Messengers from John the Baptist
11:1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers1 are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man2 dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet?3 Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,4 and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear,5 let him hear.
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”6
Woe to Unrepentant Cities
20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Come to Me, and I Will Give You Rest
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.7 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
There is one God, and He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How this can be is a mystery, but we should not be surprised that God is greater than the capacity of our understanding. Knowing God as Father is not natural for us. We need to be brought into a relationship with Him, and this is why Jesus Christ has come into the world. He came from the Father’s side to make Him known and to bring us to the Father.
The old pastor’s brow was furrowed as he peered over his half-moon spectacles at the scattered congregation and began the message he had been pondering all week. “First,” he said slowly, “I am going to search the unsearchable. Then,” he said with increasing confidence, “I am going to explain the unexplainable. And finally…” he paused as he searched for the words. “I’m going to unscrew the inscrutable!”
I’m not so ambitious, and it is with a sense of awe that I write about the most distinctive but also the most difficult doctrine in the whole of the Christian faith: There is one God, and He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Don’t expect to understand the nature of God. Fish can only have a very limited understanding of human nature, and in the same way, it is beyond our capacity to figure out the nature of God.
Jesus said, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son…” But then He added “… and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). Knowing the Father does not come to us naturally. It is through Jesus Christ that we come to know God the Father.
God in Three Persons
In the Old Testament, God reveals that He is one. But the Old Testament raises some questions that are not resolved until God reveals Himself more fully. For example, at creation God says, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26). Why us when God tells us so clearly that He is one?
In the New Testament, God reveals that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is love (1 John 4:8). He always has been and He always will be. But who did God love when nothing existed except God Himself? Love needs an object, and before anything else ever existed, the love of God flowed between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (John 17:24).
Saturated in the Life of God
If we are to truly know God, we must experience Him as Father, Son, and Spirit. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that they are to “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).
The word “baptize” literally means to dip or to drench. The Christian life is all about being drenched in the Father, plunged into the Son, and soaked in the Spirit. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit permeate every part of a believer’s life. You cannot know the Father apart from the Son or the Son apart from the Spirit.
So while we may not be able to fully comprehend the nature of God, we must grasp what is revealed about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit if we are to know God as He is.
Fixing the Anchor Points
We may summarize what God has revealed to us about His nature in three statements.
First, there is one God. This is clear in both the Old and New Testaments. God says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). There is “one Lord… one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5–6). Christians do not believe in three gods. There is one God.
Second, God exists in three persons. The distinct identities of the Father, Son, and Spirit are written all through the New Testament. The Father sends the Son (Galatians 4:4). The Son prays to the Father (John 17:1). The Spirit glorifies the Son (John 16:14), and the Son sends the Spirit (Acts 2:33). The three persons of the Godhead are not to be confused. The Father did not die on the cross. The Son did not send Himself into the world. The Spirit did not rise from the dead. There is one God, and He exists in three persons.
Third, each person is fully God. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. Christ said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He shared the glory of the Father before the world began (John 17:5). Through the Holy Spirit, the presence of Jesus was with His disciples, even though He was returning to the Father (John 14:16–18). If the Spirit was with them, Christ was with them, and if Christ was with them, the Father was with them (John 14:23).
The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, but there are not three gods. There is one eternal God and He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Problem with Analogies
Through the centuries, people have used analogies to try and explain the nature of God. But if there were an analogy in the natural world that would help us grasp the nature of God, surely God would have put it in the Bible.
Analogies of the Trinity usually help us to see one part of the truth, but at the same time they distort or obscure something else. Some people use the analogy of one person playing three different roles. For example, I am a husband and a father and a pastor. But the analogy falls short because there is only one person fulfilling these three roles. God exists in three persons; the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Spirit.
Once, when I was climbing a mountain in Scotland, a mist came down and settled over the town in the valley below. I couldn’t see the town, but I could see everything around it.
I find that picture helpful when thinking about the nature of God. The truth of the Trinity is shrouded in mist. We cannot explain how one God can exist in three persons. But we can clearly identify what lies beyond the bounds of truth. For example, if someone says that Christ is less than God, or that there are many gods, we can immediately see from the Scriptures that this lies outside of the truth. The mist covers the truth itself, but that which is outside the truth can be clearly seen.
How to Respond to a Mystery
The nature of God is a mystery, but it is not a contradiction. If Christians believed both that there is one God and there are three gods, that would be a contradiction. Or if we believed that there are three persons and there is one person, that would be a contradiction. But to say that there is one God who exists in three persons is not a contradiction. It is a mystery.
How should you respond to this mystery?
First, don’t turn away from it. If you turn away from what you do not understand about God, you will miss the unfathomable splendor of His glory.
Second, don’t try to explain it. You will never get to a place where you say, “It all makes perfect sense to me now; I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.” God will never let you get there.
Third, let it lead you to worship. You will spend all eternity marveling at the glory of God, so let your worship begin in response to the wonder of what He has already revealed.
Coming to God the Father
So how can we come to a God who is so great that we cannot fathom His nature? Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
If you want to visit the President of the United States there several approaches you might try. If you knew his wife, she could introduce you to him. Or if you knew the Secretary of State or the Chief of Staff, he or she might grant you access. There are many people next to the President of the United States, but who is next to God the Father?
“No one knows the Father except the Son” (Matthew 11:27). “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). It follows that Jesus is the only one who can bring us to the Father (John 14:6).
Knowing God the Father
If we want to know what a relationship with God the Father looks like, we must begin by looking at what it meant for Jesus.
Christ invites us into a relationship in which we are subject to the Father’s authority. You can’t miss this in the life of Jesus. His whole life was aligned with the Father’s purpose, and that was never seen more clearly than in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus said, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
If we would know God as Father, the first question is whether we are ready to be subject to His authority, irrespective of the cost. The Christian life begins when you come to the place of saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” If you want to know the Father’s love, you must submit to His authority.
The relationship to which Jesus invites us is also one in which we enjoy the same love that the Father has for His own Son: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9; 17:26). What is the capacity of the love of God? God is eternal in His being, unlimited in His power, and infinite in His knowledge. His love is beyond anything we can fathom on earth, and more than the angels can fathom in heaven.
We will be lost in worship, wonder, love, and praise when the full extent of God’s love is unfolded to us in heaven, and it is the special work of the Holy Spirit to let us know that we are loved like this now (Romans 5:5).
Those who share in the Father’s love will also share in His glory: “the glory that you have given to me I have given to them” (John 17:22). There will be times when it is costly to submit to the authority of the Father, but Paul reminds us that this is “not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18 NIV).
For Jesus to know God as His Father meant submitting to His authority, enjoying His love, and sharing His glory. When Jesus invites us to come to the Father through Him, He is inviting us into the same kind of relationship.
- What are the three anchor points about the nature of God that we find in the Bible? Which one of these are you most familiar with? Least familiar?
- What is the benefit (and the downside) of using analogies of the Trinity?
- What is the difference between a contradiction and a mystery? Which of the three suggested responses to a mystery (don’t turn away, don’t try to explain, let it lead you to worship) have you tended to overlook? Why?
- How does a person gain access to God the Father?
- What do you find most attractive about Jesus’ relationship with God the Father? Least attractive? Why?