Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they say him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:16-20 Read the entire chapter.
Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, where we remembered and celebrated the outpouring of God's Spirit upon the world in a way that had not been seen or experienced before. That Spirit that had always been present was now manifested and active in the lives of all people, brining the people of faith boldness and courage to proclaim those words, tugging and bumping at the hearts of those who were yet to process faith and inviting them into a relationship with God. So at the outpouring of that Holy Spirit and it's presence being made known, we now have an understanding or groundwork for our understanding of the Trinity. Today is referred to in the Christian calendar as Trinity Sunday. It's a day in which we acknowledge that God exists as three persons, one God, yet three persons. It's not a math equation that makes any sense to us. It's not something that we can figure out, because 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 in the scheme of the Trinity but yet in our experience in this world we wrestle to understand.
So we're going to take a little bit of time particularly looking at the Trinity in context of the Great Commission that Jesus is given. Now within this commission we have Jesus giving a number of instructions to his disciples. We end the Gospel of Matthew with chapter 28 beginning with the discovery of the empty tomb, a couple of the women being there and encountering Jesus and Jesus saying "Go and tell the others. Go to Galilee and I'll meet them there." There's a little exchange between the Pharisees and the guard that were set at the tomb but then we come to 16 where Jesus had said "Go to Galilee". Now we're in Galilee and the disciples are there and they meet Jesus. It says when they saw him, they worshiped him but some doubted. Even in the mix of that excitement and joy, in Matthew's Gospel this being the first time that we know of that the disciples actually witnessed and encountered this risen Jesus, they worshiped him and yet some doubted.
I think it's a human thing that many of us can probably relate to. Those of us who are gathering for worship in all the ways that we are able to, we gather in worship, we come in faith to worship and yet there are those times that there are things that nag at us, those doubts that sometimes creep in. But we worship nonetheless. We have that in common with the disciples. Jesus came to them and he says "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." This is the foundation, this is the framework for everything that Jesus is getting ready to tell the disciples: "All authority in heaven and earth have been given to me." Well how do we know that Jesus? How do we know that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to you?
At a conference several years ago Pastor Andy Stanley was the keynote speaker and he was talking about the role that Jesus plays in our faith. He had a line that he kept coming back to in his message that he gave that day. He said "If a man predicts his death and his resurrection and then pulls it off, maybe we should listen to what he has to say." This man, this Jesus, is the one who God sent who became flesh and blood and lived as one of us, who instructed his disciples, who did the best that he could to prepare them for all that would happen with his passion, his death, and his resurrection. Now in Matthew's Gospel, those disciples are experiencing this risen Jesus for the first time. They are seeing that one who had said that he was going to die and rise again, standing before them: something that had never happened in the history of the world before. So when Jesus said to them "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." What's the evidence? Well friends, the tomb is empty. Christ is risen. The demonstration of God's power at work in and through him. Jesus claiming that authority and he says "So, I've got authority, we've established that."
He gives the disciples some specific instructions. There are four of them in the two verses that follow. He says "Go make disciples, baptize and teach." Now in the context of all those things they seem pretty simple. Go, make disciples, teach. We can probably come up with an acronym that would be appropriate for that or some easy way to help us remember what we're supposed to do. But we all know it's much more complicated when we begin doing it. But it all begins with an act of going, being moved from where you're at, of being stirred to step forward and do something. Itt says "Go. Go where you need to go. Go to the next room. Go down the street. Go to another country. Go where you feel me leading you and begin doing the work that God has put before us to make disciples of all nations." This reminds us very much of those words of Jesus to the disciples that were gathered in Acts at the Ascension when Jesus was lifted up into Heaven when he says "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the very ends of the earth." Likewise, making disciples of all nations means that there shouldn't be anywhere that is left out. There shouldn't be any person, any people that are off-limits from this work that we are called to do.
Now making disciples though is not something that we learn in art class. It's not something that we do with modeling clay or wood or anything like that. Making disciples is, well, it's something that happens in relationship. We instruct, we teach but more importantly we love and we nature and we show people what it means to be disciples. The people that have been the greatest examples in my life of what it means to be a Christian, the people who have helped me to be a disciple have done it so much so through their actions through the examples that they've set.
Jesus continues "Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". Again, it's that initiation into the Christian family. It's that work of saying "alright, you've become a disciple, you've wanted to be like those who are already a part of this" and so the baptism is the seal upon the lives of those who would continue in that faith.
And finally, Jesus says "teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." They spent three years following Jesus as his ministry unfolded. He instructed them, he showed them, he taught them and he says "Now, it's your turn to be the teachers to pass on and share the things that you have learned." But Jesus bookends this commissioning, he wraps his commissioning in his claim to authority, giving instructions about what he would like them to do. And then he says "Remember I am with you always, to the end of the age. I have the authority, I have something that I want you to do but you're not going to be alone in this task." And in my mind, this brings us back around to the instruction that goes with the baptizing, where Jesus offers this threefold: in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. While this is attached to baptizing, I want to suggest that this act of going is something that we do in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This act of making disciples is something we do in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And even the teaching and instructing that we do so in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
You see this formula of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is attached to that authority of Jesus claims. If we the church, the body of Christ, are to have any lasting significant impact in this world or in the lives of the people we interact with, it will only happen because of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So we look at this formula that Jesus has offered and said "Do this in the name of God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit" and yet why couldn't he have just said "I thought he told you I have the authority just go and do it." Kind of like a lot of the conversations that I have as a parent when I'm asked "Why should I do something?" My answer is "Because I said so." It would have been easy for Jesus to say "Go and do these things because I said so" but yet he reminds the disciples that they're not alone and not just with Jesus but we've got this triune God.
Now this word Trinity is one that you'll never find in Scripture. It doesn't occur there. It is a human convention. But it was created as a way to help us understand and at least begin to wrap our minds around who this God, one God in three persons is. We find a number of examples throughout Scripture where God is present, active and working in situations. In Matthew particularly we find one of the most obvious examples of it where Jesus names it. And yet even in earlier stories, if we look at that story of Jesus baptism at the Jordan, it's the voice of God speaking from heaven. It's the dove as the Spirit descending upon Jesus. So we have many examples throughout Scripture of God being present, one God in three persons.
So it was in the early centuries of the Christian faith that this notion began to emerge of God in three persons. It was in the second century AD when Christians began talking about it and it was the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 that this was established as a doctrine of the Christian Church. It's an understanding that we continue to have. It's an understanding that at times people doubt at times. It's one that we really wrestle with. There are a lot of metaphors or illustrations that are attempted to help bring some comprehension and understand to this great mystery of how God has been revealed. Sometimes I've seen it illustrated as three interlocking circles out of Ireland. And associated with St. Patrick a 3 leaf clover is the symbol for the Trinity. I've heard people talk about an egg with it's three parts: the shell, the yolk and the white being an example of how one thing can be three parts. Even the example of water that exists in three phases of solid, gas, and liquid.
The problem with illustrations is that they often fall short. For instance with that example of water, yes water does exist in three states. The problem is that if you have a certain amount of water in front of you, it can't exist as all three of those at the same time. It's still water, yes, but it has to change from one to the other and God doesn't change. God doesn't take off his Father hat and put on his Holy Spirit hat and become a different expression because God exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit all simultaneously.
So I've asked Marlane to help me as one of the best examples I ran across recently with someone talking about musical qualities. One of the things that they mentioned was that when we hear a musical note it fills the space where we're at. And yet, when we play a second note with it, it fills that space as well. And if you play those two notes at the same time, they both fill and occupy that space. So I've learned a little bit about music, actually a lot about music this week actually. Marlane has been gracious to help me and is going to play for us a c-major cord. My understanding is the "c" is the bottom note and that's called the root note. And then we have these other notes that get added to it. She's going to play us the first one, so imagine this if Father.
Then we're gonna add the note that represent's the Son.
And the third one representing the Holy Spirit.
So we had three notes, three unique notes. I hope that you could hear and tell the difference in each of those notes. But when these notes are played together, they maintain and continue to have those qualities that made them an individual note. Yet when they're played together they create this chord that is in and of itself unique but each of those parts are still present. So now, the Trinity.
With many thanks to Ginny Johnson in Bible study this week who knows much more about music than I do said "You know, what's great is you can have a full chord which goes from "c" up to the next "c" on the scale so we add a fourth note. What Ginny explained was when we add that fourth note that represents us. So we've got God existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit creating this beautiful harmony with these sounds that are coming together and then we get to be invited into that process.
So as we hear those sounds come together, I think it's a beautiful image for us to think about that we've got God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit forming this root chord of life of existence of faith. Of all the things going on in this world and each of us have our own quality that we get to add to what God is doing. There are a lot of different things I understand that can happen with chords but we call it music. But you and I, we might have times, if you've ever watched our handbell choir play there will be times where someone will be standing there with a bell and it's not their turn to contribute. But when it is, they do. There may be times in life where we feel like we are called and invited into what God is doing. And there may be other times where we are doubting, struggling or whatever and we're not quite sure we have something to offer at that moment. And yet that story of what God is doing continues and goes on.
So what does the Trinity have to do with this commission? What do these chords and this blending of sound have to do with it? I want to offer and suggest that it has everything to do with it because when God is present and working in this world, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, things are well cared for and well attended to. And yet God is inviting us into this story, calling us, commissioning us. In Jesus' words, we are called upon to go and to be the church, to be the body of Christ, not by our own ability or on our own strength or wisdom but trusting and relying upon this three and one God. We participate in making disciples but ultimately it is God that does that work and we get to be participants in it. As a pastor, I'm fortunate to have occasions to baptize individuals. It is in dipping my hand into that baptismal font of water and placing it on an infant or a person's head and saying those words, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." I'm a participant, I'm an agent, I'm not baptizing in my name. I'm baptizing in the name of the One who called me to faith. I'm baptizing in the one who established faith. I'm baptizing in the one who created everything. We teach, we instruct that others might grow in faith as well.
God has blessed us by making God's self known to us and we're not alone. We're invited into this relationship that existed before time, this relationship between God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This relationship that brought into being all that is. This relationship that continued by calling a people to faith through Jesus stepping into this world as a human for a time and dying and rising again to demonstrate God's love and authority through him and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we would be equipped for this work. Friends, we are not alone. The authority of God, the authority of Christ is active and present in and around us that we can be a part of this great work and remember he's with us to the end of the age.
What's your favorite way to think about the Trinity?