THEMES: When you think of the Trinity, Triune God, what comes to mind?
Union, Community, One
This Sunday is the last in the first half of the Church Calendar.
From November to June we journey through the events of Christ’s human life and explore the meaning of the God who became flesh, and the Reign of God which Jesus preached and practiced.
Trinity Sunday is the final Sunday in this journey, reminding us that we encounter God as Creator, Redeemer and Empowerer.
In the weeks to come, the Calendar moves into Ordinary Time (also known as Kingdom Time) when we learn how to practice, in our own lives, the truths we see in Christ’s.
The understanding of God as Trinity is a great mystery.
We will never fully understand the nature of God – if we could, God would not be God – and so we need to learn to be comfortable with questions, with not understanding, and with always being open to learn new things about God.
One thing that we can learn about God from the doctrine of the Trinity is what John writes in his first letter: God is love.
When we think of God as Trinity, this gives us a glimpse into what John meant.
God is not an individual, alone and isolated.
Rather God’s Being is a community in which love is shared between the three Persons.
But love always grows and expands, which means that the love within God is always reaching out to embrace God’s Creation.
This week we will open ourselves to the mystery of God and seek to allow the love of the Trinity to fill us and transform us.
So, from the Old Testament reading for today – the call of the prophet Isaiah. It was a time of grief for Isaiah’s nation. The good king Uzziah had died, which left the country with an uncertain future. With grief in his heart, Isiah, an official in the King’s court, goes to the Temple and encounters God dramatically.
Notice the trinitarian nature of this experience: The seraphim chant the threefold, “Holy”; God speaks in the plural asking, “Who will go for us?”; and Isaiah’s experience of God is threefold, as he encounters God’s holiness and glory, as he is cleansed and as he is sent out as a prophet.
Isaiah’s vision reveals the community and unity of purpose within God’s nature, but it also shows us God’s desire to be in community and in unity of purpose with us. God does not sit far off in some distant heaven. God is actively involved in the world God made, and God actively invites women and men to experience God’s presence and share in God’s life. Furthermore, God actively recruits us to share in God’s mission.
Think about that for a moment – God seeks to share with us the very life and work of God!
So, how then do we experience the triune God in the Gospel today?
3:1 Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the ruling council (called the high council, or the Sanhedrin). The Pharisees were a group of religious leaders whom Jesus and John the Baptist often criticized for being hypocrites (see the note on Matthew 3:7 for more on the Pharisees). Most Pharisees were intensely jealous of Jesus because he undermined their authority and challenged their views. But Nicodemus was searching, and he believed that Jesus had some answers. A learned teacher himself, he came to Jesus to be taught. No matter how intelligent and well educated you are, you must come to Jesus with an open mind and heart so he can teach you the truth about God.
3:1ff Nicodemus came to Jesus personally, although he could have sent one of his assistants. He wanted to examine Jesus for himself to separate fact from rumor. Perhaps Nicodemus was afraid of what his peers, the Pharisees, would say about his visit, so he came after dark. Later, when he understood that Jesus was truly the Messiah, he spoke up boldly in his defense (7:50, 51). Like Nicodemus, we must examine Jesus for ourselves—others cannot do it for us. Then, if we believe he is who he says, we will want to speak up for him.
3:3 What did Nicodemus know about the kingdom? From the Bible he knew it would be ruled by God, it would be restored on earth, and it would incorporate God’s people. Jesus revealed to this devout Pharisee that the kingdom would come to the whole world (3:16), not just the Jews, and that Nicodemus wouldn’t be a part of it unless he was personally born again (3:5). This was a revolutionary concept: the kingdom is personal, not national or ethnic, and its entrance requirements are repentance and spiritual rebirth. Jesus later taught that God’s kingdom has already begun in the hearts of believers (Luke 17:21). It will be fully realized when Jesus returns again to judge the world and abolish evil forever (Revelation 21; 22).
3:5, 6 “Born of water and the Spirit” could refer to (1) the contrast between physical birth (water) and spiritual birth (Spirit), or (2) being regenerated by the Spirit and signifying that rebirth by Christian baptism. The water may also represent the cleansing action of God’s Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Nicodemus undoubtedly would have been familiar with God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:25, 26. Jesus was explaining the importance of a spiritual rebirth, saying that people don’t enter the kingdom by living a better life, but by being spiritually reborn.
3:6 Who is the Holy Spirit? God is three persons in one—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God became a man in Jesus so that Jesus could die for our sins. Jesus rose from the dead to offer salvation to all people through spiritual renewal and rebirth. When Jesus ascended into heaven, his physical presence left the earth, but he promised to send the Holy Spirit so that his spiritual presence would still be among mankind (see Luke 24:49). The Holy Spirit first became available to all believers at Pentecost (Acts 2). Whereas in Old Testament days the Holy Spirit empowered specific individuals for specific purposes, now all believers have the power of the Holy Spirit available to them. For more on the Holy Spirit, read 14:16–28; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13; and 2 Corinthians 1:22.
3:8 Jesus explained that we cannot control the work of the Holy Spirit. He works in ways we cannot predict or understand. Just as you did not control your physical birth, so you cannot control your spiritual birth. It is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16; 1 Corinthians 2:10–12; 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 6).
3:10, 11 This Jewish teacher of the Bible knew the Old Testament thoroughly, but he didn’t understand what it said about the Messiah. Knowledge is not salvation. You should know the Bible, but even more important, you should understand the God whom the Bible reveals and the salvation that God offers.
3:14, 15 When the Israelites were wandering in the desert, God sent a plague of snakes to punish the people for their rebellious attitudes. Those doomed to die from snakebite could be healed by obeying God’s command to look up at the elevated bronze snake and by believing that God would heal them if they did (see Numbers 21:8, 9). Similarly, our salvation happens when we look up to Jesus, believing he will save us. God has provided this way for us to be healed of sin’s deadly bite.
3:16 The entire gospel comes to a focus in this verse. God’s love is not static or self-centered; it reaches out and draws others in. Here God sets the pattern of true love, the basis for all love relationships—when you love someone dearly, you are willing to give freely to the point of self-sacrifice. God paid dearly with the life of his Son, the highest price he could pay. Jesus accepted our punishment, paid the price for our sins, and then offered us the new life that he had bought for us. When we share the gospel with others, our love must be like Jesus’—willingly giving up our own comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love.
The key for this week, then, is how God encounters us, in God’s Triune nature, and transforms us into Christ-like, kingdom living, children of God.
The Trinitarian celebration is not just a fascinating theological exercise, but a moment of opening ourselves, in worship, to this transforming encounter with our majestic and mysterious God.
Lord, yes, let it be so! Amen.