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Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse

[May 18, 1913.]

"There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, 'We know thou art a teacher come from God, for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.' " St. John iii: 1, 2.

We celebrate today the last of the five greater festivals, but the festival for today, unlike the four preceding festivals, does not commemorate an event, a transaction, a place in time, as the other preceding four do; but it commemorates a great eternal truth. Not something, I say, that has taken place in time, but a great truth, a fact that has extended down from all time: the Triune personality of the one God.

Now it might perhaps seem strange to some that the Gospel selected for this great festival should be the record of our Lord's interview with Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews. Perhaps it might be suggested, why did not the church select, say, the last chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, where Christ says, " Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature," or why did not the church select some portion from the fourteenth, fifteenth, or sixteenth chapters of the Gospel of St. John, the record of those last discussions of our Blessed Lord, where so much is said of the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I think the answer is that the church was divinely directed in making the selection she did, in selecting this interview with Nicoderaus, because with no other person, on no other occasion, have we a record where our Lord stated so distinctly the whole primary agencies of our salvation; nowhere else did He set forth the co-operative labors of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost so definitely, so explicitly, as he did in this interview. So it seems it is especially appropriate as the Gospel for today.

Let us look briefly at the points in question, then. How our Lord set forth explicitly and definitely the Divine program, the labors of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in the work of man's redemption. We have, for instance, in the third verse, our Lord's declaration to Nicodemus: " Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." Think for a moment how startling that must have been to Nicodemus, one of rank and wealth, one of the three rulers of the Jews, to be told that he must be born again before he could even see the Kingdom of God. He supposed that to be his by birth, by his race, and heritage; that was his as the emperor of the kingdom. But our Lord unfolds a great truth to him. Not by birth, not by religious privilege through the conventional observance of religious forms and customs, but only in one way, could he become a member of the Kingdom, and that by a new birth of the spirit. St. Paul teaches the same truth in the fifth of Romans: "Except a man have the spirit of Christ, he is none of His." He may have other things, religious observances and ceremonials, rectitude, a marked reputation among his fellows, but unless he has the Spirit of Christ, St. Paul says, he is none of His. This is the truth that our Lord brought home to Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews: you must be born again. The Kingdom of God cannot be gained by any privileges of the fathers of the race, or nationality. The Kingdom of God is the kingdom of the spirit the spirit of love, and power and righteousness, which comes from God and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.

If we pass to the fourteenth verse, we find the work of the Son set forth: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." You recall in the second verse how Nicodemus recognizes Christ as a teacher: "We know thou art a teacher come from God." He no doubt thought he was paying goodly respect to Christ. Christ was a teacher; but He was infinitely more than that. Not simply a teacher of the law, but a godly exemplar, as we may say. Moses taught the high ideals of the Christians of the past, but Christ came to be a sacrifice for the sins of the people; He came to pay for the sins of the world by the sacrifice of himself. He came to give his life a ransom for many.

Even though a Pharisee, and it must have been very puzzling to him, Nicodemus undoubtedly realized the reality of the sacrifice for the world's sins. How different it was from all that Nicodemus was familiar with. There was no ceremony . . . there was a cross . . . there was no officiating priest, simply the soldiers of the Roman guard . . . only the wild cry, "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children." And in all the shadows, in all the examples of pagan sacrifice, we shall find none so rich in meaning, so full of love, as that sacrifice that looked so unlike a sacrifice. It was a full and sufficient sacrifice, satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.

Our Master brings home to Nicodemus the truth that he is facing something more than a teacher one who is to be a great sacrifice for sin, for the sins of the whole world.

If we pass to the sixteenth verse in this interview, we find there the work of the Father. There he sets it forth definitely: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." What does this teach us, my friends? That the work of Christ in the spirit was not the purchase price laid down to buy back a lapsed love, a lost love, on the part of the Father. It was the Father's love that prompted the sacrifice, the beginning and end of the whole scheme of redemption, the expression of the universal and eternal love of the Father. St. Paul says, " God commendeth his love toward us " How? It seems all the richer and stranger: "In that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" the gift of God.

In the past theology had presented the case too much as if the Father were a grim, severe, unyielding emperor or chief justice of the universe, who to them meant anything but love; and it was not until Christ came, through his own human nature, that he roused from his lethargy of sleep. We know only that he saw it should be in reality, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole human race. "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The work of the Father, then, I say, is that of the originator, the inspirer, of the whole scheme of man's redemption, and his salvation, here and hereafter. God's great sacrifice, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave his only begotten Son as a sacrifice for our sins, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

( Originally Published 1914 )

The Heritage of the Commonwealth:
Essays - Bacon—shakespeare

Essays - 'the Lords Of Creation'

Essays - Japan

Essays - 'koheleth,' Or 'ecclesiastes'

Sermons - Baccalaureate Sermon

Sermons

Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse

Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse

Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse

Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse Part 2

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