“The Magnificent God and what is Trinity Sunday?”Dr. Gerald L. Borchert Genesis 1:1–2:44a; Psalm 8; Matthew 28:16–20. June 7, 2020—Trinity Sunday; First Sunday after Pentecost
Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost. While most Protestant churches focus their Church Calendar celebrations primarily on Advent, Christmas, Easter and perhaps on Lent and Pentecost, there are other important dates in the historic calendar to which Christians should at least give attention.
One of those days relates to the Triune God, a subject that is not really spelled out fully in the New Testament like we might wish it was. Moreover, the Trinity is a topic that bewilders our minds, because it stretches our thoughts beyond our reasoning processes. Indeed, it was a topic on which the Church Fathers spent a great deal of time trying to hash out their confessions concerning the relationship between God—the Father, the Spirit and Jesus.
One of those issues concerns what is known as the filioque clause (which in Latin means “and the Son”). The Eastern Church concluded that the Spirit proceeded only from the Father whereas the Western Church chose to assert that the Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son.
Unfortunately, humans like to argue and indeed often condemn others who do not agree with them and such was the case in this matter. The problem is that humans think they can solve divine mystery by their verbal formulations (See my recent book: 141–43). But even though we may argue about words, mystery still remains mystery—in spite of all our debates.
And by the way, my statement applies to our attempts at defining the order of the Trinity. Some of you may know that the New Testament is not precise in describing the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit when we speak of the “Godhead.” For example, you will remember that in 1 Peter 1:2 the order there is: God, then the Spirit and finally Jesus. This order agrees with Revelation 1:4-5 where John lists the persona as the one who is, was and is to come, the (seven or perfect) Spirit(s), and Jesus, the faithful witness.
This order, of course, would agree with the order perceived by the early Jewish Christians and historic people of God (Israel) who would testify that the Spirit was known in Old Testament times—even before the coming of Jesus.
The general order of thinking especially in Western Christianity, however, has been Father, Son and Holy Spirit as recorded in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19. That order may perhaps be supported by John’s statements that somehow both the Father and the Son were instrumental in sending the Spirit (John 14:26 and 15:26). That of course involves our perception of how God relates to humans in our reality of time (See my discussions on time and creation in Christ and Chaos, 128–29).
Now if you as a Christian talk much about the Trinity, you and most of your church friends probably have settled on the Great Commission order. This order was accepted by many in the Church and detailed in the rather long formulation popularly known as the Creed of Athanasius which reflects early attempts at defining orthodoxy.
Today we are pretty sure that this long creed with its anathamas (or condemnations) dates to the sixth century, about a century after Athanasius and therefore it is not likely that he actually wrote it. It reflects what is usually understood as Nicene theology and it is included in the official documents not only of the Roman Church but also of the Anglican and Lutheran Churches.
Because of its length, however, it is not usually recited by Christians in worship, although in some “High Churches” it is actually read on Trinity Sunday. Much later Pope Gregory IX in AD 828 decreed that Trinity Sunday should be established as a special holiday or Holy Day for the church.
So, with that brief introduction in the development of Trinity Sunday, let us turn to the Bible and see what it has to say about our awesome and mysterious God.
The Bible and the book of Genesis open by reminding us that at the beginning of our human understanding of reality, God created or formed the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1). Now follow me very closely so that you do not miss the main points here. While the creation seems to be the focus, the God of creation is presented as a mystery and an absolute wonder.
Beyond that assertion, the Bible also tells us that God initiated time and order into the midst of this creation which would otherwise be chaotic. Then time and order point the reader to the ultimate function or purpose of the final aspect of creation—namely a day which is called Sabbot (Sabbath) or “rest” (2:1-3). It also points out that following God’s work of creation God rested and suggests that since God rested, humans need time to rest and worship the one who created them and all reality.
The Bible does not argue like we often do about trilobites and dinosaurs. We are certainly permitted to debate about these issues in our study of the created world, but that is not the primary focus of Genesis 1 or the Bible in general. Seeking knowledge, security and control apart from God is our human chaotic and fallen pattern which is outlined in Genesis 3 and thereafter. Instead, this initial chapter of the Bible impresses upon us the great message concerning the wonders of God’s actions.
Then the point of Genesis 1:26 is that we humans are the ultimate stage in God’s creative process. It is as though God comes to this stage of creation, ponders and then concludes that the great Creator should make humanity in the very “likeness” of the divine self and assign these humans authority over the rest of creation. But to be in the image of God means that we would need to think and act like God. That of course raises a big question whether humans are really willing to follow God’s way!
Now the Bible also wants us to we know how God thinks. And we should know God’s patterns by what God does. So, as you think about God, don’t play the human game. We are not in control. God is! And God is still in the business of ordering creation to bring about “good” (1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25).
Indeed, he wants it to be “very good” (1:31). Chaos and its emissaries, however, are always here but hopefully we humans will not get in God’s way and create more chaos. Instead, order and affirmation of God’s creation is our divinely anticipated response. When God says creation is “good,” he expects us to say “Amen, I affirm it! I too will work for its good.”
And, oh yes you know God’s Spirit was present in the beginning as well (1:2) and we can experience the Spirit too but that is the subject of Pentecost, which was our focus last week. The early Hebrew/Israelite people never tried to define the Spirit apart from the reality of God. The Spirit was one with God in their minds. The Spirit of God did what God willed and therefore when the Spirit of God moved over the waters which were the terrifying depths (tehom) to the Israelites (See for example Jonah 1), they understood that it was God who was bringing order from this initial chaos.
But now for the poet’s response to this Genesis text we turn to our next lectionary reading, which is Psalm 8. Here we see the implications of the marvelous act of our God in the creation of human beings who are nothing less than the reflection of God’s own selfhood.
This psalm is one of the most elegantly simple poems in the entire Psalter. It begins by reminding us that as we glance into the heavens, we should begin to recognize how utterly majestic (addid) is Yahweh, our God. Moreover, even little tots and mere infants can attest to God’s glorious power which can easily obliterate or nullify the seeming power of God’s enemies and those who seek vengeance on others (8:1-2).
Indeed, a further implication on God’s heavenly handiwork reveals that the moon and the stars which many ancients likened to their gods are simply formed by the manipulation of God’s little fingers. So, with the Psalmist of 8:4 we are left to ponder our amazing God: In the light of the magnificence of God, we might be led to ask: what status can mere humanity actually have?
Ah! That is the question which has reverberated down through the ages. And the answer is that the glorious Lord has actually made mere humanity to be a little lower than God’s self and has invested that reflection of the divine self with authority over all of the creation (8:5-8).
So, we should ask ourselves: Do we understand what the magnificent God has actually done in creating humans? And more importantly for Christians: Do we understand what the Son of God has done in his redeeming work of coming to earth for us? That, of course, is the question of the New Testament and we could spend several lessons considering that subject. Instead, let us turn to our final text—the Great Commission passage in Matthew 28—and to a brief encounter with how the Triune God impacts us as Christians today.
This crucial concluding text from Matthew reminds us that God was actually at work in the saving events of Jesus’ traumatic crucifixion and also in the shocking realization of his resurrection. But there was something more to that story that needs attention. This risen Jesus summoned his followers to meet him on a mountain in Galilee (28:16). Now if you have not already noticed, Matthew has a special attachment to mountains.
Please recall, according to Matthew, that Jesus:
- experienced the last of his three representative temptations on a high mountain (4:8),
- sat down and then like a king addressed both his magnificent opening and closing messages on mountains—the Sermon on the Mount (5:1) and the Olivet Discourse (24:3),
- went up into the mountains, sat down and healed the people who came to him (15:29) and
- met the historic mountain men—Moses and Elijah—on a high mountain in his historic transfiguration (17:1).
For a Jew, like Matthew, who had been steeped in the stories of Israel’s faith and the great mountain experiences of people like Moses and Elijah, the implications of the risen Jesus’ summoning them to meet him on a mountain must have sent shivers up Matthew’s spine. He must have sensed that something special was about to happen. And it did! Moreover, that experience probably was the reason why mountains are so important to his account.
When his early followers met the risen Jesus, they were led to worship him. Although they had hardly realized the full implications of Jesus’ coming to earth before his death and resurrection, the resurrection forced them quickly to realize that this person called Jesus was actually none other than the earthly embodiment of God! And the text tells us that his followers worshiped him. Yet as often is the case, when there is an encounter with the divine, some may tend to doubt such a reality.
Divine mystery is not easy for humans to accept. But we can be grateful that God is able to cross the gulf between the divine and the human and provide assurance of God’s presence in both the divine and human spheres. Here Jesus forthrightly asserts that “all authority” both in heaven and on earth is his rightful prerogative (28:18). Therefore, his servants should pay special attention to any directives that are given from him.
When humans accept his all encompassing mystery and authority, you should know that something else normally occurs. As you read the stories of the Old Testament, you will find quite consistently that when God meets humans, a task is almost always given to those humans. Accordingly, when Jesus met with his disciples, they were given an incredible universal task of going and making disciples of “all nations” (28:19)! Yes, that means all people!
Now that task, on first glance—and I am sure on subsequent glances as well—may for us seem to be foreboding. But was not God’s command to Moses just as foreboding when God commanded him to tell Pharaoh to release the Israelites from bondage? When Moses protested and said “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?” Do you remember what God said to him? Yes, it really was: “I will be with you!” (Exodus 3:12).
Do you think that gave him much comfort? So, can you guess what the risen Jesus might say to you or any of us who might be rather skeptical of our immense assignment? I think you know that Christ’s answer will be: “I am with you always!” Just check Matthew 28:20.
And I am sure you remember in our task of making disciples what the mark of our relationship to this majestic living Lord is. Yes, it is indeed baptism—a baptism in the joint names of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
Now what does such an expression mean? Is it a formula that automatically makes baptism effective in an individual? Oh, I think there is no doubt that words are important but these words point to a reality far more significant than the mere words. They point to the reality that the God with whom we become identified and whom we serve as mere humans is both majestic and mysterious and graciously seeks to live with us and visit us with the divine presence so that we can be directed to become more like the divine self. While we as humans may argue about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of baptisms with just one name or with differing amounts of water, such arguments completely miss the point.
The Christian symbol or sign of baptism is meant to imply that the baptized person is being joined in a relationship of direction to the mighty creator of all that exists and the ultimate redeemer of all who are being saved.
Well, my friends, the risen Jesus has set before us—both you and me—a task. We may say, “Who am I to take on the task of communicating the Gospel to others?” The answer that will come back to you from the majestic Son of God is the same answer that has echoed down through the corridors of history. If you are really going to be my disciple, don’t argue with me. Follow me and I will make you not only a disciple—but also a disciple maker!
The question is: Will you follow me? Remember: You will not walk that way on your own. The Lord has promised, “I am with you always to the end of time”—which by the way, I created (Matt 28:20)! Think about that idea and follow me! Amen.
About the writer: Gerald L. Borchert
Senior Professor at Carson-Newman University (TN); Former Trustee, Emeritus Professor & Thesis Director at the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies (FL) was a Canadian lawyer who holds an honors Ph.D. from Princeton in New Testament and did post-doctoral work in Jerusalem, Cambridge, Hamburg, Duke, Boston and San Francisco.
He has taught at many schools throughout the world and been the dean of two American theological seminaries. A translator for the New Living Translation, he has penned over 200 articles and over 30 books including commentaries on John, Revelation, Galatians and Thessalonians as well as other works on Jesus, Assurance and Warning, Worship, Evangelism, Counseling, etc., and two Guides to visiting the Bible lands.
Among his most recent works are Portraits of Jesus for an Age of Biblical illiteracy (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2016) and Christ and Chaos: Biblical Keys to Ethical Questions (Macon, GA: Nurturing Faith, Inc., 2020).
He is married to Doris Ann Cox, a retired seminary Professor of Christian Education and Ministry Supervision; the father of two sons: Mark and Tim (both of whom are ordained ministers and the focus for his latest book); two professional daughters-in-law; and four grandchildren.
Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
Psalms 116:1-2, :12-19
More Love to Thee, O Christ
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
God, Whose Love Is Reigning O er Us
The God of Abraham Praise
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
Rescue the Perishing
Standing on the Promises
Blessed Assurance/I Must Tell Jesus — Mary McDonald
Lord, Here Am I — John Ness Beck
Lift High the Cross – Carl Schalk
Here I Am, Lord — Daniel Schutte
Lord, Here Am I — John Ness Beck
My Tribute — Andre Crouch