“I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge…”
What do you know about the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses? Have you ever had one come to your door?
In the past, when I felt like I had a couple hours to burn, I’ve invited them into my house or gone outside to talk with them.
Because, you see, someone needs to tell them the truth about who Jesus is!
Many people often believe that these folks pretty much believe what we Christians do. They do, after all, tend to be people who are quite devoted to “conservative principles”, to living well, to virtue!
And yet, both of these groups, for example, do not believe that Jesus is God, but “a god”! A “demigod” of sorts….
And the Mormons also ultimately teach that he is a god like you can become a god too…
When they talk about Jesus you might think they are talking about your Jesus but what they cannot abide – what they will not abide – is the fact that there is a distinction between the Creator of all things and His creatures and that the Son of God is in the former category, not the latter.
He is not a creature, but He is the Creator. Like the Father is the Most High God, the Son is the Most High God as well, God the Son.
And all of this kind of thing is at the heart of our Old Testament reading this morning from the book of Proverbs!
Starting in the 4th century, 1700 years ago, this reading from the book of Proverbs has been controversial over the years, but it shouldn’t have been.
For it is about the Wisdom that existed with God from before the creation of the world, and that brings order out of chaos, and this should sound familiar to us (think, for example, of Genesis 1 and Jonn 1…)
Even though chapter 8 of Proverbs uses the literary technique of personification – making wisdom into Lady Wisdom and contrasting her with Woman Folly, the seductive woman spoken of in Proverbs 7 – this creative way of presenting wisdom ultimately gives way to actual fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In sum, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are being encouraged by Solomon in Proverbs to flee the path that leads to death and to instead marry wisdom… to have a relationship with wisdom….
And now, in light of the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh in history, we know that the ultimate way this happens is by knowing the Holy One, the Son of God, who is also referred to as the Logos of God, or Word of God, or Reason of God – and the Wisdom of God as well (I Cor. 1, see also Colossians 2)!
We should not lose sleep over this passage from Proverbs, wondering why the wisdom of God, ultimately revealed as Jesus Christ, is personified here as a woman. It is a literary allusion that probably also has to do with the fact that the Hebrew word for wisdom is a feminine noun…
What we should be concerned about are readings of the book of Proverbs that miss the fact that wisdom is ultimately about heeding the voice of God, believing in His Word, and trusting Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
If you go to the website of the Mormons, “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints”, you will read this about wisdom in Proverbs:
“Like all Hebrew intellectual virtues, wisdom … is intensely practical, not theoretical. Basically, wisdom is the art of being successful, of forming the correct plan to gain the desired results. Its seat is the heart, the centre of moral and intellectual decision [see 1 Kings 3:9, 12].” (J. D. Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “wisdom.”)
This is called missing the heart of the issue.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And God, really, is to be believed for His own sake. His words about who He is believed for His own sake. His commands followed and promises trusted for His own sake. This is how we honor Him…
And, shockingly, passages like Luke 11 actually tell us that it was the wisdom of God that knew full well the Old Testament prophets would not to prosper in this life, but suffer instead!…
So, these Mormons, God bless them, need to hear a hard word.
Like the Athanasian Creed, which many good Lutheran churches are confessing this Trinity Sunday, says:
“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith [catholic here should be understood as “universal”]. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal…”
Yes, folks like the Mormons might strike us as pretty moral people…
But in their words and deeds their highest “prophets” do not give evidence that they are in the truth, and, as the Athanasian creed goes on to say, they “shall give an account for their own works…”
What are some things that people like the Mormons need to begin to learn, and that we need to always learn better?
I think there are three key truths that we should focus on today, on this Trinity Sunday…:
First of all, Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, 100% God and 100% man.
Second, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit perfectly reveal to us what it means to faithfully follow God’s commands, even if it appears to the world that this ends in utter failure.
Finally, all of this should drive us to reflect on the ultimate nature of the Triune God as love.
As regards the first truth, Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, we see this today in our Gospel reading. One of the most important statements in the whole of the New Testament I believe is found at the end of the reading:
“‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”
The Jews in our reading picked up stones to throw at and kill Jesus because they knew exactly what He was saying here: He was saying that He is God!
How? Because God revealed to Abraham that His name was “Yahweh”, that is “I am”. “I am who I am,” he said (Exodus 3:14). When Jesus says “I am” of Himself, He is clearly meaning to share that He in fact did not come after Abraham and that He not only was before Abraham, but that He was and is Abraham’s God.
Second, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit perfectly reveal to us what it means to faithfully follow God’s commands, even if it appears to the world that this ends in failure.
When the so-called “Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day saints” speaks of the divine wisdom contained in God’s commands, they focus on the aspect of success in this life.
Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit however, reveal to us that what the world considers success and what God considers success are two very different things.
For the Christian, we succeed not when we obtain material blessings and rewards – which yes, will generally happen as well when God’s commandments are respected – but when we grow in faithfulness to God, increasingly trusting our Lord’s promises and then going on to fulfil God’s commandments.
These are summed up in loving God with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves (see Romans 8:4).
We can do this because Jesus Christ fulfilled the law on our behalf, doing what sinners cannot do. And so we are free to follow Him not to be saved, by climbing a ladder to heaven or something like this… but because in Him we are saved and know true love….
Christ teaches us the commandments by His words and He shows us more deeply what He means by His deeds. He “embodies” things perfectly for us.
In like fashion, the Holy Spirit reminds us of what we already know in embryonic form as followers of Jesus Christ – reminding us of what Jesus teaches us about who God is and what God commands and promises by His words and example.
And I was reminded of all of this by my own pastor last week. In His sermon He used a couple illustrations about the Holy Spirit that will stick with me…
[story about how as a boy my pastor learned a little bit by watching his friend be coached in tennis, but his friend actually had a personal coach… the Holy Spirit is like our personal trainer]
[story about how my pastor had a piano teacher who was really good at piano and knew her stuff, but he could not focus when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw her writing down things whenever he made a mistake… the Holy Spirit is not like this either, but intelligently and patiently guides us…]
So Jesus and the Holy Spirit teach us to realize and see what it means to love.
And this then brings us to our third point that folks like the Mormons need to begin to realize and that we need to more deeply realize:
All of this should drive us to reflect on the ultimate nature of the Triune God as love.
Take some of the other things that Jesus says about Himself in our Gospel reading for today…
To the Jews in our Gospel text Jesus says
“I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge…”
Shortly after this Jesus says
“If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me….”
In his Large Catechism, explaining the command to honor one’s father and mother, Martin Luther said this:
“…it is a far higher thing to honor than to love one, inasmuch as it comprehends not only love, but also modesty, humility, and deference as to a majesty there hidden, and requires not only that they be addressed kindly and with reverence, but, most of all, that both in heart and with the body we so act as to show that we esteem them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them as the very highest. For one whom we are to honor from the heart we must truly regard as high and great…”
Even if it is not the same as it is with us, can anyone doubt that Jesus Christ honors His Father in heaven?
And while the Son of God does this according to His human nature, we also know that the Son of God is eternally begotten of the Father – and He is eternally the Son who honors the Father!
And before the foundation of the world – before Adam and Eve had sinned and thrown the world into chaos and disintegration and death and even before time began – the Father determined that the Son of God would be sent into the world to save the world.
And this the Son, who is the very Word of the Father, gladly embraced!
As the Father sent the Son, the Son gladly sent Himself as well, honoring the Father who begat Him, the Father who, mysteriously and wondrously, was the Source… the Origin… the Beginning… of all that is, in heaven and on earth, both created and uncreated…!
Here, some of us might start wondering though: even if all three persons are God is there nevertheless a kind of “hierarchy” in the Trinity?
In truth, I do not know. I know that man needs hierarchy and that we see all kinds of indications that there is hierarchy in heaven.
In seeming contrast to any thoughts about “hierarchy” though, we could also mention that Jesus teaches us that the disciples were all brothers, that the church’s rulers would not be like those of the world who lorded it over their subjects, and that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”….
I simply do not know if there is something we could call “hierarchy” in the Trinity… I believe in large part this is mysterious and difficult to understand…
What I do know is that there is neither any coercion or unwillingness in the Trinity, for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally God, one in will, action, power, and glory!
As a friend put it to me “[t]he reality of [man’s] sin makes us much more familiar with compliance than obedience, [which is from the heart and not just a matter of external conformity,] but that’s not exactly an issue in the Godhead.”
So what can we say with certainty about this question – regarding hierarchy…?
We can say that as the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, exists in itself it is love, and that matters of honor always go hand in hand with love.
And we can also say that we creatures, even we who are Christians, are not this insofar as we are sinful men and women, and need His help…
It is important that we human creatures confess what the Athanasian Creed says: “the deity[, or Godhood,] of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty…”
Also that “in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal….”
And yet – again… we must nevertheless remember that there is an order in the Trinity, an “order of flow” in the Trinity perhaps with the Father listed as first, then the Son, and then the Spirit – and yet these three Persons do not have any sin problems like we who abuse authority, for instance, and are in no need of confessing those bits from the Athanasian Creed or exhorting One Another to do the same!
You see, it is we who are the problem here.
So great is our wickedness, for example, that we need to be told not only that it is enough for earthly servants to become like their masters (Matt 10:25), but even admonished to not seek our own glory (John 8:50, 54) and to rather consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3)!
The Triune God, on the other hand, being love, simply is this way.
For the Father, this can be seen as He delights in His Son.
For the Son, this can be seen as He embraces the fullness of love and harmony which originates from the Father.
And the Spirit can be seen to exult in and proclaim this blessed eternal relationality that always bears good fruit…
This is the great Triune God…
So what, ultimately, is wisdom?
Fearing and knowing God! Life is about knowing Wisdom, knowing God in the whole truth and nothing but the truth!
Ultimately, nothing can be more practical than that!
Again, let Jeremiah 9:23-24 fire up your imagination and strengthen your resolve!
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,’
declares the Lord.”
So… how do we do that? How to reach this goal of knowing well the great Triune God?
First and foremost, by knowing the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who shows us the face of God in our own human flesh!
And by getting to know Him even better than we now do!
For remember, He is the not the One who – as the NIV translation Proverbs suggested today – was “made” or “formed”… but rather was established, appointed, ordained…. (a better translation…)
For as the book of John tells us, in the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God!
This man Jesus Christ is the God-Man. Fully God, He is not so much a creature but your Creator who, at a particular point in time, took on a human, or created nature!
And what a good God He is!
In Proverbs 8, we heard the Holy Spirit sing that “Wisdom was constantly at his [Father’s] side… and… was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in [the Father’s] presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”
Again, this is our God! Sit at His feet brothers and sisters! The Lord Jesus, in particular, invites you!
Then what about the Father and the Holy Spirit?
Won’t they get jealous if we fixate on Jesus?
Not at all, for, ever eager to honor the other, they are God and not man!
Lutherans in particular are often accused of not speaking enough about the Holy Spirit, but consider what happened on Pentecost!
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached about Jesus….
The Holy Spirit is always pointing and leading people to Jesus!
This is why, in our Acts reading, Peter preaches like this:
“…let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
Saints who are baptized, set apart for God and His work – set your hearts and minds on the things above; by that I mean our great and glorious Triune God, the lover of mankind!
The Son of God is truly God, for He says to us “I am”, just as God did in the Old Testament!
And it is God the Son – this second person of the Trinity – who God the Father decided before the world began would become man, taking on our flesh… not only becoming one of us, but becoming the lowest among us…
As the book of Philippians tells us, He did not consider the equality He had with His Father something to be grasped, but took on the form of a servant or slave – dying a criminal’s death on the cross because of the evils we had done…
The wages of our sin was our death, but our sin became His death…
And yet, death could not hold Him, and the man Jesus Christ, that is, the Son of God according to His human nature, was made Lord and Messiah over this fallen world!
And because of this divine plan executed in history – because, as we heard Peter say in our Acts reading, “[t]his man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge” – we have salvation… eternal life in Him!
Remember our Psalm for today?:
“Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger…”
Again – this crucified Christ, this man Jesus Christ, has been raised from the dead!
Vindicated by the Father as the King of this world, before the eyes of the world – the God-Man indeed! – this means that you and I and all people have hope!
I can’t sum up things up better than Martin Luther, speaking about the Triune God’s actions in light of our fallen, our sinful condition… He shares this encouraging message to all of us in his great hymn “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice”:
He spoke to his belovèd Son:
“It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of my crown,
and bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free;
slay bitter death for them that they
may live with you forever.”
The Son obeyed his Father’s will,
was born of virgin mother,
and, God’s good pleasure to fulfill,
he came to be my brother.
No garb of pomp or pow’r he wore;
a servant’s form like mine he bore
to lead the devil captive.
With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1T8XF96SI313ySVU0zOJJeq-RWP6dHmoVOCbr4wcvAVA/edit?usp=sharing