“Know the Son, You Know the Father” (John 8:48-59)
Holy Trinity (Father’s Day) (June 16, 2019)
Have you every wondered why we have a “Holy Trinity Sunday” and why at this time in the church year? Isn’t every Sunday “The Holy Trinity’s day anyway? Don’t we begin every service “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?” Do we really need a separate Holy Trinity Sunday? After all, other special Sundays or worship festivals are in recognition of things the Lord did: Christmas- The Son of God’s incarnation and birth… Good Friday-our Lord’s passion and death… Easter-our Lord’s resurrection from the dead… Pentecost-the coming of the Holy Spirit. But then there is Holy Trinity Sunday! We are not necessarily remembering anything in particular that the Holy Trinity did, are we?
We might consider this: it is precisely because we have through this festival cycle of the church year made a special emphasis upon the work of each person of the Holy Trinity that we need a day to stand back and look at the unity of the persons once again. We rejoiced in the Father’s love in gifting us His Son in the flesh of Mary. We remembered with awe and reverence the Son’s willing humiliation, suffering and death at the hands of His enemies for us. We were filled with joy hearing the Easter good news of the Incarnate Son’s resurrection from the dead and His accompanying ascension into heaven. And most recently we reflected on the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to equip His church to proclaim Christ in the world. It would be easy in the midst of all these special remembrances to lose sight of the unity of the persons in one Godhead and falsely conclude that there are three different gods: one that creates and gives life… one that redeems us… and one that sanctifies us in faith.
And, heaven knows, there is enough false polytheistic and pluralistic notions about God in the world already. We do not need to add to them! Every culture has worshiped its plethora of gods. And even where there are those people who claim to be monotheistic (claim there is only one god), many are deceived into thinking that no matter by what name you call God, everyone is worshipping the same god anyway. They claim he, or even she, is the god of many names, just like they imagine that there are many ways to God and His heaven.
If, then, for no other reason but to proclaim to our world the absolute truth about the one and only real God: the Triune God, we need to have a Holy Trinity Sunday. In fact, instead of questioning why we have such a day, we ought to consider having more days to proclaim loudly, as we confessed a moment ago in the Athanasian Creed: “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold… that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance…”
But here is the dilemma when it comes to knowing the true God; it is impossible to know Him without the Triune God making Himself known to us. Not even the brightest of us human beings could possibly have come up with the idea of God being Triune. And even if someone had, would they have ever imagined a person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit? And why three persons and not two… or four persons?
It is true that God has left the imprint of His existence, not to mention His divine qualities of transcendence, omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence, imbedded in our very human psyche and clearly visible in the complexity and order of the created universe. But the realization that there is a Grand Designer or great intelligence behind all of creation, still does not tell us Who God is.
Imagine you are an archeologist who has through your excavation of some ruins come across a beautiful and exquisite painting. You are immediately struck with the creative genius and pure artistry of its painter. However, the painter has not signed his work. The painting, in subject matter, style and technique is unlike any other work you have ever seen, and you are an expert in paintings. Without any eyewitnesses to testify who painted the picture, whether written or verbal, the identity of the artist will forever remain a mystery.
Fortunately for us, the Triune God has not left His identity a mystery but He has revealed Himself to us. He has not only manifested His nature to us as three persons in one divine being, but He has also made known to us what is in His heart concerning us.
This revealing He has done in only one place… in the person of Jesus Christ. Even when the Triune God spoke through His prophets of old, it was His Son Who was speaking through them and then finally became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth so that He could reveal God “in the flesh” personally (Heb. 1:1). He is Word of God made flesh (Jn. 1:14). He is the Wisdom of God, personified so beautifully by Solomon in the Book of Proverbs, saying, “I cry to the children of man… The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His work…ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth…I was beside Him, like a master workman, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always…”
This is why Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Mary, was so strenuously opposed by the leadership of the Jews in His own day and why His very name yet today is such a lightning rod for hostility. People who want there to be room in the world for other gods and other ways of salvation, as well as people of religions like Islam that claim that their god is the only true God, can not tolerate Jesus. He leaves no room for their so called gods or ways to God.
Jesus makes the exclusive claim: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes unto the Father but by Me.” How appropriate, therefore, that this Trinity Sunday falls on the day our society celebrates Father’s Day. The Father is seen and only truly known in His Son. Jesus has said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9).
How often hasn’t it been observed of a child, especially of a son, by his looks and actions, “Wow! You sure can tell who his father is!” Sometimes sons can resemble their father to a tee. The son’s facial features, build, and of course, even more commonly, his expressions, are often unmistakably those of his father. Yes, fathers, you can try with all your might to shake loose of them, but the apples never fall far from the tree!
In God the Father’s case, He wants you and me to know Him in His Son and only in His Son. The Father never appeared to His people in His natural state. In Old Covenant times His presence was always shrouded in a bright cloud or a pillar of fire. When He did appear to speak to Abraham or Moses, for example, it was the Son of God Who appeared in His pre-incarnate state, as a man, and spoke to them.
It’s no wonder then that Christians down through the centuries have confessed boldly, “…It is necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ… believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man…whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.”
Clearly, then, knowing the true God, the Triune God, necessitates knowing Jesus. So we are shown in the confrontation the Jewish leaders had with Jesus as recorded in our Gospel text today.
They had cornered Jesus about His claims while He was teaching in the temple courts. Our text comes toward the end of the sometimes, heated discussion they were having with Jesus. They were pulling no punches and neither was He. In fact, after their attempt to trap Jesus into condemning to death a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery had failed, Jesus had in the course of the dialogue that followed said very bluntly to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins" (8:23,24). Then again when they had appealed to their heritage as children of Abraham for their salvation, He said, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you… If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me…You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires” (8:42,44).
It’s not hard at all, therefore, to understand why these Jews then made this derogatory accusation toward Jesus, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” They wanted to hurt Jesus and the most offensive thing you could say to any self-respecting Jew was to call him a Samaritan.
Samaritans were descendants of the Northern tribes of Israel who long ago had abandoned the true God and intermarried with the idolatrous Gentile population around them. The Jews considered them worse than half-breeds, but apostates, people who despised their very inheritance as sons of Abraham.
But true to His humble and loving nature, Jesus totally ignored this slander of His person. He turned the other cheek to their name calling. A good lesson for us, when we are personally slandered. However, Jesus did not ignore the slanderous lie His accusers leveled against God and the truth concerning Him. He replied, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.”
To accuse Jesus of having a demon, was an attack on God. All the miracles Jesus did, as St. Peter would later tell the Jews, were God’s own attestation that Jesus is His Son. It was God Himself who was doing these “works, wonders, and signs” through Jesus (Acts 2:22). At the same time, whatever Jesus taught was what He had heard from His heavenly Father (John 8:26,28). There was nothing demonic about Him! To dishonor Jesus, then, was to dishonor God the Father!
To reinforce that He was more than a mere man, but was also the Son of God, Jesus continued, “Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death!”
This is a remarkable statement by Jesus! Who alone could legitimately make such a claim? God alone has the power over death. Yet, Jesus does not say, “He who keeps my Father’s words,” but “if anyone keeps my word.” Now, there are all sorts of preachers and prophets in this world, but imagine one of them making this claim about their word!
No wonder, these Jews reacted the way they did. They said to him, "Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, 'If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?"
Ah, they finally cut to the chase, didn’t they? Isn’t that the question of the ages? The very question to the identity of the true God… In fact, the very question to life and salvation? “Who do you, Jesus, make yourself out to be?” If Jesus is but a mere man, no matter how great a prophet… no matter how eloquent in speech… He is no more a source of truth or of the knowledge of God than Mohamed… or Buda… or Joseph Smith.
But if Jesus is the Son of God in human flesh, then you and I and everyone else in this world had better pay attention to His every word; if we want to know the Father and the eternal life He gives!
So, we let Jesus speak for Himself. He responded: "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, 'He is our God.' But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad… Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."
Jesus does not make Himself out to be anyone. If He should glorify Himself, that is; toot His own horn, then we all ought to be very suspicious of whatever He says, just as we are with anyone who is given to self-promotion. But it is God the Father, the very One these Jews considered their God, who glorifies Jesus… calls Him His Son… testifies to Him through miracles…. It was Abraham, the very one these Jews considered their father in the faith, who rejoiced in seeing Jesus’ day. Yes, when Abraham so willingly offered up his son of promise in sacrifice, he was seeing God the Father offering up His Son for the sins of the world. But more than that, Abraham actually was blessed to see the pre-incarnate Son of God. The Genesis text states quite clearly, “The LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre” (Gen. 18:1). The Son of God visited Abraham along with two angels to give Abraham the promise of Isaac’s birth. Abraham honored The Son by prostrating himself before Him.
The real clincher as to Jesus’ true identity, however, comes with Jesus’ statement: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus did not say, “I was before Abraham,” but simply that before Abraham existed “I AM,” literally, “I am existing.”
Only one person can make the claim that He always existed and that is God Himself. In fact, that is the very name God gave to Moses when he asked the Lord for His name so he could tell his fellow Israelites who had appointed him to lead them out of Egypt. God said, “Tell them “I AM has sent you” (Ex. 3:14).
Jesus’ hearers got the message alright! Jesus said He is the LORD… the Great I AM. To see and know Jesus is to see and know the Father! They picked up stones to stone Him, the punishment for blasphemy. He was claiming to be one with the Father. He was claiming to be God.
So, there you have it, you seekers of the truth and the true God! As the apostle John states in His very first chapter, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known” (Jn 1:18).
The mystery of the Holy Trinity and His plan of salvation for us sinners might be great to our human reason but it is all revealed concretely in Jesus of Nazareth! He is the Second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, in flesh of your flesh. He alone has revealed God the Father to you that you might truly know Him, His love for you, as well as the salvation He graciously extends to you in His Son. You can not know the true God apart from Him! You can not be saved from your sin apart from Him! You can not comprehend God’s nature as a Trinity of persons outside of Him. He is the Eternal Word, the Son, who reveals the Father. The Son is the One to whom the Holy Spirit has come into the world to testify through the Gospel and the Holy Sacraments to be your Savior and the One who alone can lead you back to the Father. To know the Son is to know the Father!
Happy Father’s Day! Blessed Holy Trinity Sunday!