Saturday, June 14, 2014

Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8 * Psalm 29 * Rev. 4:1-11 * John 3:1-17

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Were I to go around asking people what they think these words mean, many would think that to see the kingdom of God is to “go to heaven when you die.” I would not want, in any way, to lessen one’s faith in the gift of eternal life. The truth of God’s promise is certain, that all who are in Christ will live forever in God’s kingdom. But to see the kingdom of God is not simply a future experience to which we look forward; to see the kingdom of God is to see here and now that God’s kingdom has come. The fullness of that coming will be in the future, when Christ returns in glory to rule forever as king of the whole earth and will be glorified in His saints. But the kingdom of God has already come, and that kingdom presents each of us with a daily choice about where we stand, what we do, and how we think.
          On Trinity Sunday you may well expect a doctrinal dissertation on the theological truth that our One God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18,19). In previous years I have presented that to the best of my ability by God’s grace. But today I want to proclaim how that revelation of the Trinity has everything to do with seeing the kingdom of God. The revelation of the Trinity is also the revelation of our salvation. God did not use clever academic theologians to reveal the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather, God entered into His own created world and revealed our salvation and the doctrine of the Trinity by personally bringing His kingdom into the world of human experience.
          The coming of Christ into the world as the Incarnate Word was a real historical event in matter, space and time. As Saint John the Apostle put it:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full (I John 1:1-4).”

And the coming of the Holy Spirit when the day of Pentecost had fully come, about which we read just last week (Acts 2), with visible manifestations and clearly evident supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, was also a real event in the world of matter, space and time. Hence the shocking, downright scandalous words (but for being the truth) of St. Peter:

“This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear Acts 2:32,33).”

Indeed, the Book of Acts is part two of the Incarnation. In the Gospels we see the Word made flesh, Jesus the living embodiment of the kingdom of God. We see Him doing good, healing, teaching, casting out demons, showing compassion to those who were sick or tormented, forgiving sins, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God (see Acts 10:38). We see His victory over sin and death by His cross and passion, and by His resurrection and glorification. In everything Jesus did or said, recorded in the Gospels, we see the kingdom of God overthrowing the power of darkness and commanding full human allegiance.

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:20,21).”

Indeed, at that point the kingdom of God was a Man, the Incarnate Word Himself, overthrowing the powers of darkness, proclaiming light and revealing truth. Wherever He stepped foot, the kingdom of God was present.
And it clashed violently with the sinful world. It was not a peaceful coming. It met with the full resistance of human sin and of demons. It always came with a demonstration of power. Whether healing, casting out demons or calling Lazarus and others back into the world by overthrowing death itself, the power of God’s kingdom was manifest. It was seen and heard. Nonetheless, the time came when the world was allowed to reward the good Jesus had done with the cross of suffering and death. The kingdom of God was not welcomed by the sinful world. But the greatest demonstration of power followed on the third day, when Christ rose from the dead into a life that never ends.
Do you see how that is mirrored in the experience of the Apostles in the Book of Acts? Once again the kingdom of God came into the world, for “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4).” They too went about preaching, and healing and doing good. They too proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God, by proclaiming all that Jesus had done and taught. They too worked miracles, cast out demons, and clashed with the sinful world. They too were given their crosses of suffering and death, as the world persecuted Christ in them. But they were never defeated.
The kingdom of God had come with the power of the Holy Spirit; the Church became the living Body of Christ by His power and several gifts (I Corinthians 12). And in these two great historical manifestations of the kingdom of God, the coming of Christ and then the coming of the Holy Spirit, human salvation was revealed and so was the mysterious truth of the Trinity. For the Father sent the Son, and the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit. In both of these historical events it was God Who was manifesting His power and his presence, shining a light in the vast darkness of human sin and pain, setting captives free and giving life to the dead.
St. Paul constantly used the simple little phrase, “In Christ.” It is in his epistles. What does that mean? How is that your identity? The answer is, in having been born again you were translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son.

“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister. (Colossians 1:9-23)”

I could use my sermon time this Sunday to give you a very academic talk about the doctrine of the Trinity, and present it in abstract terms. There is a place for theological dissertation. But I have preached to you the gospel of the Kingdom of God, because that is the cue I get from today’s reading of the Gospel of John, chapter three. My great concern now is that you see the kingdom of God, that you see it in history, in the future when Christ returns; but also that you see it now.
Two great forces demand your daily allegiance: "Choose this day whom ye will serve (Joshua 24:15)." One is the kingdom of God and the other is the power of darkness. Or we could say, the Lord Jesus Christ or the world. When I say “the world” I mean it as St. John used the term. He wrote, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not John 1:10).” The world, as used that way, means the great power that controls whole nations of human beings, that sends them to war against one another, that moves them to exploit the poor, to steal basic necessities of life from whole peoples, and basically to deceive everyone into sin and death. It lures you with “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17).”
But you are not of the world. Christ has chosen you out of the world, “Therefore the world hateth you (John 17:19).” You have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. And, as that kingdom was manifested in power in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts, we can learn to depend on that same power. Every minute presents us with a choice between the corrupt thinking of the world, and the truth of God’s word. Every issue, every moral choice, all of your daily actions – we must not live as the world around us lives; we must think not as the world thinks, but as servants of God with renewed minds (Romans 12:1,2).

My message to you all on this Trinity Sunday is this: You have been born again and you are in Christ. Open your eyes now to see the kingdom of God.

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