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Who God Is

June 07, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this Trinity Sunday weekend comes from our Gospel text, where John records Jesus’s famous words to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 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.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

Characteristics. I’ve got them, you’ve got some, and by them, we are able to describe things about ourselves. I’m approximately six-feet tall, have brown (and silver) hair, blue eyes, a goatee, and weigh … more than I’d like to. I’m a pastor, a husband, a son, a brother. There are many different characteristics that you could name about me, but which of any of my characteristics … are defining? Am I the sum of my height and … stress-related weight? Am I the color of my skin? The degrees that I hold? Am I defined by my job? My clothes? My car? My vocations?

We’re talking about characteristics today – ours, but more importantly, those of the only true God. One of His characteristics is that He is triune – hence, the “Trinity” in “Trinity Sunday.” This means, while He is only one God, He is inexplicably also three distinct Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father’s not the Son, the Son isn’t the Spirit, and the Spirit ain’t the Father. Each Person is God, but there aren’t three Gods, there’s only One. … Have I messed with your head enough yet? Really, the Athanasian Creed which we confessed just a few moments ago is the best articulation that we have for understanding this incredible mystery that cannot be comprehended by human reason and is only understood through faith. Any attempts to grasp this concept with our broken human reason wander inevitably into heresy; simply put, it’s a concept that’s beyond our ability to comprehend.

This concept of God’s Trinitarian nature is intrinsic to who God is, but it’s certainly not His only characteristic. He’s omnipresent – always present in every place at the same exact time. He’s omniscient – knowing all things, all possible outcomes, seeing all ends and every beginning. He is eternal, without beginning and without end, like an auryn or a ring. He’s omnipotent, all-powerful, speaking the creation into existence and melting it with a whisper. He’s immutable – that is, unchanging throughout eternity. He’s holy, as in without sin or the ability to make a mistake. He’s just, and His sense of justice is far above and beyond ours. He’s ultimately sovereign – He’s God, and we’re not; anything He does, He is right to do, even if it doesn’t make any sense to us.

These are some of the attributes, the characteristics of God’s nature, who He is … but in a roundabout way, these attributes are also a commentary about certain characteristics of our human nature. The fact that we are unable to comprehend eternity, or absolute sovereignty, or the fact that the Trinity is a mystery to us is an indication that something is broken within us. That points to one characteristic that is endemic to humanity, regardless of the language we speak or the amount of melanin in our skin. We are, all of us, sinners. In his letter, the apostle Paul quotes numerous Old Testament texts to the Roman Christians, reminding them that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” That’s our primary characteristic, and it knows no class or nationality. We are all sinners.

Spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. That’s what we are, and that’s who we are. That single characteristic defines us, and it makes all of the aforementioned characteristics of the triune God absolutely terrifying. If we knew nothing about God other than His perfect justice, His holiness, His omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence, then that would mean that He literally knew every evil thought, word, and deed you have ever committed, and His perfect justice and sovereignty would require Him to punish you for each and every one. Lightning would be striking constantly, and the mere fact that we can draw breath, let alone survive to the end of the day, would be a miracle of miracles. We would all be like Isaiah from our Old Testament text – coming into the presence of raw, unadulterated, sheer holiness, we would all cry out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

As it turns out, these are not the only attributes that God has. He has other characteristics that help us to understand who He is, and we see one rather prominently displayed in our Gospel reading. During His discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus patiently discloses one of God’s most prominent characteristics: love. Not the sort of love that the world likes to think of, the love that’s easy, the love that doesn’t offend, the love that doesn’t confront wrong with compassionate truth. The world’s idea of love is selfishness; it loves the feeling of being loved. No, Jesus is talking about actual love - self-sacrifice on behalf of another who may or may not deserve it. The love Jesus is talking about is real action, intentionally planned, carefully executed, always with the needs of others in mind and with no thought to oneself: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 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.”

It’s tempting to gloss over these well-known words, but pause. Think about what Jesus is telling Nicodemus here. God is not wrathful or vengeful. He hates sin and what sin has done to His perfect creation, but His love for us, His creatures, is so great, so unfathomable, that He was willing to pay any price to win us back. He was willing to allow His only-begotten Son, the second Person of the Trinity, to take on human flesh, becoming one of us, enduring the pain of our existence, to live a life that was well acquainted with sorrow and grief, hardship and trial,, and then … allow Him, the only truly innocent man in existence, to be killed in arguably the most excruciating method of execution ever conceived. All … in order to pay, to atone for, our sin. Your sin. My sin. Your mistakes. My mistakes. Every careless thought, flippant word, and thoughtless deed ever perpetrated by mankind. All paid for in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. All done for you, so “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” He was lifted up for our sins, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Yes, God is triune. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, always present. He is absolutely sovereign, right in whatever He does or doesn’t do, and His sense of justice is infinitely higher than our own. But He is also good, desiring our welfare. He is merciful, showing His steadfast lovingkindess and friendly compassion to a thousand generations of those who love Him. He is gracious, rich in forgiveness and kindness toward those who absolutely deserve nothing but death and damnation. Ours is a God of love, not of wrath, and He has revealed Himself to be this just, holy, loving triune God best in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, who is called the Christ. That’s who God is. He is the great I AM, and He is real love.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tags: John 3:1-17