The Trinitarian Gospel through Cross and Crown, Fourth Sunday in Lent, John 3:14-21

Fourth Sunday in Lent at Providence Church (CREC)

March 22nd, 2009.

Pastor Uri Brito

Eighth Sermon

Title: The Trinitarian Gospel through Cross and Crown, SERMON AUDIO HERE.

Text: John 3:14-21

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Prayer: Our Lord, you are the light of the world, whoever follows you will not walk in darkness, but will walk in the light of life. Teach us by the light of your revelation to see Christ our Lord and never turn from Him, but walk in Him all our days. In His Name, Amen.

Sermon: The gospel of St. Mark presents Jesus as the great King, whereas the gospel of St. John sees Jesus as the great Priest. It is a priestly gospel. We have seen that the priest cleanses the temple, but the priest also offers humanity as a gift to the Father. The way He does that, in the words of our Shorter Catechism, “is to reconcile us to God.”[1] The mission of our Lord as priest is to reconcile lost humanity to God; to transform a dark heart into a bright new heart of flesh.

The Old Testament priests were sufficient for that time, but they are not sufficient for this new era of the Kingdom. The people need a faithful priest; a mature priest; one who can commune with the Father in perfect harmony.

In chapter 2 of John, Jesus cleanses the temple and promises to bring a new temple on the third day. He spoke of his own body, which would be raised. Christ is the new temple. Christ is the last temple. In fact, there is no more need for a new temple not now, not in the future, not ever, because Christ is the final temple.

In chapter 3 of John, Jesus our Priest is on His mission again to clean. If He cleanses the physical temple, He now is going to clean the spiritual temple. This is the scenario that unfolds in chapter 3.

Nicodemus, a trained scholar in the law, a Pharisee par excellence, comes to Jesus by night. Now we have to remember that the words placed in the Scriptures are not randomly placed, they have a purpose. They are there to tell us something about the nature of the text. In verse 1, we see that Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. This is not just giving us an approximate time reference, but it is a continual theme and pattern throughout the gospel of John. Why the night? Why not in the middle of the day? There may be various reasons why he wanted to meet at night. It is possible that Nicodemus was looking for a private meeting with the Lord.  He didn’t want the people to see that a well-trained scholar of the law was asking the new comer questions. He may have been sympathetic to the ministry of Jesus. Or maybe, Nicodemus saw Jesus cleansing the temple, and he too, wanted to be cleansed. These are all valid reasons, but it does not reach the depth of John’s usage of the word “night.”

This takes us back to the question why does the text say that he came by night? The answer appears simple in light of John’s theology. The Jews in the first century were captive to the power of darkness. He came at night, because they were men of the night. The night represented their evil actions. In chapter 3:19, Jesus says that humanity, but the Jewish leaders in particular, loved darkness more than light because their deeds are evil.

In the secret of the night, Nicodemus comes to Jesus. He says that Jesus does what He does because He is from God in verse 2. Notice that he says that He is from God, not that He is God. Nicodemus is still expressing the same doubts and misunderstandings of first century Jews. But as he confronts our Lord, Nicodemus is about to receive a theological lesson about salvation that He will never forget. You may notice that from verses 1-9, Nicodemus is very much involved in this dialogue with Jesus. But from verses 10-21, Nicodemus does not say a word. He is remarkably silent.[2]

Jesus tells Nicodemus that He must be born of water and the Spirit in order to see the kingdom of heaven. It’s like the earthly experience of child birth. No, no, you don’t have to enter your mother’s womb the second time. Nicodemus, it’s like the wind that you hear, but you don’t know where it is coming from. Jesus again and again explains to Nicodemus the nature of this new birth, but Nicodemus remains in unbelief.

Jesus spends the first part of the dialogue giving earthly pictures of salvation. He talks about baptism, he talks about flesh and he talks about the wind; all earthly pictures of the new birth. Now this leads us to our passage found in verses 14-21. Jesus is now going to tell Nicodemus the heavenly nature of this salvation. The only reason Jesus can teach Nicodemus about the heavenly nature of salvation is because He came from heaven before He became man. Jesus is going to give Nicodemus a heavenly, eternal view of salvation. He is not simply going to tell Nicodemus how one can see the kingdom of God, but He is going to tell him the future of the kingdom of God.

But the future of the kingdom goes back to before the world began. What was there before the world began? Before the world began there was Father, Son, and Spirit. The trinity lived together in perfect communion; in perfect love. There were three divine persons in self-giving love.[3] They could have continued to live in perfect love for all eternity. The Trinity certainly did not need us to teach them what love is! They were all-loving from all eternity. They define love, because they live true perfect love. But what does love do? Love invites, love shares. Out of mercy and grace, the Trinity creates the world. The Triune God invites humanity to participate in their love. All three persons of the Trinity were involved in this creation. We see this clearly in Genesis 1. The Father creates in union with His word, which is Christ and the Spirit hovers over the face of the waters. But before God creates light on day one, there is darkness in the face of the deep. If you consider the creation narrative, you will see that John picks up these themes over and over. The parallel is striking.

John says in chapter 1 that Jesus is the light that brings light to every man. But according to John every man lives in darkness before Christ brings His light. The world began in darkness as man begins in darkness and depravity, but God brings His light into the world to make a new creation. Christ is the light of the world. We have creation in Genesis 1 and New Creation in John 1.

This Trinitarian love is so great that it expresses itself in the greatest form of love known to mankind, the sacrifice of the Second Person of the Trinity.

In Numbers 21, Moses lifted a serpent so that everyone who looked upon it in faith would be healed. Jesus uses this example to speak of His own suffering. The gospel of the Trinity is a gospel of the cross; a gospel of love. Jesus tells Nicodemus that if the world is going to be restored, then there must be a cross. The Son of Man must be lifted up on the tree and whoever believes that His blood and death will cover their sins will have eternal life.

In this context, we come to verse 16. This is perhaps one of the most celebrated verses in all of Christianity; and rightly so. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Let us consider this verse in Trinitarian terms:

God (The Father) so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever has the Spirit work in him in this way should not perish but have everlasting life. The work of redemption is Father, Son, and Spirit working in perfect unity.

The mission of the Trinity is made even clearer in verse 17: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The mission of God the Father, through the Son, by the regenerating work of the Spirit is that the world will be saved and not condemned. This does not mean that everyone will be saved as the Universalists teach, rather this means that the comparison between those who believe and those who do not believe is not even worth comparing in the end of history. When Christ returns in His Second Coming, you will see that the number of God’s elect is so superior in number to those condemned that Satan will be mocked by the cosmic work of grace wrought by the Trinity. The simple point of verse 17 is that the New Heavens and New Earth will be far more populated than the darkness of hell.

The Son did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. If God says He wants the world, He will get it. The great Reformed scholar B.B. Warfield said of John 3:16-17 the following:

Through all the years of history one increasing purpose runs… the kingdoms of the earth become ever more and more the kingdom of our God and of His Christ. The process may be slow; the progress may appear to our impatient eyes to lag, but it is God who is building and under His hands the structure rises as steadily as it does slowly and in due time the capstone shall be set into its place and to our astonished eyes shall be revealed nothing less than a saved world…[4]

Jesus says that He will be lifted up on the cross, in order that people might believe. The first step to fulfilling the mission of the gospel to save the world is to see the Second Person of the Trinity crucified. But crucifixion alone will not do. The final step in the Trinitarian mission is to see the Son of Man lifted up out of His grave and into the heavenly realm seated at the Right Hand of the Father and crowned in glory. He must be lifted up as ruler of all the earth. In Psalm 2, the Lord says that the ends of the earth shall be the possession of the Messiah.

The persons of the Trinity will only be satisfied in their mission when the world has been saved. The Trinitarian gospel comes through cross and crown. There can be no gospel without death and resurrection. Our Lord Jesus tells Nicodemus that if he wants to join this Trinitarian mission, He must die to his sins and be raised into new newness of life.

Christ came into a dark world to bring light. The world was under the influence of the evil one, but Christ came to destroy the works of the evil one. Men love darkness because their deeds are evil, but those who love the light hate darkness. This stark contrast will be made known at the Last Day. In that day, lovers of darkness will abide in eternal night. But those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; who believe in His cross and live in light of His crown will have eternal life in the Son of God who is the light of the world.

How Shall we Then Live?

a)      The gospel of John says that if you do not believe in Jesus the Lord you are condemned already. The Greek word for condemnation is the word “krisis” where we get the idea of crisis. The light of Christ brings people into a crisis. Will Nicodemus embrace the light at night? Or will he continue to live in the night in the presence of the light? Later in the gospel of John, he mentions Nicodemus again as one who defends Jesus. It is possible that Nicodemus walked away from Christ as a child of the light. But the words of our Lord compel us to ask the question: Are we walking in the light? Are we living as children of light? When Nicodemus comes to us by night, do we put him in a crisis or is he simply so comfortable with us that he is not threatened by the light? In other words, is our Christianity so powerless that when the night comes to us they overcome our dim light? Do co-workers, family members, friends, neighbors know that you are in the light? Or do they just assume you are one of them? If you are in the light then you walk in the light. There can be no other alternative. Brothers and sisters, may the world never doubt for one second that we are of the light because we walk in the light!

b)      In the book of Numbers, Moses lifted the serpent, so that whoever would look at it in belief would be saved. In the same manner, God the Father lifted up His Son on the cross, so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. The One who is the true light died for our dark sins and was raised for our redemption. In Jesus Christ is light and there is no darkness at all.

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

[1] WSC, question #25.

[2] There is some dispute concerning who is actually speaking from verses 14-21. Is Nicodemus still part of the picture or is he gone? Is John speaking from his perspective or is Jesus still speaking to Nicodemus? I favor the latter.

[3] Some of these Trinitarian thoughts come from a sermon preached by the Rev. Rich Lusk.

[4] Thanks to Rev. Mickey Schnider who provided a helpful citation: Warfield on “God’s Immeasurable Love” (Jn. 3:16), but haven’t re-read it yet.  (Biblical and Theological Studies, pp. 505-522 in the old edition). This is a summary from the quote given by Rich Lusk in his sermon on John 3.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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