Rev’d Jonathan Gale
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,* to be with you for ever.
Right there we have the Trinity – one God but three persons.
It is so important to have a right understanding of the Trinity. i.e. God is not a vague force who acts at one moment in a fatherly mode, at another in a son mode and at another in a Spirit mode. Modalism is an old heresy.
God is three persons but one God.
Modalism leads to the depersonalisation of God which leads to the idea of ‘god’ as a force that serves our interests which in turn leads to an essential atheism: namely ‘god’ is not a spiritual force at all, but the sum total of human good. It’s a slippery slope.
Sin has no place in this understanding because sin is separation from and rebellion against the ‘person’ of God. This casts doubt on the reason Jesus died. His death becomes a demonstration of love only – the perfect man setting us an example of how much he loves us – a kind of “Look how much I love you; I’m going to die to demonstrate that.” His death is so much more than what sounds like the desperate attempt of an unwell person to gain the approval of his peers. Death is anathema to God. He is a God of life.
We are blighted today by the invention of ‘gods’ that suit ourselves. God made humankind in his own image and ever since humankind has been trying to return the favour, as a friend of mine once said. 29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.
It is what Paul in his sermon at Athens calls the art and imagination of mortals that is wrapping God around our own selfish desires, creating a perspective on reality that sets each of us up as little gods.
Learning to listen to the Holy Spirit is important in this regard. The Spirit keeps things in right perspective.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16: 13)
However it’s not the ‘yet to come’ things that are important. Prophecy in Scripture is more about forthtelling than it is about foretelling. The real reason we need the Holy Spirit, is in the first part of Jesus’ words: when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
The truth is that God is personal. When we are on track theologically we understand that God is consistently presented to us as a person with personality, hence the forgiveness and grace of God remain real to us. Our salvation is the primary act of God’s love. We can’t survive without love, let alone without the love of God.
An awareness of God’s love is what keeps us going when things are tough. It is what gives us the compassion to be loving towards other people. The most telling thing that reveals that someone knows religion rather than God, is an unloving attitude.
However Jesus didn’t go about dispensing bonhomie and pleasing everybody. When push came to shove, he went the whole way and died for our sins on the cross.
Paul, when preaching for the first time in Athens, said this, 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
If you read on in Acts, you’ll read this in the next verse, 32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’
Some people mistakenly think the Athenians scoffed because the idea of resurrection was too fanciful. Not in the ancient world, it wasn’t. You see at the heart of fallen humankind (and remember we are all sinners saved by grace) lies the idea that I can do well without God, thank you. I want to be in control.
Jesus died for my sins? Great! I’ll take that one. That will adorn my life well, thanks. Good insurance policy. But he rose from the dead?! Hang on, you mean he’s alive again? That’s uncomfortable because he’s likely to make demands of me, and he doesn’t sound like the kind of person I can use for my own ends.
And he certainly isn’t!
Of this God has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead, says Paul. Of what? Of accountability = or judgement, as he calls it.
The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who were debating with Paul in the Areopagus were no fools. They saw immediately what the implication of the resurrection was and they were having none of it. They didn’t want a live God controlling them and they were out of there.
Here’s a challenging thought. God, says Paul, commands all people everywhere to repent. To repent is to change one’s mind, to do a 180 degree turn on the matter. What we do when we repent, is to turn away from the idea that we are the ones in control and acknowledge God to be in control of our lives.
When you think of your relationship with God, how do you think of him?
- Do you understand that God is not a vague spiritual force, that he has personality?
- Do you understand that our separation from him (what the bible calls sin) separates you from the source of life and all that is good?
- Do you understand that his death on the cross paid the price for your sin?
You see many people do, and for them this is good news. But you see when we embrace the cross we find that it is empty and standing right behind it, with great love in his eyes, is a very much alive Jesus, who is the Lord.
To genuinely repent, means to accept that as well; that he is alive and well and ready to live with us and in us. That is why the resurrection is frightening to some people.
Where do you stand in this?
There’s a very simple way to find out. Deep down, where there is no self-delusion, no pretending to yourself; do you say, “You’re not the boss of me!” or do you say with Thomas when he saw the risen Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
We were on holiday in Australia in November of 2015 and we visited a wine farm where you could taste wine for free and of course buy wine as well. Nothing unusual about that, except about 20 metres away was an equally fascinating place which did the same with chocolate. Well there was a little boy there who was making a bit of a pig of himself. He wanted everything for nothing, including some of the chocolate that was for sale. He was so into the free chocolate that he had a disagreement with his Dad because he thought he didn’t have to pay for anything.
We’re in the season of Easter where we celebrate the resurrection. Easter, you see, is about the best chocolate, and that, one pays for. There is a price to pay in the Christian life and it is the Lordship of Jesus. The challenge that never leaves us is this: the resurrection means Jesus is alive – and Jesus is Lord of all. Let’s make sure we’re not the little boy who wants everything for nothing. Because if it had all been free, we can see how that would have ended.
If you stop after the cross, and hold back on discipleship, you will be frustrated. You won’t experience the joy, peace and love that others speak of. The fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit come with the resurrected Christ, the Christ who is Lord and they are nothing short of the power and character of Christ.
Maturity is understanding that the unmerited favour of God brings us into a disciplined embrace, one that acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus. And that means he comes first – in everything.
- So let’s hold before us that God has personhood – and the best way to remember that is to focus on God the Son: Jesus
- Let’s hold before us that Jesus has died on our behalf, therefore dealing to our sin. He’s our Saviour and his salvation is freely given.
- Let’s also hold before us that Jesus is bodily risen from the dead and holds us accountable for following him. He’s our Lord. To think otherwise is to be like the little boy who thinks all chocolate in the shop is free. It can only have an unhappy ending.
Beyond the cross (which he has endured because of his great love for us) are the eyes of a very much alive Jesus. When you look into those eyes what do you see?
I’d like us to close our eyes right now and still our hearts for a moment. As you approach the cross (and that is exactly what we should do as it is the place of mercy, the thing that demonstrates Christ’s love for us). Beyond the cross we encounter the eyes of Jesus. Look into those eyes for a moment. What is it he is saying to you?
Scripture Readings: Acts 17: 22-31; 1 Peter 3: 13-22; John 14: 15-21