The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: How It Arises and the Good It Does
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
John 8:48-59
June 16, 2019

The teaching of the Holy Trinity occupies our attention today. God is three distinct persons in one divine Being. One God in three persons. The details are well-stated in the Athanasian Creed.

The considerations I want to focus on today are how the doctrine of the Trinity arose in the first place and how it is related to our redemption. I also want to consider whether the doctrine of the Trinity does any good. These considerations are directly related to each other as part of an organic whole.

We begin with what Jesus says in verse 58 of our Gospel reading (John 8:48-59). Jesus declares to the Jews: “Before Abraham was, ‘I Am.’” The Jews then picked up stones to stone Him (John 8:59). They did that because Jesus claimed to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus chapter 3. In Exodus 3:14, God says this: “And God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. . . . Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel: “I Am has sent me to you.”’”

So, Jesus is claiming to be the God who brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt through Moses and the Red Sea. Jesus is claiming to be God in every sense of the Word, as revealed to Moses and the people of Israel.

The Jews protested. But Jesus you are just a man? The modern age protests likewise. Yes, indeed, Jesus is truly a human being, a Son of Eve, and thank God for that. But Jesus proclaims that He is the Great I Am, who has existed in eternity and spoke to Moses in the burning bush.

The Jews could not accept this. Our modern age cannot accept it. But we see that the faith and teaching of the Holy Trinity arises out of who Jesus is. If Jesus is who He says He is, the Great I Am, the eternal God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then the teaching of God as the Holy Trinity follows.

Let’s works this out. Jesus is a distinct person. He speaks to and of the Father as a distinct person other than Himself. The Father is true God. No dispute about that. But now Jesus also claims to be true God. But there cannot be more than one God, or we have paganism, and not the God of Holy Scripture. In Deuteronomy. 6:4 Scripture says: “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Jesus says in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”

So, the Father and Jesus are both God together. There is no distinction at all in their divine being. They are one. But there is an absolute distinction in their personhood. This is Trinitarian talk. When we bring the Holy Spirit into this, who is also true God, the picture is complete.

But the Jews were looking for proof of Jesus’s divinity. Earlier in John 8, Jesus says a remarkable thing to them: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I Am He, and I do nothing of myself” (John 8:28). Jesus tells us in John chapter 12 that this “lifting up” means His being lifted up on a Roman cross (John 12:32). Thus, Jesus refers to His death as the proof that He is the I Am that has been sent into the world, into human flesh, by the Father.

But then in verse 54 of our text, Jesus also teaches that the Father will glorify Jesus (John 8:54). This is the resurrection and ascension. Jesus the Son as Son will glorify the Father by obediently going to the cross in sacrificial, atoning death for sinners. The Father then glorifies the Son, Jesus, for this obedience and sacrificial love on behalf of sinners and raises Him from the dead. 

The Jews wanted proof that Jesus is the great I Am. The proof is in Jesus’s death and resurrection. But Jesus’s death and resurrection is our redemption. These deeds are our forgiveness and promise of eternal life with God. According to Jesus’s teaching, however, His death and resurrection are also the demonstration that He is the Great I Am. Where does Jesus prove more that He is God than saving us from God’s own judgment and the power of Satan? Nowhere.

Importantly, Jesus goes on to state that this proof and teaching of God as Trinity will be accepted depending upon whether a person regards himself or herself in need of redemption. Earlier in John 8, Jesus told the Jews that “unless you believe that I Am He you will die in your sins.” Jesus as the Great I Am, as our Redeemer in His death and resurrection, and our admitted need for redemption, go together.

So the teaching of the Trinity does not arise speculatively. It arises out of God the Son coming into our world in Jesus and accomplishing our redemption in human flesh. It arises out of our need for redemption. And our praise and adoration of the Trinity becomes a resounding song of thanksgiving.

But does believing in the Trinity do any good? Indeed it does. The Trinity is the source and power of humility and love.

It is an amazing thing to observe in Jesus’s teaching just how selfless the persons of the Trinity are, and how interested in the good of others they are, our good. The Father sends the Son to give Him in self-denying sacrifice for sinners. The Father denies Himself by giving His Son for the redemption of sinners, to bring us to Himself in peace.

The Son goes as He is sent by the Father. He glorifies the Father by doing the work the Father sent Him to do (John 5:36; 8:29; 8:49). He lifts us up out of sin and death by healing the sick, speaking the truth, driving out the devil, submitting to death on a cross in the sinner’s place, speaking forgiveness to us.

The Father then glorifies the Son by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in glory and power.

And what does the Spirit do? The Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son (John 16:13). The Father sends the Spirit and the Spirit glorifies Jesus (John 16:14).

So the Son glorifies the Father by doing what the Father sent Him to do and by dying on a cross for us. The Father glorifies the Son by raising Him from the dead and sending the Spirit to us to glorify the Son in us. And the Spirit proceeds from the Father and fulfills the Father’s mission of glorifying the Son and glorifies the Son to us and in us. And God does all of this to save us and bring us to Himself.

Where in the three persons of God is the self-seeking, selfish ego, that is so characteristic of human beings in our age? Reason in our age boasts of great love. Yet it exhibits great egotism. In Jesus’s teaching of the Holy Trinity, with respect to the three persons that are God, egotism is non-existent, and self-sacrifice for the good and elevation of the unworthy is on full display.

The Trinity arises out of our redemption in Jesus. In this redemption, God speaks to you forgiveness and the promise of peace and eternal life with Him. And Jesus’s teaching of the Trinity shows us true personhood in the divine humility and love, which the revelation of God in Jesus shows us. Trusting in the redemption Jesus accomplished, we find in the Trinity the source and power of humility and love toward God and our neighbor.

How wonderful God truly is, and you are truly blessed to know Him as the Holy Trinity this day and forever in Jesus. Amen.


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