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

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

Acts 1:1-3

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 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?

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 1 (Part 3)

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:41-45

Luke follows the Trinitarian account of the annunciation with a Trinitarian celebration of the annunciation. Soon after the angel gave the good news to Mary, she ran quickly to share the news with her relative Elizabeth. Like any woman who receives such news she has to share!

In the annunciation to Mary (1:35), each person of the Trinity is declared to be involved in the conception of Jesus. Now, each person of the Trinity is mentioned in the confirmation of the good news Mary has received. The Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth to worship the Father for what he is doing in the giving of his Son. Herein is one of the significant aspects of this passage.

There is a necessary gap between the “biblical theology”—what the Bible specifically states—of the Trinity and what would become the orthodox “systematic theology”—what the Bible necessarily intends—of the Trinity. Since every heretic has his text(s), the battle for orthodoxy was as much about what the Bible means as what it says. This passage in Luke points toward certain dogmatic truths the church fathers would elaborate upon and perpetuate.

First, there is a distinction in the actions of each person. The pattern seen in these few verses fits into the larger teaching concerning the customary actions or roles each member of the Trinity performs. The Father is plans and declares what will be so (1:45). The Son carries out the decrees of the Father and is the ladder between heaven and earth (1:43-44). The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of God’s people to His acts of gracious mercy in Christ and empowers them to respond appropriate worship and obedience (1:41-42).

Secondly, there is a unity in the persons. In verse 43, the Son is called “Lord.” In verse 45, the Father is called “Lord.” As Jesus himself would state, no man can serve two masters. Yet if the record of Luke is to be trusted, here we have an Old Testament saint calling the God of Israel and his as yet unborn Son, “Lord.” She does not do this in a moment of pre-partum euphoria. She is not speaking as a confused simpleton. Her declaration is a direct response to the work of the Holy Spirit. As such, it has all of the authority anything Moses, David, or Isaiah ever prophesied. The work of the Holy Spirit provokes people to acknowledge the Father and Son are both Lord while still proclaiming there is only One Lord.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 1 (Part 2)

Luke continues to present the work of the Trinity in preparation of the incarnation:

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:67-79

Everything that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, says is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit within him moving him to prophesy. In this proclamation of praise the Holy Spirit moves Zechariah to exult the work of the Father and the Son.

The Father is identified as the Lord God of Israel (1:68). Interestingly, the Zechariah declares that the Father spoke by the mouth of the prophets. This is certainly congruent with typical Old Testament thought. It is only later in the history of redemption that the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiration is made explicit. The Father, as he was in Luke’s first reference to the Trinity (1:32, 35), is again called “the Most High.” This is a title that Luke seems particularly fond of. It is found 9 times in the New Testament, with 7 of the uses by Luke (Mark 5:7; Luke 1:32,35,76; 6:35; 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17; Hebrews 7:1).

The Son is identified picturesquely as the “horn of salvation” (1:69) and “the sunrise from on high” (1:78), and more traditionally as “Lord” (1:76). What does Zechariah know and believe of this Lord? What does he comprehend of his relationship to the Most High God? These are curiosities that we are left to wonder at. What we do see is that already among God’s people, there is an expectation for God to act on their behalf in the person whose body was still being prepared in the Virgin’s womb.

In the first chapters of Luke’s gospel Zechariah’s speech functions as a natural progression from the Trinity at Jesus’ conception to the Trinity at Jesus’ manifestation in chapter 2: which we will see in the next post in this series.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 1

Before going on in my study of the Trinity in Scripture I had hoped to organize and harmonize all of the posts on the Trinity in the book of Acts. In each post I have tried to just stick with the biblical witness in that passage alone. The next step will be to systematize all of those individual observations into what the entire book of Acts teaches on the Trinity. But twenty pages and 10,000 words later, that is not something that is going to happen overnight. So while I am working on that I thought I would go ahead and start in on the next book.

In the coming weeks, while you anxiously await the Acts compilation, I will be going through the book of Luke. Perhaps it would have made more sense to begin Luke and then progress to Acts, but I am not sure the order is more important than the information. In any event, I think we will see that the abundance of Trinitarian references in Acts was no accident. Luke was not only a doctor of the body, but of the soul. His heart was captured by the love of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

From the pomp and splendor of the temple worship in Jerusalem, Luke takes us to the anonymity of Nazareth. There the normal life of an unknown maid is forever changed:

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. (Luke 1:35)

Untangling the mystery of the Trinity was among the least of Mary’s worries at this moment. Yet the angel Gabriel makes it clear that the conception of Jesus was a work of the Father and the Holy Spirit. As a response to Mary’s question about how she could possibly bear a child, Gabriel’s answer seemed to allay her fears.

What would Mary have thought of this response? “Holy Spirit” does appear in the Old Testament, but it is uncommon (Ps. 51:11; Isa. 63:10-11). The idea of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon someone was much more common, so that probably helped matters. From this Mary recognized she had been chosen by the Lord for a special task and that she would receive power to accomplish his will.

What would she have thought of “the Son of God”? Again we do not know. Psalm 2:7 certainly lays groundwork for the notion of God having a son, and it was a common notion in surrounding nations that kings were sons of the gods. Mary was perplexed, but submissive. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1:38).

At the introduction of the conception of Jesus, the Trinity is present. The simple fact is that Mary did not know the depths of what this verse contains. And frankly, neither do we. Mary heard the word of God, and submitted to it. She treasured up all these things in her heart. We should do likewise.