The doctrine of the Trinity is not a set of abstract concepts revealed to delight our speculative brains. It is instead a revelation of the concrete realty of our awesome Creator’s saving love to comfort our troubled hearts.
Yes, the church has rightly fought – and must continue to fight in our confused pluralistic age – to confess this doctrine in all its biblical wonder with clarity and precision lest we profess a God who is nothing but an idolatrous caricature of who our Creator truly is as Three and yet One. Yet, the goal of all that Scripture has revealed about the wonder of our Triune God always serves this ultimate purpose: initiating or furthering our grasp of the glory of his saving love for us.
It is this practical-for-our-faith reality of the doctrine of the Trinity that comes across so powerfully in the gospel for Trinity Sunday this year (John 16:12-15). There, characteristically clothed by John in four simple yet profound verses, Jesus reveals for us the wonder of all three persons of the Godhead working in eternally orchestrated harmony to secure us in the knowledge of his provided salvation.
And it is the context in which the jewel of these verses has been placed that helps us grasp how they sparkle with comfort. Sunday’s gospel sits in the heart of Jesus’ Maundy Thursday address to his disciples (John 14-16). Their hearts – already confused and fearful by what had transpired – were about to witness much more that would want to terrify them. But notice the theme of all that Jesus is telling them. As he began, he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). In the middle of his address he restates his theme: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). And before he ends by turning to his Father in prayer, he returns to it once more: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
But it’s not just slow-to-understand first century disciples who would need to hear this repeated refrain. Just as he looked down through the centuries in his prayer to his Father that closed this address, so with all these words Jesus gives evidence that he was well aware that not letting our hearts be troubled and not being afraid would be a challenge for all his simul justus et peccator followers to the end of time. Surrounded as we are by so many dangers and disappointments, by so much opposition from within and without, we stand in constant need of having fears calmed and peace restored.
So, it is precisely in the midst of this whole comforting-under-the-cross-focus of his address that we come across this particular jewel of John 16:12-15. Here John holds before us one of the clearest revelations of the Triune God at work for us that Jesus speaks anywhere in revealed Scripture!
This section opens with the tender-hearted compassion of the eternal Son who says to them and to us: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (12). Yes, I know that has special application to the apostles gathered in that upper room for whom the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost would clear up so many things that they could not bear until Jesus’ work was complete. Yet here is also wonderful comfort for us! Here the Servant of the Lord reveals the depth of his patient love that does not break bruised reeds or snuff out smoldering wicks (Isaiah 42:3). Have there not often been times in our lives when Jesus has had to be patient with us when there was so much more we still needed to know but we could not bear it all at that moment? How patiently through the days and years of our lives he has led us bit by bit toward maturity in our understanding of the depth of our need for him, the glory of his kingdom, and our gracious unique place in it. And lest any of us proudly claims to have reached full maturity in Christ, let’s be honest that this reality of the patient nurturing of the Savior still continues to be the greatest need of our lives!
And in this patient instruction the Second Person of the Trinity has an eager Partner. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (13-14). Yes, again with this verse there is a unique application to the lives of the apostles. The Church has long seen in these words the promise of the Spirit’s inspiration of the apostles and evangelists who wrote the New Testament testimony of all the truth of Christ.
But that does not leave us without comfort from this promise. The Spirit is still at work through that truth he recorded through the apostles and evangelists to guide us into all truth. In the wondrous partnership of the Spirit and the Son, we learn the glory of what is ours in Jesus and the still greater glory of what is yet to come in eternity.
And then Jesus adds the crowing piece of the divine partnership! “All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take what is mine and make it known to you” (15). Jesus now completes the amazing tri-circle of comfort that surrounds us by assuring us that his and the Spirit’s saving desire to make the truth of salvation known to us has the full endorsement of the Father. The longing of Jesus and the Spirit for our peace in the certainty of our salvation is the Father’s longing too. From eternity to eternity the greatest delight of all three persons of our one God has been that you and I find release from fears and growth in peace in his saving plan for us.
That we might so know his love for us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the central reason he has revealed what he has about himself. The doctrine of the Trinity is not a matter for idle speculation, but for thankful contemplation. As we pray in the Prayer of the Day for Trinity Sunday, this alone is the truth that can “cleanse our hearts and lips [so] that, free from doubt and fear, we may ever worship [him], one true immortal God, with [his] Son and the Holy Spirit, living and reigning, now and forever.”
May God give to you – and those you serve – such a comforting Trinity Sunday!