Many years ago, my father, Jim Vaus, wrote the following words…
All of God’s power is invested in the person of His Son JESUS CHRIST. He said, “All power is given unto me” and He proved it. Not only in the miracles He performed and His victory over death, but centuries before in the creation of matter. “Without Him was not anything made that was made.” John 1:3b
The Physicist sets forth two basic principles within the realm of physics. Briefly stated they are these:
1. Conservation of matter: You cannot destroy matter. You can only alter it in form.
2. Conservation of energy:You cannot create energy. You cannot destroy energy. You can only alter it in form.
Mr. Einstein, the noted Mathematician, linked these two principles in his formula E equals MC2.
Following Einstein’s formula, if we take two and two-tenths pounds of matter (a kilogram) and we reduce it to fragments, or as we say until our chain of fission is complete, we will end up with 25 billion kilowatt hours of energy, which is equivalent, approximately, to the total output of all of our power sources in the whole of the United States operating at peak efficiency 24 hours a day for 60 days.
Of course the reverse of this then would be true in determining how much energy it would take to bring into existence a kilogram of matter. Again it would take 25 billion kilowatt hours of energy.
The world in which we live weighs 6.5 septillion tons. Then to determine the kilowatt hours of energy necessary to bring into existence a world you would multiply 6.5 septillion tons by 25 billion. This then would give us in kilowatt hours the energy necessary to bring into existence a world.
The question then is where you can get that much energy, even if you used all of the power sources in the whole of the world, operating these at peak efficiency, 24 hours a day, including not only the power plants as sources of energy but all of our working atomic piles. Work all of these peak efficiency 24 hours a day for 20 billion years, even then you only have a fraction of energy necessary to bring into existence a world.
That’s why I like the way in which this is expressed in the Old Testament. “God spoke and the worlds were formed.” Or in other words, God expressed His power and the worlds were formed.
In our Gospel lesson for this Trinity Sunday, I believe Jesus tells us something about the power of our Triune God. Listen for God’s word to you from John 3:1-17…
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”[b] 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born from above.’[e] 8 The wind[f] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you[g] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[h] 14 And just 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.[i]
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
To my way of thinking, this is one of the greatest passages in all the Bible. I believe it is central to the message of the Bible, central to the message of the Gospels, central to God’s revelation.
Though this passage never uses the word “power”, I believe that, nonetheless, it tells us something of the power of our Triune God. I introduced the message for today with an illustration my father often used to convey something of God’s power in creation. However, I believe God’s power is even more greatly manifested in three ways that Jesus describes in this passage.
I want to start from the end of the passage and work backwards. First, Jesus tells us that the power of the Father is in his love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
I can still remember my mother helping me to memorize this verse, sitting on the couch in our living room in Tarrytown, New York. I had to be 7 years old or even younger. Though this is the first Bible verse I ever memorized, I believe it is the most important. I hope I never get beyond it. I hope that on my death bed I will still be pondering this verse.
I believe that God’s power is most greatly manifested in his love. Think about it. Think about the strongest person you know, physically speaking. Is the greatness of their power manifested in their brute physical strength or is it more greatly manifested in the restraint that they show in not overpowering everyone around them? I believe the greatest manifestation of strength is when a strong person displays gentleness. The greatest manifestation of strength is power in harness.
At the royal wedding a week ago, the Most Reverend Michael Curry talked about the power of fire and the fire of love. Fire in harness, fire channeled in the right way, powers our automobiles, our airplanes, and so much more.
I believe God’s power was most greatly manifested when he channeled it in love to our needy world by giving his only Son to us. And what are we really talking about when we say that God gave his only Son? We are talking about the Incarnation. We are talking about God taking on flesh and becoming a human being. Is that not the greatest miracle of all time? If you can believe that one, you can believe anything.
I believe the greatest manifestation of God’s power was not seen in his creation of the world, but rather in him becoming a part of that world. In fact, at one point in time, God became such a small part of our world, that it would have required a microscope to see him, if you could even see him with a microscope.
C. S. Lewis put it this way,
The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetusinside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.
Of course, God gave his only Son, not only to be born as a human being but to die on a cross for our sin. That leads to the second point I see Jesus making in this marvelous passage. That is that the power of the Son is in offering his life.
Jesus says, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”
There has been a resurgence recently of fascination with heaven. Search for “heaven” on Amazon (yes, Amazon has everything!) and you will come up with fifteen recent books on the subject, and that is just on the first page! You can read about all these different people who claim to have been to heaven and back. I don’t know what to think about all of their stories. Perhaps some of them are true. I don’t know. But one thing I do believe is that the greatest authority on heaven who has ever lived is the one who said, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven.” That is Jesus Christ. He started out in heaven. He came to earth. He is back in heaven now. If you want to know about heaven, he is the greatest authority. Look to him. Turn to him. Ask him.
Starting next Sunday, I am going to be offering a series of messages entitled, “Ultimate Questions” and one of the ultimate questions someone has posed is, “What is heaven really like?” I am going to try to answer that question during this upcoming series. I hope you will join me for that one.
But for now, let’s return to what Jesus says here. I want to focus on Jesus’ second point: “And just 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.”
What is Jesus talking about? Well, there was a story in the Hebrew Scriptures about the Israelites traveling through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land. In Numbers 21:4-9 we read:
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea,[b] to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6 Then the Lord sent poisonous[c] serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous[d] serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
So Jesus takes this story and says it is a picture of what is going to happen to him. Just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness, so he, Jesus is going to be lifted up, so that all who look to him and believe in him will live. Jesus’ greatest moment of power was actually shown in his moment of greatest weakness, on the cross.
The Apostle Paul says something similar in 2 Corinthians 12 where he talks about his “thorn in the flesh” that he begged God to take away from him. Paul says that the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power[c] is made perfect in weakness.”
The question is: how does the work of Jesus on the cross make any difference to us 2000 years later? As C. S. Lewis said, describing his own questions on the verge of conversion:
What I couldn’t see was how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever he was) 2000 years ago could help us here and now—except in so far as his example helped us. And the example business, tho’ true and important, is not Christianity: right in the centre of Christianity, in the Gospels and St Paul, you keep on getting something quite different and very mysterious expressed in those phrases I have so often ridiculed (‘propitiation’—‘sacrifice’—‘the blood of the Lamb’)—expressions wh. I cd. only interpret in senses that seemed to me either silly or shocking.
So how does the work of Christ 2000 years ago get applied to us today? Jesus tells us that it happens through the work of the Spirit, and the power of the Spirit is in giving us new birth.
Jesus says to Nicodemus,
Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born from above.’[e] 8 The wind[f] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the one who takes the love of God the Father and pours it into our hearts. (Romans 5:5) The Holy Spirit is the one who takes the new life that is in Christ and imparts it to us, giving us a fresh start.
The question is: do we want that fresh start? Do we want this explosive new life in us?
Apparently, Nicodemus doubted whether he wanted such a new birth or not. To paraphrase him, “It’s hard to be born when you’re old.” Most of us would rather stay in the womb. But Jesus is waiting to deliver us. He’s saying, “You’ve got to be born again. There are no two ways about it.” Still, we hang tight in that womb saying, “I like it in here. I don’t want my life to change.”
I find the words of Wilbur Rees very much to the point:
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God please.
We all try to strike some sort of bargain like that, don’t we? We want only so much of God as we can control—only so much as is safe.
However, eventually, for many of us, life in the womb becomes rather cramped, boring, predictable, and we decide we want that something more. Call it the Holy Spirit, or whatever you want, but we want it enough to come out of the womb, out of our comfort zone. We may come out kicking and screaming into the kingdom of God, but it’s not truly important howwe come, even if it’s under the cover of darkness like Nicodemus. What is important is that we come at all.
So, what’s it going to be for you—the darkness of the womb—or the light of life in a new world?
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in him (that is—the Son of God) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
Nicodemus eventually came out of the darkness of the womb into the light of a saving relationship with our Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nicodemus experienced the power of the new birth through faith—simply trusting in our Triune God to give him eternal life, rather than trusting in his own works.
What about you?