John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
Amazing things. That’s what happens when the Triune God shows up in Jesus Christ. You see, for the Holy God, who is One God, to show up in any other way is simply inconceivable.
The ancients had a tradition:
To see God would actually consume you in your current state. Entirely. There would be nothing left. “No one can see God and live.” This was their tradition. It was utterly impossible to see God. For if one did, they were dead. And so how can one see God and yet live? They could not conceive of a way... any other way, that is, but the way God had progressively revealed it to them over about the course of 4,500 years.
God had promised to send One, the Chosen One, who would be from the seed of the woman. And this male baby would literally already be performing the first acts necessary of the human race’s Eternal Savior. In His conception, in His growth in the womb, and in His terrible trial of navigating the birth canal through birth, He had already begun the work of saving the whole human race from bondage and slavery to sin, death and the devil. For these three enemies–sin, death, and the devil–are the three enemies for whom God promised a He would send a Messiah to the Matriarchs and Patriarchs of Old.
“...for he will save His people from their sins. -the angel Gabriel, Matthew 1:21
The angel Gabriel is quoted as instructing Joseph as to the miraculous conception and now pregnancy of His betrothed, Mary. Gabriel says, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
What the angel spoke was nothing other than what the prophet Isaiah had already spoken, now more fully revealed. Isaiah, the prophet which Gabriel quotes, wrote, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
Immanuel means “God with man,” or more personally, “God with us.”
Can you imagine it? As Joan Osborne sings,
“What if God were one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin' to make his way home?
If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see if, seeing meant
That you would have to believe in things like heaven
And in Jesus and the saints, and all the prophets?”
What Osbourne is asking for, whether she realizes it or not, is a real-life God. “If God had a face what would it look like?” Why, it would look like a combination of all our own faces. It wouldn’t be quite black, nor white. It wouldn’t be quite yellow, or red. It would probably fall somewhere in the middle, perhaps a brown, with a ruddy, olive glow.
This face that Osborne speaks of is the face which had a name before it was even fully formed, Immanuel, now more fully revealed in the personal name given this One who would be, “God with us.” His name is Jesus. He is what happens to you when the Triune God shows up and you’re still standing, breathing, and even thinking.
If you’re looking for a direct encounter with the Father, or even more popular, the Holy Spirit, you’re out of luck. None of this would be if it weren’t for Jesus. You would never have an experience with the Triune God outside of what you have in Jesus. God has never worked on the earth in any other form but the only One who could save His people from their sins without also consuming them for their sins.
But how does One save His people from the thing that is so closely ingrained in them without destroying the thing upon which it is ingrained? Why, resurrection of course! So God would become one of us. And it was His plan from the beginning, in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit conspired in a Holy conspiracy about how to get the human race off. The Father willed it, the Holy Spirit empowered it, but it was the Word that did the work.
Just as it was the Word which created all that exists and breathed life into the nostrils of the first man, so it would be the Word who would be the sacrifice, who would enter the dark and unknown depths of death itself. This is why John calls Jesus the “faithful witness.” We translate the word “witness” from the Greek word, martys. It’s also the root of the word “martyr,” originally referring to a Christian who witnesses, or confesses, their faith in the face of death itself. A Christian’s faith is only found in the promise of life through death in the resurrection of all flesh.
But before there can be life through resurrection their has to be a death. Our deaths, to be exact. So how can we be sure that this resurrection thing is going to be pulled off without a hitch? There is absolutely no way you can be certain. Whether you call it reincarnation, Nirvana, or Valhalla, there is no way to be certain that any of that will work.
But you can be certain of the One who says, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” You can trust the One who says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
But can we trust that we eat His body and drink His blood in, with, and under the Communion elements, just as He promised in the words of institution? Can we really trust that this guy can even raise us from the dead?
Can you trust a man who said, speaking of His body, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19), and then actually does it? This is why John calls Jesus “the firstborn from the dead.” In Jesus' resurrection lies the hope and promise of our resurrection from the dead also, and not only ours, but the resurrection of all flesh!
What happens when the Triune God shows up is a whole lot of Jesus for you in the reading and hearing of the Word. He comes tangibly to you in, with, and under the water, bread, and wine. He comes in a visceral way that you can sense and observe. He comes to you in a way that you can even “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)
On a further note:
In the ancient Church, they historically began their service with what is called the Trinitarian Invocation. They did not say, “We begin our service in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Rather, from complete silence they began, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, an of the Holy Spirit.” But why did they omit, “we begin our service” from the Invocation? They did not omit it because it was never there from the beginning. Rather, the earliest Christians understood that they were being brought into the service which God had prepared for them.
This wasn’t their service, it was God’s. He would be the One serving them, not the other way around. It was simply being announced that God was about to get full on into the business of serving His people through the Word, water, bread, and wine. Through the proclamation of the life-creating Word, the announcement of sins forgiven would create faith in the promise of resurrection. Through the waters of Baptism He would deliver them into a death like His so that just as He was raised from the dead, they too would be. And through the true food of His body and the true drink of His blood, He delivers the food and drink of immortality, to which is attached the promise of the resurrection.
It is apropos that John should begin the formal address of His letter with the Trinitarian Invocation, “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ...” After all, John is attending Church on the Lord’s Day, Sunday, when he receives the Revelation. And since he begins with “Grace and peace,” he must end it with Jesus Christ, the One through who came grace, and who is our peace with God.
This is what happens when the Triune God shows up: You are served with the grace and peace of Jesus for you. He is for your sin, for you in the face of sins you are led into by the temptation of the devil, and for you even in death.
I would pose this question:
If our God is for us–literally there serving us, giving of Himself for us, forgiving us in Word, water, bread, and wine, making Himself ours–who can be against us?
No one. Not even death itself.
When the Triune God shows up He does so with the announcement, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)
The Triune God shows up in Jesus for you, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we may be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
This is a weekly article series working through the book of Revelation. It is followed every Friday morning at 8 am (CST) by a live devotion dealing with the same subject matter and often additional material for your edification. Tune in Friday mornings on Christ Hold Fast's Facebook Page to learn more and ask questions.