7 I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. 16 In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.
26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
Most Christian Churches (ours included) have manger scenes in one form or another during the Christmas season. At Christmas we remember that God took on human form and entered our world as part of His plan of salvation of mankind. We sing carols like Away in a Manger and Silent Night, and the babe born in Bethlehem is quite naturally the focus of our teaching, our worship and our celebration. It really is all about Jesus. Jesus Christ, who He is and what He did for us is what sets the Christian faith apart from any other man-made religion.
One of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith is the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We worship one God in three persons. The Trinity or Triune God is the one eternal God, and He has always been fully active in the unfolding drama of the plan of redemption.
Trinity Sunday next year is on the 31st of May, but it is a mistake to focus on the Trinity just once a year. In fact I would be failing in my responsibilities if I preached an annual sermon on the Trinity and pretty much disregarded it for the other 51 Sundays of the year.
The Holy Trinity is central to our faith, and the mere fact that it is a mystery we cannot fully grasp, does not mean we should not try to understand just how the Triune God is and always has been active in our lives and in our world.
Christmas is not just about the baby Jesus. Christmas is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit fully engaging in this wonderful plan of redemption and salvation. The first thing we need to understand is that the doctrine of the Trinity is not about God taking on different forms at different times. This is a heretical doctrine called modalism, which contradicts the three distinct persons within the Godhead. It’s a mystery I know, and probably the simplest explanation I’ve heard in recent years is that the Trinity is not God wearing one of three different hats at any given time. He is one God in three persons, wearing three hats simultaneously, each of which is no less and no more important than the others.
So let’s look at the Christmas story, and how the Trinity was active in this episode of God’s eternal plan of redemption. One God, who is forever and constantly in three Persons, is completely engaged in the quest to prepare and secure our salvation.
A key verse is what the angel Gabriel said to Mary in Luke 1:35 – “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” In this verse are the three distinct persons of the Trinity: God the Father (the Most High), God the Son (the holy one to be born), and God the Spirit (the Holy Spirit will come upon you). One God, in three distinct persons, active and involved in the story of Christmas.
Firstly, we’ll look at God the Father’s role. Throughout the Bible the angels usually identify Him as the “Most High One.” Gabriel was sent by God to tell Mary that “the Lord is with you.” She is also told that she has “found favour with God.” Jesus will be the Son of the Most High – the Father, and God is the one who will give Jesus the throne of His father David. This speaks of Jesus’ human lineage, but it is God the Father who makes these promises. Also, when Gabriel says to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God,” he is referring to God the Father. So the Triune God in the person of the Father is fully and intimately involved in the Christmas story.
Secondly, God the Son’s role. The first point to remember is that God the Son – Jesus – is the eternal God. He has always existed. It’s a mistake to pinpoint the first Christmas and the birth of Jesus as the beginning of God the Son. He is eternal. However, Christmas signalled God’s arrival in human form. This is the mystery of the incarnation of God. Gabriel tells Mary, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end. The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
Luke 2:7 describes the event: “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger.”
The point of all this is to point us to Jesus Christ’s incarnation. But He has forever been the Son of God. For eternity past, He always has been. Yet, at this supernatural point in time, He lays aside His glory, wraps Himself in human flesh, and enters the world in the form of an infant. Jesus is the Father’s gift to the world. Something else that we also need to be clear on is that at no stage during His human life did Jesus cease to be God. He was fully God and fully man at the same time.
A colleague of mine once said that when Jesus as a youngster helped his father Joseph in the carpentry shop and he hit his thumb with a hammer, it hurt. As the eternal God He knew He was going to whack His thumb, and He had the power to stop the hammer one millimetre before impact, but He chose not to.
The apostle Paul gives us a more theologically accurate explanation of this mystery in Philippians 2:6-8: “Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges. He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
In John’s gospel we’re told that Jesus came into our world “full of grace and truth” to point a lost world to salvation. Not only that – Jesus did not merely point us to the way of salvation, but He Himself is the way of salvation. In His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus provided victory over our two great enemies: sin and death. On the cross, He conquered sin. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Here again we see how the Christmas and Easter stories are one and the same thing. With His resurrection, Jesus conquered the enemy of death. 1 Corinthians 15:57 says “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” What this means is that when we turn to Christ and accept forgiveness through Him, we enter into a living relationship with Him, and because of that we can know that our sins are forgiven and that we need not fear death any longer.
I know I’m stating the obvious here, but at that first Christmas, God the Son was fully involved. And of course, we also remember at Christmas why He came. He came to give His life for us. Jesus was sent by the Father with the mission of providing salvation for this fallen world.
And then thirdly, we look at God the Spirit’s role in the Christmas story. Gabriel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” God, in the person of the Holy Spirit was the agent delivering the Son into Mary’s body. He was also active in the announcement of the Saviour’s arrival. In Luke 2 we read the story of Simeon and how he was waiting for the arrival of the Messiah. “There was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.” (Luke 2:25-27)
The next verses are very important. “Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’” (Luke 2:28-32)
What the Spirit did for Simeon that day, He still does for us today. It is only the Spirit who can open our eyes to the truth of who Jesus really is. Simeon held Jesus in His arms. We are able to behold Him with our hearts, and as we do this, the Spirit enables us to see the salvation of God. And just like Simeon, God can ‘dismiss us in peace’ – we can now face our own deaths without fear because of Jesus.
Without the Spirit to open our spiritual eyes to the truth of who Jesus is, He remains just a cute little baby in a manger once a year. Without the Spirit to guide us and teach us, Christmas is nothing more than an annual holiday break. The work of God the Spirit is absolutely crucial in the plan of salvation, because without Him, we would never understand God’s plan. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Holy Scripture tells us that man by nature is dead in trespasses and sins. It does not say that he is sick, that he is faint, that he has grown callous and hardened, but it says he is absolutely dead.” What he was talking about here was the fact that we are lost, and there is nothing we can do about it, but then he goes on to talk about the spiritual healing that comes through Jesus, but only comes by the Spirit. In John 6:44 Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
The realisation that we have sinned against God, and the feeling of true remorse as we turn to Him in repentance does not come from us. Left to our own devices after sin entered the world, we would never have sought God out. He had to seek us out, which is precisely what He has done.
God asked Adam and Eve a profound question when they hid from Him after the fall: “Where are you?” And He still asks that question today. At that first Christmas when God took on human flesh and entered our world He asked the same question: “Where are you?” Whenever you feel the Spirit convicting you of something you need to change in your own life, He is asking you that same question: “Where are you?”
Jesus tells us several truths about the Spirit and how He works in our lives. In John 14:16 Jesus tells us that the Father would send another Counsellor or Comforter who is the Spirit of Truth. In verse 26 He says, “The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” In the next chapter the Spirit will testify about Jesus. This is so important for us to see. The role of God the Spirit in revealing God’s plan of salvation in Christ cannot be overemphasised.
Listen again to the words of Jesus in John 16: “When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.”
What all of this means is that without the Spirit at work at Christmas and in our lives today, we would not understand anything about God and His eternal plan of redemption and salvation. We would be lost forever.
Jesus teaches us that the Spirit will comfort us, teach us, guide us, convict us, and point us to Him. And this same Holy Spirit who is active in the world today was fully involved at the Incarnation of Christ, the very first Christmas. Without the Spirit to open our eyes to the truth of Jesus, Christmas would be just another secular public holiday on our calendars.
Sadly, to many in the world, that is exactly what Christmas is, but thanks be to God – because nothing is impossible for Him, He has opened our eyes to the reality of what Christmas is really all about.
And if He can open your eyes, He can certainly open the eyes of your friends and family who are still blinded to the truth. That is why we should never give up praying for them. You’ll remember from 2 weeks ago our call to follow the example of John the Baptist. As followers of Christ we are to proclaim “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
So while it is quite natural for us to focus on God the Son at Christmas – it is after all, when we remember that Jesus came into our world as one of us, it is also good to be reminded that the one eternal God who exists in three distinct persons, yet remains one God, was fully, completely and perfectly involved in the first Christmas. And He always has been – He is the eternal God, and our eternal gift of salvation is His gift to us.
The American theologian BB Warfield who died in 1921 wrote, “The elements of the plan of salvation are rooted in the nature of the Godhead of the Trinity, in which there coexists a trinal distinction of the persons with absolute unity of essence. The revelation of the Trinity was necessary for the execution of this plan of salvation, in which the Father sent the Son to be the propitiation for sin, and the Son, when He returned to the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, sent the Spirit to apply His redemption to men.”
Without the Holy Trinity at work, there would be no plan of salvation, and no hope for us.
The point is that a righteous and holy God cannot overlook or excuse your sin. He had to punish it. Yet, in His love, God sent the second person of the Trinity to pay the penalty for sin by dying to pay for your sins on the Cross. God the Father sent God the Son to pay the price of your sin, so you don't have to go to Hell - if you will simply turn from sin and believe in Jesus, God the Son. But how do you come to Jesus and believe in Him in the first place? This is the work of the third person in the Trinity - the Holy Spirit.
So if you think about it, the outline of the plan of salvation is really quite simple if you have a working knowledge of the Trinity: Firstly, God the Father is angry at you for sinning, and He will punish you for sin. Secondly, God the Son died on the Cross to pay the penalty that God the Father demands for sin. And thirdly, God the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to see these things, and then draws you to Jesus.
It’s only 4 days to Christmas, and you probably weren’t expecting to hear a sermon on the Holy Trinity today, but the reality is that without the Trinity, there would be no Christmas, there would be no forgiveness and there would be no hope.
The Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - was fully engaged in the preparation of your salvation. God the Father planned and executed it. God the Son, through His incarnation and atonement, provided it. And God the Holy Spirit points us to God’s provision and draws us to Jesus.