Posts Tagged ‘trinity’

Some background:

The dominant themes of John’s Gospel up to this point have been the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah who fulfils all the promises of the Old Testament to bring in the New Era – the outpouring of the Spirit, the cleansing of sin and uncleanness, the renewal and establishment of the Kingdom of God, and the personal renewal that comes to a person who is brought in to be a part of this all. We have seen Him declared to be the Son of God (not figuratively but literally), the Baptiser in the Spirit, the Messiah, the One who replaces the old ritual washing water with the new wine, the one who replaces the Jerusalem Temple with himself, and the One prefigured by Moses in lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. He has just unpacked for a key Jewish leader what it means to be ‘born from above’ by God’s sovereign action in the work of the Holy Spirit, and now he comes to someone at the other end of the theology/holiness/worthiness/acceptability spectrum: a lonely, broken, shamed Samaritan woman.

4:1-9

Jesus broke a number of cultural conventions, doing what in the eyes of many – especially the Pharisees – would disqualify him from being a Rabbi, let alone the Messiah sent from God. Firstly, he travelled through Samaria. Samaria was the region historically occupied by the ten northern tribes of Israel who had been conquered by the Assyrians in 720BC. The Assyrian policy of relocation meant that many Israelites were scattered among the nations, while may foreigners were brought into Samaria, where they intermarried with the remaining Israelites, developing a syncretistic religion. When the exiles who had been taken by the Babylonians from the Southern kingdom of Judah returned, these locals wanted to participate in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, but were not permitted. So they set up their own Temple in Samaria. This developed eventually into the rivalry, bigotry and hatred that existed between Jews and Samaritans right up to Jesus’ time. Many Jews, if they needed to travel North to Galilee, would cross the Jordan and travel up the East side of the river in order to avoid travelling through Samaria, even though this took them 4 days longer than cutting through Samaria.

Secondly, when the woman came to the well, he spoke to her, asking for a drink. This was controversial on four counts. First, as a Jew (and a Rabbi) he should not have spoken to to a Samaritan (at least in a friendly tone). Second, as a male he should not have spoken to a woman on her own. Third, he should not have been willing to drink from a Samaritan cup, which would have technically made him ’unclean,’ since Samaritans were considered by many to be the same or even worse than Gentiles. Fourth, while it’s not explicitly stated, the fact that this woman was at the well at midday, rather than the normal time of first thing in the morning when everyone else would have been there, may indicate that this woman was an outcast even among her own people, since she came alone at a time when no-one else would be there to ridicule or criticise her.

It is important to notice that John includes this story immediately after chapter three’s account of Nicodemus coming to Jesus. John said in is introduction to the Gospel:

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:11-12)

In John 3 we see a man, Nicodemus, who would have been seen by everyone as ‘one of God’s own people’, yet who just didn’t understand or receive what Jesus was saying, responding to Jesus’ statements with naive, even ignorant questions. Then in John 4 we see this woman, by all accounts an ‘outsider’, who not only is receptive towards Jesus, but as we will see, engaging in robust theological discussion with him – showing up Israel’s esteemed teacher!

It’s also important to note that he initial reason Jesus stopped at this well was that he was tired and thirsty. Presumably when the disciples went into the town to get food, they had taken al the equipment with them, and so Jesus didn’t even have a cup to drink from. The Gospels to not present a ‘superman’ Jesus who floats six feed above the struggles and realities of life in this world. Jesus, the Son of God, is truly one of us, sharing in all that we experience, including tiredness and thirst.

4:10-14

The term ‘living water’ on its face value simply meant ‘spring’ or ‘running’ water – fresh water found in a flowing creek or river, as opposed to potentially muddy or stagnant water found in a well. Both Jews and Samaritans looked forward to the day when the creation was renewed by God’s blessing, and the entire region was watered by flowing rivers (eg. Zechariah 14:8, 44:3), but also that this physical renewal would be a symbol of a spiritual renewal when the Holy Spirit would ‘flow’ into and through God’s people.

Initially this woman takes his statement on the purely physical sense. Not only does Jesus not have the equipment to draw water from the well, but he is claiming to be better than than the one who dug the well – Jacob – by claiming to produce this fresh running water as opposed to stale well water.

Jesus, in his usual fashion, explains that he has come to replace the Old with something New. In the Old Testament Jeremiah says:

‘…“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’ (Jeremiah 2:13)

Jesus’ claim in 13&14 is that he has come to reverse this scenario. The well by which they are standing is a picture of the people turning to find satisfaction in things that are only momentary; and in doing so are rebelling against God, who is the only source of true satisfaction. In Jesus, the door has been opened for people to turn from these broken wells back to the eternal spring of living water.

4:15-19

At this point the woman still wants to engage on a purely physical level, but Jesus pulls the rug out from under her feet. He ultimate need is not her physical predicament of having to come here day after day to get water; it is not the fact that she runs out of water in her house. Rather, her need is spiritual – the broken well is in her, not in her house, as evidenced by the life she is living. She is a ‘serial monogamist’. Five broken marriages, resulting in her being a broken person who no longer has the energy or motivation to even try to live by the standards of her community or God.

Jesus’ comment, and his intimate knowledge of her history is a ‘sign’ to her that he is not just a regular Jewish man, but is in fact a prophet. Her use of this word is significant. The Samaritans only had as their Bible the first five books of the Old Testament, whereas the Jews had all the historical, poetic and prophetic books. In Deuteronomy 18:15-22 God promises to raise up ‘another prophet’ like Moses who will teach the people perfectly from the Law. This idea is developed in the later books of the Old Testament into the idea of the Messiah who is not only a prophet, but also a King and a Priest. But because the Samaritans did not have or recognise these books, they spoke of their future hope in terms of a ‘Prophet’. Many Samaritans however acknowledged the Jewish expectation of the Messiah and that it was to be one and the same Person.

4:20-26

The woman no only discerns that Jesus is a prophet, and maybe The Prophet, but she also recognises the real issue that is at the heart of everything, even behind her current situation of living in an immoral relationship: the issue of worship. It’s no trivial thing that the first four of the Ten Commandments are about worship. The One whom we worship will determine the kind of life we live, as our life is a direct reflection of our worship. Both the Jew and the Samaritan knew that if the issue of worship was sorted (the first 4 commandments – Loving God) then the issue of right living will follow (the last 6 – loving one’s neighbour).

The sore point between Jews and Samaritans was not so much the method of worship as the place of worship, which is what she picks up on. Rather than picking a fight, I believe this is a genuine question from someone who has just come face to face with the Truth of God embodied in the person of Jesus – she is simply framing it in terms of the context that she understands.

Jesus’ answer is not only immensely liberating, but also would have blown any last shred of credibility he may have had with the Jewish leaders by saying something that in their eyes would have undermined the whole Temple system in Jerusalem (just in case he hadn’t done this already when he cleared the Temple in 2:13-22!). And he in essence gives the same answer to her that he gave to Nicodemus: It must be a work of the Spirit. Just as Nicodemus hd no hope of seeing or entering the Kingdom of God apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in his life, so too this woman has no hope of truly worshiping God apart from the Spirit enabling her. We cannot come to God by going to a holy place or entering a holy building in which we do holy rituals. In fact, we cannot come to God at all. True worship happens as God Himself comes to us. It is as the Holy Spirit comes to us and opens our blind eyes to see Jesus, unblocks our deaf ears to hear Him speak the truth, and applies the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection to us. When he says, ‘…they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’ We see that the Father also comes to us before we come to Him – the word implies a active, yearning, seeking, not just a desire. It does not mean that people first get their act together with worship and then God will go and find them; rather God the Father is out and about in His world seeking broken, sinful people and turning them into those who truly worship and know Him. The way he dos this is through Jesus. Here we see the God the Son, who has taken on humanity in order to walk among us and, ‘to seek and save the lost’ (Luke 19:10), and this mission has taken him to a lonely well where he has found a lonely, broken, outcast Samaritan woman.

In chapter 1 (41, 45) we see people saying, ‘We have found the Messiah;’ ‘We have found the one Mose wrote about in the Law and about whom the prophets also wrote.’ Here we see this One finding this woman, declaring to her ‘I, the one speaking to you – I am he.’ (26)

If you are interested in any way in seeking God, know that it can only be because He is first seeking you; and if you know God through Jesus it is only because He has sought you and found you through his Son and by the work of His Spirit, and brought you into the truth of who He is.

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In Bart Ehrman’s debate at (I assume) Southern Evangelical Seminary against some other person who (I assume) is arguing in the affirmative for (I assume) ‘Can historians prove Jesus rose from the dead?’ (I have to make assumptions, because the person posting this video conveniently edits out all but Erhman’s material – s0 much for fair and rational debate…), he uses the following logic (at around the 13:00 mark):

  • What historians do: Establish what most probably happened
  • What miracles are: the least probably occurrence
  • The Dilemma: How can the Least Probable occurrence be Most Probable???

Aside from the fact that he is wanting historians to be entirely objective in their study of historical events, yet demands that they subjectively approach their work with the subjective assumption that miracles are always the least likely explanation for things, he entirely misses the point.

Quite likely though, both the topic of the debate and possibly the material presented by his opponent has forced him to take this approach. He actually speaks correctly when soon after this argument he states that belief in the Resurrection is for theological reasons. I entirely agree with him on this. And this is why I entirely disagree with his argument above. For theological reasons, the resurrection of Jesus is actually the most probable occurrence – in fact it is the most certain event in the history of the world – more certain than you sitting here reading this blog (who knows, you could be dreaming this!).

The certainty of the resurrection of Jesus (and therefore of our own resurrection) will most likely never be known using the historical method. We may be able to say with certainly that the first followers of Jesus believed and proclaimed Him to be risen, but anything beyond that – from a historian’s perspective – is a matter of assumption, or some may say, faith.

But here is why we may know for certain that Jesus rose from the dead; why the whole Biblical story must end with resurrection (hang in here with me – it seems like a long argument, but it’s truly glorious):

  1. God is the triune God of Love. Father, Son and Spirit; one God, three persons eternally united in love. Love is not merely something God does, but his character – which is why everything He does is Love.
  2. Because he is Love, he created a universe, inhabited by creatures made in his image, who themselves are designed to find their identity and authenticity in love – loving God and loving one’s neighbour is the summary of what it means to be human.
  3. Because God is Love, he also acts in perfect righteousness, holiness and justice; by nature He is ‘other person centred,’ and so his concern is always for the good of the Other. We see this demonstrated when Jesus is angered upon entering the temple and drives out the money changer and traders. He not only speaks but acts in righteous anger. And why? ‘This is my Father’s house!’ His desire and passion is for His Father’s glory and honour – because he loves his Father. But not just that – ‘My Father’s house should be a house of prayer for all nations’. Jesus not only loves his Father, but because he knows that ultimately his Father will be glorified as the nations gather around the Throne, he also loves his neighbours and desires all nations to know the Father.
  4. Because this is Who God is and who we are, God says the following about His creatures: ‘Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.’ (Exodus 23:7 ESV). He is saying that He will not treat a truly wicked person as if they are righteous; he will not ignore sin or sweep sin or evil under the carpet, nor give then the reward that a righteous person deserves. To do so would be to deny His character as Love: what kind of loving person sees injustice and ignores or minimises it?
  5. The flip side of this is what David recognised about God: ‘For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. (Psalms 16:10 ESV). If a person is truly  righteous, God will not treat him as a wicked person deserves; he will not allow him to be abandoned to Sheol (the grave) – which is the wages of sin. What this means is that if a truly righteous person suffers, they will not only be delivered from their suffering, but compensated, or vindicated, ie. shown to be righteous. And if it so happens that a righteous person is killed, then to be true to His Righteous, Holy, Love, God will vindicate this person by raising them from the dead, not allowing them to see corruption.
  6. Enter Jesus. The One on whom the Father gives his unqualified approval. The only human being who has ever lived an entire life of perfect righteousness – not because he ticked the boxes of the Law, but because he perfectly loved his Father and his neighbour: he was truly and fully human. HIs life and teaching are set in stark contrast to us and our lives, and show us up to be the children of wrath that we are: hated and hating, enemies of God, and divided between each other by walls of hostility. Jesus is the only one who might truly yet humbly claim, ‘…you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.’ By rights, Jesus should never suffer, never die, never know any estrangement from the Father, never know a moment when the Spirit is absent, never have cause to say to the Father, ‘Where are you?’
  7. Yet: ‘Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.’ (Lamentations 1:12 ESV). Jesus, the Holy One, faced all that only the wicked deserve – what we deserve. Rejection, mocking, abandonment, false accusation, torture, grief and ultimately death; to all external appearances, Jesus is utterly cursed and rejected by the Father, with his own words of abandonment and the cold, sealed tomb as the seeming conclusion to a life that his followers thought would end in political glory.
  8. Little did his disciples (nor his enemies) know at this point that by entering into this suffering and coming under the Father’s wrath as the Lamb of God, Jesus was acting in perfect, loving and joyful obedience to the Father. In this action he was ‘fulfilling all righteousness’: he was loving and glorifying his Father by his full obedience, and he was loving us, his neighbours, as himself by becoming our substitute and taking our curse upon himself. His willing, voluntary giving up of his own life was the ‘icing on the cake’ of his obedient life of love; it was the final act that drew together the threads of all he had said and done up to that point.
  9. Resurrection is inevitable. The Father was true to His character and promises, and raised Jesus, His Holy One from the grave, as Peter declared on the day of Pentecost. It was impossible for Jesus to remain in the grave, because if he did God would cease to be God, or at least He would be the most evil, untrustworthy of all tyrants. Because God is Who He is, the resurrection of Jesus is the most likely event; even more certain than death, is the claim that the Saviour is Risen.

This is incredibly good news for us. If, by faith, you are united to Jesus; united with him in his life (because he united himself with you in his incarnation and baptism), and united with him in his death (because he hung there as your head; your representative; he drew you into himself), then you have also been united with him in his resurrection, and can look forward with a keen certainty to the day that you will rise, clothed in his immortality, when the sting of death has gone and your mortal body will pulse with his life. In Christ, the Father looks at you and says, ‘This is my holy one. I will not abandon their soul to sheol; I will not let them see corruption.’ As inevitable as Jesus’ resurrection was, so too is that of anyone who trusts in him.

Living in the presence of the Triune God

I put out here the first draft of the first part of a resource I am writing to help disciple brand new Christians. I decided to write my own after being unsuccessful in finding a resource that is thoroughly trinitarian. Many ‘New Christian’ resources, while excellent and solidly Biblical, always seem to fall short on communicating the character and nature of the God with whom we have entered into relationship: the God who is Love at His very nature, because He is, eternally, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There will be four parts, in four posts, in quick succession…

Beginning the Authentic Life

Welcome to the Family

If you are a Christian, then you have come into a relationship with the Triune God. God is the One and only God, who exists eternally as three persons in  perfect unity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He is not three gods, nor is he one person who manifests himself in three ways.

“The Trinity is not a maths problem or an ancient riddle; it’s the good news that God is Love. Forever the Father has loved his Son in the unity of the Spirit.” Glen Scrivener

Because this is who God is, Christianity is the only ‘religion’ that can truly say, ‘God is Love (1 John 4:8).

The Authentic Life

As a human being, you are created in God’s image. This means that whatever God is, you are like that in some way. Supremely, because God is Love, you are created to be a person who loves – which is why Jesus said the two greatest commands are ‘Love God’ and ‘Love your neighbour.’

God enables a human being to truly reflect His character of love by giving them two wonderful gifts: Hope and faith. Hope is the certainty that God is the faithful Creator who has a plan for this universe: to fill it with the knowledge of His glory (Habbakuk 2:14). Faith is being able to entrust ourselves to Him, knowing that we are part of this grand purpose, and trust that He will only ever do what is good for us. This hope and faith then results in us living as we are designed: in love towards God and towards our fellow human beings.

Life lost… and restored!

This hope, faith and love were lost by us in our rebellion and rejection of God’s good purpose, and have been replaced with ambition, fear and selfishness. We faced God’s certain judgement, as our sin is cosmic treason against Him, the loving Ruler of the universe. We were left in a hopeless and helpless situation; unable to save ourselves from Gods wrath even if we wanted to – we were God’s enemies.

Jesus the Son did for us what we are unable and unwilling to do for ourselves. He entered into our humanity and lived the life we have failed to live – a perfect life of hope, faith and love, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. His great love for his Father and for us led him to give of himself by living a self-sacrificial life which culminated in going to the cross, where he died the death we deserve. Here he was actually abandoned by the Father because of our own guilt and shame. He did this as gracious, merciful act of love to reconcile us to the Father.

When Jesus rose from the dead, it was like the Father’s way of saying, ‘I am pleased with this sacrifice that Jesus has made for sinners. I accept his voluntary death as a substitute, and declare that all who trust what he has done may have all their sin and rebellion forgiven.’

Brought back to the Father

We receive the benefits of all that Jesus the Son did for us by simply trusting him (faith). We cannot do anything to earn God’s forgiveness, it is purely a generous gift from God – called grace:

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:9)

I trust that in becoming a Christian, this is what you have come to know – and that it is not mere intellectual belief, but trusting in Jesus to do what you cannot do: reconcile you to the Father. The Father’s intention for you is that you know what it means to be His child by being united to His Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, and in so doing, live an authentic life of hope, faith and love. This promise is not just for this short life, but for all eternity. Jesus will one day return, all evil and sin will be banished, this whole world will be renewed, and we will live forever in a face-to-face relationship with the triune God.

How to use this booklet

This booklet contains a series of studies that will help you understand more about what God has done for you in Jesus, and something of what it looks like to live this authentic life. Each section contains a series of statements, the part of the Bible that these statements are based on, and some questions to help you dig into what these passages are saying. They should be worked through at a pace that you are comfortable with. Look up the passage, think about what it is saying to you, and pray that the Father will enable you, by His Spirit, to come to know him better.

It is recommended that you work through these studies with a friend who has been a Christian for a while, as they will be able to discuss it with you, and hopefully answer any questions you may have. Organise a time to meet with them regularly to talk about what you are learning, and so they may support, encourage and pray for you.

(Part 2 is here)

‘The Universe doesn’t give a damn about what we like. The Universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not. That’s the one thing that I really hope people will understand… we should rejoice in this remarkable accident that led to our existence… You are more insignificant than you ever thought, and the future is miserable – and those two things should make you happy, not sad.’

Lawrence Krauss

‘What if in the beginning there was love. Father Son and Holy spirit, the ultimate community of truth, beauty and goodness, who out of the overflow of their life make a world – and yes it’s a world that’s full of all sorts of incredible physical forces and all sorts of incredible darkness and selfishness; and yet, shot through the whole thing is the self-giving love, the glory of the Lord? Doesn’t that make sense of what we think to be the most important realities in life?’

Glen Scrivener

Hear the full quotations here at The Evangelist’s Podcast