John 3:1-17, Romans 8:12-17
To slightly mis-quote Monty Python, ‘What has the Trinity ever done for us?’
Well, maybe not aqueducts, roads or public baths, but in today’s passages we find probably the biggest and best thing that anyone ever did for someone else. God adopted us into his family, and by doing that gave us a new name, a new start and a new purpose.
Let’s dig in and look at that word ‘adoption’.
Paul’s word is huiothesias (“hoo-ee-o-they-see-as”, υἱοθεσίας). It’s a mixture of huio (son) and thesia (to place), so it means to place someone in a family as a son, and specifically as an heir. It’s a favourite word of Paul’s which he comes back to later in Romans as well as Galatians and Ephesians.
What does it mean to be adopted as an heir? It’s not quite like modern adoption, where a child grows up then leaves the family to make their own life elsewhere. In Bible times families were like clans, living and working closely together, and the eldest son would eventually take over the family business. So this is more like the way they do adoption in Japan.
Fun fact: In Japan, 98% of adoptions are not of children, but of men in their 20s or 30s.
Does that seem odd? Not if you are looking for someone to run a multi-national company.
Fun fact #2: The current head of Suzuki is Osamu Suzuki, the fourth generation of adopted sons in that job.
This is not some kind of second-class son, a lower status. Being adopted is a sought-after position. Adopted sons are chosen, wanted, honoured.
What is this adoption like? It’s more than just a change of name. This is a whole life. You work with your new dad and learn his job, you might live with your new parents and even marry their daughter (that’s not as weird as it sounds). New start, new name, new allegiance, new family, new way of doing things.
It’s almost like being born again. (Now, where have I heard that before?)
Nicodemus didn’t really understand what Jesus was talking about in that famous verse from John. “Huh? Born again? You expect me to climb back into my mum’s belly?” (I paraphrase). But even if we get that it’s not literal, I doubt that any of us really understand what a big deal this is.
Our English translations miss the glorious wordplay as Jesus talks about wind and spirit – it’s the same word in Aramaic and Greek, and also means life-breath, like when God breathed on a clod of earth back in Genesis and it became a living human.
Yes, the same awesome life-giving spirit / breath / wind that God promised to every believer, and was poured out at Pentecost, is the Spirit who speaks to our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children.
Paul contrasts this spirit of adoption with a spirt of slavery. Think of the lost son in Luke’s parable. He thought he had blown it (I mean, he had) and was only worthy to be a farm hand, but the father took him back as a dearly loved child, welcomed, wanted, and inheritor of his father’s riches.
Both a son and a servant work on the family farm. Both live and eat there. Both are known by the father’s name. But for one it is a job, for the other it is family. A child of the family is there for keeps, not for coins.
And so is our adoption. We are grafted into God’s family, made part of the vine. Born of the Spirit who testifies with our spirit that we are truly God’s daughters and sons. Heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.
So what has the Trinity ever done for us?
Through adoption as heirs we have:
A new name – we are called by our Father’s name, part of a new family
A new start – no matter how much we have blown it, Jesus grants us a fresh start
A new purpose – we work now in the family business, with the Spirit guiding us
God our Father,
you bring us into your family, and welcome us to sit and eat with you.
Praise be to your name for ever.
Jesus our brother,
you rescue us from our daily failings, and by your grace make us fit for heaven.
Praise be to your name for ever.
Holy Spirit our comforter,
you fill us, and guide us, and bind us together as one.
Praise be to your name for ever.
Here are a couple of things to help us ponder the imponderable three-in-one-and-yet-not-just-one-but-definitely-not-three thing that we call Trinity.
For the first you will need:
- three torches (or phones),
- clear plastic or sticky tape,
- permanent markers in red, green and blue.
Make coloured filters to put in front of each torch and shine them on a white wall in a darkened room. With a bit of luck you should be able to make cyan light from blue + green, magenta from red + blue, yellow light from green + red (yes I know this one seems odd, but it’s true, honest), and in the centre – white!
Second is this lovely Celtic knot trinity design. Notice that the three sections are distinct, yet all part of each other. Print it out and fill it with colour, pictures or patterns as you talk to God. Click on the image for a large version.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’
‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’
‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.
‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
New International Version – UK (NIVUK)
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.