Holy Trinity

May 30, 2021


God is good – and good for us

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them:
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,
“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:14a,22-36 ESV)

We return to last Sunday’s Pentecost scene with Peter addressing the crowd in Jerusalem who had gathered at the commotion of rushing wind and the message in many languages; perhaps the crowds also saw tongues of fire – who knows? In effect Peter said last week ‘Now that we have your attention to what God is doing’ and he now goes on and introduces Jesus to them. Peter does this by going to where God reveals himself – in words – and as he wants to introduce the Word made flesh, he turns to the words of Scripture, notably the psalms, and presents Jesus and a kaleidoscope or almost poetically so that around the name Jesus the hearers also are hearing that …
• God is heavily involved in all this –
• Death by crucifixion
• Resurrection and the defeat of death’s power
• Jesus is the Holy One who has broken out of Hades
• Life and gladness – in full measure – are the result of this Jesus
• King David nearly 1,000 years earlier talked about his Lord and his descendant and life after the death of death and that’s all about Jesus
• This results in Jesus exalted at the Father’s right hand and his sending of the Holy Spirit
• And the final thing – the words that are left ringing in their ears – that the way to understand this Jesus is that he is Lord and Christ – he is God and Messiah – he is their hoped for Messiah who is also God – God has come himself to be the Messiah for all nations (remember this is a Jewish audience)

There are huge amounts of theology here but in introducing Jesus and who he is and what he has done, Peter has simply introduced the world’s rescuer and his rescue. It is both a past act and also a present one. We don’t need to know all the details of how a vaccine works for us to receive it and be helped. We don’t stop a rescuer – a life saver, a paramedic, a fireman or woman – in mid rescue and ask for an explanation of identity and course of action.
I am not saying that there are no answers to questions that arise, just that the knowledge of details – all details – is not necessary in most of life for living to keep going. But when the question is asked who is Jesus and we hear ‘He is Lord and Christ’, yes that can generate more questions and more answers which might generate more questions and maybe people stay in the truth or maybe they go down rabbit holes – because as the questions continue one has to be careful about where the answers are coming from.

And the Early Church kept Jesus and God linked together – they are one – united – and not like any other god of the Greek or Roman pantheon because it was important for salvation to be assured that Jesus was human like us and that Jesus was God. This unity is critical even as Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension was always ‘weird’ – always remember the scandal that is the cross for the world of those centuries – and so there was always a temptation to move away from the cross – ‘upgrade’ Jesus perhaps – or more likely, ‘upgrade’ God and take him away from the blood and pain and shame and embarrassment of the cross.

Towards the end of the 2nd century Irenaeus of Lyon (France) who was born in modern day Turkey and saw and heard Polycarp (a disciple of the Apostle John and regarded as the last person to have seen any of the apostles) wrote a large work ‘Against Heresies’ (in which he quotes over 700 hundred times from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts – which shows that these writings are authoritative or canonical for Irenaeus). He wanted to draw people back to Jesus and rather than the gnostic flights of fancy of spiritual ladders and enlightenment and special knowledge of God – and it was always part of the story of Jesus that he was not a new god or a part of God but God revealed in flesh. “For one and the same Lord, who is greater than the temple, greater than Solomon, and greater than Jonah, confers gifts upon men, that is his own presence, and the resurrection from the dead; but he does not change God, nor proclaim another Father, but that very same one, who always has more to measure out to those of his household” (Against Heresies Bk 4 Chapter 9:2).

But if you push the unity too much and insist on God’s unity and oneness but still keep talking about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit then as Tertullian from Carthage in modern day Tunisia noted by the end of the 2nd century / beginning of the 3rd century in a pamphlet ‘Against Praxeas’ that what happens is that you ‘drive away the Holy Spirit and crucify the Father’. Often the easier way to think about the Father, Son, Holy Spirit had been sequentially – first there was God the Father, and then on Earth God the Son, and now (from when Jesus ascended) we have God the Holy Spirit but that suggestion or explanation failed to express the truth that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are indivisible yet distinct and any unity is not rejected or ruined by any plurality. Tertullian wrote a lot about God and was the first writer in Latin to use the term ‘Trinity’.

So throughout the history of the Early Church this too-ing and fro-ing between 3 Gods and 1 God, between Jesus as human or divine or half and half or what, was always responded to by bishops and teachers in the area of the Roman Empire where the discussion arose. By the 3rd century there were various views competing and it will be in the 4th century in two main occasions 325AD in Nicaea and 381AD in Constantinople that a common creed will articulate and teach the mystery of one God in three Persons. Even this will not stop questions arising about the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which will be answered by the 6th century in the Athanasian Creed which states clearly that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal – as we heard earlier.

Our stroll in the history hallways of the Church and teaching today reveals that the words of Scripture are foundational in keeping the message truthful and clear while at the same time expressing a mystery about understanding who Jesus is and the salvation that he achieved for us. A reflection on God or spiritual things might come from nature, from the night sky, from the birth of a baby – in other words, from the world or universe and wondering how God is involved. However for Christians, theology must begin with God and so for the first disciples that was Jesus and explaining him as he pointed to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit. And to try and understand who Jesus is and how he can be who he is, many of the Church Fathers turned again and again to the first chapter of Genesis – as did many writers in the Middle Ages including Luther – not to explain creation – that’s much more a modern preoccupation of the last 150 years or so – but to try and understand God – that he created, that he spoke, and that the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Creating, speaking, Spirit – which led them to Creator and Father, Word and Son, and Holy Spirit.

This God is simply presented to us before anything ‘begins’ in Genesis 1. Encountering Jesus is similar – he exists. Thus Christians are making the bold claim against all the other religions of the world that God is good – not that he does good, useful, helpful things for us – no, simply that there is this God in this world and he is good – and he has the face and name of Jesus and meeting Jesus will lead you into a deeper mystery about yourself – a sinner whom Jesus forgives, about the Creator God, and about the Holy Spirit who wants you to live well now – today, now – right now, now.

The Father pointed to Jesus at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration. Jesus points to the Father in his teaching and praying and together he and the Father send the Spirit whose goal is to keep us remembering and following Jesus. These three Persons are in harmony and unity and yet are distinct – and their focus is you!

This good God has gone to incredible lengths to restore the relationship between us that sin and death ruined when we brought them into the world. This good God hasn’t had the humph that we wanted to make ourselves gods and each generation seems not to learn from the past but bring new ruin to the world and still this good God engages with us so that we might live and live well.

You don’t need to understand everything to receive good things and this isn’t a call for ignorance but rather an acknowledgement that as we grow in the mystery of the Trinity, we are growing in living with God who is always for us and never against us. This Triune God is good and he is good for us.

Bible References

  • Acts 2:14
  • Acts 2:22 - 46