Rembrandt’s Head of Christ (1640’s)
(…continued) This has been only a brief overview of the Bible’s description of God, always speaking in terms of ONE GOD, but also, always referring to that God as Father and/or Son and/or Holy Spirit. It took the early Church a while to figure out what to do with this. They never did fully comprehend it, so finally they just decided to say what the Bible says. We are still saying it that way every Sunday when we say the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in God the Father…I believe in Jesus Christ…I believe in the Holy Spirit…” We say that in both the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed; those ancient, basic, defining statements of what Christians believe. Later, a more elaborate description was needed. The Athanasian Creed, a portion of which began this three-part meditation, was written after five centuries of the church’s struggle with how God had revealed himself to us.
The Creed says that all three persons of the Trinity are co-equal and co-eternal. I have been asked why we pay so little attention to the Holy Spirit in the Lutheran church. I admit, some denominations (and some Lutheran churches) do emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit more than many Lutheran churches, including the ones I served. Some of these more ‘spirit-filled, charismatic’ churches might accuse other churches of an unbalanced message, and of not giving the Holy Spirit enough attention.
I, for one, would plead guilty to that. Here’s why.
It is just a fact that when most people think about God, they most often think about Jesus. Jesus, through whom we have been reconciled to God, says the Bible, and, through whom we now have access to God’s grace. Jesus, who at just the right time, says the Bible, died for us, so that we may be forgiven and have eternal life.
I don’t know about you, but when I pray, I do not pray to an abstract philosophical concept of a Supreme Being, or to an old man in the clouds, or a to Spirit that I cannot visualize. Rather, when I pray I visualize in my mind a person; a young man with a beard and a kind face. I think of some of the most familiar paintings of Jesus. Rembrandt’s Head of Christ is one of my favorite paintings, and the portrayal of Jesus in “Risen” is one of my favorite movie images. We don’t know what Jesus looked like, but we are able to talk to a person, a person who is also God, but someone who has walked this same earth and breathed this same air and felt the some of the same kinds of pain and grief and frustration as we have. Within the Biblical portrayal of the Trinity, there is this richness in which we experience God as the all-powerful Almighty God the Father, and also, as Jesus Christ, our brother and our friend, and also, as the Holy Spirit. When I feel in my heart and mind that longing for God, either in gratitude or in desperation, it might be the Holy Spirit who is drawing me to my Creator, but it is Jesus that I visualize.
This is why I am glad to emphasize Jesus more. It is in Christ that we see God. That was the intention of the incarnation, that taking on of human flesh by the Son of God. The Holy Spirit, though just as much a member of the Holy Trinity, is in my mind sort of like a silent partner who in fact does not get not nearly as much ink in the Bible itself as do the other two persons of the Trinity.
I don’t think it is required that we spend precisely thirty-three-and-a-third percent of our time on each member of the Trinity. The Bible itself doesn’t do that. I believe we are free to connect with God in whatever way we find most helpful. We might say in whatever way ‘the Spirit leads us.’ The Spirit does seem to have a wide variety of ways to lead us to God.
Some may indeed be led to put more emphasis on the Holy Spirit, and that is wonderful. I am led to focus on the person of Jesus; though certainly not to the exclusion of the Father and the Holy Spirit. I will write about all three persons of the Trinity, but from me, it will be mostly about Jesus. That is the person of the Trinity you will read about most when you read the New Testament.
Hebrews 2:14-18 — Since the children have flesh and blood, he (Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death… For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 4:14-15 — Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
II Corinthians 13:14 — May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
MORNING PRAYER of John Stott (1921-2011):
Good morning, Heavenly Father; good morning, Lord Jesus; good morning, Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I worship you, creator and sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.