Bringing her some Jesus

Each week I have the privilege of teaching several groups of children a story from the Bible, generally a story about Jesus. Not long ago I began a teaching session with a group of preschoolers, and a few of the kids wanted to start with singing. As we began, I noticed one of the girls looked mad and she wasn’t singing along. When we started a second song, she crossed her arms over her chest and began glaring at me. And when I said, “Let’s do one more,” she burst out, “When are you gonna’ bring me some Jesus, Ms. Jen?”

Well, the truth is that I’m not just bringing her Jesus. I’m bringing her the very best picture we have of God—seen (and touched and heard) in the person of Jesus, God the Son. “If you want to know who God is,” says theologian William Placher, “attend to these stories about Jesus Christ,” for Jesus is the “best clue to who God is.”* Daniel Migliore writes that there is no side of God “altogether different from what we know in the story of Jesus who befriended the poor and forgave sinners. God is self-expanding, other-affirming, community-building love.”** (p8 of Witvliet) So Jesus isn’t just giving us a picture of God the Son; Jesus is giving us a picture of the Triune God, the God who is three-in-one, one-in-three, three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—fully equal, having one will but distinct in their persons.

So if (since) Jesus presents God to us and he interacts in beautiful, intimate, communal, harmonious ways with the other two persons of the Trinity, then we can know that “divine life consists most fundamentally in interpersonal communion. …God’s life is one of abundant communion, a kind of fellowship … that overflows to include us.”

Can we see those communal, harmonious ways of relation among the Father, Son, and Spirit in the Gospel stories? Yes! Let’s just take a super abbreviated gander through the Gospel of Mark and look at a few examples:

  • The Baptism of Jesus—this is how Mark begins! John the Baptist announces that Jesus will baptize the people with the Holy Spirit, and then, at Jesus’ own baptism, the Spirit hovers over him like a dove and the voice of the Father affirms him as his beloved Son—before he’s done any earthly ministry!
  • Jesus’ miracles. Scholar Gerald Hawthorne emphasized the point that Jesus “depended on the Spirit of God.” He wrote, “The Holy Spirit was the divine power by which Jesus overcame his human limitations, rose above his human weakness, and won out over his human mortality.”*** This means that every single time we see Jesus doing something no human would be able to do (cast out demons, heal the sick with a touch or word, feed great crowds to the full with a single lunch, control nature…), he was doing this through intimate communion with the Spirit.
  • Jesus referred to God the Father AS his Father. “So?” You may wonder, but this was NEW! The writers of the Old Testament Scriptures didn’t refer to God as their personal Father. Jesus does! Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop during the 300s, said this: “The work which the Lord came to do was not to enable you to recognize the omnipotence of God as Creator of all things, but to enable you to know him as the Father of the Son who addresses you.”

I could give many more examples from Mark alone, but this post is getting too long, so I’ll end with an idea for you:

Pick a Gospel to read through. Every time you encounter the word “God,” read “Father, Son, and Spirit” or “Triune God.” We generally tend to see the word “God” and automatically think of God the Father; see if this exercise affects how you see Jesus and the Spirit and how you view the Trinity.

 

*quoted in A More Profound Alleluia in “The Opening of Worship: Trinity” by John D Witvliet, page 7

** quoted in A More Profound Alleluia in “The Opening of Worship: Trinity” by John D Witvliet, page 8

***The Presence and the Power, p. 35

More thoughts on the Trinity

two pups

This picture is of our two young rescue dogs, who don’t always get along this well, but we’re working on their full “reconciliation” 🙂

FIRST THOUGHT

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pointius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. from the Nicene Creed

Torrance (in The Christian Doctrine of God) writes, “The incarnation of the eternal Word and Son of God is to be understood … in an essentially soteriological way. Divine revelation and atoning reconciliation take place inseparably together in the life and work of the incarnate Son of God…” This rescue mission involved SO much! We needed to KNOW God. We needed to know our need. We needed to be reconciled to God, to be made at-one with God, at-one with each other. We needed to be saved from and saved to. All This—worked in and through the incarnation of the Son of God.

 

SECOND THOUGHT

A few weeks I told all my children’s groups the story of Jesus in the temple at age 12. He, his parents, and others from their hometown had traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover at the Temple. When the group left for the homeward journey, Jesus was somehow left behind, and Joseph and Mary, his parents left the group and returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days of searching (I can’t imagine how panicked they must have been), they found him in the temple and Mary fussed at Jesus: “Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for and very worried!”

Jesus answered, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?”

In all but one of the Jesus’ prayers, he calls God “Father.” This address was new, different, intimate. And in the prayer he taught us to pray, we, too, are told to call God, “Our Father.”

Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop during the 300s, writing in reference to Jesus’ high-priestly prayer (“Father … I have finished the work which you gave me to do … I have manifested your Name unto men.”), said this: “The work which the Lord came to do was not to enable you to recognize the omnipotence of God as Creator of all things, but to enable you to know him as the Father of the Son who addresses you … The end and aim of this revelation of the Son is that you should know the Father … Remember that the revelation is not of the Father manifested as God, but of God manifested as the Father.” #trinityclassNS

THIRD THOUGHT

“How abysmal and desperate the lost condition of man is, may be discerned in the fact that it needed nothing short of the Lord God himself to become one with us in our sin and death in order to redeem and save mankind.” The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons by Thomas F. Torrance, p. 142

Several years ago, a couple of lovely older women knocked on my door. They’d come to talk with me about God—their beliefs about God. The conversation stayed on areas of agreement for a few minutes, but then Jesus came up: specifically, who Jesus was. Our volume stayed low, the tone of our dialogue was kind, but we were definitely of different opinions about Jesus. Still the exchange was cordial, even though one of the women was listing in rapid fire verses that she felt supported her view that Jesus was not truly divine. He was an exalted human. I had a few verses “at the ready,” so to speak, but I didn’t want to get into a tit-for-tat battle. I said a few things, and then held off for a couple minutes, letting her speak. An overwhelming feeling began rising in me, almost physical in its intensity, and when it burst out of me in words, I was surprised. “I just don’t see what a human savior is going to do for me! I need something greater than that! I need God himself to save me!” I don’t remember actually thinking those words before I said them; they just came out. It wasn’t angry, it sounded kind of desperate. We were all startled, and after the other woman talked a bit more, she said they needed to move on. I asked them to please visit again soon, but I never saw them after that. 

Two questions:

-What’s a time you’ve been very aware that your need for salvation/rescue is so great it could only be done by God himself?

-If you’ve had conversation with people who don’t accept the full divinity of Jesus, how have you responded well?

 

**Did you notice the hashtags in the above post? If you’re on Instagram, check out #trinityclassns. You’ll find LOTS of posts on the Trinity, written by my classmates in our Trinity class at Northern Seminary, which is taught by the wonderful Dr. Cherith Fee Nordling.

to live by the Spirit

“…for Paul ‘knowing God’ comes by way of ‘knowing Christ’ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6); and ‘knowing Christ’ comes by way of ‘the Spirit’s wisdom and revelation’ (Eph. 1:17). At the heart of all this is Paul’s conviction that Christian life means to ‘live by, walk in, be led by’ the Spirit. Living the life of the Spirit means for the Spirit to bear his fruit in our individual and corporate lives; and that fruit is nothing other than God’s character, as lived out by Christ, being reproduced in his people.

“Hence to be a Trinitarian of the Pauline kind means to be a person of the Spirit; for it is through the Spirit’s indwelling that we know God and Christ relationally, and through the same Spirit’s indwelling that we are being transformed into God’s own likeness ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor. 3:18)” (“Paul and the Trinity: The Experience of Christ and the Spirit for Paul’s Understanding of God” by Gordon Fee, 71-72).

I remember sitting in a women’s Bible study when I was in my late 30s & lamenting the fact that I was trying SO very hard but I didn’t see any increase of the fruit of the Spirit in my life. In my day-to-day life of parenting four young children, I felt more frustration, anger, & tension than joy, peace, & gentleness. One older woman patted my hand and said, “You need to have more time away from the children,” & several others nodded their heads. But I knew the children weren’t the issue.

I’ve often wished I could go back to myself as a young mom—or even earlier than that—& tell her that her understanding of the Trinity was a great part of the problem. The Spirit as an actual person of the Trinity was not real to her, so she generally assumed the work of sanctification had been given to her much like homework in a distance education course. At regular intervals she was supposed to check-in to give a progress report, resulting in feelings of either shame or pleasure (generally shame) at her progress (or lack of it).

But to know the Spirit as a Person, a Person constantly present in her life—IN her like breath in her lungs, constant and life-giving; as the One who joyously offers wisdom, who comforts her in the difficulties of life and doesn’t see them as “small”; as the One who gladly takes on the work of forming fruit in her life and who longs to help her experience the glory-to-glory of knowing, more and more deeply, the beautiful love of God for her and the entire world…

She had no deep knowing of this, of the Spirit’s presence with her.

I wish she had, but as I look back at that woman, I SEE the work and presence of the Spirit in her life. I see fruit and growth and an expanding heart.

I see the Spirit at work even when she was unaware.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of our God and the fellowship–the communion and intimate friendship–of the Holy Spirit be with you all–with US all.

Amen

NOTE: This post is from a series of assignments I am doing for a class on the Trinity that I am taking at Northern Seminary. (It’s AWESOME!!!) Each week classmates and I post reading reflections on Instagram. If you’re interested in checking out more thoughts on the Trinity, go on Instagram and search using the hashtag #trinityclassNS (or just click on the link!)

*The quotes at the beginning of this post are from an article by Gordon Fee (his daughter, Dr. Cherith Fee Nordling is teaching the class) in which he is exploring the Trinity in Paul’s writings. Here are a couple more from that same article that I want to share.

“God sends the Son who redeems; God sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, so that we may realize God’s ‘so great salvation’—and the experienced evidence of all this is the Spirit of the Son prompting us to use the language of the Son in our own relationship with God” (56)

“…salvation in Christ is not simply a theological truth, predicated in God’s prior action and the historical work of Christ. Salvation is an experienced reality, made so by the person of the Spirit coming into our lives. One simply cannot be a Christian in any Pauline sense without the effective work of God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (57)

“Fundamental to Paul’s Judaism is that God’s people are expected to ‘know God,’ which of course has little to do with doctrinal articulation and everything to do with knowing God relationally, in terms of his character and nature. Paul carries this fundamental understanding with him, but insists on putting it into perspective: our knowing is preceded by God’s ‘knowing us’ (Gal. 4:9; cf. I Cor. 13:12). (71).