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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Trinity in the Old Testament

10/25 Trinity in the Old Testament; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151025_trinity-old-testament.mp3

We saw last time that the clear teaching of the New Testament is that the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct someones, that Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, yet there is only one true God. This is what we mean when we use the word ‘trinity’ or tri-unity. The one God eternally exists in three distinct someones in relationship with one another. One common accusation is that the trinity is an invention of the church councils. While the word ‘trinity’ is not found in Scripture, the understanding that there are three distinct persons who are each fully divine, yet there is only one God is the only thing that makes sense of a multitude of New Testament passages. Another accusation is that the doctrine of the trinity is a deviation of the New Testament authors from strict monotheism of the Old Testament.

What can we say to this? Does the understanding of God as triune contradict the teaching of the Old Testament? While there is much in the New Testament that unfolds things that were hidden and brings into focus things that were not clear in the Old Testament, if something taught by the apostles flat out contradicts what the Old Testament teaches, we must not accept it.

One thing we should make clear at the outset is that when the New Testament teaches that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Spirit is God, it does not ever teach that there are consequently three Gods. That would be a flat contradiction. Instead the fact that there is exactly and only one true God is affirmed right alongside the teaching that there are three distinct someones in relationship with one another who equally share the divine essence.

What we will look at today, we should not call proofs of the trinity in the Old Testament. Rather, the consistent teaching of the Old Testament leaves open the possibility of understanding the one God as a triune being. Throughout the Old Testament, there are clues, hints, foreshadowings, pointers that there is more to be said about God than merely that he is one solitary being. Some of these pointers are understood differently by different interpreters, but taken together we can at minimum say with confidence that the Old Testament makes good sense when read with a New Testament understanding of the triune God in mind, and indeed Jesus invites us to see him throughout the Old Testament.

John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Creation

We will begin at the beginning. The opening words of Scripture state:

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Here in the creation narrative, we see the one God creating. But we also see the Spirit of God brooding over the formless deep. Is the Spirit of God another way of describing the divine essence, or is the Spirit spoken of as a distinct someone? We also see the Word of God. God spoke. “The Word spoken by God is not a mere sound but a power so great that the universe is thereby created and upheld” [H.Bavinck].

Psalm 33 tells us:

Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

We see the LORD, his Word, and his breath or Spirit. John’s gospel teaches that this Word was not mere sound but someone distinct who was both fully divine, and also in relationship with God.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The Word is a ‘he, a ‘him’, a someone.

Elohim

Notice what the text of Genesis 1:26 says.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

This is a fascinating passage. The word translated ‘God’ is the Hebrew ‘Elohim’. Elohim is the plural form of which Eloah is the singular. Eloah is used in some passages to refer to God. But violating the standard rules of grammar, the plural noun Elohim is most often used in the bible with a singular verb. Singular pronouns are most frequently used with this plural noun, also violating the rules of grammar, so our translators have chosen to use the singular ‘God’ rather than the plural ‘Gods’ to make it agree with the singular verbs and pronouns. It would be awkward to say that ‘the LORD he is Gods; there is no other besides him’ (Deut.4:35) or ‘the LORD our Gods is one LORD’ (Deut.6:4). Some scholars believe that the plural form is a plural of majesty, indicating the richness and fullness of the divine being. And this is probably correct. Although the use of the plural ‘Elohim’ with singular pronouns and verbs may not clearly teach the plurality of someones in the one divine essence, the awkward grammar seems to intentionally leave itself open to that possibility.

Let Us

But the honorific plural is seen only with nouns, not with verbs or pronouns. Here in Genesis 1, and also in chapters 3 and 11 and Isaiah 6 we have the plural pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us’ used with ‘Elohim’. The question is who is the ‘we’? To whom does the ‘us’ refer?

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.

One suggestion that has been proposed is that he refers to himself and the creation he has just made, but this would make man in the image of God and the earth, and it would include the earth in the creative process. Another is that God refers to the angels or the heavenly court, but this would leave man in the image of God and the angels, and employ the help of the angels in creation, when we are explicitly told that God alone by himself created (Is.44:24). Some have suggested that this is an inner deliberation of God, a kind of self talk, as one might say to himself ‘now what am I going to do?’ This may come closer to the truth. Developing this idea in the context of Genesis 1, we could envision this inner dialogue of God between himself and his Spirit, who in verse 2 was brooding over the face of the deep. It is interesting to note that where in Genesis 1:26 God says:

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. …

In verse 27 he switches to singular pronouns:

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Collective Singular

It is also interesting to note that ‘man’, ‘adahm’ is a collective singular, including both male and female, referring to both ‘him’ and ‘them’. ‘Let us make man …let them have dominion’. The image of God in man seems to include plurality within unity.

Echad

Chapter 2, which focuses on the relationship between man and woman, closes with this statement which forms the basis for marriage.

Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

The man and his wife are said to become one flesh. The Hebrew word for ‘one’ is ‘echad’, which is the same word used in the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4:

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

Could it be that ‘YHWH our Elohim, YHWH is echad’, YHWH is one in a similar sense that the man and his wife are said to be ‘one‘, an essential unity within which there can be us and our?

Mal’akh YHWH

Moving on from the creation narrative, there is a curious character in the Old Testament that appears on several different occasions. He is called the Mal’akh YHWH or Mal’akh Elohim; the angel of the LORD or the angel of God. The word ‘mal’akh’ translated ‘angel’ simply means a messenger or ambassador. Often this word refers to what we would think of as a created heavenly being who serves God, often in the role of a messenger. But what is said about the Angel of the LORD causes us to wonder if he might be something more. In Genesis 16, after Abraham allows Sarai to treat Hagar harshly, the servant girl who was pregnant with his son Ishmael, and she flees into the wilderness, we are told:

Genesis 16:7 The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.”

This seems like it could be a created angel, but listen closely to what he says:

Genesis 16:10 The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”

The angel of the LORD does not say ‘God will multiply your offspring’; he says ‘I will multiply your offspring’. This seems to be claiming more than a mere created angel can claim. Yet he goes on to distinguish himself from the LORD.

Genesis 16:11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. …

He does not say ‘I have listened to your affliction, but ‘the LORD has listened. The angel of the LORD speaks of the LORD as a distinct person, yet takes credit for multiplying your offspring, something only God can do. What do we make of this? Listen to Hagar’s response:

Genesis 16:13 So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”

Hagar refers to the angel of the LORD as ‘the LORD who spoke to her’ and says ‘You are a God of seeing’. She seems to identify the angel of the LORD with the LORD and with God.

In Judges 13, the angel of the LORD appeared to the wife of Manoah, to promise the birth of Samson. There seems to be distinction between the LORD and the angel of God

Judges 13:8 Then Manoah prayed to the LORD and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we are to do with the child who will be born.” 9 And God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field….

God listened to his prayer and sent the angel of God.

Judges 13:15 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.” 16 And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) 17 And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” 18 And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” 19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. 20 And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. 22 And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”

The angel of the Lord distinguished between himself and the LORD. But Manoah recognized that to see the angel of the LORD was to see God.

Judges 13:24 And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. 25 And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

We see the angel of the LORD, the LORD and the Spirit of the LORD in this passage. In many Old Testament passages we see the angel or messenger of the LORD who seems to be differentiated from the LORD, yet who is identified as God and given the honor and worship due only to God.

God The Son

There are also passages in the Old Testament that indicate that God has a Son. A son shares the same nature as his father. Psalm 2 speaks of the LORD and his Anointed (or Messiah), the LORD’s established King, who is YHWH’s begotten Son.

In Psalm 45 we see the triumphant king spoken of.

Psalm 45:6 Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; 7 you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;

The King is addressed as God, yet, God, the God of the king is seen as anointing the divine king. This is said to be speaking of the Son in Hebrews 1.

Micah 5 speaks of a coming ruler:

Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

This is a ruler that is promised to come, but whose coming forth is from ancient days. This is an eternal one, but one who will come in time, and who will shepherd his people in the strength of the LORD. The coming one is eternal, yet distinguished from the LORD.

Isaiah 9:6 describes the coming king:

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

This king is a Son, who is called Mighty God and Everlasting Father.

The Divine Spirit

The Spirit is also seen to be a distinct someone.

Exodus 31:1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, (cf. Ex.35:30-31)

The LORD is said to fill someone with the Spirit of God.

Isaiah 63 speaks of the LORD, the angel of his presence, and his Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit is said to be grieved by rebellious people, something that can be said only of a someone, not a something. The Spirit of the LORD is the one who is said to have given them rest.

Isaiah 11 speaks of the Spirit.

Isaiah 11:1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 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. 3 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,

Here we see the sevenfold Spirit spoken of in Revelation. We see the branch, who is the Messiah who comes forth from David, and the Spirit of the LORD, and the LORD.

Divine Three in One

Isaiah 42 says:

Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Notice the three characters in this passage. My Spirit is distinct from both I and him. Matthew 12 tells us that this passage is fulfilled in Jesus. God the Father put the Holy Spirit on Jesus.

Look at Isaiah 48.

Isaiah 48:16 Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.” And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit. 17 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.

Notice again the three characters The Lord GOD, me, and his Spirit; or The LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One. If we as who is the ‘me’ who is speaking, verses 12-13 clear this up.

Isaiah 48:12 “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last. 13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together.

Me, the one the Lord GOD sent with his Spirit, I am the first and the last, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

Isaiah 61 says:

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

Again we see the three someones. The Spirit of the Lord GOD, me, and the LORD. Jesus applied this passage to himself in Luke 4.

This is a brief sampling of the many many passages in the Old Testament that seem to indicate that the one true God may eternally exist in more than one person. This one God eternally existed as Father, Son and Spirit, in community, in relationship, in conversation, in cooperation, in love. It is this God who says ‘I will put my Spirit within you …and you shall be be my people and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:27-28). ‘Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ …that our joy may be complete’ (1 John 1:3-4)

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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October 25, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Triune God

10/18 Triune God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151018_triune-god.mp3

We are seeking to know God, to know what he has revealed to us about himself. We desire to worship him as he is. We seek to honor him. We want to worship him in truth.

One of the old creeds, a creed that has been recited and memorized by Christians for centuries, starts out like this:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this:”

Catholic (small ‘c’) simply means universal, the faith that all Christians believe. We could substitute the word ‘universal’. What do you think is so essential to salvation that ‘before all things it is necessary that he hold’? What point of truth is so essential that ‘except we keep it whole and undefiled, without doubt we shall perish everlastingly’? How would you finish the statement ‘the universal faith of the Christian church is this:’?

This is how the historic Athanasian creed begins:

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.

Lots of religious groups attack the Christian belief in the trinity. Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, all scoff at the idea of the trinity. Some say that it was a belief pushed on the church by a pagan emperor. Others say it is just plain nonsense.

Where do we get this concept of trinity? What do we mean by it? Should we believe it? Does it really matter?

Let me give you five statements that are clearly taught in the Bible.

  1. There is only one God

  2. The Father is God

  3. The Son is God

  4. The Spirit is God

  5. The Father, Son and Spirit are each someone distinct from the other two

The word ‘trinity’ is an abbreviation of tri-unity; describing that God is a unity, that there is oneness in God, and there is also threeness in God.

There is Only One God

Last time we looked at some of the biblical evidence for monotheism in contrast to polytheism or tritheism. The Bible is clear and emphatic that there is only one true God, not three separate gods. Remember when Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment:

Mark 12:29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

The first and greatest command is that there is only one true God, and he alone is worthy of worship. We are to have no other gods in his presence. “Besides me there is no god. Who is like me?”(Is.44:6-7)

The Father is God

That the one we call Father is God hardly needs to be defended. Ephesians 4:6 refers to the

Ephesians 4: 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Jesus teaches us to address God as Father.

Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Matthew 23:9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.

Jesus himself, praying to his Father, says:

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

The Son is God

We see clearly that the Son Jesus is God. In Romans 9, Paul refers to Jesus the Messiah as:

Romans 9:5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

In Titus 2 he refers to him as

Titus 2:13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,

2 Peter 1:1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

The author of Hebrews, quoting the Old Testament

Hebrews 1:8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

The Son is clearly called God. Matthew 3 quotes Isaiah 40 about John, whose role was to prepare the way for Jesus.

Isaiah 40:3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (with Matthew 3:3)

In John 8, Jesus identifies himself with the self-existent one, YHWH, from Exodus 3

John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

The Jews understood what he was claiming, and picked up stones to stone him. Then in John 10, Jesus said:

John 10:30 I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.

At the close of John’s gospel, we see the risen Christ appear to doubting Thomas.

John 20:27-31 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Thomas believes in response to the evidence, and calls Jesus ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus commends his belief. John explains the goal of his writing: ‘that you may believe that Jesus is… the Son of God.’ We are encouraged, like Thomas, on the basis of the evidence given, to believe in Jesus as ‘my Lord and my God!’

The Spirit is God

The Scriptures clearly teach that the Spirit is God.

Acts 5:3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

Peter understands that to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God.

I Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

God is the only one who can rightly dwell in God’s temple, and we are told that God’s Spirit dwells in us.

Psalm 139:7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

To flee from the presence of God’s Spirit is to flee from the presence of God himself.

We see clear evidence in the scripture that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, and there is only one true God.

The Father, Son and Spirit are Distinct Someones

The Scripture is also clear that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Spirit is not the Father or the Son.

In John 3, where Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born of the Spirit, he says:

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

God the Father is distinguished from the Son. The Father sends his only Son to save the world. The Son is the one who is sent.

Jesus’ teaching in John 14 about the Holy Spirit brings this out clearly:

John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, …26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Notice the personal pronouns. Jesus refers to himself as ‘I’, he refers to the Father as ‘he’ and he refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘another’ and ‘he’.

Jesus continues to speak of the Holy Spirit in chapter 15.

John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

The Father sent Jesus, Jesus and his Father send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will be with you forever. The Spirit will testify of Jesus.

Jesus frequently prayed to his Father. He did not pray to himself. Jesus is someone distinct from the Father, who can refer to himself as ‘I’ and address the Father as ‘you’. In his prayer in John 17, he says:

John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. …24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

[God is Love]

This is a stunningly beautiful truth. Don’t miss the significance of this! We are told in 1 John 4:8 and 16 that God is love. Not only that God loves, but that God is love. Not that God began to love or became love. The eternal essence of God is love. Before God created anything, before anything existed outside of God alone, God is love. For God to be love there must be an object for him to love. Love is a relationship word. It requires a subject that loves and an object that is loved. Jesus is conversing with his Father in John 17. He says that he was with his Father before the world existed. He says ‘you loved me before the foundation of the world.’ Before anything existed, there was a you and a me who loved. Notice also that John does not say ‘the gods are love’. Belief in the triune God who eternally exists as Father, Son and Spirit is the only thing that makes sense of the absolute statement that ‘God is love’.

When we are told that God loves us, we understand this as the overflow of the love of an inherently relational God. God eternally exists in relationship, and he invites us in to enjoy that relationship!

God With God

John launched his gospel with this statement:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. …18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

The Son, the Word, existed in the beginning. The Son was with his Father. The Son and the Father are one essence or one divine existence. The Son is God at the Father’s side. A distinct someone, who can be said to be ‘with’ the Father enjoying relationship with the Father, yet who shares with the Father the divine essence.

Three In One

We see throughout the New Testament statements that make sense only if there is one God who eternally exists in three distinct persons.

Matthew 3:16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

At the baptism we see the beloved Son Jesus, the voice of the Father, and the Spirit of God

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

We are told by Jesus to make disciples and to baptize them in the one singular name of the three equal and distinct persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs––heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, …

The Spirit, God and Christ are each separately mentioned.

I Corinthians 12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

In these verses, the varieties of gifts, service and activities are parallel statements that are said to come from the same Spirit, the same Lord and the same God.

At the end of 2 Corinthians we find this trinitarian benediction:

2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

This may be a conscious echo of the threefold name of the LORD in the Old Testament benediction in Numbers 6.

Numbers 6:24 The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Ephesians 2, speaking of Jesus, says:

Ephesians 2:18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Ephesians 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit––just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–– 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

One Spirit, One Lord, One God and Father of all.

2 Thessalonians shows the three persons at work in the gospel.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 …because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the work of salvation in Hebrews 9 we see three divine actors.

Hebrews 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

In Hebrews 10 we are warned of the danger of offending the three who are one.

Hebrews 10:29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Peter begins his first letter pointing to our salvation that is the collaborative effort of the triune God.

I Peter 1:2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Jude challenges us to walk the Christian life in conscious communion with the triune God.

Jude :20 But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

The Revelation given to John begins with a greeting from the three persons.

Revelation 1:4 … Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. …

The eternal Father, and in the numerical symbolism the fullness of the Spirit and Jesus Christ. In Revelation 4 – 5 we see worship in the heavenly throne room directed toward the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb and the sevenfold Spirit of God.

Nonsense?

There is only one God, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, and each one is someone distinct from the other two. This is the clear teaching of Scripture.

It is often said that this is nonsense and contradictory. We are saying that 1+1+1=1 when everyone knows that it equals 3. It would be contradictory if we were saying that there is one God and there are three gods, or if we were saying that there are three persons but there is only one person. But it is not contradictory to say that God is one divine existence, and he eternally exists in three distinct persons. God is one as to his essence or divine nature; God is three as to his centers of consciousness or personalities in relationship with each other. The Athanasian creed puts it this way:

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. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And 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. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

This is practical. This is worship. We worship a God who is in his own very being a relational God. We worship the Father in spirit and in truth. We honor the Son just as we honor the Father. We give praise to the Spirit who is himself fully and truly God. We are loved by a God who is himself love.

Men cannot and do not love, pray to, and adore a mere abstract infinite nature. They love, address, and worship certain persons in that nature.” (W.G.T.Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, vol.1, p.495)

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

October 18, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Alone; Deuteronomy 4-6, 32

10/11 God Alone; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151011_god-alone.mp3

We have been studying what God says about himself in his word. God wants to make himself known to us. He wants us to enjoy him, to enjoy relationship with him. He knows the one thing that will satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart and that is himself. Because he loves us he wants what is best for us, and he is pursuing our happiness in him.

~ Prayer ~

Other Attributes Indicate Uniqueness

Today we will look at the uniqueness of God, at the fact that there is exactly one God. The things we have looked at this far all point us in that direction. That God is self-existent, that he is dependent on nothing outside of himself, that he is independent of everything outside of himself points us to his uniqueness. There is no other being that exists that was not created by this God. There is no other being that is truly independent, that has being in himself. God alone can say ‘I AM.’

The absolute perfection of God, the fact that he cannot improve and that he will never decline in his perfections, that he is unchanging and unchangeable is utterly unique. There is no other being that is not either growing or declining. God is the only one who can say ‘I am the same yesterday and today and forever.’

This being who created time, who is himself outside of and independent of time, is absolutely unlike any other being. Of everything else, we can think back to a time before it existed and think forward to a time when it will pass away and be no more. Of none other can it be said ‘from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’

God, the infinite Creator of all space, who spoke the universe into existence, who is outside of space, who contains all space within himself, who is fully present at every point of the space he created, excludes the possibility of any other being who is present everywhere.

The one who spoke matter into existence, who created all things visible and invisible, who is himself invisible; there is no material being or spirit being that exist that he did not bring into existence. He is unique in that he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

These and many of his other attributes indicate that there is no one like him. He is utterly unique, separate, distinct, alone in his absolute perfections.

I Am God Alone

The Bible is explicitly clear on this issue. God is passionate about this issue, we could say even jealous. In the passage in Deuteronomy 4, where Moses speaks of the invisible, immaterial nature of God,

Deuteronomy 4:12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.

And where Moses uses this as the ground for an admonition against idolatry.

Deuteronomy 4:15 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, …

He goes on to say:

Deuteronomy 4:35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him.

Deuteronomy 4:39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.

YHWH is God, there is no other besides him. Absolutely, comprehensively, there is no other God. In heaven above, on the earth beneath, anywhere you can imagine, there is no other.

In Deuteronomy 5 the commandments are rehearsed, the first of which is:

Deuteronomy 5:6 “‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 7 “‘You shall have no other gods before me.

No other gods are to be tolerated in the presence of the one true God, whose presence is everywhere. Then in chapter 6 we are told:

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

YHWH is God alone. Therefore your love and affections must go to YHWH alone. No other god is worthy of your affections.

No Other God But One

The whole of scripture concurs that there is only one God.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

From the very beginning, there is only one God. As we have seen, this is clear throughout the Torah. We see the same when we get to the time of the kings.

1 Samuel 2:2 “There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.

2 Samuel 22:32 “For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?

Solomon concludes his prayer dedicating the temple

1 Kings 8:60 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other. 61 Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the LORD our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.”

2 Kings 19:15 And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.

When we get to the Psalms we see

Psalm 18:31 For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?

Psalm 86:8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. …10 For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.

Psalm 95:3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

The point is hammered home most persistently by the prophet Isaiah, who is warning God’s people, because their hearts are going astray after false gods.

Isaiah 42:8 I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.

Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. 11 I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. 12 I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God. 13 Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”

God is the I AM, the self-existent one. He has no competitors. There is no god before him, and there will be no god after him.

Isaiah 44:6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. 7 Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. 8 Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” 9 All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame.

There is no God besides the LORD. God asks ‘who is like me?’ There is no other being who shares his characteristics, who comes close to his perfections, who compares with his attributes. Who is like the LORD our God?

Isaiah 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, 6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. 7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.

Isaiah 45:18 For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other.

…21 Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. 22 “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.

Isaiah 46:9 (remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,

Even the great Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar recognized the uniqueness of Israel’s God.

Daniel 2:47 The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.”

Daniel 3:29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”

The prophet Zechariah looks forward to the final days when:

Zechariah 14:9 And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one.

Our God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and no one compares to him.

One God in the New Testament

This is also the clear teaching of the New Testament. When Jesus was questioned about the greatest command, he responded:

Mark 12:29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

God is God alone, and the one God must be adored. Jesus said:

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

There is only one true God. There is exactly one God.

Paul teaches in Romans 3 that both Jews and non-Jews will be saved in exactly the same way. He argues from the universality of God.

Romans 3:29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

Romans 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.

Romans 16:27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

In Galatians 3 he says;

Galatians 3:20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Ephesians 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

1 Timothy 1:17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

1 Timothy 6:15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

James 2:19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

Jude :25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

There is exactly one God. No more, no less.

Other Gods?

Look back at Deuteronomy 6

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

God says it often, that he alone is God. This is eminently practical, because it affects the way we live. We are warned in verse 12:

Deuteronomy 6:12 then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13 It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 15 for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God— lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

No other gods are to be feared. No other gods are to be served. No other gods are to be followed. No other gods are worthy of any respect. YHWH is a jealous God. He will not tolerate divided allegiance. He alone must have our undivided devotion.

But what of these other gods? Isn’t there only one God? Why does it mention other gods if no other gods exist but one? What is there to be jealous of if there are no competitors?

Toward the end of Deuteronomy, in chapter 32, we are told

Deuteronomy 32:12 the LORD alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.

…15 “But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation. 16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. 17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded. 18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.

…21 They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.

…39 “‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

Here God contrasts himself with foreign gods, strange gods, which he calls ‘abominations’, ‘idols’ and ‘demons that were no gods’. Here we gain some insight that clears up the confusion of saying that there is no other God and yet referring to other gods. Those other gods are false gods, empowered by demons. With this Paul agrees. In 1 Corinthians 8-10, where he wrestles through the complex issue of whether it is permissible for a believer to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols.

1 Corinthians 8:4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Idols are so-called gods. There is no God but one. Other gods have no real existence. But in chapter 10, at the conclusion of his argument, he says:

1 Corinthians 10:19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.

When people worship anyone or anything other than the one true God, they are participating with demons.

God is not jealous in the sense that he feels threatened. He is not afraid that another god will prove to be better that he and so he will lose his followers. God is jealous in that he loves us and knows what is best for us. If we are led astray to give our affections to another god who proves in the end to be a false god, our hopes are misplaced, and we will lose out in the end. God is jealous for us. He wants to protect us. This passage in Deuteronomy closes with this:

Deuteronomy 32:47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”

This issue is not merely academic. This is not an irrelevant piece of theology. This is intensely practical. This has implications for all of life, for what we do, for how we spend our time, for how we spend our money. We are worshiping beings. We were made to worship, and we worship all the time. Not merely Sunday mornings, but every day. The question is not if we will worship, but what we will worship, who we will worship. Is our worship directed toward the one true God, the eternal, immortal, invisible, self-existent one, or is it toward an image that we have created in our imagination, is it toward a created thing rather than the Creator of all things, who is blessed forever? That we understand God properly, that we recognize him for who he says he is, that we worship him alone, is no empty word, but our very life.

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

October 11, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Invisible God; John 4:19-24

10/04 Invisible God Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151004_invisible-god.mp3

We are seeking God, seeking to know God, digging in to his word to see what he says about himself. We want to worship him as he is, not as we imagine him to be. We want to offer him true worship.

We have learned that God is incomprehensible – a being beyond our ability to fully understand, yet we can know true things about him, the things he has revealed to us. Indeed, he intends to be known and worshiped as he really is. We have learned that God is, that he exists, independent of anything outside of himself. He is the uncaused cause of everything that is. He is unchanging and unchangeable. He is a God who is beyond all time and space but fills all time and space with his immediate presence. He is eternal, inescapable, uncontainable.

Sadducees and Materialism

We live in a materialistic society. Most people live as if what we see is all there is. We store up for ourselves treasure where moth and rust can destroy, where thieves can break in and steal. But the Bible opens our eyes to a greater reality, an unseen reality. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenlies. Jesus teaches us to store up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust cannot destroy, where thieves cannot break in and steal. Christians have hope beyond the grave. In Philippians 1, Paul, in prison, is wondering what will happen to him. Will he remain in the flesh, or will he depart and be with Christ? Paul is confident that when his body dies, he will be in the presence of God. In 2 Corinthians 5 he talks about the earthly body as a tent that will be destroyed, and that we will put on a heavenly dwelling. There is part of us that lives on even when our material bodies wear out and decay. In Acts 23, when Paul was on trial before the Jewish council, he nearly started a riot between the Pharisees and Sadducees when he cried out that he was on trial because of the hope and the resurrection of the dead, because, we are told,

Acts 23:8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

It appears the Sadducees were materialists. Don’t tell me all this nonsense about things I can’t see or touch or smell. No resurrection. No angel. No spirit. Paul would say ‘no hope!’

Spirit and Matter

Jesus clearly believed in spirits and the resurrection. Jesus said:

John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

In Mark 5, Jesus commanded an unclean spirit to come out of a man. When Jesus asked his name, the response was ‘My name is Legion, for we are many’. A Roman legion was 3,000 – 6,000 men. When Jesus gave his permission, the unclean spirits came out of the man and entered into about 2,000 pigs who rushed into the sea and were drowned. A spirit is not made up of matter, and therefore takes up no space. We aren’t told exactly how many demons tormented this man, but somehow there were many who were able to inhabit the same space.

When the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples in Luke 24, they were terrified.

Luke 24:36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

The disciples thought they saw a spirit. Jesus invites them to touch him to prove that he is not an apparition, but is indeed a material being. He even eats something in front of them, and he says ‘a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’. Jesus tells us that spirits are not material. Jesus demonstrates that his resurrected body is a real physical material body and not a ghostly apparition.

In the Old Testament, in 2 Kings 6, when the Syrian king’s military plans were repeatedly foiled, he assumed he had a spy who was leaking information to the king of Israel

2 Kings 6:11 And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?” 12 And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” 13 And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” 14 So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. 15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Elisha and Gehazi are surrounded by Syrian horses and chariots and a great army. Elisha tells his servant not to be afraid because the Syrian army is greatly outnumbered. The unseen angelic legions were on their side. They were unseen, unheard, unfelt, but they were real. God opened his eyes so that he could see his invisible armies.

Note, by the way, that while we learned last time that God is unlimited by space or time, angels, although they are spirit, are spatially limited. In Daniel 9 and 10, we see Gabriel being sent and coming in swift flight, even being delayed by demonic forces. God is a spirit who is everywhere present, angels are spirits who can only be in one place at a time.

God is Spirit

In Isaiah 31, God is rebuking those who run to Egypt and rely on horses and chariots but do not look to the Holy One of Israel. He draws this contrast:

Isaiah 31:3 The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.

God is not a man. Both man and horses are flesh. God is spirit. God is immaterial. God is invisible. This is the clear teaching of the Bible.

Romans 1:20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

God’s divine nature is invisible, yet is clearly evident in the things he has made.

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

God is invisible. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. All created things, all created beings, whether physical or spiritual were created by Jesus.

1 Timothy 1:17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

God is King of eternity, immortal, invisible.

1 Timothy 6:15 …—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

God dwells in unapproachable light. No one has ever seen God. No one can see God.

Hebrews 11:27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

God is invisible.

1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

1 John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

God has not been seen. No one has ever seen God.

No One Has Ever Seen God?

But wait a minute! Doesn’t the Bible talk about people who saw God? The LORD God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. The LORD appeared to Abram by the oaks of Mamre. Three strangers came to visit Abraham’s tent. The men departed, but Abraham still stood before the presence of the LORD (Gen.18). The LORD appeared to Moses in a bush that was on fire but not consumed. He made his presence known to Israel in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He appeared to 70 elders of Israel on Mount Sinai, who ate and drank in his presence. They describe what they saw as

Exodus 24:10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.

They saw the God of Israel. But all that they describe is the pavement under his feet.

When Moses requested to see the glory of God, God replied:

Exodus 33:18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

God says ‘you cannot see my face. Man shall not see me and live.’ In the next chapter God makes his presence known to Moses.

Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

It seems what Moses saw was cloud. The way God revealed himself was verbal. He described his character.

When Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, what he describes is that the train of his robe filled the temple. And he describes the seraphim above him, and he says that the house was filled with smoke.

The closest we get to an actual physical description of God is in Daniel 7, where he describes Ancient of Days taking his seat with clothing white as snow and hair like pure wool.

How do we fit these statements that Old Testament people saw God with the clear New Testament teaching that God is invisible and ‘no one has ever seen God’?

God cannot be seen in his essence, because he is spirit, he is immaterial; being immaterial there is nothing physical to see. However God, being Creator of all things visible and invisible, is fully able to manifest himself and make his presence known in different ways to different people.

Spirit and Idolatry

In Deuteronomy 4, Moses reminds the generation who would enter the promised land

Deuteronomy 4:11 And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. 12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.

Moses uses this as the ground for an admonition against idolatry.

Deuteronomy 4:15 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.

Since you saw no form but heard only a voice, make no form, no image. Because God is spirit, immaterial, no created thing can adequately represent him. Every form will grossly misrepresent him. There is only one image God approves of.

Jesus the Image of God

John’s gospel opens:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word exists before the beginning. The Word IS. The Word was with God, a distinct personality, but the Word was God, fully divine. He is personal, and he is the Creator of all that is. Verse 14 tells us

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Word became flesh. The Word, who always existed as God, the only Son from the Father, became something that he was not. He became flesh. He dwelt among us. He became man. Verse 18 says:

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

God’s essential essence has never been seen. God has made his presence known in different visible manifestations, but no one has ever seen God. God the Son has made him known. The only image of God that God approves of is Jesus.

Jesus taught:

John 5:37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.

John 6:46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.

John 12:45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.

John 14:7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

Colossians calls Jesus “the image of the invisible God’. Hebrews calls him “the exact imprint of his nature”. Not that we should make pictures of Jesus. We don’t know what Jesus looked like. It is not about what he looked like. The apostles who knew what he looked like left us no physical descriptions. What they handed down to us are his teachings, his interactions with people, his character, his identity.

Spiritual Worship

Jesus had a conversation with a woman at a well in Samaria. He revealed that he knew some uncomfortable details about her personal life, so she asked him a question about the proper place of worship.

John 4:19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

In answer to her question about the proper place of worship, Jesus’ answer is no, it is not about place, not about here or there. It is about worship in spirit and truth, because God is spirit. The nature of God has implications on how we are to worship him. He is not material, so the externals of worship are of little importance. Because God is spirit worship of him must be spiritual. God is most interested in our heart, in what nobody can see. Spiritual worship is worship that is brought about by the Spirit. We must come to the Father through the finished work of the Son, having been transformed and made new by the Spirit. He is pleased when we stand in awe of him as he really is, not as we imagine him to be. He must be worshiped in truth. We must embrace the truth of what he says about himself. Our spirits must engage him. The Spirit gives us a new taste for the goodness of God. He must be enjoyed, delighted in, savored. He is our greatest pleasure, our greatest treasure.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

October 4, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment