Revelation 4:1-11 St John 3:1-15
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
We celebrate today that God has been revealed to us by Jesus as a Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – three, and yet One God.
There is a longing in the human mind to make God understandable, knowable, and definable. The Bible warns us against thinking we could ever do such a thing. Do you remember when Moses was confronted by God in the wilderness and called to go back to Egypt to bring Israel out of slavery? Moses says to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God replies, “I am who I am”, tell them, “I am has sent me to you.’ I suspect this answer was confounding both to Moses and to the people he told. But God is not circumscribable – we can’t put boundaries around him, he is not definable and so containable by our minds.
And yet… God does reveal some things about his nature to us in revelations through history recorded in the Bible. More clearly in the New Testament Jesus reveals God as a Trinity, and in that light, we see intimations of the Trinity in the Old Testament.
If God is in heaven, maybe we could see him and so understand him better if we could see and enter heaven as St John did – as we heard in that reading from Revelation.
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard, speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne…
But how can we see and enter heaven? Nicodemus, was a ruler of the Jews, a devout man, a man of faith. He sought to follow the Law of Moses but knew something was incomplete, preparatory yet unfulfilled, in the gift of the Old Testament. In today’s Gospel, we learn that he went to Jesus at night, in secret, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that you do, except God be with him. Jesus, right away, goes to the heart of the matter in his reply to Nicodemus and to each of us today:
Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. …Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. … You must be born again. [Jn 3:3-7]
Unaided by grace, left on our own, the condition of humanity in this world is, in the end, severely limited, and our desire for transcendence is futile. For some reason, our understanding is darkened, and our life experience further darkens us, we can barely see heaven, and our wills are so feeble, that without grace we could not choose to enter the life of heaven even if we saw it. Nicodemus recognized his weakness and the incompleteness of relying alone on the Bible he knew – the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. That is why he sought out the person to whom these same Scriptures point, that is why he sought out Jesus.
We can challenge this idea of futility on our own to see and enter heaven. And we could seek with all our heart and soul and mind and strength to see and to enter the kingdom by force. And we all do in fact try, to the degree that we do not believe, or lack focus in our belief, but still desire.
We can also try to break through to heaven with drugs or trying to stimulate the senses in all sorts of ways but we are just thieves and robbers. The vision is not sustainable and these ways only darken and dull our spiritual eyes and sense—we confuse the shadows that we experience with our senses for what our hearts truly seek. Or we can give up even trying, a kind of nihilism, lowering our expectations until we share the vision of our animal friends and become a part of the cycle of nature without any transcendence, satisfied with our limited lower human nature.
But Jesus would have us look higher and hope for so much more – to be refashioned in the image and likeness of the triune God, made holy and so able to behold the beatific vision, the vision of God, and to enjoy God and our loved ones forever. Jesus promises that a stream of living water from heaven will well up from within the hearts of those who ask, and it begins in the waters of baptism [Jn 4] – as we have witnessed last Sunday here. A person can enter the womb of our mother the Church and be born again of water and of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is needed to illuminate our minds to perceive spiritual things and to enflame our hearts to desire heaven and give us the strength to enter in. Baptism is the beginning, the means…of human participation in the divine life. It is the beginning.
The Father creates us and is the end for whom we’ve been made. Jesus says, the Holy Spirit will lead us to him. So how does Jesus fit in?
In today’s Gospel Jesus says of himself, No one has ascended up to heaven, but he who came down from heaven, even the Son of Man who is in heaven. [Jn 3:13] It is a bold claim! He’s saying that he is living in heaven and earth at the same time, and he has come to show us the way to live in both, with him. To those who ask where he is staying, like the two disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus says, Come and see. To those who are tired of a life of futility, he says, Follow me. [Jn 1:39,43]
Our general desire for happiness, for meaning, to find and experience real love, to find a true home and community, to live in a society that is just, for our lives to be fruitful and come to glory, all of these good desires need to be focused. Our general belief in a benevolent God, our faith, needs direction. Jesus tells us to place our trust in him, direct our attention to him, that he may be for us the sharp focus of that God given faith in us which reaches out for things yet unseen. He will renew and fulfill our hope of heaven. Jesus is God in the flesh come to bring us home.
We know baptism is the start, but how does Jesus help us on the way?
When the Israelites were delivered out of slavery in Egypt by the power of God, they became impatient in the wilderness on route to the Promised Land and began to waver in their resolve. They sinned and were bitten by serpents. God gave them a transient effectual sign in the desert, a bronze serpent fixed on a stick of wood, to heal them when bitten by serpents and recall them to their true home. They would be healed if they would only lift up their eyes and look on it, trusting in God. Jesus tells us that,
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness [Nu 21:4-9], even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. [Jn 3:14-15]
To draw closer to the living God is frightening—we are told in Hebrews that our God is a consuming fire [Hb 12:29]—and our journey of life on earth is full of danger. All that is false in us must be let go of and temptations from within and without on our way must be overcome. We need the continual assurance of God’s promises and His mercy or we will not want to take one step. Jesus assures us, at each and every step, by his life, death on the Cross, resurrection, and ascension: that there is a way; that wrongs can be righted; that we can be relieved of our guilt; that complete healing of heart and mind is possible; and that we may even partake of the divine nature. We are to look continually at the Son of Man lifted up on the Cross. We follow him by dying to some things, rising to new life in the Spirit, and ascending, soul and body, into the life of heaven. With faith in Jesus, and the gift of the Spirit in baptism, Jesus promises we will see and enter the kingdom of the our heavenly Father.
The whole Trinity season – the next twenty-four Sundays – will be about opening up through the Gospels and Epistles, this way that Jesus calls us to. It is all about seeing and entering the kingdom of heaven that is coming on earth even now.
Let us prepare ourselves now by repentance, and a true confession of faith, and then look to the Cross of Jesus, to receive from the altar of God, Jesus’ Body and Blood. In beholding the Son of Man lifted up, we are assured of forgiveness on the way. And Jesus will send us out, better able to love our neighbours as ourselves.
To the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be all honour, glory and worship, this day and always!
Worship Address: Adventist Church, Boomberglaan 6, Hilversum
Mailing Address: Overmeerseweg 120, 1394 BJ Nederhorst den Berg
Contact: (+31) 06 124 104 31 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2