Now most of the time, when priests begin to talk about the Trinity, you’ll find some folks who go SNORE. The problem is, we cannot ignore the Trinity. In fact, the Trinity is the essence of our faith. St. Athanasius said that belief in the Trinity is what makes us Christian to begin with. Critics of our faith—be they Moslem, Jewish or secular find the Trinity at best absurd and at worst offensive. The Jew would quote from the Torah, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” The Moslem would quote from the Koran, “Unbelievers are those that say: ‘Allah is one of three.’ There is but one God. If they do not desist from so saying, those of them that disbelieve shall be sternly punished.” The secularist would simply say that the Trinity is illogical and too hard to figure out. How can God be one yet three? This defies our common sense. But God doesn’t much care for our idea of logic or common sense. Evagrius of Pontus, a desert hermit, said, “The moment we understand God, the moment he ceases to be God.
But since the Trinity is the essence of who we are, we have to try to make some sense of it.
One of the common misconceptions of the doctrine of the Trinity is that is was “invented” by the church in the 5th and 6th centuries by stuffy theologians who were too influenced by the philosophy of Plato. If I went through the original Greek concepts of the Creed with you , it would make your head swim. While it is true that the church formulated the doctrine of the Trinity in those centuries and that they used Platonic categories to flesh it out, it was the experience of the Church that caused it to realize that God had revealed himself in three persons. As the church experienced God in worship and in life, all three members of the Godhead were active.
For the earliest Christians, their primary sacred text was the OT. There they learned about the God of Israel, the Great I Am, the Creator—the one Christ called Father. Obviously, the first member of the Trinity was easily identified.
But the early Christians also experienced another—Jesus Christ who was more than a man. He taught with authority. He healed. He raised the dead. He forgave sins. And most incredible of all, he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. And Jesus made the audacious claim that ‘before Abraham was, I Am’—equating himself with the I AM of the OT. In fact, in Exodus 3, Moses asks the Lord ‘who shall I tell Pharaoh has sent me?’ To which God replies, tell him “I AM has sent me!” Jesus grants himself the divine name. Eventually the church formally proclaimed Christ as “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made—of one Being with the Father,” but they got it directly from the New Testament.
In addition, the early Christians knew Jesus’ promise to send another Someone to empower them, to remind them and teach them those things that Christ taught. Through him, they would be “born again” or “born from above.” The Holy Spirit rebuilds and remakes humanity again in God’s image and likeness—this Holy Spirit who descended upon the church at Pentecost–thus we experience the third person of the Trinity.
If the Father is ‘God above us,’ and the Son is ‘God with us,’ then the Holy Spirit is ‘God within us.’
What difference does it make if God is a Trinity? First, the Trinity does more than make you orthodox. The Trinity is more than dogma, it is life. To contemplate and experience the mystery of the Trinity and the mystery of God is to become fully alive. As St. Gregory the Great says, “If you do not delight in higher things, you most certainly will delight in lower things.”
St. Paul similarly states, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” If the experience of God does not lead us to these things, nothing will. The Trinity is more than an intellectual musing about God and it is more than a doctrine, it is life. It is the essence of our faith.
In the Trinity, God gives us an image of how to be the people of God, the church. St. Simeon the New Theologian said, “The Holy Trinity, pervading us from first to last, from head to foot, binds us all together.” Throughout the gospels we read of the love that Jesus has for the Father and vice versa. St. Augustine said that the Holy Spirit was a personification of that love. The Father is bound in love to the Son through the Holy Spirit. In a sense, God himself is a living, transcendent, community of love. The three persons in the Godhead live and act through love for each other—and this love cannot help but extend to the world. Part of our salvation is to participate in the circle of love. Of course we remain creatures and God remains God, but we are invited to share in the love of the Trinity.
The Trinity is a model for the family and the community called the Body of Christ.
But we don’t want to get to a place where we just talk around the Trinity. We want to experience God. We want to be the place where God dwells. More than anything, this is what it means to be Christ’s body, it is to live with Christ in heavenly places.
But to experience the Trinity is like the experience of Isaiah in Isaiah chapter 6. This is a record of Isaiah’s commissioning as a prophet. It occurred during the reign of king Uzziah, prior to the destruction of Israel, in the north, or the destruction of Judah in the south. The Temple and Jerusalem, for the time being, were safe, though Isaiah’s call involved warning the people of upcoming disaster.
Isaiah’s vision gives us a glimpse into the nature of God. And anytime we reflect on the Trinity we are going to a very dangerous place.
Isaiah was not given an encrypted message. He was not given a dream. He was not called to be prophet in a state of ambiguity. When he was called, ‘[he] saw the Lord, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up;’
Where was the Lord? There is no doubt that the One Isaiah encountered was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is on his throne, he is the majestic One, ‘El-Shaddai’ God almighty.
If you have any doubts about this, the text makes it more and more clear. ‘The train of his robe filled the Temple.’ In the ancient world, the longer and more elaborate the robe, the greater the figure who wore it. In Isaiah’s vision, the train of the Lord’s robe enveloped the Temple–and not just any Temple–this is not the earthly Temple but the heavenly one. The train of his robe stands for his authority and his ability to rule on earth and in heaven.
Then there is the picture of the heavenly hosts, the seraphim. Mysterious creatures with six wings. This is not a picture of pudgy baby angels with mini-wings and harps. These are scary creatures.
As R.C. Sproul has said,
God’s creatures are suitable for their environment. Birds have wings and light bone structures, because the air is their habitat. Fish have gills, scales, and tails for underwater. And Seraphim have an anatomy that is functional for their natural habitat—the presence of God…Creatures created to live before the face of God, must be designed to endure it.
‘Creatures created to live before the face of God, must be designed to endure it.’ That’s intense. And how lax and how irreverent we can find ourselves before the face of God. I find it interesting that the seraphim with two wings‘veil their faces’ and with two wings their feet, and with two they fly?
Apparently the injunction from the Old Testament that ‘no one who sees the LORD shall live’ applies not only to human beings but also to heavenly ones. That is why they cover their eyes. But why do they cover their feet? The feet are a symbol of our creatureliness. We often say that we have ‘feet of clay’ to remind us of our imperfections. The angels themselves are creatures too with limitations. To cover one’s feet (remember Moses taking off his shoes in God’s presence) is to acknowledge that God is of a different category than us. Even angels are mere creatures. Even those who are created to endure the presence of God stand in marked contrast to God himself.
What do the angels say? ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.’
I’ve mentioned before that the only attribute (characteristic) of God that is given the biblical three-fold emphasis is his holiness. Not ‘love love love,’ or ‘mercy mercy mercy’ or ‘kindness kindness kindness,’ but Holy, Holy, Holy. You remember the two shades of meaning of the word ‘holy’ in the OT? Pure, righteous, and different–set apart.
If the Trinity should call us to anything, it is the realization that we cannot figure this God out. He is holy, he is pure and righteous and good and perfect love and he is in a different category than us. He is one and yet three. He is qualitatively and quantitatively different from us. He is Holy, Holy, Holy–heaven and earth are full of his glory.
What is Isaiah’s response? ‘Hey God, great choir you got there. I like what you’ve done with the place.’
‘Woe is me, I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I come from a people of unclean lips.’ He is basically saying, ‘I am cursed. I am lost. I am undone.’ Sproul again says,
If God’s holiness doesn’t turn you on, you don’t have any switches. Even the dumb structures of wood and stone have the good sense to shake in God’s presence.
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Isaiah was a man of integrity, yet one glimpse of God’s holiness makes him come apart at the seams. As long as our gaze is fixed on the horizontal plane of this earth, we have no problem with ourselves. But if we lift our gaze to heaven and contemplate what God is, we will be broken. Security and smugness is annihilated. Holy men are reduced to trembling with one glimpse of God.
What should our response to God be? Like Isaiah, to see our sin and Brokenness, to see that we are lost, we are undone in his presence. And God will heal us. Isaiah wasn’t left to his own despair. He was seared by the coal of heaven. He was cauterized to make him ready to proclaim the word of the Lord.
We should never see ourselves as worms, but worship begins in our sinfulness and unworthiness and ends in God’s love and mercy. I love this quote from Methodist bishop Will Willomon, Sin is a byproduct of faithful worship. So the theologian Karl Barth could declare that, “Only Christians sin.”
In other words, face to face with God, we learn what sin is because we learn who we are in his presence. But this God has chosen to adopt us as sons and daughters and to come to us when we seek him. Remember the words of God in Jeremiah, ‘you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart.’
In short, our encounter with the Triune God ought to brings us to pure worship. We have nothing to offer but bended knee and open hearts. And he responds by giving us his presence.
I’d love to see revival in our church, a deep sense of God, changed lives and hearts. But it only comes when we are full of God. Only when we are full of him can we ourselves say, ‘Here I am Lord, send me.’
Listen to the words of John Piper,
Revival happens when we see God majestic in holiness, and when we see ourselves, disobedient dust. Brokenness, repentance, unspeakable joy of forgiveness, a “taste for the magnificence of God,” a hunger for his holiness — to see it more and to live it more: that’s revival. And it comes from seeing God.
When you take communion today, remember the hot coals of the seraphim and the words of God to Isaiah, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ Jesus has taken away our sins on the cross.
The Triune God has saved us. God sent the Son to die and the Holy Spirit unites us to the Son in his death and resurrection. Our response should be to worship in gratitude and to say, ‘Here I am Lord, send me.’
May we bless the world and each other with this blessing:
May God the Father bless you, God the Son heal you, God the Holy Spirit give you strength. May God the holy and undivided Trinity guard your body, save your soul, and bring you safely to his heavenly country; where he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.