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A few years ago, an international student attended our Bible study. He enjoyed eating with our group and discussing the Bible, but he was firm in his beliefs as a Muslim. He said, “How can a great God have sexual relations with a human? It’s blasphemy.” He had heard that Christians believe in three gods: God the Father, Mother Mary, and Jesus the Son—which, as you know, is inaccurate. So I explained what we actually believe.
Like him, you too may have wondered, “What does it mean to say Jesus is ‘the Son of God’? How can God be one and yet three persons?”
These are two questions I want to address in today’s message, as part of our study of Mark’s Gospel.
What does it mean to say Jesus is “the Son of God”?
In Mark’s writings about the life and teachings of Jesus, he made Jesus’ identity clear from the very beginning. In chapter 1, Mark’s opening line is: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God”. Jesus is not just the great teacher or the great miracle worker, but the very Son of God.
Let’s refresh our memories about the first scene where Jesus appears. Turn to Mark 1:9-11.
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
What does it mean to say that Jesus is God’s Son? Here are three thoughts.
First, the concept of God as a father wasn’t new to the Jews of Jesus’ time. A few weeks ago Pastor Ino preached on the book of Isaiah, which was written hundreds of years before Jesus’ time. In 63:16, Isaiah prays this: “you, Lord, are our Father”. And to give an even older example, hundreds of years before even Isaiah, God asked Moses confront Pharaoh and say this: “Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). Both these examples describe the nation of Israel as God’s child.
So when Mark portrays God as a Father, he isn’t teaching anything new. What’s new is that Mark applies the role of Son not just to the nation of Israel but to an individual person—Jesus. Mark 1:11, “And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Right after the baptism, the Holy Spirit sends Jesus out to the desert to be tested by Satan for 40 days. In a way, this reenacts the history of Israel, where God declares Israel as his son, takes the Israelites out of Egypt, and lets them wander the desert for 40 years. But unlike Israel, who was unfaithful to God, Jesus would prove to be the faithful and sinless son. So that’s my first thought: Jesus is the faithful, perfect son that Israel never was.
My second thought is this: As a Son, Jesus followed the footsteps of his Father. Before modern times, it was common for a son to follow his father’s profession. That’s why many theorize that Jesus was a carpenter—his earthly father Joseph was a carpenter. But more than that, Jesus saw himself as doing the work that his Father God did. The Gospel of Mark is full of examples where Jesus does the kind of work only God can do: healing, driving out demons, raising the dead back to life, calming a storm, multiplying food, and forgiving sins.
Last of all, and most importantly, when Mark calls Jesus “the Son of God,” he is saying that Jesus shares his Father’s divinity. In the same chapter, Mark refers to Jesus as “the Lord”—1:3 says, “Prepare the way for the Lord”. “The Lord” is a name that usually refers to the God of Israel. So Mark is saying: Jesus is not just the Son of God, the Messiah, but also God himself!
This is exactly what the earliest Christians believed in. This belief in Jesus’s divinity isn’t some later fabrication. While Jesus was alive, his own opponents recognized he was claiming to be God.
Take John chapter 5, where the Jewish religious leaders were upset that Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath day. He responded, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working . . . the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:17, 19). Verse 18: “For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
Now, let me summarize everything so far in one sentence: Jesus is both the Son of God and God himself.
How can God be one and three persons?
This leads us to the question, “How can God be one and yet three persons?”
We call this idea “the Trinity” or “the Triune God”. The Bible never actually uses these terms, but throughout the New Testament, the idea of a Three-in-One God can be seen clearly.
Let’s go back to the baptism scene in Mark 1. In this scene, we see all three members of the Trinity present: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Read verses 10 and 11: “Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
So far, we know that both Father and Son are divine, but what about the Spirit? Within the Gospel of Mark, there is little mention of the Spirit’s nature. All we have is 3:28-29, where Jesus says that anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will be guilty of an eternal sin. Jesus equates offending the Spirit with a sin against God. To get a greater understanding of Spirit and his role, you can read the book of Acts.
If Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all share a divine nature, are they actually three gods then? This cannot be, because Jesus says later, in Mark 12:29, “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
I find this the easiest way to think of the Trinity: God is one being but three persons. Let me define what I mean by “being” and “person.” Think of “being” as “what”. And think of “person” as “who”. What and who. For example, what am I? A human is what I am. But who am I? See Huang is who I am.
As a human, I am just one being, one person. However, the God of the Bible is different. What is He? God. Who is He? He is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
They may share the same God-nature, the three persons are distinct from each other. If they were just the same person wearing different hats, why would Jesus pray to the Father? That would mean praying to himself, which is odd. Similarly, it is not the Father or the Holy Spirit who died on the cross, but rather Jesus. We can see that the three persons of the Trinity play different roles. Here are two examples:
The first example is how they play different roles in interacting with humankind. God the Father sent his Son Jesus to die on the Cross for us. The Father sends, the Son dies, the Father raises him back to life. After the Son spends his final days with his disciples, he returns to the Father. The Father then sends the Spirit to live inside all believers. Because of the Spirit, God’s presence is with us always. The Spirit empowers, teaches, and changes us to live for the glory of the Father. You can see that all three members of the Trinity are involved in the act of salvation.
The second example of different roles within the Trinity is this. In John 14:28, Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I.” It doesn’t mean that Jesus is a weaker version of God. It doesn’t mean Jesus is less divine since he is also human. Rather, it shows a certain kind of relationship between Father and Son.
It’s like saying that Prime Minister Kishida is a greater man than me. It’s not that he is more human and I am less human. We are equally human. But, in his appointed role as prime minister, he is superior to me. Likewise, the Father is superior to the Son—in his authority, for example. In John 14:10, Jesus says that the Son speaks with his Father’s authority. The Gospel of John is a great place to read more about the Father and Son’s relationship, especially chapters 14 to 17.
There are more things that can be said about the Trinity, but let me just share one final thing: each person of the Trinity is fully God. For example, Jesus is not one-third of God—as if he was one-third of a pie. He is fully God.
The Trinity is hard to understand. But we don’t have to understand God fully in order to be Christians or to experience his goodness.
Even with advances in science, we still can’t understand nature fully. Take, for example, light. Even today, scientists cannot agree if light is a particle (that is, a straight line) or a wave. These two qualities are contradictory, yet scientists believe that light is both a particle and a wave. Nature is physically observable and yet we can’t understand it fully. What more with God?
We may not fully understand light, but we accept its existence and know we can’t live without it. Likewise, we don’t have to fully understand the mystery of God to experience how real he is and to thrive under the warmth of his light.
Let me end with this thought. In all these theological discussions, there is something personal and meaningful for us:
Just as the Father and Son shared a loving relationship, so God invites each of us to have a relationship with him. It is his very nature to love.
Without relationships, there is no love. Long before you and I or any humans were created, the Father and Son loved one another and were deeply united. It is God’s nature to have relationships. That’s why God cares so much about wanting us to love him and love our neighbors.
Human relationships were meant to reflect the relationships within the Trinity. The reason why we yearn for family, friendship, or love is because these things are in God’s nature and we were created to be like God. Life was never meant to be lived in isolation or self-sufficiency, but in community and interdependence—with our fellow human beings and also with God himself.
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