May 30, 2010
It has been said that what you know about a person usually affects the way that you feel about a person, and in most cases that seems to be true. Take, for example, Abraham Lincoln. He was the 16th president of the United States. He was the President in Office during the Civil War. He was the one who was determined that the United States of America should remain together as a single nation. He was the one who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing those who were salves from their forced servitude, and putting into motion the events that led to the 13th amendment to the US Constitution, which finally Abolished Slavery in the United States. He was the one who was assassinated at Ford’s Theater a mere 5 days after the Civil War came to an end. Because of this knowledge, there are many who love Lincoln and hail him as one of the greatest Presidents our Nation has ever seen. Though he was continually ridiculed and spoken against in his time, because of what we know about him from history, we are able to form our own opinion about him, and our own personal feelings about him have been affected in many ways by what we know. Well the same thing is true about the Lord our God, our opinion of him is very much affected by what we know about him. Thus, as we study the Scriptures before us today we will seek to learn about our God and answer the question: “What is our God like?”
To answer this question, we want to take a look at what the Bible has to say about God’s Characteristics and learn two basic ways that God’s nature is different than ours. So, I invite you to grab your Bibles and turn to Matthew 28:19 which can be found on page 989. As you are looking it up, let me give you the context of this passage. It had been 40 days since Jesus rose from the dead, and Jesus and his disciples were standing on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus was giving them his final instructions and blessings before he would ascend into heaven. While he was speaking to them he told them, (and we’ll read Matthew 28:19 together): “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,” (Matthew 28:19, NIV)
Just as Jesus began his ministry with the Father’s blessing and the Holy Spirit’s descending upon him, so also Jesus returns to heaven instituting the Sacrament of Baptism, proclaiming that all of his disciples should baptize people in the name of the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus reveals that our God is three distinct and separate persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, when we look at our God we know that the Father is not the Son. We know that the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and we know that the Holy Spirit is not the Father. Yet, even as we worship our God in three separate and distinct persons, we know that we do not worship three separate Gods but we worship only one God, as Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 6:4. Turn with me, if you would, to Deuteronomy 6:4, which can be found on page 178 of your Bibles, and we’ll read this passage together also. Again, as you look up the passage, let me set the context. The Israelites have completed their 40 years of wandering in the desert and they are preparing to cross the Jordan and take the land of Canaan. As they prepare, Moses is reminding them of all that the Lord has done for them. In Chapter 5 Moses reviewed the Ten Commandments and now, in verses 4 of Chapter 6, Moses speaks about the Lord whom we serve as we follow his commandments. And we read together: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, NIV)
With these words, the Lord God reveals a very specific distinction between his nature and our nature. He is one! Though, He is three separate and distinct persons these three separate and distinct persons make up one individual God. How this can be, we do not know, because we simply aren’t able to comprehend it. As Pastor Mark Berlin wrote in one of his sermons: “Trying to understand the Trinity is like looking into the sun. NO one is able to do it. And anyone that tries may go blind in the attempt. So is the glory of God with a brightness that is beyond our understanding. That this should surprise us I don’t understand. For a person to underssand something their mind must be bigger than the thing comprehended. For us to understand God we would have to be bigger than God.” (copied from: http://sermons.logos.com/submissions/61424#content=/submissions/61424.) Since we cannot fathom, comprehend, or even understand the mysteries of the Trinity, we simply believe it and accept it by faith, because God himself has told us that he is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three persons yet one God. So, if we should ever take the Father out of the picture, would we still believe in the true God proclaimed by the Bible? No, because we would only have the Son and the Holy Spirit and not all three. What if we took the Son out of the picture and believed only in the Father and the Holy Spirit? The same thing would be true. We would not have the True God spoken of in the Bible. What if we took the Holy Spirit out of the picture and only believed in the Father and the Son, would we still have the true God proclaimed by the Bible? Again, the answer is no. even though the Bible never uses the word Triune to describe our God, the Bible makes it clear that the God we worship is three persons (tri) yet one God (une), which gives us our Triune God 3 person in one God, just as Jesus tells us in our Gospel Lesson today: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. ” (John 16:13–15, NIV)
From all of these passages, we can clearly see the two basic ways that our God’s nature is different than our own. Not only is the Lord our God Triune—Three Persons yet, One God—but also, as we have been taught since we were little Children, the Lord our God is spirit. Because the Lord is Spirit, he does not have a physical body. Even though Jesus came to the earth and took on our human flesh and blood, when he ascended into heaven, he returned to his spirit form. Yet, the Lord our God is not some distant force sailing around the galaxy, he is a real personal being who hears our prayers and understands our needs. He desires and even demands the most important place in our hearts and our lives. He calls on us to worship him, praise him, and thank him for all that he has done for us. He forgives us each and every time we fall in to temptation and sin against him, and he has chosen to reveal himself to us through the pages of the Scriptures so that we might gain a better understanding of who he is through the many characteristics that he reveals to us in his Word.
So, let’s take another look at the Scriptures to see if we might discover all that the Lord our God wants us to learn about himself. To do this, we will turn to Psalm 139 which can be found on page 618, and as you are looking up Psalm 139 on page 618, let me give you just a little bit of an introduction. Psalm 139 is one of the many Psalms that King David wrote by the inspiration of the Lord. It was given to the director of music for use as a song for worship in the temple. It has even been called the Psalm of the All knowing and Ever Present God, and the reason for this will become clear as I read. In fact, due to the length of the Psalm I invite you to follow along with me as I read: “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ” (Psalm 139:1–24, NIV)
In such a beautiful way the Lord so clearly reveals that he is omniscient—all knowing—and omnipresent—present everywhere. He reminds us that not only does he know everything that we say and do, he also knows us better than our friends, our family, even our own fathers and mothers. He knows what we need when we need it, and he is always present with us, watching over us, protecting us, helping us, and ready to comfort us. He is also the all-powerful God who created our inmost beings, who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He is the God who can and will use his unlimited power to punish those who do not believe in him in the fires of eternal damnation, and he is the God who can and will use his unlimited power to bring those who believe in him to the halls of eternal life where we will live with him forever.
What more beautiful and comforting words could the Lord give to us as he reveals himself to us through his Word! Yet, there are so many more passages we could chose today to teach us more about the Characteristics of our God. The problem is, we are running out of time this morning, that is, if we feel we must keep our service as close to an hour as possible. However, since that is our custom, perhaps just one final passage. Turn with me to Exodus 34:5-7 on page 88. Again, let me give you the background for these verses: Moses had been with the Lord on the Mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, during which time the people persuaded Aaron to make a golden calf for them to worship. When Moses came down and saw what they were doing, he broke the tablets, burned it in the fire, ground it to powder, sprinkled it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. Now, he had returned to the mountain with two new tablets of stone for the Lord’s commands where he had also asked the Lord to show him his glory, which is where we pick up as we read together: “Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:5–7, NIV)
In such a beautiful way, the Lord our God reveals to us some of his most incredible characteristics. We know of his compassion for us in his sending Jesus to be our Savior. We know of his Graciousness that he does not treat us as our sins deserve, but he shows his love and his patience for us by giving us this time of grace in which to come to faith. He shows his love and his faithfulness by continually protecting us from all harm and danger, and forgiving all our sins for Jesus’ sake. Though the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished, through faith in him, we live in his love and faithfulness. We see the Lord our God as the loving, caring, and gracious God he is.
Thus, today, in the same way we have learned about Abraham Lincoln from history, we have learned what the Lord our God is like. For from the pages of Scripture, we have come to know that our all powerful Triune God is a Spirit who reveals himself to us in the Scriptures.
Pastor David M. Shilling
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church --Le Sueur, MN