For those who want a change from the Gospel
Trinity Sunday Isaiah 40:12-17, 27-31
OK, here’s a challenge – find the Trinity in the OT. Not easy, as you can’t even find much about the idea in the NT. In fact the ‘doctrine of the Trinity’ was forged out by the early church from the raw materials of Scripture and various heresies which got it wrong, and wasn’t finally sorted out for around 300 years. The idea gradually emerged as the only sensible way of expressing the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but there had to be quite a few wrong turns and dead ends before it was sorted. So if we’re expecting either Testament to give us the fully developed doctrine, we’re going to be disappointed. And of course the whole thing is made so much harder by the fact that it all defies human logic, and simply can’t be comprehended.
So what can we say? Simply that the Bible provides the raw materials, the ideas with which the Early Christians had to wrestle, which eventually led to the doctrine of the Trinity. So what is there within today’s passage which points in the direction of Trinity?
The Father is pretty easy: the passage speaks to a bunch of people who had been in exile for decades, who believed that either their God wasn’t strong enough to rescue them, or that they were now out of his patch and so they would be better off praying to the local Babylonian gods, or that they had been so sinful that he had simply washed his hands of them once and for all. So what is a prophet to say into that situation? The chapter begins with the well-known ‘Comfort, comfort my people’ bit out of Handel’s Messiah, which deals with the third, and then moves on systematically to dismantle the other two ideas which the people had grasped, understandably but totally wrongly.
He begins with the power of God (v.12), then moves on to his universality (v.15-17, and v.21-26 which have been filleted out by our lectionary). There is no way we can believe that God is too weak or too far away to do anything. Although the language is not used here, this is a picture of God as universal Father, the God of power who reigns over our world. All of it.
But then in v.13 we get a reference to the Spirit, or ‘mind’ of God, the person who provides wisdom and purpose for the Father. ‘Who on earth do you think can tell God what to do?’ asks the prophet. The Spirit, the ‘mind’ or purposes of God is there beside him in a way which no humans are anywhere near being up to. Elsewhere in the OT the Spirit represents the power of God given to humans to help them in supernatural tasks, and, as we heard last week, poured out in the NT on all God’s people to equip them for mission. The Spirit, only partially revealed here, is the same Spirit whom the early disciples experienced on the day of Pentecost, and who is alive and well in the Church today.
But what about Jesus? While there are some odd passages in the OT which might be taking a forward look to the incarnation, and while there are many promises about the coming Messiah, the Jesus we know and love is not fully revealed in the OT. But what we do have in this passage is a section which explains something of the Father’s purposes for Jesus. In v.27 the prophet echoes the cry of the people’s hearts: ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, my cause is disregarded by my God’. he perfectly captures what it must have felt like to have spent 70 or so years in a foreign land, with prayers seemingly being ignored and cries for mercy going unheard. His response is to promise a time when God will step in to rescue, refresh, restored and bring new hope, promises which were fulfilled in the short term by the release of the exiles to return home to Jerusalem, in the medium term by the coming of the Messiah to open a new and living way to the Father and to pour out the Spirit on all Christians, and which will be fulfilled in the long term when Jesus returns, winds up history, and ushers in the new creation.
The problem with Trinity Sunday and the doctrine of the Trinity is trying to understand it. Spoiler alter – you can’t! The real point is for us to live it, and today reminds us that we worship a God of ultimate power, believe it or not, a Spirit who is available to fill our lives and empower us as Christian disciples, and a Saviour who stepped into our world to bring healing, hope and purpose.
It is very easy at the moment, in the middle of a global crisis of health, economics, racism and so much more, to believe with those exiles that our cause is disregarded by our God. Let’s allow today to renew our faith and hope, to restore perspective, and to pray and worship even more fervently.
With the arrival of Ordinary Time next week, when we no longer need to be restricted to the lectionary, I thought you might like a little extra teaching series, so I’m planning a series of podcasts on the letter to the Hebrews. Hope you like it!