The God who is family - Revelation - John 1:1-18

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 10th May 2009.

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The God who is family

John 1:1-18

I would like to begin by asking you to imagine yourself in two situations. First of all, I would like you to imagine that you are leading a Bible study group. A new Christian in the group asks you to explain the Trinity. What would you say? Two common responses are. ‘Oh, we’ve ran out of time. Let’s talk about it next week.’ Another response is to say something like, ‘Ah, the mystery of the Trinity. We’ll never understand this.’

Here is another situation to imagine. Your non-Christian friend has a question. They keep on hearing a religious word they don’t understand and they would like you to explain it. It’s the word gospel. Would you mention the Trinity in your answer?

For many Christians the Trinity is a difficulty and not a delight.

My aim tonight is a simple one. I want to help us delight in the Trinity. Not be embarrassed or tongue tied when anyone brings it up in conversation. To delight in our Trinitarian God.

I want to do this by explaining some of what the Bible teaches us about God as Trinity, how we can put all this together in an understandable way and then we’ll finish by looking at why speaking about the Trinity is so important.

What does the Bible teach us about God as Trinity? Let me draw out a few truths from John chapter 1.

Verses 1 and 2. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”

At first sight it appears that John has made a mistake. Like a foolish undergraduate who makes a mistake in the first sentence of his essay and doesn’t even notice it. Do you see the problem? He says the Word was with God and the Word was God. How can this person called the Word (notice the Word is referred to as a ‘he’ in verse 2 and not an ‘it’) - how can this person be with God and be God at the same time? It all depends on what we mean by the word God.

We all know that the same word can have different meanings depending on how it is used in a sentence. For example, if I use the word stalk what could I mean? A part of a plant or I could be talking about how an animal stalks its prey.

What about bow? It could be a command or I could be talking about the front of a ship.

To know we need to look at the bigger sentence and the bigger paragraph and the other words will help us know what the word in question means.

When we do this with the opening sentence of John’s Gospel we discover that far from being stupid, John is actually making a very profound point about the identity of this person called the Word. To get this clear we need to realise that he uses the word God in two different ways.

The Bible uses the word God in three ways. When used in the NT it often refers to God the Father, sometimes it refers to divinity and sometimes refers to all three persons together – what Christians call the Godhead.

How does John use it in this opening verse of his Gospel? To begin with he uses it to refer to a person called God the Father. When John says the Word was with God he means that this person called the Word was with another person called God the Father. However, when he says the Word was God he doesn’t mean that the Word was the same person as God the Father. He means something else. He means that the Word is fully and utterly divine.

Let me show you a diagram which I think is helpful.

Do you see the line down the middle of the page? On one side exists all those that have been created at some point. That is there was a time when they did not exist. On the other side of the line are those that have always existed. John is telling us that both God the Father and the Word are on the same side of the line.

How do you know that what I am telling you is right? Need to read the surrounding sentences and paragraphs. We read more about his involvement in creation (vs 3-4) and his involvement in sustaining the world (vs 5). Then it all gets historical from verse 6. Why? Preparing the way for the astounding claim in verse 14. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The Word came from the Father. This helps us understand what he said in verse 1. The Word was with God, that is he was with God the Father. The Word was God, that is the Word was fully and utterly divine. He, like the Father, belongs on the eternal side of the line.

Why didn’t John use a different word for divinity? Why confuse us? He is trying to make sure that no one will ever say that the Father and the Word are on a different level. The Son is not less divine than the Father. When you meet the Son you are not encountering second best.

Do you remember what Jesus said to Philip? He has just said, “Lord, show us the Father nd that will be enough for us.” 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.”

Using the same word in verse 1 means that we can say that the Word is completely and as utterly divine as the Father is. 

As we read on we discover that the Word has another name. In fact, he is never called the Word after verse 14. Jesus refers to himself at the Father’s Son. Why is he called the Word in chapter 1? It’s all about communication. The Word is the divine spokesman for the divine three.

We also discover that there is a third person who belongs on the eternal side of the line. The Holy Spirit.

This is all shown on the diagram on the screen. God exists as three persons in perfect loving relationship.

To help you appreciate what the Bible does not teach let me show you a few diagrams on the big screen.

Modalism diagram. God is sometimes Father, sometimes Son and sometimes Holy Spirit.

God and Jesus diagram. Jesus doesn’t really have an identity.

Jesus is God diagram.

The true diagram. 2000 years ago one of the divine three left the splendour of heaven to become the man we know as Jesus. The Son crossed the line. Father did not sent Jesus. He sent his Son who became the man Jesus.

How can we communicate this truth to ourselves and others? I want to suggest one illustration that I think is clear and also biblical. Before I focus on this let me mention a few illustrations that I would strongly encourage you not to use.

·        Water

o       At worse it is modalism

o       At best (triple point) it is impersonal

·        Triangle

·        Egg

·        A person with different roles – husband, father and worker. It’s personal but in this case God would be a single person, which is not what the Bible teaches.

God is much more like a family than an impersonal force or a single person. This is the perfect family, a family where every member so perfectly loves one another, and is so absolutely committed to one another that nothing can ever separate them. They are completely united.

In fact, this family does everything together – we never find one of the members without the other two. They have different roles in the same activity but they are all involved.

Salvation won. The sending of the Son by a loving Father empowered by the Spirit. Hebrews 9:14, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we can serve the living God!”

Salvation applied. John 6:44, “No-one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The Father draws people to Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Same activity. Different roles. All involved.

The three persons are not the same. We can speak of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit but the three are so perfectly bound up in love for each other that they exist as one perfect unity.

The divine family is an understandable illustration. It’s a personal illustration. It has biblical basis.

Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

One here does not mean single person but multiple persons who are completely united.

Why do we feel uneasy about the family illustration? Because we are nervous about the threeness of God. Many churches like ours in the West start their discussion about God by talking about his oneness. Western churches have such a desire to uphold our belief in one God that we draw back from anything that stinks of tritheism.

Not all churches have started from this point. Many in the East start from the three persons and then talk about how they are united. I would argue that the NT introduces us to God in this way.

I know the family is not a perfect illustration. Much more like a divine family than a single person or an impersonal force. It is their love that united them together.

This can be communicated to those who ask us. Here is what I say…

How important it is to speak about the Trinity?

1)     There is no other God.

If we don’t speak about the Trinity then we are introducing people to a different God.

The Athanasius Creed. Not written by Athanasius. Probably composed a 100 years after him. It was once a legal requirement in the Church of England for this to be read out 13 times a year. You could have your Vicar arrested if he didn’t read it out.

“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.”

2)     We cannot explain the Gospel without the Trinity. Two dangers.

·        Two ways to live. Where does Jesus come from?

·        Jesus is God then who is he speaking to on the cross?

Speak about the Trinity early on. Did you notice that John’s Gospel starts in the very first verse?

3)     It’s essential for Christian living

God speaking to you. Read the Bible. You will not be able to understand the Bible if you don’t believe in the Trinity.

Speaking to God in prayer. Pray to the Father through the Son by the Spirit.

Speaking about the Trinity is vital.

It is not a mathematical riddle. It is not incomprehensible.

God is much more like a divine family than a single person or an impersonal force.

Let us be unashamedly Trinitarian!

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