“Silent witnesses: the number three”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Almost fifty years ago, back in the spring of 1974, a young Hungarian architect named Erno Rubik was searching for some way to teach his students about movement in three dimensions. Finally, after spending months tinkering with blocks of cubes made out of wood and paper, all held together by glue, paper clips, and rubber bands, he stumbled onto something he called, “Magic cube.” Only when he scrambled it, then had to figure out how to put it back together again, (which took him about a month), did he realize that he had accidentally created a puzzle.
Six years later, his cube, now known as “Rubik’s Cube,” not only received the “Toy of the Year” award, it soon became the best-selling toy of all time!
So how many different possibilities are there? Right around forty-three quintillion, which is really quite a lot! In fact, if you were to stack forty-three quintillion of those cubes on top of one another, you could cover the Earth’s surface two hundred and seventy-five times, or build a tower two hundred and sixty-one light years high!
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever solved it, but if you think you’re pretty good at it, you could try going up against the current world record holder, China’s Du Yusheng, who’s solved in 3.47 seconds. Max Park of the United States has done it in 6.82 seconds with one hand. Mohammed Koli of India did it in 15.56 seconds with his feet! And Max Hilliard, once again of the United States, solved it in 15.5 seconds, blindfolded!
Puzzles. Some people do really well with them. Not me.
So it is when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity--three in one and one in three. It’s a puzzle, a mystery, that we, on this side of heaven, could never even begin to understand.
If you think about it, the number three is very much part of our lives. There are three blind mice, three billy goats gruff, three musketeers, and three little pigs, not to mention Goldilocks and the three bears. Rub a magic lamp and a genie just might pop out to grant you three wishes. Do you like ice cream? Then you just might want to buy some Neapolitan made of three different flavors--vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.
We often think in threes--every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Every object has a height, a depth and a length. Matter consists of mass, energy and motion. Time is in the past, present and future. And of all the colors in the world, only three are primary--red, green and blue.
And if you were to page through the Bible, you’d find the number three quite a lot there too. When wise men came to visit the infant Jesus, they brought three gifts--gold, frankincense and myrrh. And when He began His ministry at the age of thirty, He taught for three years, then died at the age of 33 at three o’clock in the afternoon, beneath an inscription written in three languages. And on the third day He rose again. And after He rose, He appeared to Peter to ask, three times, “Do you love Me?” recalling his three denials in the courtyard of the high priest. Three is a very important number.
Even more, the word “Trinity,” is often part of our vocabulary. You could travel around the world and find churches, cathedrals, and cemeteries all named after the Trinity. Think of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. And among the thousand or so channels available on your TV, there’s TBN, or Trinity Broadcasting Network.
And think of how deeply the Trinity is woven into the fabric of our Christian lives. Not only are we baptized into the name of the Trinity, we’re married, confirmed and buried all in the name of the Trinity--Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately across time, there have been quite a lot who haven’t gotten it right. For example, three hundred years after Christ, a priest named Arius told his followers that Jesus was only a “half-god,” and that the Father only created Him to mediate between heaven and earth. Besides, he said, if the Father is God and Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God, then we must have three Gods.
So that’s why Christians centuries ago composed and confessed the words of the creed we so boldly confess today: “We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God...This is the Christian faith which, except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”
But think of how clearly the Bible teaches it. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He commissioned His church to go and baptize all nations, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). When St. Paul spoke words of blessing on the Christian church, he said, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (II Corinthians 13:14). When Peter strengthened the church for service, he did it, “According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood” (I Peter 1:2). And when Jesus sought to encourage us in the face of persecution and death, He said: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will...remind you of everything I have said” (John 14:26).
So who is God our Father and what has He done for us?
Martin Luther wrote in the words of his Small Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them.”
If you can see, it’s because the Lord has given you eyes. If you can hear, it’s because the Lord has given you ears.
Spend a day in Yellowstone National Park and you can’t help but stand in awe of His power. You can almost hear Him say, “Let’s create a geyser that’ll blast boiling hot water into the air every couple of hours. In fact, let’s create a playground of geysers that’ll create a waterfall right over them. Mountain peak, you go there. And lake, you go there.”
You can’t visit Yellowstone without standing in awe of God.
Or visit the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls and you’ll be overwhelmed. The sheer magnitude of the canyons carved in stone and the millions of gallons of water that gush over the cliff will lead you to see just how majestic and magnificent He really is.
Or think of the planets--Venus, Mars and Jupiter, so far away, yet so bright. Or the Earth, a tiny oasis in the vast galaxy of the Milky Way. Who can help but stand in amazement of the glory of God?
But if that’s too far away for you, then you could peer through the lens of a microscope to see the human cell, where you’ll be astonished at God’s brilliance and intelligence and life’s remarkable design.
And notice the name by which He’s called--Father. He’s not some God afar off who cares nothing for us. He is God, our Father. And He is always ready, always willing and always able to hear and answer our prayer.
And who is Jesus? Without a doubt, He’s the most important and the most controversial figure of all time. As one author put it: “He was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, then, for three years, as an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never owned a home. He never traveled more than two hundred miles from His place of birth.
“Yet twenty centuries have come and gone, and billions around the globe acclaim Him Savior, Lord and Redeemer.”
He’s a friend of tax collectors and sinners, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
As the apostle Paul once wrote to the Philippians: “At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
And who is God, the Holy Spirit? Luther wrote: “I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith.”
Will we ever understand three-in-one and one-in-three? Here on Earth, never in a million years.
But let me put it like this--deep within the core of the sun, scientists tell us that the temperature is 27 million degrees Fahrenheit, and the pressure is 340 billion times what it is here on Earth.
And in the sun’s core, that insanely hot temperature and unthinkable pressure combine to create nuclear reactions. And in each reaction, four protons fuse together to create one alpha particle, which is .7 percent less massive than those four protons. Still with me?
Finally, after a long process called convection, that energy from the core of the sun reaches the surface, where it’s expelled as heat and light.
Now all of that’s kind of interesting, but we don’t need to know any of it to get a tan.
So why does all this matter? If there are not three persons in one God, then the Father didn’t send His only-begotten Son to die in our place. Jesus must only have been a man, His death meant nothing, and His resurrection must have been a lie.
But if we know there are three persons in one God, then we can know the One Who has made us and all that exists, Who suffered and died on Calvary’s cross, and Who, even today, continues to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify this whole Christian church on earth and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith.
Imagine for a moment that a family, on vacation, is suddenly trapped in a raging forest fire. And just as soon as they call for help, a helicopter team comes to their rescue. And as one fireman flies the helicopter over the smoky blaze, another descends on a rope into the billowing smoke to track down that family and stand with them. Then one-by-one, he wraps his rope around them, and attaches himself to them, then lifts them up out of the blaze to safety.
And in this rescue operation, the first fireman is like God the Father who can see the whole forest unclouded from above to safely orchestrate His plan. The second fireman is like the Son who comes into our world to save us, the human family, descending even to the depths of the grave. And the Spirit is like the rope, who raises us, with Jesus, from sin and death and the grave, into the everlasting presence of the Father.
To put it another way, when you say the word, “Savior,” remember there’s Trinity in that word, for He is three persons under one name. For you cannot be saved by the Son without the Father, nor by the Father without the Son, nor by the Father and the Son without the Spirit. For as they were one in creation, so are they one in salvation.
And to that God be glory everlasting, world without end. Amen
Eternal God, in many and powerful ways, You revealed Your glory and majesty. You are a great God who has chosen even us to be Your people. In humble faith, we cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” as we praise Your precious name, in the name of Jesus. Amen