Trinity Sunday, 2016

 

For the Epistle. Revelation 4:1-11

The Gospel.  St. John 3:1-15

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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The main points of Christian theology come to a high point today on Trinity Sunday.  We have gone through Scripture lessons from the birth of Jesus at Christmas, His short three year preaching, healing and teaching ministry, to His crucifixion, death and burial.

 

And then we gloried as news of Him rising from the dead again came to our ears.  We watched and listened as the Disciples were overcome with joy as they met their Master once again alive in the Upper Room. 

 

 

He made a number of significant appearances over the course of a 40-day period.

 

Then He was taken up before their very eyes into heaven….but not leaving them comfortless and alone, but coming to them still… only through the power of the Holy Spirit… beginning at Pentecost and on up to this present day.

 

So the high point is today’s lessons and the beginning of a new season as we reach Trinity Sunday.

 

This is the day in which, through our lessons we see the different persons of the Trinity…the Triune God and how He functions in redeeming both the Christian and the world.

 

“During all this time the Church has made us remember with thankful hearts those unspeakable benefits we receive from the Father, first by his Son, and then by his Holy Spirit. 

 

This part of the Christian year concludes on Trinity Sunday when the Church gives praise and glory to the whole Trinity, three persons in One God.”[1] 

 

And we are now beginning the second half of the Christian year, the Trinity season, “…which prompts us to conform our lives to the truth we have seen in the first half of the year.”[2]

 

English clergyman Charles Wheatley says of this coming Trinity Season: “From Trinity Sunday to Advent, the Gospels are not chosen as peculiarly proper to this or that Sunday,

(for that could only be observed in the greater festivals), but such passages are selected [and are conducive] to… making us good Christians:

 

 

such as are the holy doctrine, deeds, and miracles of the blessed Jesus, who always went about doing good, and which the Church always proposes to our imitation.... The Epistles tend to the same end, being frequent exhortations to an uninterrupted practice of all Christian virtues.”[3]

 

In other words, this coming season our lessons will be for our edification and the building up of our Christian lives, in holiness and righteousness.

 

We can see how this is done in the life of each Christian through the working of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

We have seen what God has done and to what lengths He has gone to save us…through the first half of the year. 

 

 

He has taken on human flesh, died for us...

Risen from the dead conquering death for us.  He has ascended into Heaven ahead of us as the first-fruits of those who will partake in a future heavenly glory.

 

We have seen all of this in our lessons and liturgy in the first half of the Christian Calendar year.  And we move into the second half of the year now thinking about all that has been done for us….God working for us… now we will be seeing all the ways in which God will be working in us.      

 

In today’s Gospel lesson.  Jesus is met by Nicodemus in the night.  He comes to Jesus to speak to Him.

 

Nicodemus, a ruler and high ranking Jewish leader, He acknowledges that Jesus must have God with Him, for no one can do these signs…not one can speak this way….with such authority…

No one can do all that Jesus does, if God is not working through Him and is in fact with Him.

 

Nicodemus does not seem to be coming across as the antagonistic unbeliever in this account.  But he certainly has not come to Jesus because He desires to become a wholehearted follower either.  But he does see that there is something special about Jesus that no one has possessed before.

 

And Jesus’ answer is quite striking.  In fact Jesus is not directly replying to the statement in a way that we might expect with a yes or no answer and some comments as to what is really happening. 

 

As is usual for Jesus, He is redirecting the person’s questions or comments or thoughts in a more proper path. 

 

Nicodemus does not ask a question here.  He states a fact. 

But there is a question embedded in it and Jesus detects it.

 

No one can do what you do unless God is with Him.  There is almost an uncontrollable curiosity about Jesus.  Who is this man?

 

He comes from Nazareth…and we know nothing good comes from that dump.

He speaks with some sort of tone of authority almost as if everything He says carries some special weight. 

He reads the Scriptures in a way that conveys authority….almost as if He authored them Himself.

 
He even applies certain Scriptures to Himself, making Himself the subject of them.

 

So we might see Nicodemus as saying something like: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs unless God is with Him…

so, is God with you? 

 

We see that God guides you in some way….inspires you, but can there really be more to you than what we see outwardly?”

 

“We see your miracles and there is no doubt they are genuine. You speak and read with authority.”

 

But Nicodemus still comes across here as one who has drawn inconclusive evidence.  “What are we missing?”

 

So, Jesus replies: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

 

And this is the best answer that could be given.  Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.

 

Why does Jesus say this?

What Jesus is doing here, is plowing the field.  He is preparing the soil of Nicodemus’ heart for the seeds of truth.

He is preparing it for planting something that will take root and grow…hopefully.

 

To say no one can enter the Kingdom of God is to say ‘no one can see the things of God (like the miracles you say you see, and the words which you hear me say) and truly believe them, unless you are born from God…unless God opens your heart to hear it and accept it and embrace it.’

 

You can see things all day long of miraculous origin but if you do not have the eyes of faith, you will never believe.

 

Recall Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Both go their respective rewards and the Rich Man, in hell pleads that if someone perhaps could go to his brothers who are still alive….

if someone could come back from the dead and warn them, then they will believe.

 

And the closing line from that story is that even if one rises from the dead, ….if they have rejected the words of Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe if one rises from the dead.

 

It is true that if we are not born again, born of the Spirit, we cannot go to heaven but it is also true that if we are not born again we cannot even begin to perceive the things of heaven.  We cannot believe spiritual things.

 

To be born again is the very starting point.

 

Nicodemus, you are standing here, unable to fathom what is going on and who I am because the Spirit of God has not yet opened your eyes.

 

 

 

This is the universal first principle that all men must know, and the first thing that must happen to all men if they are to come to the knowledge of the Kingdom of God.   They must be born again.

 

So, as we see, Nicodemus, not yet grasping all that Jesus says, replies: “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

 

This is the folly of the Gospel message to those who are still blind to it.  This is a nonsensical thing Jesus is saying on the surface.  To be born twice does not make sense.

 

But with the eyes of faith, we see that it makes perfect sense. Jesus is saying to him…and we too need to listen to this…again and again as a reminder.

 

 

 

No one “…can truly be united to the Church, so as to be reckoned among the children of God, until he has been previously renewed.” [4]

 

This is a “first principle of faith.”

One must be born again.

 

The basic idea here is that He intends to “…exhort Nicodemus to newness of life, because he was not capable of receiving the Gospel, until he began to be a new man.  It is therefore, a simple statement, that we must be born again, in order that we may be children of God, and that the Holy Spirit is the Author of this second birth.”[5]

 

Jesus goes on here to tell him “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” 

 

And though we have in the Church narrowed this to the Sacrament of Baptism, and baptism is necessary for the Christian and should not be rejected, Jesus is speaking more broadly here of the general work of the Holy Spirit of regeneration.

 

The Spirit regenerates, and gives new birth, not the water or the fire. 

 

But we see at certain times in the Scriptures where the Spirit’s work is tied to elements like water and fire.

 

Nevertheless, Nicodemus replies to this:  “How can these things be?” Jesus’ words are still not making sense. Still not penetrating.  He is in fact in the original language saying more something like: “This cant be true.”

 

This is the reply of the natural man.  The worldly man.  The man not born of the Spirit.  All of this sounds so strange and foreign. 

Or worse, stupid and unbelievable.

 

Paul twice in 1 Corinthians explains this phenomenon.  He says:  “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV)

 

The same thing.  The message of a dying savior…nailed to a cross to bring salvation to others is foolishness to unbelievers….who are perishing because of their unbelief.

 

But to those of us who see the cross and know that the message behind it is our salvation, it is the best of all news possible.

 

Then down a bit, Paul says: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, [and we might add those who are born again by the Spirit]…to those who are called by God…

both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24 ESV)

 

And this is what Jesus says to Nicodemus today.  “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”   No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [that is Jesus Christ]

 

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:2-15 ESV)

 

So by now, the Holy Trinity should be becoming more visible to us today.

 

The Father, He has sent the Son. He sends to Son to give life to those who will accept and believe in Him.

 

The Son, comes of His own accord to save a dying world.

 

The Holy Spirit, who must open up the heart and make His abode there in order for one to accept the Son and the Father.

 

All three working here in this passage from John 3.  The Father and the Son and the Spirit all working in concert to bring the elect to faith.   

 

If we are here today as believers, it is solely because of the work of the Holy Trinity opening our eyes to believe.

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 



[1] http://www.lectionarycentral.com/trinity/CommonPrayer.html

[2] IBID

[3] http://www.lectionarycentral.com/trinity/CommonPrayer.html [bracketed portion mine, N.E.+]

[4] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 1, p. 108). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 1, p. 110). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.