The Triune God of Mission
Topic: Missions & Evangelism Passage: Luke 24:44–49
Sermon from Luke 24:44-49 & John 1-20 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: To the End of the Earth (Part 3 of 4)
Global Missions Emphasis Month
Delivered on Sunday, September 21, 2014
Today is the third Sunday of our global missions month. That means we’re focusing again on God’s aim to reach all nations with the good news of Jesus Christ. Last week, we looked at the inspired Bible for mission; and Luke 24 was our launching pad into that subject. Today, Luke 24 will be our launching pad once again, but we’re going to land in the Gospel of John and spend much our time there looking at the triune God of mission. Did you know that the church’s mission to the world flows from the eternal Trinity? The church has a mission to the ends of the earth, because all three persons of the one true God have a mission to the ends of the earth.
That’s what I want us to get this morning. So let’s launch into this from Luke 24. And all I want you to see here is that what we learned last week about God’s plan in Scripture isn’t disconnected from what we’re learning this week about the Trinity. We saw last week that God’s plan in Scripture has Christ at the center and missions as the overflow. But what Jesus also helps us see is that that overflow to the nations happens only because of the mission of the triune God himself. Let me read it to you and then point it out. Verse 44:
44Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Father, Son, and Spirit in World-wide Missions
It’s that last promise in verse 49 that I want to catch your attention: “Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” That’s a revelation of the Trinity in one sentence—the Father promises, the Son plans to send that promise, and the promise is then described with power from on high. And who does that? Well, part two of Luke’s work—the Book of Acts—tells us it’s the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you [And what happens when he comes? Missions.], and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” So right there, we’re seeing something significant about the Trinity.
The Father’s role in promise, the Son’s role in sending that promise, and the Spirit’s role in coming as that promise to empower missions. All three persons of the Godhead, united and involved in world-wide missions. Or even better—world-wide missions happens, because the triune God has a mission himself.
The Trinity & Mission in John's Gospel
Now here’s where I’m going to land us in the Gospel of John for the rest of our time, because John makes this mission of the triune God very explicit. It’s one of the major themes interwoven throughout his Gospel. So what I’d like to do is walk you through two big-picture observations that will help you see the triune God of mission. And then I want to show you what that means as we move forward in our mission.
And let me just warn you up front, your unglorified brain may be in serious danger for the next fifteen minutes. Because when you start talking about the Trinity, and trying to wrap your mind around all the glories bound up with the Godhead, you’ve got some serious headaches coming. But the hard thinking is worth it; so here we go.
1. The Triune God’s Mission Precedes History
First of all, the triune God’s mission precedes history. As you read through the Gospel of John, you get the sense that Jesus is on a very specific mission. Again and again he says his Father sent him into the world to accomplish his work (4:34; 5:30). One of his favorite titles for God the Father is “the one who sent me.” Everything Jesus does is for or from “the one who sent him.” But every once in a while, we get glimpses of a deeper truth about Jesus’ mission. Before time ever was, the Father gave the Son a mission to accomplish.
This comes out in a number of ways. For example, we read in 6:38-39 “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” The origins of Jesus’ mission preceded his coming into the world. He came to do something, because he already received the mission from the Father. His Father had given him a people, and he expected the Son to do everything it would take to bring them to glory on the last day.
We find the same truth in 10:14-18, where Jesus is the good shepherd. He lays down his life for the sheep. He rises from the dead for the sheep. He then intends to gather all the sheep he died to save. And all this, the Bible says, is part of the charge he received from the Father. Again, we find a set mission in place. The Father has given the Son a people, his sheep (cf. 10:29). And the Father has given Jesus a charge concerning those sheep. That charge is to lay his life down for the sheep, then rise from the dead and gather all those sheep into one fold. Jesus comes as the result of a charge already given.
And then consider Jesus’ high priestly prayer in 17:1-5. We come to a scene where we basically get to eavesdrop on the inner-communion between the Father and the Son. And Jesus prays like this, “Father, the hour has come [so predetermined plan]; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you [and then listen to the basis he gives for praying this way], since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (17:1-2).
What’s his confidence that the Father will answer his prayer? His confidence is that the Father has already given him authority over all flesh. This authority is something he granted the Son in eternity; and he did so in relation to the particular mission the Son would fulfill. The Son was to use his authority over all flesh to save a people the Father gives him. Even if they’re not even saved yet within history, there’s some sense in which the Father already gives them to the Son (17:24; cf. Rev 13:8). And the Son’s mission is to come and ensure their salvation at all costs to himself.
Then by the time you get to verse 24 in Jesus’ prayer, we find that the entire goal of his mission is this: that the people the Father gives the Son, may be with Jesus and the Father, to see the glory the Father has given the Son because the Father loved the Son before the foundation of the world.
Put it together: The Father loves the Son before creation. He chooses to give the Son a people who will enjoy the Son’s glory. But the only way they can enjoy that glory is if the Son agrees to save them. And being forever one with the Father, the Son agrees to save them. Just as a historical note, the church has sometimes called this the covenant of redemption. It’s a covenant between the persons of the Godhead quite apart from creation; and that covenant then governs all the other covenants in your Bible, like with Adam and Noah and Abraham and Moses and David and the new covenant as well.
What we’re seeing is that missions isn’t something that originated with the church. Rather, the church originated because God had a mission. It’s a mission the Son agreed to even before the creation of the world. Paul brings this up as well in places like Eph 1:4. He says God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. It was a plan for the fullness of time, which God set forth in Christ (Eph 1:9). And again in 2 Tim 1:9, we weren’t saved because of our works, but because of the Father’s own purpose and grace, which he gave us in his Son before the ages began.
Or we might even consider the connection Paul makes with marriage representing the mystery of Christ’s union with the church in Eph 5. He points us back to the garden. Adam and Eve’s marriage relationship was built to reflect Christ’s relationship with the church. Meaning, Christ’s relationship with his church existed before Adam was united to Eve, and their union was meant to reflect that truth.
The triune God’s mission precedes history. It rises not within history but outside history within the eternal persons of the Godhead.
2. The Triune God’s Mission Is Accomplished in History
Here’s a second big-picture observation: the triune God’s mission is accomplished in history. In other words, it wasn’t a mere plan within the eternal persons of the Godhead outside history. Each person played their role to enact the plan in history—which includes the creation of history itself through the Son—John 1:3, “all things were made through him”—and for the Son—Col 1:16, “all things were created through him and for him.” That means the whole universe was created in the first place, because the Father had a mission to accomplish that involved his Son becoming a person to represent and save the people God gave him. God created history to center it on the Son and then to enter it by sending the Son.
Now the question you may be asking is, “Does that mean God created the world through Jesus and for Jesus knowing the Fall would happen? Knowing that Adam would rebel and render all humanity guilty in sin?” The Bible says Yes to that question. Sending the Son into the world to die for sinners wasn’t plan B. It was the only plan. That doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for our sin or that God doesn’t hold us accountable. The Bible clearly teaches we are responsible for our sin and God does hold us accountable for all of it, even if he’s sovereign over it. Romans 1:18 says the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.
We may not understand all the mysteries of how God’s mission in eternity squares with human responsibility in history, but this we do know with absolute certainty: God put a plan in place to save me even before I rebelled against him. God loved me even before I failed him. And therein lies the only hope that I might be made new unworthy as I am. He foresaw my falseness and my pride, and he chose to love me, to give me to his Son, that I might enjoy his glory forever. You sang it earlier: Before God spoke and it was light / Before men fell in sin’s dark night / The Lord set forth redemption’s plan / That grace might find this wretched man (K. Puls, 1992).
But how does God actually accomplish the mission in history? Let me outline how all three persons of the Trinity accomplish the mission in history as they play their unique roles in redemption. And all this is from the Gospel of John. I won’t give you all the verse references, but the manuscript will be up on the web later if you want them.
The role of the Father
So to begin, we have the work of the Father. The Father creates the world through the Son (1:3). And despite the world’s rejection of him, he chooses to love the world by giving up his only Son (3:16). He then tells the world how he intends to give up his Son in the Scriptures, before he actually does it (5:36-38). He intends to give him up as a sacrifice (19:36). And then at the appointed time, the Father shows his love by actually sending the Son into the world (3:17; 6:29, 57).
Once he’s in the world, the Father gives all things into Jesus’ hands (3:36), bears witness that Jesus is his Son (1:33; 5:32, 34), gives the Spirit to Jesus without measure (3:34), and then shows him everything he’s doing—even when that means it will cost Jesus his life (3:35; 10:17). The Father then offers up Jesus on the cross as a sacrifice to take away sins (1:29; 19:37) and to liberate his children from death and the devil (8:21, 24, 32ff). By doing so, the Father glorifies the Son, showing that he alone is worthy to pay the price and he alone is worthy to be raised and seated at the right hand of honor and worship (5:23; 8:54; 12:28; 13:31-32).
The role of the Son
Then we have the Son. Everything the Son does, he does in unwavering submission to the Father. The Father sends him, and he comes (1:14; 3:13, 19, 31; 5:43). The Father gives him words, and he speaks them (3:11; 8:26, 28, 38, 47; 12:49-50). The Father gives him works, and he performs them (5:17, 19). In everything he does, he pursues not his own will, but his Father’s will (5:30; 6:38), not his own glory, but his Father’s glory (7:18). Everything about his life only pleases the Father (8:29; 13:3), even to the degree that everything the Son is and does reveals the Father perfectly to the world (1:18; 8:19; 12:45). To see Jesus is to see the Father in him (14:7, 9; cf. 10:30, 38).
That even includes seeing the Father’s love in him. The Father’s love for the world is seen in the Son’s submission, because the Son willingly lays down his life for those who don’t deserve it (3:16; 15:9). The Son comes as the Good Shepherd to save his Father’s sheep by dying for them (10:14-16). His passion to glorify the Father in saving his people costs him his life on the cross (12:27-28; 19:30). But he knows that’s not his end. The Son has authority to take his life up again (10:18). Neither sin, death, nor the devil can keep him in the grave. After three days, he takes up his life again, appears to his disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit (20:11-23).
The role of the Spirit
Which brings us to person number three in the triune mission, the Spirit. What is his role? Well, both Matthew and Luke tell us it was through the miraculous work of the Spirit that a virgin named Mary conceived and gave birth to Jesus (Matt 1:20; Luke 1:35). But John begins his testimony of the Spirit a bit later in the story, at the start of Jesus’ ministry. The Spirit helps John the Baptist identify Jesus as God’s Son. He does by descending and remaining on Jesus (1:32), just like the Father promised in Scripture. A messiah would come and be anointed with the Spirit, and that would be the sign that God was bringing forgiveness and renewal to his people (Isa 11:1; 42:1; 66:1).
The Spirit then stays with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, filling the Son without measure (3:34), so that the Son in turn gives the Spirit to all who come to him (4:14). Then once the Son completes his work and God glorifies him back to heaven, the Spirit comes at both the Father and Son’s request (1:33; 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7)—they will not leave their children as orphans (14:15). So, they send the Spirit.
The Spirit then continues the mission of the Father and the Son. He is another Helper (14:16). He indwells God’s people (14:17, 20), teaches them the truth (15:27), empowers the disciples to speak (15:27; 20:21-22), glorifies Jesus through their words (16:14), convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (16:8-11), causes people to be born again (3:6), and then brings them to Jesus for living water, so that dead and parched souls are transformed into rivers of eternal life (4:14; 7:38-39), even before Jesus comes back to finish the mission.
That’s how the triune God accomplishes his mission in history—the Father, Son, and Spirit, on mission to enact their plan to save a multitude for God’s glory and their everlasting joy. To put it shortly: “The Father chooses them / the Son gets bruised for them / The Spirit renews them and produces fruit in them.” Thank you, Shai Linne.
3. The Triune God’s Mission and the Church
Now, if this is all true—that God planned a mission before history and then enters history to accomplish it; and he does so as a trinity of persons from beginning to end—what might this mean for our mission as a church to the world?
Knowing God as Trinity compels us into missions
One thing it will mean is this: knowing God rightly as Trinity should compel us into missions, and in particular his mission to the world. I say this, because in our circles there’s a tendency for us to study God, even his existence as Trinity—we want our confession of the Godhead correct; we want to articulate sound doctrine on paper and in a classroom—and yet all the while we overlook his mission. To know God fully isn’t merely a matter of being able to state propositions about his attributes or his persons. The demons can do that and tremble. Knowing God truly includes devoting all your energies to his mission. To know him as Triune—and even more to know him as Triune Redeemer—and not be moved to mission is an indication we don’t know him rightly. It is devilish to take pride in refined theology that doesn’t move you to rescue people from hell.
The Father is seeking worshipers right now (4:23). He sent his Son to die for the forgiveness of their sins (1:29). And he has given the Holy Spirit to empower us right now to reap a world-wide harvest (4:35-38). This is the mission that existed in the Godhead before creation; and this is the mission he’s accomplishing now with or without you. So check yourself. Ask yourself, “Is my study of God compelling me into mission?” How’s it going to happen ladies, when you jump into 1 Peter this Thursday night? How’s it happening college and seminary students?
When you look at the Trinity and see the Father loving and giving, and the Son obeying and suffering, and the Spirit filling and mobilizing—how are those truths moving your hands and feet to go after the Samaritan woman and the people on South Las Vegas Trail and the 1.6 billion Muslims and the 950 million Hindu peoples of the world? If our knowledge and holiness is missing mission, it isn’t true knowledge or holiness, because it fails to represent the true God who is on mission.
The Father, Son, & Spirit’s mission should shape our mission
Another thing this will mean: the Father, Son, and Spirit’s mission should shape our mission. I get this from 20:21-22. Jesus says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This is what I meant earlier when I said the church’s mission to the world flows out of the eternal Trinity. Not only did the Trinity plan to rescue us, not only did the Trinity actually rescue us, the Trinity also commissions us into the world. And God does so on this basis: we go as the Father sent the Son; we go because the Son sent us; and we go in the strength of the Spirit.
That means we need to take a good look at how the Father sent the Son if we’re to know our mission. He sent the Son into a dark world; and knowing that it would cost him his life, the Son came. He sent the Son to the prostitute; and knowing the slander he would receive, the Son found her. He sent the Son to peoples of all ethnicities and social classes; and knowing the spectacle it would make him, the Son entered their culture. He sent the Son to invest in the poor; and knowing the hardship it would bring, the Son invested.
That’s how we go, folks. We enter the darkness of peoples’ lives to rescue them from the darkness. Not to participate in the darkness, but to rescue. In the same way the Son did not hesitate to meet us in our darkest sins, we cannot hesitate to meet others in theirs and speak a word of deliverance. We cannot pretend to be Christian or a church if this sort of entering people’s lives doesn’t characterize our life. Jesus entered our wrecked lives and entered a broken world, in order to save us. And our mission as a church must be the same. We are to be characterized by entry into people’s lives, not a wait-and-see mentality. Our depravity didn’t stop Jesus from coming to us.
The Father also sent Jesus into the world to gather—not just to go his sheep, but to gather them into one fold, the fold of the church. Our mission must be the same. We cannot go to people, preach to them, watch them repent, and then walk away. We must gather them into the church. It’s in the church where Jesus exercises his care for his flock. He gives them leaders and teachers. The Spirit gifts people to minister to one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to hold us accountable to the truth.
Some of us grew up in this sort of background that was content to tally up another convert without ever helping that convert into the church, where they could experience an alternative life from the world and receive appropriate care. May it not be so of us as we take Jesus’ word to the nations. When people respond to the gospel in positive ways, let your brothers and sisters know. Drive them to care group. Have them in your homes. Sit with them on Sunday. Show them how to find Luke 24. We go to people in the world; and we gather people from the world. This is how the Father sent the Son, and how the Trinity shapes our mission.
The triune God’s mission informs our proclamation
The triune God’s mission also shapes our proclamation. It’s part of preaching Christ. Salvation is found in no other message than a message that is triune. Now, please hear me rightly. I’m not saying you need to walk up to people on the street and hand them the Nicene Creed. But I am saying that what we tell the world must be Trinitarian. Even something like John 3:16 is Trinitarian. “God [the Father] so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life [eternal life comes by the Spirit (4:14; 7:38-39)].”
That means we always proclaim the Son as no one less than the one true God. If Jesus isn’t God, his cross doesn’t save. Our only message to the world is the message of a triune salvation: it originates with the Father, it’s mediated by the Son, and it’s applied by the Spirit—all three persons distinct but equal in divinity and united in purpose. No other message brings God glory and reveals the Son as he truly is, than the triune message of Scripture. It’s integral to the Great Commission: as we make disciples, we baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19).
This triune message is unique among the religions of the world. One God in a trinity of persons? We don’t have to travel very far where that message is offensive. There are Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses in our backyard that say that’s laughable. I’ve had them laugh at me on my door step. Judaism and Islam think it’s the height of blasphemy. But the Bible says it’s good news.
Some of you will soon be going out to engage Muslim people with the gospel. The Trinity will be a crucial part of your outreach to those who adhere to Islam. Islam teaches that God is a solitary monad, with unity only (Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, 443). Allah is one, they say. He has no need of a son, much less a son who dies by crucifixion. God’s favor on someone is evidenced by success. But listen to this from Robert Letham: “The Islamic doctrine of God is centered on power and will. There is virtually no room for love. The kind of love the Qu’ran attributes to Allah—and it does so rarely—is a love for those who are just, who purify themselves and fight for his cause. It has no conception of a prevenient love for sinners, or of the supreme being himself providing the way self-sacrificially for sinners to return to him” (Letham, The Holy Trinity, 443).
What he’s saying is that in the religion of Islam God cannot be a relational being and therefore love cannot truly exist in him. Love is something one person has for another. If God is a monad, he cannot be loving. So, when the Qu’ran says Allah is loving, it’s using the language of “love” to disguise his tyranny. But that’s not the case with the Bible. God has revealed himself here as one in three persons. He is love, because Father and Son have loved one another for eternity (3:35; 5:20; 14:31; 17:24). And it’s out of that eternal, self-giving love for each other that redemption flows to sinners like us. Take your Muslim friends to the Father’s mission of love in the Son, while praying for the Spirit to convert them. That’s the message we take to the Muslim world.
The triune God’s mission produces humility in our mission
And we take it with humility, which is another way the Trinity shapes our mission as a church. The triune God’s mission should produce humility in our mission, not just because we find ourselves saved—even though that should be enough—but because that’s what our God is like. Think about it. Every point in the mission of God, each person of the Trinity is acting in total humility. The Father doesn’t spare his only Son, he gives him up for us all. The Son doesn’t do his own thing—he doesn’t seek his own glory; he seeks his Father’s glory and submits to the Father’s will. And he does so at the cost of his life. And the Spirit too is full of humility. He doesn’t draw attention to his power, he uses all his power to shine the spotlight on Jesus.
We go to the world with the same humility, because this humility characterizes the God of our salvation. And if we trust in Jesus, God gives us this humility (Phil 2:1-12). We look to the interests of others as better than our own. We give up our lives to bring others to the Father. We submit to the Father’s will, even when it’s uncomfortable. We center everybody’s attention on Jesus with our words and deeds. The goal isn’t to win arguments, but to win souls through humble speech and self-less deeds that reflect the true God to a world without him. We don’t win with force; we win with humility.
The Son will eventually come and execute judgment with force, followed by legions of his Father’s holy angels. But that day is not yet and also not ours to take up. Until then, we trust him and entrust ourselves to his way of humility.
The triune God’s mission gives hope for the mission
One more thought: the mission of the Trinity should give us great hope for missions. All the Father gave the Son will come to him by the Spirit. The Father chose them. The Son already died for them. And the Spirit won’t miss a single one of them. No matter what obstacles or language barriers or cultural differences or evil strongholds are in the way, he will get them the gospel by moving his church, they will hear it, and they will come to Jesus. The unity of the persons in the Godhead means the plan will not fail. A multitude of people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation will be present at the throne (Rev 5:9-10). And the day will come, when they join in Trinitarian worship that will never end.
Rev 22:1-5 says there will be the “river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the [New Jerusalem]. Also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
Make it your prayer every day that God would use you to increase the volume of worship among all peoples. He will hear you, and he will answer you. The mission of the Trinity guarantees it.