Devotions for Advent Week 4 Friday Isaiah 7:10-14 Luke 1:26-38 The Virgin Birth

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”
But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”
And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah 7:10-14

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.
And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:26-38

Karl Barth wrote, “The Virgin birth at the opening and the empty tomb at the close of Jesus’ life bear witness that this life is a fact marked off from all the rest of human life, and marked off in the first instance, not by our understanding or our interpretation, but by itself. Marked off in regard to its origin: it is free of the arbitrariness which underlies all our existences. And marked off in regard to its goal: it is victorious over the death to which we are all liable. Only within these limits is it what it is and is it correctly understood, as the mystery of the revelation of God.”

The Virgin birth of Christ stands guard, as it were, at the entrance of the Christian faith. The Virgin birth confronts man with an astounding assertion. The Virgin birth proclaims that if you cannot believe this, there is no point in pressing forward into even greater mysteries.

As mentioned yesterday, the Virgin birth is not all that surprising to someone who comprehends the testimony of Scripture concerning God’s granting life. Anselm reminds us of the five ways God creates life:

1.         By the law of natural generation—a man and a woman
2.         Through divine empowering of a man and woman past age—Abraham and Sarah; Zechariah and Elizabeth
3.         Without man or woman—Adam
4.         A man without a woman—Eve
5.         A man without a woman—Jesus

Theologians spill much ink discussing the meaning, necessity, and reality of the Virgin birth. All along ignoring the very thing the Isaiah proclaims it to be: a sign. As we ponder the wonder of the Virgin birth this is what should guide and form our thinking: it is a sign.

The Virgin birth is a sign of the essentially supernatural character of Jesus and the gospel. If we find the virgin birth offensive, there is really no point in progressing forward. Yes god is not limited in how he creates life. But life has only come this way once. The birth of Jesus is different.

The Virgin birth is a sign of God’s judgment on fallen human nature. The race needs a redeemer but cannot produce one. Salvation cannot come through will or desire, education, civilization, or evolution. Salvation is not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Jesus came to earth through the Virgin birth as fully human to show that humanity had fully failed.

The Virgin birth is a sign that Jesus Christ is the new beginning. He is the divine interruption of the power of God into the plight of man. All things are new.

The Virgin birth is the joy of Christmas because the Virgin birth is the gospel. The Virgin birth declares man to be lost, God to be holy, and salvation to be created.

Devotions for Advent Week 4 Tuesday Judges 13:2-7, 24-25; Luke 1:5-25 The Barren Rejoice

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name, but he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.'”
And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:5-25

 

At Advent we remember the long line of barren women that God accomplished the impossible for. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, Hannah, and Elizabeth all must have wondered at the cause of their fate. After all, the promise of the Lord was that none that he favored would be barren (Ex. 23:26; Deut. 7:14). Yet in their struggle they would each be able to bless the Lord saying, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 113:9).

Advent is a testimony to the powerful creativity of God. God can give life to a man from the ground without man or woman- Adam. God can give life to a woman from a man without a woman- Eve. God can give life to a man from a woman without a man- Jesus. God can give life to the barren.

Such mighty acts are not limited to the sphere of procreation. God accomplishes the impossible in the salvation of the Gentiles. In Galatians 4 we have Paul’s teaching that the church is the fulfillment of the promise given in Isaiah, “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. In the church god has granted life where there was only death. The Gentile nations were long barren and without hope but now the gospel bears abundant fruit. Now the Gentiles, like Isaac, are children of promise.

Devotions for Advent Week 3 Thursday Isaiah 54: 1-10 Luke 7:19-23 Salvation, the Sovereignty of God, and will of man

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.”
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.
“This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
Isaiah 54:1-10

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “’Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
Luke 7:24-30

 

It is the purpose of God to glorify himself though the salvation of a multitude of sinners washed in the blood of his Lamb. God sent the flood to judge mankind. But Noah built an ark large enough to save multitudes. God sent his Son to judge sin. But the death of Christ is sufficient to save the world.

Those involved in small or struggling ministries may tend to console themselves with, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” And, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Or with thoughts like, “God is just as glorified when he condemns a sinner as when he saves one.” But is he?

There is a secret delight in reading Jesus’ scathing criticisms of the Pharisees. But that delight is not one shared by Jesus. Jesus was not pleased to constantly point out the wickedness and hypocrisy of the Pharisees. This was not God’s purpose in sending his Son. It was God’s purpose that the Pharisees join with all the people- tax collectors included!- in recognizing the justice of God.

The convergence of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is one that may never be understood. But this I know, when the Day of Judgment comes not a single person will be able to say to God, “I wanted to be saved but you just wouldn’t let me.”

God is a “big tent” God. If heaven rejoices when one sinner is saved, what must go on when ninety-nine are saved? God is not narrow in his grace. He is not constrained in his mercy.

 

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.

 Portia’s Speech, The Merchant of Venice Act 4 Scene 1

Devotions for Advent: Week 2, Monday Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 5:17-26

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Isaiah 35:1-10

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the man who was paralyzed–”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”
Luke 5:17-26

At Advent we remember that the greatest need of man has been met. The promise of seeing the glory of the Lord is empty. It is a promise made with full knowledge that it will never be fulfilled. Unclean people will never see the Lord. No man will ever see the Lord.

The promise of gladness and joy is check with insufficient funds. Yesterday in our small, country church, prayer was asked for three different children undergoing treatment for cancer, or seizures, or having surgery. One man had just spent the week in the hospital. A woman still could not find the cause or relief for a debilitating illness. Life is pain.

But Advent reminds us that both of these promises are fulfilled. In the coming of Jesus man is made whole. Given a choice, most people would probably chose physical healing over spiritual healing: even most religious people. Why did the Jews seek more signs from Jesus and not more sermons? Because people would rather walk than see God. But the Gospel reading in Luke teaches us the reason Jesus healed man’s physical ailments: to prove his power to heal man’s spiritual ailments.

Any quack, or cultist, or priest, can claim to grant forgiveness of sins. It is truly a matter of faith. There is no tangible demonstration that sins have been forgiven. Jesus performed the lesser work- healing the body of man- to show his power to do the greater work- healing the soul of man.

So now we wait. The Good Shepherd has bound up the spiritual wounds of his flock, but there are many who are still halt and lame. The joy of forgiveness is pierced and strained by the pain of life. But Jesus is coming to complete the work he came to do. Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you. He is coming to complete the work of salvation: and man’s whole body, soul, and sprit will be preserved blameless.

 

 

Devotions for First week of Advent: Tuesday, The Advent of the Trinity

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Isaiah 11:1-10

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
Luke 10:21-24[1]

Advent is the season of appearing. In Advent God makes himself known. Today’s passages reveal the deepest aspect of the mystery of God’s appearance: the fact that God is Trinity. Jesus did what he did because of who he was: God. Jesus was able to do what he did because of the power he received from the Holy Spirit. The work of Jesus from beginning to end was the work that the Father willed.

In Isaiah 11 we see that God’s kingdom comes through the Branch who judges righteous judgment. This righteous judgment is empowered by the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. The gospels make the role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus unmistakable. It is by the Holy Spirit that he is conceived;[2] the fills people to worship God because of Jesus;[3] Jesus was announced as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit;[4] the Holy Spirit rested on Jesus when he was baptized;[5] it was in the power of the Spirit that Jesus entered the wilderness, left the wilderness, and began his teaching ministry;[6] it was in the power of the Spirit that Jesus cast out demons;[7] before he left Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples;[8] Jesus commanded that new disciples be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit;[9] Jesus kept his promise and sent the Holy Spirit.[10] Advent makes known the inseparable bond between Jesus the Messiah and the Spirit of the Lord.

But the advent of Jesus also makes known the inseparable bond between Jesus the Messiah and God the Father. In Luke we stand upon holy ground. We enter into the communication of the Trinity. In wonder and amazement we hear the Son of God proclaim that he has all of the authority of the Father. The sovereignty of God over salvation is made explicit. The Father hides salvation from some and reveals it to others. The Son chooses whom he will reveal the Father to. We know these hard words are true because who said them: Jesus the Son; and because of how he said them: “in the Holy Spirit.”

At Advent God makes himself known. God reveals that he is Triune: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Three in person, one in essence.

 Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!


[1] For more on this text see my post on the Trinitarian aspects of it click here.

[2] Luke 1:35

[3] Luke 1:41; 2:25-27

[4] Luke 3:16

[5] Luke 3:22

[6] Luke 4:1, 14, 18

[7] Matt. 12:28

[8] John 15:26

[9] Matt. 28:19

[10] John 20:22; Acts 2:33

Faith

I have commented on several occasions about the Bible reading plan I am using and the benefit it offers of seeing the Scripture in multiple places. Today the first 3 readings struck a chord.

First up was Luke 5. Jesus told the disciples to drop in their nets for a catch. Peter, an experienced fisherman, wondered at the point since they had toiled all night and caught nothing. But he considered the source, “But at your word I will let down the nets.” Peter knew it was pointless, but he also knew the One who gave the command. A man with leprosy came to Jesus knowing the Lord could heal him. A paralytic was brought to Jesus by his friends. Jesus saw their faith and forgave the paralytics sin. And then Jesus healed the man to show that he was indeed God who could forgive sins.

Next up was Numbers 13. After seeing the ten plagues the Lord visited on Egypt; after seeing the Red Sea parted; after seeing the Lord come down on Sinai; after eating the Manna; after seeing the Lord judge the sin of Nadab and Abihu, of Miriam and Aaron; the people come to the border of the promised land. Ten of the spies sent into the Lord falter in their faith, give a bad report, and discourage the people from entering the land.

 

The third passage was Hebrews 11. I trust that little needs to be said about such a well known chapter. In all three places the message is the same: faith works. Peter dropped the nets into an empty lake because he had faith in the Lord who commanded. The children of Israel failed to enter God’s rest because they did not believe the God who promised. By faith Abel offered; Noah constructed; Abraham obeyed and offered; Moses left and returned to Egypt…and left again; Rahab welcomed the spies.

Faith is not something merely abstract, intellectual, internal, or even spiritual. Faith can be seen. Faith shows itself. It works. Faith is not something instantaneous or self-contained. It continues. It is tenacious. Faith continues to work even when the Lord does not miraculously provide, heal, or deliver. For it is by faith:

 Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated– of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

Faith abides.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 24

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:45-49)

Making every composition teacher happy, at the conclusion of his first book Luke provides an excellent introduction to his second book. The Trinitarian conclusion of Luke is right were the book of Acts picks up.

Acts 1:4 and 2:33 make it clear that “the promise” Jesus speaks of is the sending of the Holy Spirit. Luke 24:49 has the same Trinitarian interconnectedness of Acts 2:33. Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father to his people.

It is the Holy Spirit, sent by the Son from the Father who clothes Christ’s disciples with power. The Spirit transforms cloistered cowards into a confessional community. Empowered by this promised gift of the Spirit (Is. 32:14-15; 44:3-4; 59:20-21; Joel 2:28-32; John 14:16-17); the disciples will powerfully preach the crucified and risen Christ receiving into their fellowship all who were appointed by the Father (Acts 13:46-52).

This concludes my survey of passages in Luke and Acts that refer to the Trinity. For those who have not been keeping score, in Luke-Acts there are references to the Trinity in:

Luke 1:12-17
1:35
1:41-45
1:67-75
2:25-32
3:21-22
4:1-14
4:17-18
10:21
10:22
11:13
12:8-12
24:49

Acts 1:1-3
1:4-5
1:6-8
2:32-33
2:38-39
4:8-10
4:24-31
5:29-32
7:51-53
7:55-56
8:12-24
8:26-40
9:17-20
10:38
10:44-48
11:15-18
11:22-24
13:6-12
15:8-11
16:6-10
20:22-24
20:26-32
28:23-31

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 12. The Trinity and the Unpardonable Sin

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:8-12

There are a couple knots in this passage that demand careful attention. First, what is the significance of being acknowledged- or not acknowledged- before the angels of God? The statements by Jesus make it seem like the angels are somehow involved in the judgment of men. Second, there is the entire constellation of questions relating to the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit: why is this sin unforgivable; how is it committed; can it be committed today; etc.

As we approach this text, two things should be noted. It is somewhat interesting the each person of the Trinity is mentioned twice, and each is mentioned in the same terms. I have found over one hundred New Testament references to the Trinity, and such a balanced, or symmetrical, presentation does not occur very often. Luke 2:25-32 is far more representative of passages where there are multiple mentions of the Persons: the Father is mentioned three times with two different terms; the Son is mentioned twice with two different terms; the Spirit is mentioned three times with two different terms. I would not necessarily say that the vocabulary usage of the Trinitarian usage in this passage is significant, but it is somewhat unique.

Secondly, the flow of Jesus’ arguments in the context is important for understanding what is going on here. The entire chapter deals with Jesus’ teaching on faithful perseverance and readiness. Even when someone in the crowd tries to change the subject, Jesus does not simply dismiss the question but does so with a parable that shows how foolish the concern is in the light of what Jesus is trying to teach (12:13-21).

Jesus begins his discourse by warning his followers to be wary of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (12:1). In 12:4 Jesus reveals just how dangerous their hypocrisy was. Jesus knew that the hypocrisy of the Pharisees had filled them with hatred toward God’s Messiah. He knew that their hatred would lead to his death. And he knew that their hatred would lead to the persecution and death of some of his followers. Hypocrisy and false teaching are not merely psychological or intellectual problems. Jesus strengthens the resolve of his disciples by reminding them of the One who is really in charge. God cares for all of his creation and judges righteously.

It is in this context of persecution by earthly authorities that Jesus warns his followers about denying him. This is made all the more clearer in verse 11: “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities…” In all of chapter 12 Jesus is constantly using earthly shadows to point to eternal realities. Jesus is constantly teaching his disciples to forsake a temporal mindset and to embrace a view of the gravity of eternity. Do not fear judgment here, fear it there (12:4-5). Do not store up treasure here, store it there (12:21). Do not worry about even the daily necessities here, seek the kingdom (12:31). Do not hoard to provide for your body, give to provide for your heart (12:34).

And so it is in 12:8-9: the verses are merely a re-emphasis of 12:4-5. When the disciples of Jesus are standing before court on earth they should keep in mind the court in heaven. Just as one stands before a judge, jury, and witness here on earth, he will one day stand before the Judge and the heavenly witnesses: the angels of God. To deny Jesus is to forfeit all right of dwelling eternally in the presence of God.

But Jesus then seems to immediately take the teeth out of his teaching with the statement in verse 10 that anyone who speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. At first, eternal life was dependent upon acknowledgment of Jesus, but now it is dependent upon not blaspheming the Spirit. Verses 11 and 12 help us reconcile this apparent contradiction.

Far from ranking the Trinity in some order of “Importance of Acceptance”, Jesus actually demonstrates the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit. A careless interpreter of 12:8-9 might claim that salvation is a matter of works. “If I profess Jesus when I am persecuted I will be saved. If I deny him, I will be damned.” But Jesus is careful to teach that such strength to confess the Son of Man does not come from a person’s own strength or will. A person will only be able to confess the Son of Man when he does so in response to the teaching of the Holy Spirit (12:12).

In his weakness, Peter denied the Lord three times before men in just one evening. But after the Holy Spirit came upon him, he boldly proclaimed Jesus even in the face of persecution. Had Peter continued to live in fear and denial, it would have been proof that the Holy Spirit had never indwelt him.

Just as the Son was sent forth as the Logos, Word, of the Father; so the Spirit is sent forth as the witness of the Son (John 1:1, 15:26). A person simply cannot live in denial of the Son and claim to have any part of the Holy Spirit. To live in denial of the Son is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit because such denial is counter to everything the Spirit is trying to achieve on earth. The heightening of expression between “speaking a word” and “blasphemes against” is apparent and it is instructive. In weakness and sin men can deny the Son of Man. But persistent, willful denial is blasphemy: it is opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit.

To live in denial of the Son is to live in denial of the work of the Spirit is to die to face denial by the Father.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 11; The Trinity and Prayer

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:11-13)

Here is a passage that is must have weighed heavily in the thinking of Luke. As detailed in posts in previous months, in the book of Acts Luke repeatedly speaks of the Trinity in terms this passage presents.

Jesus’ instruction in Luke 11:1-13 is in response to the request of his disciples for instruction on prayer. After giving the model prayer in 11:2-4, the bulk of the instruction is devoted to a parable and its interpretation. Jesus wishes to encourage his disciples to persevere confidently in prayer.

The rational basis for confident perseverance is prayer is demonstrated by an analogy using the logic of arguing from the lesser to the greater. If even sinful fathers on earth know how to answer the requests of their children with good gifts; don’t you think the perfect Father in heaven will do so as well?

But as comforting as such a truth is; it is not just a theological abstraction. The truth is firmly grounded in the action of the Triune God. In the theology of Luke, Jesus is that Son who has asked his Father for the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33; cf. Acts 5:32; 10:38; 15:8). As sound as the logic is, we are not finally dependent upon logic for our confident assurance in the efficacy of prayer. We pray because of the faithfulness the Father has already demonstrated to the Son in answering his request to pour out the Holy Spirit.

Our perseverance in prayer is further encouraged by one other Trinitarian truth: the intercession made for us within the Trinity.

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom. 8:25-27)

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom 8:34 cf. Hebrews 7:27; 9:24)

How shall we not continue in prayer? The foundation is sure- the Father has answered the prayer of his Son to send the Spirit. The building continues- the Son and Spirit continue to make intercession to the Father for us. The prayer life of the believer is both motivated and sustained by the prayer life of the Trinity. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 10. Containing a brief exposition of monergistic salvation and Trinitarian revelation

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Luke 10:21-22

These two verses contain two references to the Trinity: one direct, and one via cross reference.

In verse 21 we witness the work of the Holy Spirit in the Son causing him to offer thanksgiving to the Father. In the context of the chapter we are at the place in Jesus’ ministry where he sent out the 72 disciples and they returned rejoicing over all the works they were empowered to do: particularly their ability to cast out demons.

Jesus tenderly corrects them in telling them that they do have cause to rejoice, but that their rejoicing should focus on their place in heaven not their power over hell. In this admonition I believe there is a word to those today who seek after miraculous demonstrations of power; who claim special status or position because of the wonders they do; who state the normal Christian life is the miraculous Christian life. It is the same word that Paul would later state to the similarly deluded Corinthians: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:29-31).

This is not to say that we are to simply “rest in the Lord” when it comes to salvation. Indeed, this seems to be the opposite error that infects broader evangelicalism. There are many who feel that once they have “prayed the prayer” there is not much else to do in the Christian life except make an occasional guest appearance at church, give a little something every now and then, but otherwise do nothing to evidence the grace of God. This is due in large part to the shallow gospel that is preached to them and the shallow gospel they believe. The gospel that preaches a salvation that comes with no strings attached. The gospel that proclaims come as you are and leave as you were. The gospel that pleads for a prayer but not repentance and belief. Yes, we are saved by faith alone; but the faith that saves is never alone. True faith produces works.

In this prayer, Jesus teaches us that salvation is due to the work of God the Father. It is God the Father who has written the names of believers in heaven (10:20); he hides salvation from the wise and graciously reveals it to those whom he wills (10:21). The Father is “Lord of heaven and earth.” He is sovereign over all things, and this includes the salvation of sinners.

A common charge against the reformed understanding of salvation is that it leads to pride and arrogance about God’s choice. But any self-professed Calvinist who is proud of his salvation has certainly not understood what Calvin and the other like-minded reformers (to say nothing of Jesus and the apostles) taught regarding salvation. A biblical understanding of God’s election brings nothing but humble rejoicing. When one realizes that there is nothing good in himself; that he can do nothing to merit his salvation; that his salvation is based entirely upon God’s good pleasure; he can do nothing but respond in humble praise. In eternity, not a single man will be praised for making “the right choice” when it comes to salvation. God and the Lamb receive all the praise, honor, and glory. For salvation is of the Lord.

In verse 22, Jesus continues emphasizing God’s sovereignty in salvation. In a marvelous statement that begins to stretch our capability of comprehension Jesus teaches vital truths about relationship and revelation in the Trinity.

After making the well-supported statement that the Father is Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus boldly proclaims that he has the same title of authority. The Son proclaims that “all things” have been handed over to his control. Statements like this flatly contradict those scholars that assert Jesus had no God-consciousness, or that he never claimed equality with God, or deity itself. The enemies of Jesus understood statements like this and their implications well: it is the very reason they delivered him to Pilate to be crucified (John 5:18; 19:7).

Just as Jesus asserted that God’s sovereignty over heaven and earth extended to man’s salvation; he proclaims that he is sovereign over who knows God. The Father and the Son have complete knowledge of one another. Such knowledge is perfect and eternal. Because the Son has dwelt eternally with the Father he is the only one that can give accurate revelation of the Father (John 1:1, 18). Because the Father has dwelt eternally with the Son he is the only one that can give accurate revelation of the Son (John 6:44, 65; 2 Cor. 4:6).

But where does that leave us? Jesus is no longer on earth revealing the Father. The Father no longer raises up prophets and apostles to add to his word. Are we abandoned? In no way.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”– these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1Co 2:9-11)

1 Corinthians 2:11 completes the teaching on Trinitarian knowledge and revelation. Jesus taught that he alone had knowledge of the Father and He alone could give that knowledge to others. Paul proclaims that the Spirit alone has knowledge of the Father and the Spirit alone communicates that knowledge to others.

We are left with two options: either Jesus or Paul—and therefore Scripture as a whole—are wrong; or, we are led onward to accept the orthodox teaching of the Trinity. What the Father has in his essence, the Son knows and has in his essence. What the Father has in his essence, the Spirit knows and has in his essence. God is one in essence, three in persons. Such knowledge of God—yea, any and all knowledge of God—is only given to and received by those children God himself wills to reveal himself.

If you know anything of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it is only because God has chosen to bless you with such knowledge. Who will not humble tremble before such an awesome gift?