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Bible and crossThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (see links below).

Romans 15:22-29

Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome

22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected,[a] I will leave for Spain by way of you. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing[b] of Christ.

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Last week’s post covered Paul’s last teaching in the Book of Romans: the pleasure in the fulfilment of the obligation he had in bringing Gentiles to the Church.

He says that this is why he has not been able to visit the church in Rome sooner; his obligations were elsewhere in other lands (verse 22). And, as he had told the Romans 15:14, they were good and knowledgeable enough to teach each other and build each other up in faith.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the Christians in Rome felt a similar heartfelt desire for Paul to visit them (emphases mine):

It should seem that Paul’s company was very much desired at Rome. He was a man that had as many friends and as many enemies as most men ever had: he passed through evil report and good report. No doubt they had heard much of him at Rome, and longed to see him. Should the apostle of the Gentiles be a stranger at Rome, the metropolis of the Gentile world? Why as to this he excuses it that he had not come yet, he promises to come shortly, and gives a good reason why he could not come now.

Furthermore, he had no desire to visit the great monuments, structures or great thinkers in the heart of the Roman Empire. He wanted to meet his brothers and sisters in faith, humble as they all were, Paul included. Paul was but a humble tent-maker.

Henry elaborates:

He assures them that he had a great desire to see them; not to see Rome, though it was now in its greatest pomp and splendour, nor to see the emperor’s court, nor to converse with the philosophers and learned men that were then at Rome, though such conversation must needs be very desirable to so great a scholar as Paul was, but to come unto you (Romans 15:3), a company of poor despised saints in Rome, hated of the world, but loving God, and beloved of him. These were the men that Paul was ambitious of an acquaintance with at Rome; they were the excellent ones in whom he delighted, Psalms 16:3. And he had a special desire to see them, because of the great character they had in all the churches for faith and holiness; they were men that excelled in virtue, and therefore Paul was so desirous to come to them.

Paul knew that his desires were dependent upon God’s will:

This desire Paul had had for many years, and yet could never compass it. The providence of God wisely overrules the purposes and desires of men. God’s dearest servants are not always gratified in every thing that they have a mind to. Yet all that delight in God have the desire of their heart fulfilled (Psalms 37:4), though all the desires in their heart be not humoured.

That is a difficult lesson to grasp. We feel it these days in our troubled times, whether it be the heavy weight of the coronavirus pandemic on our lives, the seemingly endless protests or the US presidential election in November. We all want a measure of relief from any or all of those. And, yes, it seems as if the will of Providence has a bearing on any relief of all of those. We must pray for patience and, as Paul and the other Apostles wrote so often, endure.

It is not an easy yoke to bear.

Let us look where Paul had travelled by that time. Whereas Jesus stayed within the nucleus of the Jews, His Father’s people, in order to let them know He was the Messiah, Paul made an incredible three-mission journey all over Asia Minor and what we know as Greece to bring the Gospel to the people, including the Gentiles.

John MacArthur discusses this:

He went all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum, and that’s in excess of a thousand miles, maybe as much as 1,400 miles if you drew a line. He covered a lot of territory, but you might be interested to know that all three of his missionary tours – he took three missionary journeys – all three of his missionary tours basically covered the same area. He kept going back and strengthening, going back and strengthening. Each time he’d go back, he’d extend it a little further. He’d go back again, extend it a little further; go back again, extend it a little further – strengthening and extending, strengthening and extending. And finally, the reason he got as far as he did was because of his imprisonment, really, which took him all the way to Rome. But he had great precision in terms of his ministry from the very beginning.

If you go back to the ninth chapter of Acts, you’re going to find in verse 6 he says, trembling and with tremendous fear because he’s just been knocked to the dirt on the way to Damascus, and now he’s blind – and trembling and with great fear, he says, “Lord, what do you want me to do? What do you want me to do? Give me direction. Give me some orders.”

And the Lord said to him, “Arise, get up, go to the city and you’ll find out.” And he went into the city, and that’s when he met Ananias, who was God’s instrument. And in verse 15, “The Lord said to him, ‘Go your way. Ananias, you can leave him; he’s a chosen vessel to me, and here’s his calling: to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.’” So, he had a very specific calling. And he had a great sense of that calling.

… from chapter 22 of Acts … chapter 22, verse 21 – “And He reciting his testimony, ‘Depart! For I will send thee far from here unto the Gentiles.’He had this sense of mission that was very precise. In the chapter in which he gives his testimony later in the book of Acts, that being chapter 26, in verse 15 he says – reciting his testimony, he says on the Damascus Road, “I said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’

“He said, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, stand on your feet; I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of these things which you have seen, of those things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the people, from the Gentiles unto whom now I send you. And here’s your mission, to pen the eyes of the Gentiles, turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God” – that is an evangelism ministry – “that they may receive forgiveness of sins, inheritance among them who are sanctified by faith that is in Me.’”

So, he had great sense of precision and direction from God in his ministry. He articulates this back in the twentieth chapter of Acts in a discussion with the Ephesian elders at Miletus. And he is very, very committed to the task that God has given him. Particularly I want you to notice verse 22. He says, “I’m going to Jerusalem, even though I’m bound in my spirit” – my spirit is captive to this mission – “I don’t know what’s going to fall on me there; I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he says, “except the Holy Spirit keeps telling me in every single city that I’m going to get put in chains and I’m going to be afflicted. So, I know it’s going to be difficult, but I’m going; I’m moving; I’m on my way.” Why? “Because none of these outward physical circumstances move me for the simple reason that I do not count my life dear unto myself. I’m not concerned with my own self-preservation. The only thing I want to do is finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, which is to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

“And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. But I can testify to you this day that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not failed to declare to you all the counsel of God.” In other words, “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve always done, and that is to do exactly what God called me to do.”

In Colossians 1, he reiterates the fact that God had made him a minister, and God had set him in motion. In Galatians chapter 2, verse 7 and verse 8, you get the same impression, that he was sent to the Gentiles and the testimony of Scripture is that he was mighty in his ministry to the Gentiles. So, Paul knew precision.

The Church has never had a greater church planter.

Paul readily acknowledged that his work was done in the regions that he had visited (verse 23) — some more than once — therefore, it was time to move on to the furthest reach of the Empire, Spain, via Rome, where he hoped to meet the church members there (verse 24). He hoped that they would give him further resolve to travel on to what he thought would be his final destination in evangelising for Christ. Historians record that he was martyred with Peter in Rome.

Paul had ‘hope’ he would meet the Christians residing in Rome. He knew from past experience not to take anything for granted. The Holy Trinity ordains so much in our lives.

MacArthur reminds us of Acts 16 and the Holy Spirit’s intervention:

… let’s look at chapter 16 for a moment and get a view of how providence may work. In Acts 16, verse 6, “And when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia” – this is Paul and his traveling companions – “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” Now, how did he do that? How did the Holy Spirit forbid them? It doesn’t say. It doesn’t say it was miraculous. It doesn’t say they heard a voice out of heaven. Somehow the Holy Spirit didn’t allow them to go to Asia. So, “They came to Mysia and attempted to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit wouldn’t allow that either.” How did that happen? We don’t know. “And so, they passed by Mysia and came to Troas. And there a vision appeared to Paul,” and he knew what the Spirit wanted. The direction was go over across the water to Macedonia, and that was the Macedonian call. But here is God ordering the circumstances to bring about His own will.

There Paul met the purple fabric merchant Lydia — the first convert in Europe — and was later imprisoned for a short while.

Henry points out:

Observe how doubtfully he speaks: I trust to see you: not, “I am resolved I will,” but, “I hope I shall.” We must purpose all our purposes and make all our promises in like manner with a submission to the divine providence; not boasting ourselves of to-morrow, because we know not what a day may bring forth, Proverbs 27:1,Jam+4:13-15.

As has been so often said, ‘Life is what happens when you make other plans’.

If you think that was merely about Paul, MacArthur has a personal anecdote to tell about his ministry and his marriage in 1985, when he gave this sermon. He knew the way to San Jose — just as in the old song — but he could not get there because of bad weather.

The rapidity of airport check-in back then will bring tears to the eyes of those of us old enough to remember:

I was supposed to fly to San Jose a week ago, to speak to a youth rally at Mount Herman on a Friday night – the Friday night after Thanksgiving. And so, my son, Matt, took me by the airport and dropped me off because it was only ten minutes till the flight, and I was just going to go in and get on the plane and leave. And he took off, and I walked in, and there was a sign that said, “San Jose flight cancelled.” That was the only flight, at that time, that was cancelled, though the weather got bad in the north, I guess, and they began to cancel a whole lot of flights.

So, I’m standing there, realizing that there are people coming from all over every place to this rally to hear me speak, and I’m supposed to be flying in. And somebody, at that time, is already on their way to the airport because it’s about a 55-minute flight. There’s nothing I can do, and I don’t even have a ride home. So, there I am.

And in the providence of God, they were having a sale in the shop, and I bought my wife’s birthday present, which was really providential at 50 percent off. If you ask her, she’ll show it to you after the service tonight; she’s wearing it. But that was providential, as God would have it, because it’s something she needed greatly; she lost the last one I got her. But anyway, we won’t go into that. I’m digging a hole for myself; you’ll have to help me out. No.

So, anyway, I’m standing there in the airport, and I called, and we tried everything we could possibly conceive to get me to San Jose. There was a flight leaving later, but it was overbooked, and there was a long standby waiting list, and it would get me there not in time to drive all the way down anyway.

And so, we were trying to get a hold of people and so forth and so on, and there was nothing I could do. So, I went home – and everyone said, “Why are you here?” – which was a little bit of a surprise. We had a wonderful evening and a wonderful day. And the Lord, perhaps, provided that day for my family.

But anyway, I went through the next couple of days and a couple of days later, a young man came up to me and said, “By the way, you didn’t get to San Jose, did you?”

And I said, “No. How did you know?”

He said, “I was there in anticipation of hearing you speak.” But he said, “I want to set your heart at ease.” He said, “Another person was there also who had come to hear you speak, who was speaking there in the area over the weekend, and when he walked in the back door, they informed him that he had been elected to take your place. And so, without any preparation, he got up and spoke. And I want you to know that that was of God because the message he gave was directly to my heart, and the Spirit of God used it to change my life. So,” he said, “I just want you to know that the Lord is in control.”

Well, I was really thankful to hear that. I mean I don’t believe for a minute that I’m necessary to what God wants to do, and it’s just as wonderful not to be somewhere as it is to be there if the Lord’s God something else in mind. But that’s how God works providence.

Yet, MacArthur cautions us about leaving planning aside, the ‘let go and let God’ theory, which was only beginning to become an idea when he preached his sermon. No. We must be prepared:

Trusting in the providence of God is no excuse for a lack of planning, or a lack of purpose, or a lack of direction, or a lack of goals. There are those people who want to sit back and say, “Well, we’re just going to let the Holy Spirit lead.” That’s a poor excuse for laziness. Let me tell you something; I believe in the leading of the Holy Spirit, but effective ministry just doesn’t happen without very careful planning and strategizing. “Man makes his plans” – Proverbs 16 says – “but God directs his steps.” But man makes his plans. I mean we spend a lot of time around here planning. Things happen because we plan.

So, Paul reveals his plan. Look at it in verse 23. Now he says, “But now, having no more place in these parts” – that is to say, “I have evangelized this far; I’ve evangelized from Jerusalem to Illyricum and there’s no sense in staying around. The church is growing. There are others who can carry on the ministry. There are elders ordained in the various places; the work will go on. There are no more regions where Christ is not at least named in this area. I have” – as verse 19 says – “fully preached the gospel of Christ all around about Jerusalem to Illyricum.”

“And since this is thoroughly covered” – and I love that idea; he wasn’t going to move on till he’d done the work where he was – great principle, if I can say it to you that are in seminary, learn it and learn it well: thoroughness before breadth, depth before breadth; it is not the breadth of a ministry, it is the depth of a ministry; not how much ground did you cover, but how fully did you cover the ground you covered; not how far did you reach, and not how many, but how complete and how effective.

Paul then draws himself back to his circumstances at the time and tells the Romans that he is taking charitable contributions to the church in Jerusalem (verse 25) from the Gentile Christians in Macedonia and Achaia (verse 26). The people there were much wealthier there than the converts in Jerusalem. 

Note that Paul never collected funds for himself but for the faithful elsewhere. He never forgot the various churches that he either planted (e.g. Asia Minor) or visited (Jerusalem).

Therefore, Paul’s call was to Jerusalem at that point, not Rome, regardless of his heart’s desire.

MacArthur explains that there was a great famine in the region around Jerusalem at the time. Think coronavirus — loss of work and food. Perhaps we are not hungry, but many are suffering because of this political drama. It is milder than Jerusalem’s crisis and worth putting into perspective when one reads the following:

if you read in the book of Acts carefully you will find that there was a great famine. It’s recorded in chapter 11 and into chapter 12. There was a great famine in Jerusalem. And because of the influx into the city of these Christians, because of the presence of those that were saved on the day of Pentecost and never went home, because of the hatred of many Jews toward Jesus and His followers which generated persecution and dispossession of homes and the loss of jobs and even imprisonment — they were throwing them in to prison in Acts chapter 8, they were breathing out threatening and slaughter against them — so the Christians had a very difficult time in earning a living.

Many of them couldn’t get a job. Many of the fathers of the homes were put in prison and so, there was nothing to supply for the wife and children. There was a great need because of the poverty there. And so, in light of that need the apostle Paul had arranged for a collection. He had arranged to take an offering and take it back to the poor saints.

Paul says that the people from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia were rightfully happy to donate to the converts in Jerusalem, because they shared mutually not only in spiritual blessings coming from a belief in Christ as Saviour but also in the material blessings that a united church of believers brings (verse 27).

MacArthur tells us that Paul brought with him to Jerusalem the leaders of those churches to demonstrate Christian unity:

when he went back with the money he also took representatives of all those churches so when he came back to Jerusalem finally – finally, he not only had a large amount of money for the poor but he had representatives from all the Gentile churches there with the money. And you have to understand that with Paul it wasn’t just a question of the money, it wasn’t simply making a certain contribution for the poor among the saints or, literally, the poor of the saints who were at Jerusalem.

It was a way to conciliate two factions in the church. You had a Jewish church in Jerusalem, you had a Gentile church in the rest of the world and everybody at that time knew Jew and Gentile had very little relationship. And so, in an act that was not only meant to relieve some distress by virtue of the money but also to demonstrate the unity of the church, Paul was committed to taking this money, along with the Gentile representatives who gave it, so that there might be conciliation.

MacArthur also explains the meaning of the word ‘contribution’ in Greek:

The word “contribution,” by the way, a very important word, verse 26, the word is koinōnia. It is the word for fellowship. It is the word for fellowship. And sharing money is so essential a part of fellowship that three times in referring to this collection Paul uses the word koinōnia. Romans 15:26 right here, 2 Corinthians 8:4, 2 Corinthians 9:14, he calls the collection fellowship, common sharing. This is to be the priority. Now listen, I believe that Paul in his mind knew that, ultimately, the evangelization of the world would be hard pressed to succeed unless there was unity in the church. And he was committed to the strengthening of the base church, that it might be strong and have its needs met before he went out to reach the world. Very important.

In older translations, e.g. the King James Version, ‘contribution’ is translated as ‘fruit’, which has even more significance. A contribution seems abstract. Fruit seems more tangible.

Henry has more:

He calls the alms fruit, for it is one of the fruits of righteousness; it sprang from a root of grace in the givers, and redounded to the benefit and comfort of the receivers. And his sealing it intimates his great care about it, that what was given might be kept entire, and not embezzled, but disposed of according to the design of the givers. Paul was very solicitous to approve himself faithful in the management of this matter: an excellent pattern for ministers to write after, that the ministry may in nothing be blamed.

In verse 28, Paul is more determined than ever to evangelise Spain, travelling by Rome: ‘I will leave for Spain by way of you’ (verse 28).

Regardless of the outcome of his desires, Paul knew that God would bless him one way or another (verse 29).

MacArthur tells us:

Verse 29, “I’m sure,” – he says – “when I come to you I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.” Now what an assurance that is.

He says I’m going to come in spiritual prosperity. When I come to you I’m going to come with blessing. In spite of difficulties, in spite of trials, I’m going to come in blessing. By the way, that last phrase “of the gospel” is not in the better manuscripts and so the verse would read, “I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” I know when I come to you I’m going to be blessed.

You say, “Well how did he know that?” Because that’s the way it always was with him. Some people — mark this — by virtue of an obedient spiritual life always live in the place of blessing. No matter what negative circumstance they may have, they enjoy the blessing of God. He has enjoyed the fullness of the things of Christ throughout his ministry so he says, and I love this. “I am” – look at it, verse 29 – “I am sure.” I am sure …

You say, “How does he know that? How has he enjoyed the fullness of the things of Christ?” Because of obedience, because of obedience. Now he says, notice again verse 29, “I’m sure that when I come to you,” — Now he didn’t know whether he was going to come and the fact that he said that doesn’t mean it necessarily had to come to pass. The fact that he was coming is not inspired, the fact that he thought he might come is inspired. He was planning to come, whether he came or not. But he said, – “When I do come” – obviously within the will of God – “I know one thing, I’ll be blessed.”

I mean, that’s the way to live, isn’t it? To me, that’s the only way to live. To be able to say, “Well I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow but I know one thing, I’ll be blessed. I don’t know where I’ll be a couple of years from now, but I know one thing, I’ll be in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” How can you promise yourself that? Because the key to that is an obedient life. Now that is true positive thinking, not the cheap substitute we hear about today.

True positive thinking says, “I live in submission to Christ, I live in obedience to His Word so I know wherever I am I’ll enjoy the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” Marvelous way to live. By the way, as it turned out, he did get to Rome. That’s right, only he got there as a prisoner. But this still came true. He got there as a prisoner, and even as a prisoner he wrote the Philippians. And in writing to the Philippians, chapter 1, he talks about the difficulties, chains, and some people are criticizing him and so forth and so on.

Wow. These two commentaries took my breath away. Paul, although not one of the original Twelve, was no less an Apostle than any of them (bar Judas, of course).

I know that many of my readers are aware of Paul’s importance. Yet, in a historical context, his ministry is brought to life for others amongst us.

Those of us who are Gentiles have so much for which to be grateful, thanks to Paul’s ministry, guided by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.

Next time — Romans 15:30-32

Trinity SundayWhat follows are the readings for Trinity Sunday, June 16, 2019.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Image credit: GodAndScience.org

I have a few posts which explain the importance of Trinity Sunday and the holy mystery of the Triune God:

On Trinity Sunday

A great way to explain the Holy Trinity

Anglican reflections on the Trinity

A practical — and Anglican — reflection for Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday — an Anglican analysis of its importance

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Wisdom speaks to us through God’s divine revelation (first four verses) and through Christ Jesus (verses 22-31).

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

8:1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?

8:2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;

8:3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:

8:4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.

8:22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.

8:23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

8:24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.

8:25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth–

8:26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.

8:27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

8:28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,

8:29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,

8:30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,

8:31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Psalm

The Psalm reflects on the greatness and glory of God, to whom we owe all honour and praise.

Psalm 8

8:1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

8:2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

8:3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

8:5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

8:6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

8:7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

8:8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

8:9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Epistle

Paul discusses our justification by faith through grace and the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives.

Romans 5:1-5

5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Gospel

Following on from previous Eastertide readings in Year C, this is another passage from Jesus’s final teachings at the Last Supper, once Judas had left. John 14 through John 17 are among my favourite chapters in the Bible. I wrote about the following verses a few years ago:

Trinity Sunday 2016: May 22 (John 16:12-15, Year C)

John 16:12-15

16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

16:14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

16:15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Sundays after this one are referred to as being ‘after Pentecost’ or ‘after Trinity’. Where used, the celebrant’s vestment colour will be green until the first Sunday of Advent.

Trinity Sunday is on May 27, 2018.

My past posts explain more about this important feast in the Church calendar honouring the Triune God. I would suggest perusing them before going into the readings:

On Trinity Sunday

Anglican reflections on the Trinity

A practical — and Anglican — reflection for Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday — an Anglican analysis of its importance

The Holy Trinity is difficult to explain, not only to children but also to adults. One Lutheran came up with an intelligent yet simple way of doing so, by using an egg:

A great way to explain the Holy Trinity

Themes for today’s readings — Year B in the three-year Lectionary — include forgiveness of sin, God’s infinite mercy, God’s glory and rebirth through the Holy Spirit. Emphases mine below.

In the first reading, Isaiah describes how he was cleansed of sin in a vision, which resulted in his asking the Lord to be sent out to prophesy:

Isaiah 6:1-8

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

6:2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.

6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

6:4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

6:5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

6:6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.

6:7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

The Psalm glorifies the Lord:

Psalm 29

29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.

29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.

29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.

29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

In the Epistle, Paul says that each of us has a personal relationship with the Holy Trinity:

Romans 8:12-17

8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–

8:13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”

8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

8:17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

The Gospel reading recounts Nicodemus’s night time discussion with Jesus, who explains rebirth through water and the Spirit:

John 3:1-17

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.

3:2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

3:3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

3:4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

3:5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’

3:8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

3:11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.

3:12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Where vestments are worn, the celebrant will wear white on Trinity Sunday.

After this, the Church calendar refers to subsequent Sundays as being ‘after Trinity’, ‘after Pentecost’ or ‘in Ordinary Time’ until the first Sunday of Advent. The vestment colour will be green during this time.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns next week.

In 2017, Trinity Sunday is June 11.

As I explained in 2010, also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, it falls on the Sunday after Pentecost.

Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans and many Presbyterians celebrate this important feast day honouring the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The celebrant wears white vestments.

That post has more information on the history of Trinity Sunday, one of the major feast days in the Church calendar.

These posts might also be of interest:

Anglican reflections on the Trinity

A practical — and Anglican — reflection for Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday — an Anglican analysis of its importance

Trinity Sunday 2016: May 22 (John 16:12-15, three-year Lectionary Year C)

Now is a good time to explain the Holy Trinity to children. The concept of Three-in-One can be difficult to grasp, but one Lutheran pastor came up with an ingenious way of explaining it with an egg. This is foolproof:

A great way to explain the Holy Trinity

I hope that all my readers have a blessed day rejoicing in the Triune God.

(Comments temporarily off.)

holy_trinity by st andrei rublevSunday, May 31, 2015, is Trinity Sunday.

Trinity Sunday is always the next one after Pentecost.

My 2010 post explains that it was not until St Thomas Becket dedicated the Sunday after Pentecost to the Trinity in 1162 that it became a uniform feast in the Church.

Traditionally, in some denominations, subsequent Sundays until the First Sunday of Advent were referred to as Sundays ‘after Trinity’. Since then, this has changed in favour of Sundays ‘after Pentecost’ or ‘in Ordinary Time’. However, there are a few which have retained the Trinitarian association.

It is important for Christians to explain to their children the divine mystery of the Holy Trinity. My 2013 post features the Anglican, Revd Matt Kennedy’s, emphasis on the Bible which enables us to understand how the Holy Trinity helps us in our understanding of divine purpose. My 2012 post details an excellent Lutheran way of explaining the Trinity simply to our children: use an egg.

Along with many other clergy, Kennedy acknowledges that because we do not ‘get God’ as we ‘get’ — understand — the workings of our world, we tend to ignore or deny divine mysteries and truths. My 2012 post highlights his sermon on this topic; it is very useful for those who doubt the existence and doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

Today’s Anglican reflection also addresses our reluctance to accept the Trinity.

The late Revd Dr John Hughes, Dean of Jesus College, Cambridge, gave a sermon in 2010 which clarifies the importance of Trinity Sunday. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Trinity Sunday began to be observed in England under St Thomas Becket and then spread to the rest of Western Christendom.  And yet, there is a tradition that this Sunday the task of preaching is a short straw, not a joy and a delight.  Why is this?

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, highest and most central of Christian doctrines has not enjoyed a good reputation in the last century or so.  I remember as a teenager being fascinated by those endless paradoxes in the Athanasian creed: ‘not three eternals, but one eternal, not three uncreated, but one uncreated…’   The whole thing sounded like some great riddle.  And let’s be honest, congregations have a tendency to glaze over when we come to the finer points of doctrinal and philosophical theology.  But the point runs deeper than this: for many in the last hundred years, the doctrine of the Trinity was seen as a later invention of Greek philosophy far removed from the simple faith of the Galilean fishermen.  Sceptics have ridiculed the endless debates in the early Church around that one word ‘homoousion’ – ‘of one being’ as we still say every Sunday in our creed.  The Trinity has been seen as part of the ecclesiastical baggage of dogma and metaphysics to be cast away in the return to the simple faith of Jesus.  Such a view was held by the Unitarians, who have a chapel on Christ’s Pieces.  And for a while such a view seemed to be becoming mainstream amongst New Testament scholars, theologians and even a few Bishops, although I’m glad to say things seem to have changed in recent years.  And of course the rise in interest in Islam, in many ways an early form of Unitarianism, has raised this question again of late.

Hughes’s three points about the Holy Trinity are that 1) Christians believe that God is very much alive and active in each of our lives; 2) He communicates this via Christ’s humanity (in addition to His divinity) in ‘collaboration with humanity’ and 3) we are called, via the presence of the Holy Spirit, to preach the Gospel.

Whilst I disagree with Hughes’s semi-Pelagian belief that we have a divine presence here on earth (see his third point) — our perfection comes in heavenly afterlife — his conclusion is worthwhile:

So to recap: God is Love, God is personal

Unbelievers do not understand this, and it is one of the most difficult challenges we face when evangelising in greater and lesser ways. So much atheistic propaganda has presented God as perpetually angry and distant, that it is hard to counteract this in conversation with curious unbelievers.

In closing, Hughes died in a car accident in June 2014. A memorial service in thanksgiving for his life took place in October that year at the University Church of Great Saint Mary’s in Cambridge. Professor Janet Soskice, President of Jesus College and Chair of the Faculty Board of Divinity, gave the address:

… John loved the Church of England, its language, prayer books and liturgies, but above all he loved the living church itself. Theologically and liturgically Anglo-Catholic, the services he organised and sermons he preached were never exclusive or cultish, and always deeply informed by his study of Scripture. He inherited from Tim Jenkins and Jonathan Collis, previous Dean and Chaplain, a lively and well-integrated chapel. With Mark Williams, the Director of Music, he oversaw a golden age of Jesus Chapel worship

John emanated unruffled energy. He never appeared to be rushed even while, along with all his chapel and college duties, I knew he was researching, lecturing, publishing and supervising and examining both undergraduate and graduate students. In the Faculty of Divinity he was a highly regarded colleague in theology, philosophy of religion and ethics. Amongst his contemporaries he was widely regarded as the most gifted Anglican theologian of his generation

I have spoken with a number of agnostics who think the Church needs a revival of Christian philosophy. Very few clergy have studied it in depth. It seems to be present among a few Catholic and Anglican priests, but not enough to make a wider difference. From my conversations with agnostics, Christian philosophy would facilitate a sort of applied Christianity which would enable making a greater connection between the New Testament and our lives today.

Readers may agree or disagree with this perspective. However, the Reformed (Calvinist) minister, the Revd Vincent Cheung, has combined the two in a traditional yet thought-provoking series of sermons.

stained glass teaching-scriptures-720641 genxrisingcomTrinity Sunday 2013 falls on May 26.

Last year, I featured excerpts of a Trinity Sunday sermon from the Revd Matt Kennedy, Rector of the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York. Mr Kennedy explained various heresies and what makes them so.

I located another sermon of his for today’s post. I do not recall if it is specifically for Trinity Sunday, however, Kennedy makes excellent points on the application of the Holy Trinity in our lives.

At some point in a good number of us — myself included — have come to such an abstraction about the three-in-one Godhead that, if left unchecked, it can be a divine mystery which we neglect.

The Holy Trinity can be difficult to understand and explain; it is a mystery of faith. Yet, we must do our best to understand and apply what we can of this mystery to our daily lives. This is a good way to explain it to children and adolescents; it involves an egg. This post from 2010 explains more about Trinity Sunday and its place in the Church year.

Now on to Kennedy’s sermon which ties us in with the three Persons of the Trinity, the Church and  the Bible. He has more at the link, but this is the excerpt — the practical application in our lives — which caught my eye (emphases mine):

The individual Christian,
the Church
cannot separate the Holy Spirit from the Holy Scriptures.
The scriptures are the words of Christ,
the Son,
and it is the task of the Holy Spirit to glorify the Son
by taking his words
and making them known
not undercutting them.
The Holy Spirit is never, therefore,
never going to contradict the Holy Scriptures.

On the contrary,
if you want to hear the voice of God,
if you want, in your ordinary day to day life,
to feel the presence of God,
to know him,
to be guided by him,
to find out if he loves you and how much,
to figure out what to do with yourself,
how to relate to the people around you,
if that is what you want,
then there is one place to go
and that is the Bible.
And that is because for the believer,
the Holy Spirit’s task is not reveal to new revelations
or new truths to astound our friends,
but to illumine,
to help you understand what has already been so carefully
and perfectly revealed.
He does that supernaturally
through your personal study,
through teachers,
through preachers,
applying those words to your life and to the life of the church.

Before moving on to Mark 4, there are two important aspects of the second half of Mark 3 which are worth studying.

One is the notion of Jesus’s ‘madness’, discussed yesterday.

The other aspect, blaspheming the Holy Spirit, is also related to the accusations by the Jewish hierarchy that Jesus had an ‘unclean spirit’.

Both passages are included in the Lectionary for public worship, but they can leave some readers, Christians included, confused.

Here is Mark 3:22-30 (emphases mine):

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.Then indeed he may plunder his house.

 28Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”30for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

John MacArthur says that the parallel to these verses are in Matthew 12:22-32:

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

 22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Luke 11:14-23 tells a similar story, although without the warning against blaspheming the Holy Spirit. MacArthur says:

The section in between where the leaders call Him satanic, this text in Mark 3 is parallel to Matthew 12. But that happened on another occasion in Luke 11. Luke 11 has a record of almost an identical conversation but it’s different. This all happened in Galilee. The one in Luke 11 happened in Judea. This one happened in response to the healing of a deaf and dumb and blind demon-possessed man. The one in Luke, the situation of the healing was different. What that tells me is that this conversation happened at least twice and the facts are it may have happened a lot. And that lets us know that the Pharisees were doing everything they could everywhere they went to tell people He was satanic. That was their mantra.

Why demonic?

The scribes and Pharisees could see that Jesus was performing miracles. They saw the results of these healing — creative — miracles. Jesus could not have been mad, because He would have been incapable of miracles. However, even a healthy mental state does not produce miracles. Therefore, the miracles came from something supernatural inherent within Him.

They were so set against Him that they spread the rumour that he had demons. Mark 3:30:

for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

MacArthur explains:

They use the vilest possible slander and blasphemy and say the Son of God is nothing but a servant of Beelzebul. Most people wouldn’t say that. I don’t think most people in Israel would say that. I think it was a hard sell for them to convince the people that this was actually who He was. I don’t think there are very many people that would say that today. Some would, some would say that Jesus was satanic but it’s pretty rare. If you reject Jesus, you probably don’t want to say that, you probably never have said that, you might never have thought that. There are atheists who reject Christianity who don’t go that far. But really, you certainly can’t say that He’s just a good man. If He’s not a lunatic, He’s a very bad man. He is a great liar. He is a massive deceiver. He’s trying to convince people that he’s God and he’s got supernatural power and if he’s not God, that supernatural power has to be satanic.

The name Beelzebul — and others

Mark 3:22 says:

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”

MacArthur examines this name, as well as others with which the Jews were familiar:

Now Beelzebul had become a name for Satan. There was another one the Jews used, Belial … Beelzebul was a name for Satan. It was basically a name that meant what Mark says they said in the second statement, verse 22, He cast out the demons by the ruler of the demons. Beelzebul was a name to designate the ruler of the demons. And Luke says Beelzebul means the ruler of the demons in Luke 11:15. By the way, that word Beelzebul is used five times in the Old Testament, so it had been around a long time. The Jews were familiar with it and used it.

Now where did it come from? Probably from Beelzebub which came from Baal. Baal means lord and the Ekronites…Ekron was a city in Philistia and according to … 2 Kings chapter 1, the Ekronites had a god named Baalzebub which means the Baal of the high place, or Baal meaning lord, lord of the high place, lord of the dwelling, lord of the temple. That was Beelzebub, that was the Ekronite god.

Well the Jews purposefully corrupted Beelzebub into Beelzebul because when you change it from the B to t he L, it goes from being the lord of the high place, to being the lord of the manure…a very purposeful corruption showing Jewish disdain for the false Canaanitish god. So through the years, this Beelzebul, lord of the dung, or lord of the flies that collect on the dung, had become the name for Satan.

Jesus’s response

Our Lord answered the scribes in a curious yet well known set of verses, more generally used in a political context today. It is easy to forget that Jesus was talking about Satan and not a nation.

Jesus calls his critics toward Him in verse 23. He asked how Satan could cast himself out of someone, then followed up with familiar verses (24 and 25):

24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

What does this mean? Simply that Satan never works against himself. As Matthew Henry explains:

It was plain that the doctrine of Christ made war upon the devil’s kingdom, and had a direct tendency to break his power, and crush his interest in the souls of men; and it was as plain that the casting of him out of the bodies of people confirmed that doctrine, and gave it the setting on; and therefore it cannot be imagined that he should come into such a design; every one knows that Satan is no fool, nor will act so directly against his own interest.

Jesus was even-tempered with his accusers:

he treated them with all the freedom, friendliness, and familiarity that could be; he vouchsafed to reason the case with them, that every mouth may be stopped.

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

Jesus told the scribes (Mark 3:28-29):

28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—

The eternal sin is because they say He has an ‘unclean spirit’ (Mark 3:30).

Recall that the Holy Trinity is one in three persons.

MacArthur tells us what blasphemy is not:

You will please notice that it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit but it’s not denying tongues, or denying a healing, or denying some power display, supposed power display of the Holy Spirit.

However:

It is blaspheming the Holy Spirit by saying Jesus is demonic.

How does that blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Because when Jesus came into the world, the New Testament says, He set aside the prerogatives of His own power. He said, “I only do what the Father shows Me to do, tells Me to do. And He did it by the power of the Spirit.” That’s what the incarnation meant, that when He laid aside His glory, became a man, He restricted the independent use of His divine attributes and He left Himself to the will of the Father and the power of the Spirit. Whatever He did was the Father’s will and was done through the Spirit’s power. So if you say Jesus is satanic, you have just blasphemed the Holy Spirit cause the Holy Spirit doing His work through Him. The Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism, the Holy Spirit led Him from there into the wilderness to be tempted, was with Him through His temptation. The Holy Spirit then anointed Him to preach and away He went preaching and doing all His ministry.

If you were there and you saw it and you heard it and your final conclusion was He’s demonic…you’re damned, you can’t be saved because that’s your ultimate conclusion with full revelation. So this is unique to those people who had that full revelation.

From this, some of us might conclude that this was for the scribes and Pharisees’ time, not ours. However, MacArthur draws our attention to St Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews (10:26-31), which says much the same:

26For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Matthew Henry observes:

Many of those who reviled Christ on the cross (which was a blaspheming of the Son of man, aggravated to the highest degree), found mercy, and Christ himself prayed, Father, forgive them; but this was blaspheming the Holy Ghost, for it was by the Holy Spirit that he cast out devils, and they said, It was by the unclean spirit, v. 30. By this method they would outface the conviction of all the gifts of the Holy Ghost after Christ’s ascension, and defeat them all, after which there remained no more proof, and therefore they should never have forgiveness, but were liable to eternal damnation. They were in imminent danger of that everlasting punishment, from which there was no redemption, and in which there was no intermission, no remission.

MacArthur says:

Look, we’ve all been forgiven for rejecting Christ, haven’t we? We’ve all been forgiven for rejecting Christ because we weren’t born saved. So we’ve all been forgiven for that. But the one who won’t be forgiven is the one called the apostate who gets full exposure to the truth, full exposure to the gospel, full revelation and makes the final conclusion…it’s not true, I reject Christ. It’s a deception.

If that’s where you end up after full exposure, that’s what’s called apostasy…that’s unforgivable. The Holy Spirit’s testimony is that He is Lord. The Holy Spirit did this mighty work through Him to demonstrate that He is…He is Lord.

This is what Paul was saying to the Hebrews. They were blessed enough to know those who lived and walked with Christ. Today, we have that witness in the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Our rejection of that testimony is a serious thing indeed.

That is not the state in which to leave this world.

MacArthur concludes:

Look, all that’s left for you if your final decision is with full knowledge to reject, fearful judgment, terrifying judgment, severer punishment, the hottest hell is for those who rejected with the most knowledge. There are perhaps some of you who have rejected Christ. Your knowledge is increased today. You are in danger of greater judgment if you conclude that He is not the Lord He claimed to be. You need to be frightened by this. Some of you perhaps have thought that you were guilty of some blasphemy that could never be forgiven. May I remind you in final comments that the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy, and I love this, said this, chapter 1, verse 12, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who strengthened me because He considered me faithful, putting me into ministry even though I was formerly a…what?…blasphemer.” All manner of blasphemy can be forgiven except that final blasphemy that says with full revelation, “I reject Christ.” And you’re left with the fact of explaining His supernatural power as satanic. And you stand then with the crucifiers, crucifying Him again and putting Him to open shame.

Much better to remember Matthew 12:32 says, “You can speak a word against the Son of Man and be forgiven.” We’re all blasphemers of a sort who have been forgiven if we’ve come to faith in Christ. Don’t turn away, get the full revelation and respond in full trust.

Lewis’s trilemma

C S Lewis devotees might say, ‘I was wondering how long it would take to get to this point’.

Others will wonder what Lewis’s trilemma is.

It is an argument used to prove Christ’s divinity:

“Lunatic, Liar, or Lord”, or as “Mad, Bad, or God”

Although the trilemma is so called because Lewis popularised it in a BBC radio talk, it has been around since the 19th century. Wikipedia tells us:

The Scots preacher “Rabbi” John Duncan (1796–1870), around 1859-60:[2]

“Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.”

Duncan was one of several preachers, both in Britain and North America, to use the same argument, perhaps worded differently.

Unfortunately, modern theologians have criticised the argument.

Yet, Lewis wanted us to see that our condescension in calling Jesus a great man or a wonderful prophet falls well short of the mark:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.[5]

Every household and every so-called Christian school would do well to reflect upon these readings and this trilemma.

I, too, was guilty of condescension towards Jesus Christ. A better study of Scripture helped to dispel such a prideful notion.

I pray that an improved study of the New Testament also works for others in this situation.

June 3, 2012 is Trinity Sunday. Yesterday’s post gave a useful way to explain the divine mystery of the Holy Trinity to children and new believers.

The Revd Matt Kennedy, Rector of the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York, warns us about heresies concerning the Holy Trinity. What follows are excerpts from his Trinity Sunday sermon from 2010, ‘God’s Self Disclosure’ (emphases mine):

… let me start out by saying two things: 1. The Trinity is not something we made up. Concepts humans make up are very tidy. They may be complex like the combustion engine or the personal computer, but once you get the system everything falls into place. The Trinity is not tidy. It is not a practical, relevant, human-friendly system that once understood will make everything fall into place. That’s because the Trinity is not a human concept thought up by humans for humans. It’s the word humans use for God’s own nature that he has revealed to us. Everyone here can understand the basic facts about the Trinity because God has revealed these basics in a way that is fit for our finite minds, but we’ll never “get God” like we might “get” computers or mechanics, because God is infinite and we’re not.

Which brings me to the second thing: self disclosure is an act of love … the Creator of the Cosmos who owes us nothing and who needs nothing from us, reveals himself to us. Don’t sit back as if the Trinity is some dry dusty esoteric doctrine. It is God’s self disclosure. He’s inviting us to go deeper and to love him more. Christianity is a revealed faith not an intuitive religion. Christians do not take a mystical self-guided journey into the great cosmic yes. God reveals himself to us through his word. That’s an unwarranted unmerited immeasurably valuable gift. How stupid and selfish to be bored by it.

I’ve found that starting with what the Trinity is not, makes it easier to grasp what the Trinity is. So let’s start with four of the most common misunderstandings
    
Modalism: A couple of months ago someone in ST suggested this analogy for the Trinity. “Just as a single man can simultaneously be a son to his father, a father to his son, and a brother to his sibling so the one God can be Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” God steps into various roles depending on the circumstances. Sometimes he is the Father, other times, the Son and still others the Holy Spirit.  This is called Modalism.

Take a look at the gospel lesson this morning in John 16:13-15.
    
“13…when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15All that belongs to the Father is mine.” 

Is there anything in this text that would conflict with modalism? In verse 14 Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will glorify the Son. That requires two distinct persons. The Son and the Spirit are distinct and operating in relationship to each other at the same time. This relationship is impossible unless there are two distinct persons. In verse 15 Jesus mentions the Father. The Father shares everything with the Son: relationship. One person is not jumping into three roles. Three persons are relating simultaneously to each other. You see the same thing in the gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus. Simultaneously Jesus, the Son, is baptized, the Father speaks “This is my beloved Son” and, the Holy Spirit descends as a dove. All three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, present and actively relating to one another. The New Testament is full of these kinds of events and from them we learn, God tells us, that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, and the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct…they are not the same Person.

Arianism: Well then, some will say, if Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct, then they can’t all be God because there is only one God. So only the Father is God. Jesus is like a powerful avatar or spirit being. And the Spirit must be like the force in Star Wars, this spiritual energy field that the Father emits. Arius, a famous heretic, taught something like this in the early 4th century but its back in vogue in liberal mainstream protestant circles where Jesus is often depicted as being a super spiritual human so in touch with God that the divine becomes manifest through him—kind of like the Buddha but without all the fasting.

It’s clear enough that the Father is God. But scripture clearly identifies Jesus as God as well.

1. In John 1:1 we read: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word Was God”. Well who is the Word? Skipping down to verse 14 of John 1, “and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”  Obviously Jesus is the Word.
2. Jesus himself claims to be God. In John 8:56-58, Jesus has this exchange with Jewish Authorities “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” Those last words “I Am” or “ego eimi”, are the words used in the Greek Old Testament to translate YHWH. The Pharisees understand very clearly what Jesus means because in v. 59, they try to stone him for blasphemy.
3. And finally, Jesus accepts the kind of worship that belongs to God alone. What did Thomas’ say when the risen Jesus showed him his wounds?  “My Lord and My God”. And how did Jesus respond? “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”(20:29) The apostles claim Jesus is God, Jesus claims that he is God. Jesus accepts the worship only due to God

Tritheism: So are we saying that there are three Gods? Muslims and JWs believe that we are. In Isa 44:6 we read: “This is what the LORD says…I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.” Does the confession that the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God in the New Testament undercut that basic Old Covenant truth? Not at all. The truth that there is only one God that is reaffirmed in the New Testament. Paul writes in 1st Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. And James in 2:19 writes: “You believe that there is one God? You do well. Even the demons believe and shudder”  So the very apostles who proclaimed that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God just as strongly proclaimed that there is only One God.

Tripartism: Well, maybe God is like a giant peace sign with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit coming together as the three sections or parts. That idea doesn’t hold up either. One example will suffice. In Colossians 2:9, Paul writes “9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” The fullness of the deity, all that God is, Jesus is. The Son is not part of God, the Son is fully God and, on the basis of the texts we’ve already looked at, we must say the same is true for the Father and the Spirit
    
So here’s what we have so far: Scripture reveals, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct persons, not the same. Scripture also reveals that the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, and the Holy Spirit is fully God. And Scripture clearly reveals that there is only one God. How do we put this together? On the surface it seems like a contradiction but God does not contradict himself. So we are called to harmonize what he reveals.
    
That’s what the doctrine of the Trinity accomplishes. God is one in his nature or his essence, his being. God is three in Person …

So why is this keeping this straight important? …

Letting the Trinity go is one of the fastest ways to fall into spiritual danger. Almost all of the heresies—the lies about God that lead people away from the truth, away from Christ—that’s what heresy does, that’s why its so dangerous—at the root reject one or more truths about the Trinity …

It’s less common today for children in Christian schools and at home to learn about heresy. There are several and supposedly newer ones actually derive from the original. As Kennedy mentioned, Arianism is flourishing in ‘liberal’ churches. It certainly is in the Church of England. Jesus is the great socialist collectivist ‘teacher’. Although our churches have crucifixed and commemorate all the great feasts, sermons are reductive socio-political editorials. How many converts did the clergy of St Paul’s Cathedral make during Occupy, which ended — for now — a few months ago? It’s doubtful they made many with their social gospel. Their public pronouncements had little to do with Christ and everything concerning redistribution of wealth by the notional 1%. How sad.

Perhaps they have problems understanding or believing in the Trinity? Now that we have celebrated Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday, let us ensure we remain true to Scripture and Christian doctrines. Heresy really does take us away from the truth of Jesus Christ.

Explaining the Holy Trinity to children and new believers can be difficult. St Patrick was said to have used the shamrock, with its three leaves attached to the same stem.

What follows is another — and for me, more useful — way. It comes from a lady named Sue whose brother is a Lutheran pastor. At the last minute, he was asked to preach on Trinity Sunday at his family’s church because their pastor had laryngitis.  This is how he explained the Holy Trinity (emphases mine):

He set out 3 small bowls. He cracked an egg, separated the white from the yolk, placed them in 2 of the bowls, and the shell in the third. He then asked the children which was the egg (which of course brought out all kinds of interesting responses). He used this illustration to explain the Trinity. I think even the adults in the congregation were enlightened by his talk. The children certainly learned something that day.

The parts of an egg are inseparable — the shell, yolk and white are all component parts. Without any one of them, there would be no egg. The same is true of the divine mystery of the Holy Trinity. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are integral — not three different Gods, but three-in-one.

Tomorrow: An Anglican rector on the correct understanding of the Trinity

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