be worth it. Here’s the good news about what you are learning – or, not learning right now. The fog clears behind you. As you go up this mountain, you may be in a fog, but it is clearing behind you. What seemed rather abstruse last week is suddenly making sense to you this week. You are not exactly sure how it happened, but your understanding is growing. Just wait for the view at the top!

The first few weeks we have talked about why it is important to study the Trinity, and why it is so crucial that we have a precise understanding of this doctrine and not just a general sense about what it means that God is three in one. For the month of February, we are going to talk about our Triune God. Today we will learn – or, as the case may be – review the truth about this awesome God we worship and serve, this God who is one. For the next three weeks, we will consider the three persons of the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Today’s text is Acts 17:22-34. Some of you know the context of this passage. The Apostle Paul was in Athens when he came to stand before the Areopagus on Mars Hill where philosophers debated religion and philosophy all day. They were particularly pleased when a new idea came to the Hill. Some of the men realized that Paul had a new religion and thought it would be good to hear from him. In a very few words – at least all that we have of Paul’s presentation is confined to a very few words – Paul said a great deal about God that is absolutely verified throughout Scripture. We will read this passage, and then I want to talk about our great Triune God before we meet Him at the Lord’s Table where, according to 1 Corinthians 10, we will participate in the body and blood of Jesus. Would you please stand as we read Acts 17:22-34? (ESV)

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of
Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.
23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
26 And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,
27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us,
28 for ‘In Him we live and move and have our being;’ as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed His offspring.’
29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.
30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent,
31 because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He as appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.”
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.”
33 So Paul went out from their midst.
34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

What do you think God is like – is He far away, or is He near? Is He someone we can know, or is He ultimately unknowable? Another question – Is God righteous and just, or is He gracious and merciful? Is He so righteous and perfect that sin cannot be allowed into His presence, or is He willing to forgive sin and welcome sinners to Himself? You know the answer to these questions, don’t you? The answer is YES! He is all of the above.

How is it possible to be all of the above? The answer is found in the Trinity. If God existed in some other form, that would be OK, of course – He is God, after all, and we are not. But He does exist as one God, yet three persons, which, according to Romans 3:26, allows Him to be both just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus. We saw last week how very important it is for us to be as precise in our definition of the Trinity as our finite minds will enable us to be. We will be defining this great mystery – three in one – for several more weeks as this series continues. This morning we are going to simply look in awe at a God who is much bigger than we have known or, frankly, can ever know. Our appreciation will grow, however, as we consider the far reaches of His holiness and His goodness. We will also see, in these coming weeks, how the doctrine of the Trinity is revealed to us for our comfort and the deepening of our relationship with the Triune God.

When we speak of God’s greatness, we refer to His transcendence, which means that God is far above His creation and He is independent of His creation. For the first 1800 years of the church, God’s transcendence was emphasized. That’s why hymns that emphasized God’s greatness like “A Mighty Fortress is our God” were so prominent.

When one first considers the greatness of God, the temptation is to think that He can never be known or even approached. (vv 24-26) At Mars Hill, Paul told his listeners that God cannot be confined to places that man has built, like man-made temples. Indeed, God made the very people who made the temples! God doesn’t need anything from us, nor does He need anything in the entire universe in order to be fulfilled. He is self-sufficient and self-sustaining. He cannot be contained in buildings made by human hands. We ought to take this a step further and admit that God cannot be comprehended in a finite human mind. How can that which is created understand its creator unless the creator reveals himself? Can you imagine how foolish we look to God when our thoughts and comments about Him begin with something like, “Well, I just think God is such and such a way?”

It is not surprising that we would think like that because there is always a temptation to create God in our own image! But, He cannot be contained in our finite minds – He is infinitely beyond our capacity to understand – unless He reveals Himself to us, and fortunately for us, in addition to the reality that God is a transcendent God, He is also immanent – He is near to us, revealing Himself to us.

When we speak of God’s nearness, we refer to His immanence. To say that God is immanent is to acknowledge that He exists, and, in fact, remains in His creation and interacts with those He created. While God’s transcendence has been emphasized for the greater part of church history, His immanence has been featured in the church for the last 200 plus years. That is why we sing so many praise songs as if we are intimately acquainted with God, like the song David sang for our special – “Praise the Father, praise the Son, praise the Spirit three in one.” Even though Chris Tomlin was acknowledging God’s greatness in His worship, there is an intimate feel to this song and to many of his songs.

And, well there should be. After Paul spoke of God’s transcendence, of His greatness, he quickly moved to say that God is near to us. (vv 27-29) He also acknowledged that there is a void in our hearts that we seek to fill. That is understandable – we are creatures and we seek to know and understand our Creator. Fortunately, God is not far from us! He makes it possible for us to know Him. Remember last week in John 8 when Jesus told the Pharisees that He spoke of what He had seen with His Father? Jesus revealed God very directly to us.

God is awesome and far above us – and, yet, He is near. Since we have the tendency to make God into our own image, you can see how easy it would be to get God’s transcendence and His immanence out of balance, can’t you? Those who focus more on God’s transcendence could end up believing that God is far too great to be concerned with the daily affairs of this world. One could conclude that God set the earth in motion and left us to our own petty devices.

At the other extreme, those who focus excessively on God’s immanence can see God in everything – including the chairs upon which you sit. Pantheists fail to distinguish between the Creator and the creation. To say that God is everywhere does not mean that He is a part of everything that He has created. We must worship the Creator – not His creation. Take care of His creation? Of course! Worship it? Absolutely not! We are responsible to be good stewards, but never fail to make the distinction between God and His creation.

So, is God transcendent or immanent? Yes. I suppose the question that we desperately need an answer to is whether God is so holy that He cannot look upon sin, or does He forgive and welcome sinners. Once again, Paul tells us that He is both. Let’s look one more time at Acts 17:29-31, then Jim McLaughlin will come to lead us in communion and to help us make sense of this paradox. Acts 17:29-31:

29Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the
divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by
the art and imagination of man.
30The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He
commands all people everywhere to repent,
31because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in
righteousness by a Man whom He as appointed; and of this He
has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.

For the conclusion of this sermon delivered by Law Professor Jim McLaughlin, go to our church website and access the sermon for February 1.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Trinity Series - small group study #3

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Getting the Trinity Right – What’s the Big Deal
Week of January 25, 2009

Ø Modalism was an early heresy (2nd century) that stated that God is not three persons, but rather one person who manifests Himself in three different modes, or, ways – as Father, Son, and Spirit – but, He is only one of the three manifestations at a time. This heresy was quickly rejected, though there are modalists in Christendom today. Why would Scripture not support such a claim?

John 17 – Jesus praying to His Father
Matthew 3 – Jesus’ baptism, all three persons of the Trinity are present
Hebrews 10:12 – Jesus is at the right hand of the Father ( and v 15 – the Holy Spirit is bearing witness to us of the truth of the gospel)
Contemporary modalists – United Pentecostal Church; United Apostolic Church; modern singers: Phillips, Craig, and Dean.

Ø A far more destructive heresy was Arianism, named after the North African priest, Arius, who introduced the dangerous idea that Jesus had a similar nature as that of the Father, but not the identical nature – Jesus was necessarily different from the Father since God is one. Orthodox belief states that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are coequal and coeternal with, and have the exact same nature as, God the Father, though there are three distinct persons within the Godhead. Discuss the truth found in the following passages: John 10:22-33; Colossians 1:15-20; 2:8-15 ( we will see these passages again soon)

John 10 – emphasize the fact that the Pharisees understood fully that Jesus claimed to be God, the same as in the John 8 passage, which we will also look at tonight.

Colossians 1 – image of the invisible God: the representation of God to us in bodily form; firstborn – not as in the Arian heresy, but one with all the rights of the firstborn son in a monarchy who would rule (see the next passage for confirmation of this truth); Jesus was the agent of creation; He was not a “creature”

Colossians 2 – once again, the visible expression of God who rules and will rule with absolute authority in God’s kingdom

Note: it is important to be familiar with this heresy, since Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe a form of it today

Ø One proof of Jesus’ deity is the way that He received worship from people. Compare the way the angel of Revelation 19:10 reacted to the Apostle John’s attempt to worship him with the way Jesus received worship in Matthew 16:13-17 and John 20:24-29

After reading the John passage, you may want to stop and spend a few minutes worshiping Jesus!

Ø Read John 8:31-59. Look for verses that Arius (who believed that Jesus was not God) might have used to prove that Jesus was created rather than equal with God. What does Jesus say that absolutely refutes such a belief?

Arius would have said that all the references to God as Father would indicate that Jesus was created – there was a time when God was not a Father, because the Son was not the Son until He was born. We will deal with this heretical idea next week.

Jesus stated that the Father would glorify Him. God would never do such a thing for a creature. John 8:58 – compared with Exodus 3:14, of course. In Exodus 3, God called Moses to go back to Egypt to deliver the Israelites. Moses was reluctant, giving many excuses for his reluctance to go. He protested that the leaders would not listen to him. He asked God, “Who am I going to say sent me?” God’s response: “I am.” In other words, 1) I am self-existent – I depend upon no one for My existence; 2) I am the creator and sustainer of all that exists; 3) I will not change (see also Hebrews 13:8); 4) I am eternal” Jesus was saying all of those things about Himself in John 8:58

Thursday, February 5, 2009


In brief response to my friend who takes such issue to the doctrine of the Trinity, I will say that although he clearly read the message, he obviously disagrees with the notion that extra-biblical language must be used to define our beliefs because we look at the same verses and draw different conclusions. My response to Rev. Phillips - well, lies in what has already been said and what will continue to be said in the next two months. And, that's all. I will be glad to engage honest questions, but to engage one that speaks of the Triune God and follows with "blah, blah, blah" is not productive in the least. Since I am not convinced that modalism is a make or break belief, I will not respond as to a false gospel - though, I must say it seems close, to me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon #2

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Getting the Trinity Right: What’s the Big Deal?, Week of January 25

May I ask you a personal question? Don’t worry, I am not going to ask for a show of hands! Here is the question – how do you handle conflict? Which of the following would best describe you?

A. I hate conflict and will do almost anything to avoid it
B. I don’t like conflict, but I will face it when it is necessary
C. I welcome a good challenge and if that includes conflict, so be it
D. I am looking for a fight – meet me out back after church!

I guess I fit in Category B. I really don’t like conflict, but sometimes it just can’t be avoided. If you find yourself in Category A, being a Christian is not going to be easy for you. Jesus certainly never promised an easy life! Matthew 10:34-39: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

Are you looking for your purpose in life? If you are a Christ-follower, whatever He calls you to do, lose your life in Him! It will not be easy, though. In John 15:16-17, Jesus said to His disciples, and by extension, to us: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Then, in John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The life of a Christian is, in many ways, a life of conflict. The world does not understand us. The message of Jesus is particularly repugnant to the world today. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” to which many today would respond, “How dare he say that! How dare he say that he is the only way to heaven!” But, that is the truth we believe and it is the message we proclaim – and there is conflict with the world because of the message.

But, conflict also arises among those who seek to understand the truth that we find in God’s word. There is a fair amount of disagreement about the doctrine of the Trinity among those who claim to have a relationship with Jesus. Is it really that big of a deal to get it right? Do we have to be that precise about whether or not Jesus has always existed, or was He created, though created far more special than us? Let’s put it this way – if Jesus is going to say that our only hope of heaven is through Him, and He makes clear that it is our belief in Him that matters, well, I would think we better understand what God says in His word about Jesus.

Throughout this series, we will be talking about orthodox doctrine, or orthodox theology. In fact, there will be times when you hear something along the lines of, “this (teaching) is orthodox.” The Orthodox Church – as in Eastern Orthodox or Greek Orthodox Church – is not what is meant when the term “orthodox” is used. What is meant is the right and accepted teaching of the true, universal church. This teaching, or doctrine, has been hammered out throughout the history of the church, but most of the important issues were settled in the first five centuries, particularly in the fourth century, with regard to the Trinity. The church has lost its way from time to time and has been in need of reformation, but much of the battle for truth was fought and won early.

So, why concern ourselves with the fight for truth today if it was established back then? Because, even though the true universal church has settled on truth, teachers who are in error about who Jesus was continue to find an audience in our day. Many of their heresies are repeats of early theological mistakes, so it is helpful to gain a bit of an understanding about the issues that were so hotly debated in years gone by.

Before we read our text today, you need to know that the biggest theological battles over the Trinity were engaged over the person of Jesus Christ. Once the church accepted Jesus’ divinity and eternal existence as a person of the Trinity, it was not much of a battle to accept the Holy Spirit as God, at least among those who were orthodox. That doesn’t mean that there have not been significant disagreements in the church about the Holy Spirit, some of which we will investigate in this series, but our focus this morning is on Jesus’ deity, or His claim that He was God.

Today’s text is one of the classic texts in which Jesus declared not only divinity, but an eternal existence. In John 8, Jesus’ teachings were challenged by the Pharisees. They questioned Jesus’ credentials to teach and Jesus told them, in language that they understood, that He was God. Jesus used the same name for Himself that Exodus 3:14 tells us God had used in identifying Himself to Moses – “I Am.” It is interesting that so many people have wondered whether or not Jesus claimed to be God through the years. The Pharisees knew exactly what He was saying, as their response will show. We are going to read John 8:31-59 – a lengthy passage but an important one because of Jesus’ comments about the importance of truth, and because of His claim to be God. Please know that while Jesus was initially talking to those who had believed in Him, unbelievers quickly spoke up and challenged Him. Please stand with me as we read John 8:31-59.

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples,
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered Him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that You say, ‘You will become free?’”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.
36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham, yet you seek to kill Me because My word finds no place in you.
38 I speak of what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
39 They answered Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did,
40 but now you seek to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.
41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to Him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father – even God.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your father, you would love Me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of My own accord, but He sent Me.
43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word.
44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.
46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe Me?
47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
48 The Jews answered Him, “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.
50 Yet I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge.
51 Truly, truly I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.”
52 The Jews said to Him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste death.’
53 Are You greater than our father, Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do You make Yourself out to be?”
54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’
55 But you have not known Him. 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 keep His word.
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.”
57 So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”
58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
59 So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.

There were quite a few important words being exchanged in the
debate that we just read. It is easy for us to simply write the Pharisees off as being spiritually proud and blind. You would be right is saying so, but we must at least acknowledge that their objection to Jesus’ claims of divinity were rooted in their understanding – or, misunderstanding, as the case turned out to be – of the God of the OT. God said unequivocally, that He is one God in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one.” So, when Jesus claimed to come from God, they shot back quickly, in essence, that they worshiped one God, not two.

We all understand, from the OT, that God is one. Did our understanding change when Jesus came and claimed to be God? No. The NT makes it clear that we worship one God, not three. Romans 3:29-30 is only one NT text that clearly states that God is one: “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of the Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles, also, since God is one – who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.”

How does that jibe with Jesus’ claim that He is absolutely God? That was the question that the early church felt compelled to answer. They were forced to do so by using extra-biblical language – like, “Trinity.” Why was it necessary to explain God using language that was not in Scripture? It would seem easy enough to say, “All they needed to do was to go to Scripture and quote verses, like John 8:58 where Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” The response to such a contention is to recognize that people can use Scripture erroneously. Isn’t that what the Jews did when they told Jesus, in so many words, “You can’t be God – we serve only one God, and no one has seen Him?”

So, what was the church to do with Jesus’ clear statements that the Father and Son were one? The debates were quite intense, and quite interesting. They were also incredibly technical. I am going to give you just about the simplest version possible, and even then you must understand that though very precise language was used, people on different sides of the issues used the same terms but meant something entirely different from their opponents. Orthodox teaching about the Trinity is only clear to us, though, because of the tedious work of theologians of the first five centuries.

Speaking of theologians, if you are a Christ-follower, then you are a theologian! Contemporary theologians, from Bart to Sproul to J. I. Packer sound the cry for all believers to become theologians and study Scripture in order to better know the God of the Bible. Are you going to study the Trinity at the level that some of us are doing, now? Of course not! That is why the Lord gave teachers to the church. Every Christian, though, has a responsibility to study, to learn, and to be as accurate as possible when determining what he or she believes about what the Bible teaches. It is one of the answers to the question of today’s message, “What’s the Big Deal about Getting the Trinity Right?”

Theologians in the first three centuries, like Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen all made strides at a Trinitarian belief, but they were not terribly precise and when viewed in light of later understanding, may seem a bit suspect. One reason for their lack of precision was that they were not forced to be. Our precise understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity today came in response to false ideas that arose as people began to think about the implications of one God, three persons. By the way, Irenaeus’ big contribution to the church was to fight Gnosticism, which was as much or more philosophy than theology and was a far greater threat to the church than the heresies we will discuss in this series. Some go so far as to suggest that Gnosticism was a threat to Western civilization because of its popularity and its absolute disdain of procreation. But, that’s another study.

One of the earliest heresies about the Trinity that developed in the third century was a belief known as modalism, which is the belief that God is not three persons, but rather one person who manifests Himself in three different modes, or, ways – as Father, Son, and Spirit – but, He is only one of the three manifestations at a time. Basically, He was Father in the OT, Jesus in the Gospels, and the Holy Spirit after Pentecost. This was an attempt to deal with both realities that God is one and God is three.

Now, modalism is not always an eternal-damnation heresy, though it can be. It was not a big deal, though, as the early church quickly rejected this belief. How could Jesus pray to His Father in the garden? How could all three persons of the Trinity be represented at Jesus’ baptism with the Father speaking and the Spirit descending like a dove? Modalism proved to be untenable, so it was permanently put to rest, right? Nope. Modalists are on the scene today. United Pentecostal Churches and United Apostolic Churches are modalists, and so are some singers that some of you know – Phillips, Craig, and Dean.

A far more problematic belief in the early years was introduced by an Alexandrian priest named Arius, though he ended up not being a terribly big player in the debate that some of his ideas generated. Arius stated that the three persons of the Trinity were distinct from one another – more about that in just a moment. Arius’ ideas garnered a significant following, so much so that the Council of Nicea, in modern day Turkey, was called for by the Emperor Constantine to deal with the controversy.

Have you ever heard people say that when Christianity was made the state religion by decree of Constantine, the church was corrupted? That is true. It is also true that the recognition of Christianity allowed the kind of theological work that was done at the councils of the fourth century. All Christ-followers are the beneficiaries of the work that was done then.

Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, was the primary opponent of Arianism. He was a young man at Nicea and would lead the battle against Arianism throughout a good bit of the fourth century. The heresy remained surprisingly strong for years after Arius died. Again, Arius was not the primary spokesman for his ideas – indeed, he was dead before the debate grew white-hot in the middle of the fourth century.

It would not be accurate to say that Arius challenged orthodox doctrine and Athanasius defended it. There was no orthodox doctrine at the beginning of the fourth century. It would be more accurate to say that Athanasius helped to formulate orthodox doctrine. The popularity of Arius’ beliefs about Jesus made a statement of orthodox doctrine a necessity.

Arius believed that God was one, and thus, the idea of a Trinity was problematic. We have seen this problem before. Arius’ problem was that he made Scripture accommodate his beliefs rather than the other way around. He reasoned that if God is one, then Jesus had to be created. His famous statement, “There was a time when He (Jesus) was not,” sums up his thoughts about Jesus. And, herein lies the problem with using specific verses to be precise about doctrine. When we say that Jesus was begotten by the Father, we mean that Jesus was sent by the Father. When Arians say it, they mean that Jesus was created by the Father. It is no problem for them to say that Jesus came from the Father – but, what do they mean? Not what we mean when we say that.

If Jesus was created by the Father, said Arius, it only stands to reason that he was distinct in nature from the Father. In fact, Arius claimed, if it is necessary to use a different name to describe different persons, then they must be different entities. Since Arius believed that Jesus was created, he did not believe that Jesus was capable of remaining perfect apart from God’s determination and power.

You can see why these beliefs had to be dealt with and why it was necessary to call these beliefs heresy. The orthodox position that was established declared that the Trinity is three persons of the same substance, or essence. Arians believed that the Trinity consisted of three persons with similar substance. This debate was far, far more technical than I am making it sound. Much clarification was needed after Nicea. It was not until 381 at the Council of Constantinople that many of the finer points were clarified.

So, why is this important enough for us to take a Sunday morning to discuss when we could be looking directly at Scripture? For starters, it is important to know that the work done in the early church laid a foundation for us that makes it possible for us to drink deeply from the riches of God’s word without having to deal with fundamental truths about Scripture. More importantly, as we will discuss in coming weeks, groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons that embrace beliefs that are Arian in nature are having quite a negative impact on our family members, neighbors, and co-workers and many of us have no idea how to battle false beliefs.

We have to stop – and, this is not a great place to stop. If we had time to read John 8 again, we would – but, you will do that this week in Home Fellowships. By the way, I will post both the sermons and HF lessons, with notes, on my blog, but it will be a week behind what we are doing here. You can get to my blog from our church website, and you can find the address for that in the bulletin.