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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

God in Three Persons


"Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?" John 14:9

The second article of the Riverside Statement of Faith affirms God as Trinity. That is to say it affirms that the one true and living God is one - and yet, is revealed to us in his word as three distinct persons.

We affirm, along with the great doctrinal statements of the faith, that although there are three distinct persons in the Godhead, they, as individual persons, are in no way less than the wholeness of God. In other words, when we turn our focus on any one of these persons of the Godhead we are turning our focus on God, in his fullness.

You’ve probably already noticed that that brings us into the realms of mystery because we understand that a being that is one cannot be more than one and yet remain one.

Yet, when we say that to turn our focus on one person within the Godhead is not to turn our focus on anything less than the totality of God, we are not saying either, that therefore there are three Gods!

To suggest that would be to fly in the face of God’s revelation about himself. Here’s Isaiah 45:6, ‘so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other’.

Malachi says, ‘Has not the one God made you?

The Apostle Paul says ‘there is one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by that same faith’.

And the Apostle James says simply, ‘You believe there is one God. Good!

So, we are right to think in terms of one God. But then what about these three persons?

And how can they each be the fulness of God simultaneously?

And what are the implications of a triune God, anyway? It sounds tricky, so why bother with trying to understand it?

Those are all good and understandable questions.

They are my questions so I’m bound to think they’re good and understandable.

Let me say at the outset that we have to be comfortable with the problem that the truth of the Trinity presents to our finite minds. We have to be comfortable to occupy a ground between mystery and knowledge.

But more than that. We have to be comfortable to occupy a ground where we are never content with the knowledge we have; always striving to know more.

It’s a place where we’re striving, but in the knowledge that we will never exhaust what is to be known about the triune nature of God.

And what’s more, is the fact that, the mystery: that God can be one in essence and yet simultaneously three in person, as something that we cannot bottom out, or square in our understanding, can actually serve to advance our faith.

Our God is not like us, and that is a joyous reality.

So, I promise this morning, no egg analogies. No 3 leaf clover pictures. No ice, or steam, or water. Just God’s revelation, to us, of himself, as both one God in three persons. Both unified and diversified. Both the same in essence and different in function.

We’re going to see that God is one and yet can be in different places at the same time. That he is simultaneously different persons but not at odds with himself – completely harmonious.

That he is simultaneously co-equal persons, but that nevertheless, there is an order in the Godhead - so that, no one person within the Godhead is less than the totality of God and yet there is an order in the operation of the Godhead.

And we’re going to see how important those profound and mysterious truths are to us as Christians.

I want us to take our cues from John chapter 14 because it is saturatedin Trinitarian implications. And from the start I want you to see that everything Jesus is about to say comes as a response to the fact that his disciples – ordinary, fallible, weak people like we are - are troubled.

He says in verse 1, ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’. They weretroubled, not least because of what Jesus just told them back in chapter 13 verse 33,

My children I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come’.

Jesus, their friend, for whom they would have laid down their lives – Peter says so back in verse 37 – is going to leave them.

They had given up everything to follow him, but now they were hearing that they would be left alone, and it troubled them. And so, Jesus says everything he says to address the issue of his departure.

So, if he launches then, into a cascade of Trinitarian truth – which he does - know this, it is to help them in their trouble. It is not to establish a doctrine, though it does do that - the doctrine is just real; it just is. No, this chapter is the application of the truth of the Trinity to people just like us, who are troubled.

So, take heart from that.

Jesus says, ‘don’t let your hearts be troubled’. And here’s how you dothat: ‘If you believe in God, believe also in me’.

Now, we need to stop and think about that for a minute. There is only one God, according to God, in the words of Isaiah. And to believe in that one God is right. It honours him. He is worthy of being believed in by all his creatures whom he has made.

But then, if you hear another one saying, believe in him and believe in me also, then you have a second person who is claiming the allegiance of people. And he’s claiming it in the same way and with the samevigour that they are meant to believe in the one and only God.

That can mean only one of two things: either this second person – who we know is Jesus because he’s the one talking – is blaspheming; making himself out to be equal with God when he’s not. Or, he really is equal with God and is worthy of whole-hearted belief by all God’s creatures.

It’s going to become very clear that Jesus is not a blasphemer, or a usurper, or a phoney, or an anti-God. Which means that he is saying, about himself, that he is another person distinct from God, and in very essence, God. That’s the implication of verse 1.

So, God is one and now we have two persons who are both God. But not both gods. Both the one God.

And, just so we see clearly who Jesus is thinking of when he refers to ‘God’ in verse 1, drop down to verse 2. Now we see him referring to God, not as ‘God’ but as Father: ‘My Father’s house has many rooms’.

Back in John chapter 1, Jesus does the same thing, but more explicitly.

In verse 18 he says, ‘No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God [further confirmation that we have two persons who are God] and is in closest relationship with the Father has made him known’.

Made who known? Made the unseen God known who he is in closest relationship with – namely the Father.

So, here in chapter 14 when he refers to his Father, he’s revealing to us the relationship he has with this other person of the Godhead. The relationship is the relationship of Father and Son. And that’s massivelysignificant because this chapter is just full of close, relational affection – of interpersonal interaction; of love and fellowship; of help and peace.

So, we’ve seen two persons here already, but we’ve said that the Godhead comprises three persons, so where is the third?

In verse 16, Jesus says he will ask the Father and the Father will supply another ‘Advocate’ to help them; and to be with them, forever.

And then he gives the name of the Advocate in verse 17. His name is ‘the Spirit of truth’. Now how do we know that this Spirit is a third co-equal person with the Father and with the son? How do we even know this Spirit is a person?

Well we know he’s equal with Jesus – who has already shown us that he himself is equal with the Father – we know the Spirit is equal with the Son because of the word ‘advocate’.

The word ‘another’ in verse 16 is a tip off. It suggests there’s already been an advocate - given by God the Father. And now He’s going to give another advocate. Who could this first advocate be?

Why look any further than Jesus?

John says, in his first letter, chapter 2, ‘But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One’.

So, Jesus according to John is an advocate – a sponsor, a representative, a lawyer – with his Father on our behalf.

And now here he tells us the Father will send another – a second advocate who is called the Spirit. If the first advocate sent by the Father is equal with the Father, then the second, by virtue of being sent by the Father, as an advocate, is equal also.

And we can know that this Spirit is a person not only because he is repeatedly referred to as ‘he’ by Jesus, but also because he behaves like a person.

He’s ‘knowable’, v.17. He ‘teaches’, v.26 and he ‘reminds’, v.26.

So here we see a third person. One who is equal with Jesus in that he is an advocate like the Son. But, who is not a mere part of God. He isGod, also.

God is indivisible and yet he is clearly three persons. And these three are seen repeatedly, all over the bible, and most abundantly in the new testament.

Let’s see now then, from John 14, how they interact as three persons. And how they perform as three persons.

Remember, Jesus is working to alleviate the troubled hearts of the disciples. They don’t really get the significance of Jesus beyond the place and time that they and him are occupying.

So, Jesus sets about exploding the big picture for them. It’s a picture painted in glorious Trinitarian colours. A picture that is so vibrant, and so transcendent of the time and place they are occupying – that we are occupying - that it gives stunning hope to believers.

Jesus gets straight to it in verse 2. ‘Yes, I’m going to leave you, but you need to know where I’m going’.

‘I’m going to my Father’s house. It has many rooms and there’s a place there for you - if I go a prepare it’.

So straight away, reason number one for ‘don’t be afraid of being left alone’ is: ‘I am personally preparing a room for you in God’s household’.

Ok, but how will we get there? He gives the answer in verse 3, he will personally come back and take us to be with him, so that where he is, we can be also.

He’s going to his Father’s house, and he’ll take us to be there with him too.

He even suggests that they know the way to the place where he is going in verse 4. And Thomas, with straightforward clarity says, ‘we don’t even know where you’re going, so how can we know the way to it?’

That is a fair objection. And Jesus answers with equal clarity: ‘I am the way’. ‘If you want to be where the Father is – if you want to dwell with God – I am the way. No one comes to Father except through me’.

In other words, the Father has made it possible for sinful, limited people to come and live in harmony, with him – in his house, forever – by one means. By means of his own Son. The Son is the first advocate.

He is the one who makes people acceptable in the Father’sestimation. Verse 7, ‘if you really know me – they knew him as a fellow man – but if they really knew him; believed that he was the divine Son of God sent to bring them to the home of God - then they would know the Father too.

To know Jesus is to know the Father according to verse 7. ‘From now on, [by faith], you know the Father and have seen the Father’ he says to his disciples. How so? ‘Because if you have known and seen me, you have known and seen him. We are the same and yet, we are distinct’. Thisis Trinity!

To all this Philip simply says, ‘show us the Father’. And you can understand his sentiment, but it’s wrong and it makes a mere idol out of God, stripping him of his special mark – his Triunity. All the other gods are mute idols. The one true God is triune.

Jesus responds to address that error. And with some degree of exasperation. ‘After you’ve been with me Philip, so long, don’t you even know me? Anyone who has seen me has seen Father – I’ve been showing you the Father from the beginning - that is my role in the Godhead; I show the Father. How can you say show us the Father?’

That’s a warning for us. Jesus is saying loud and clear, ‘the Father in his essence is not greater than I in my essence - we are the same in essence’.

Be careful not to think of Jesus as less than he really is. He is God – allof God - and we must think of him, and love him in that way. We mustn’t fall into the trap that Philip fell into and say, ‘all I need to see is the Father’. No, no, no. If you’ve seen Jesus, make no mistake, you’ve seen God.

Except, we haven’t seen Jesus because he’s ascended on high and we’re here below. But we do see him, if we have eyes of faith to receive him as Thomas did later on, ‘my Lord and my God!

So, Jesus wants us to know that he is one with the Father – co-equal. Let’s not miss then the 5 ‘in’ statements in the two short verses, 10 & 11.

‘Don’t you believe, Philip, that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me? The Father lives in me; therefore, I speak the words he givesme to speak. No, believe me Philip [believe me Riverside] when I say, that I am in the Father and the Father is in me’.

Now all of that was for the benefit of the disciples to give them good reason not to be troubled by his leaving them.

He and his father are of one mind. He didn’t come on his own, he came from the Father to make the Father known to them, that they might believe in the one the Father had sent (v.24).

And now he’s going to die and rise and go home to be with his Father. But don’t be distressed, by his death he’s prepared a place for you in his Father’s house as children of the living God!

And he will come back, to take you to the very bosom of the Father, forever. He is the Son of God with power, and he will certainly do this, so don’t be afraid.

That’s reason number one for ‘don’t fear’ – grounded and rooted in the Trinity.

If Jesus is not what he says he is, be afraid! For then, there is no home with God.

There is no way to his house. There is no coming back for you. There is only then God’s wrath kindled against sin! So, the Trinity is extremelygood news.

But, there’s a second reason not to be troubled. And it’s rooted in the Trinity also - in the third person of the Trinity. In verse 18, Jesus says ‘I won’t leave you as orphans’. ‘I made you into the children of God, but now I’m deserting you? No, that’s not going to happen’.

Verse 16, ‘the Father will send you another advocate to help you and to be with you’. The world can’t accept him because they neither see him nor know him. But you know him’. How? ‘He lives with you’.

Earlier he said, ‘the Father lives in him’. Now he’s telling us the Spirit lives in us.

And now in verse 18, he says to the disciples that he will come to them, so as not to leave them as orphans. In verse 17 Jesus described the Spirit as the Spirit of truth. And in verse 6, Jesus described himself as ‘the truth’. So, this sounds like he’s saying that Spirit is his Spirit – they are of one kind – and he will come and live with them by entering intothem.

Yet, in verse 16, he said that the Father would be the one who would send the advocate. So, which is it? Does the Father send the Spirit or does the Son send the Spirit? The answer is, both send him.

The Father in the Son sends him, and Son in the Father send Him. And that’s confirmed for us. Look at verse 23, ‘My Father will love them, and we [who’s that? - The Father and the Son] will come to them and make our home with them’.

In verse 17, Jesus said ‘the Spirit lives with you’. Here Jesus is saying he will come and live with all his people after he’s gone.

And when he does come and live with you, it will be ‘me and the Father making our home with you – in you’. Let’s see it again in verse 27. This time the Spirit is the Spirit of Peace. ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you’.

Jesus had taught the disciples, and now they were going to lose him, so how would they know what to believe when he was gone?

Jesus was their fixed north star and he was about to get obscured by the clouds of death. What would they do?

Jesus puts their minds at rest. ‘When the Advocate, the Holy Spirit comes from the Father in my name, he will teach you all things and he will remind you of everything I have said to you’.

‘You won’t see me any more with your eyes, but you will have me living in you testifying to everything I have said, and everything the Father has willed’.

So, don’t be afraid, v.27, and don’t let your hearts be troubled, I am with you always and my Father is with you always, because of the Holy Spirit.

Why is it important not to be afraid and troubled? Because you have important work to do here below before Jesus comes back and makes it really clear that he is in the Father (v.20).

According to verse 10 the Father is about his work and he’s about that work – that objective – in the Son. Then he says in verse 11 that the disciples should believe that he and the Father are one by the evidence of the works that they had seen him perform.

Then in verse 12 he says that we, who believe in him, will do the worksthat he has been doing!

And once he’s left them to go to be with the Father, they’ll do even greater works than the one’s he performed.

The question is how will we do works like his and greater works eventhan he did? The answer comes in verse 13. It comes as a promise. And it goes like this: ‘I will do whatever you ask in my name’. He repeats the same promise in verse 14, so we know it’s certain.

Clearly, Jesus won’t do sinful things someone asks in his name. So, what makes a request holy and admissible? Two things, the first is the spirit by which it is desired and asked for.

Jesus said anything you ask ‘in my name’. And, in verse 26, the Holy Spirit is the one who is sent ‘in my name’.

So, whatever we desire by the Holy Spirit and ask in accord with the Holy Spirit, I think is what Jesus is driving at.

But in addition to the one we ask by, is the goal we ask it for. You can see that in the second half of verse 13. The reason Jesus will grant the request is ‘so that the Father may be glorified in the Son’.

So, with the glory of God as your goal and in the power of the Spirit, you may ask and Jesus will do it.

What should you ask for? Obedience seems to be Jesus’ thrust. Jesus repeatedly talks of obedience arising out of love in this chapter.

In verse 31 he tells us that he loves the Father and because he loves him, he does exactly what his Father commands him. Which is to be our model.

Verse 23, ‘anyone who loves me will obey my teaching’. Verse 21, ‘whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me and they will be loved by my Father’. And verse 15, ‘If you love me, keepmy commands’.

The Son loves the Father and the Father loves the Son. And they want us to love them so much that, to obey them is not burdensome but delightful.

It was not burdensome for Jesus to love the Father at Calvary. It was for the joy that was set before him that he bore the awful load on the tree!

So, if we would become more Godly - and that is what we are called to be - then we must learn to love Jesus. By the Spirit of God, enter into the love of God, and be empowered by that love to obey God and work for his eternal glory, in which is, our everlasting joy!


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