2 Corinthians 13:11-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
11 Finally, brothers and sisters,[a] farewell.[b] Put things in order, listen to my appeal,[c] agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. 13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of[d] the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
“A TRINITY OF BLESSINGS”
2 Corinthians 13:13
Today on Trinity Sunday we focus on the great Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity – one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This doctrine is very deep, and represents the highest revelation about the identity and the nature of God. The great Scottish preacher, James S. Stewart, writes about the Trinity. “You cannot say all that is contained in the word “God” until you have said, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Now people often challenge Christians about the Trinity. How can God be one and three at the same time? I was once asked by a Muslim leader to explain the Trinity. I tried, but didn’t do a very good job. Now my interaction with Muslim people has always been positive and it was with this gentleman. But after I had muddled through my explanation, he looked at me with a small grin, as if to say, “See, it doesn’t make any sense. You’re a Christian minister and you can’t even explain it.” Of course, just because I didn’t explain it very well, doesn’t mean the Trinity is false. The Blessed Trinity is still the glorious truth about God.
Let me tell you about another encounter with people who don’t believe in the Trinity –Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now, like many Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses live moral, upstanding lives. But their beliefs are outside the realm of orthodox Christianity. One day some J.W. missionaries came to my door and asked me something like, “Who do think God is?” I replied, “God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” They thanked me and left immediately, not because they agreed but because they weren’t used to hearing that. They clearly didn’t want get into a discussion.
I found a simple formula which helps me understand and explain the Holy Trinity. Here it is. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. But the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit. The Son is not the Holy Spirit or the Father. And the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. The three persons of the Trinity work together, but they are equal and distinct. One God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity.
Now the doctrine of the Trinity comes from the Bible. At creation God said, “Let us make humans in our own image.” At the very beginning there was a conversation among the eternal persons of the Godhead. Here on earth, Jesus spoke of his Father in heaven. He spoke of himself as the Son. He spoke of the Spirit which would be heaven’s gift to the church. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And in our verse today 2 Corinthians 13:13, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
These words are often used as a benediction at the close of the service. I think it’s very important, because as one person said, “Even if the worship is uninspiring and the sermon boring, there’s always the blessing.” Of course, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit are always with God’s people. But pronouncing the benediction gives us the assurance that this is true. How strengthening it is to know that you leave worship and go into the world with a trinity of blessings. And we all need this benediction on our lives these days.
First, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Grace is God’s undeserved mercy and kindness for sinners. We all need it, for on our own we are lost, helpless, separated from God by sin. And there is no ladder of good works and morality that we can climb to make ourselves right with God. Apart from God’s grace there is no hope for us in time and eternity. But thankfully, on Calvary’s Cross, God’s grace was poured out for you and me and for the whole broken world. And now we are saved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ accepted by our faith.
Coin operated parking meters are a thing of the past. But back in the day I used to keep my eye out for a parking meter with time left on it. I could park for a while because someone else had paid the cost. One day I saw a parking meter with two hours left on it. I quickly pulled into the space, got out and made my hospital visits without rushing. When I got back the meter was still stuck on two hours. I could have parked there for a very long time, at least until the parking officer caught on.
The point is this – God the Son, by his atoning death has paid the full price for our sin. He has opened the gates of heaven. There is nothing for us to add and no sacrifice that we must make. There is nothing for you and me to do other than accept the Crucified and Risen One with faith and gratitude, knowing that he has made a place for us there. God himself, in the person of the Son has paid the cost of our salvation completely and forever. That’s grace.
Paul knew all about the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He met Christ on the Damascus road and everything changed. This learned man once believed he could be righteous before God by rigorously keeping the law. But now he was now trusting in Christ alone for his righteous standing before God. He knew that he was going to heaven not on his own insufficient dime, but because another had paid the enormous price for him and for all. “I have a righteousness of my own which comes not through the law but through faith in Christ Jesus.”
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ saves us, not only for eternity, but each and every day. I guarantee that you and I will need grace later on today, and tomorrow and the next day, too. We are sinners yes, but by grace we are forgiven sinners. What a great assurance it is to know that “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” goes with us always.
Next, the “love of God.”
It’s interesting that Paul names grace first, and then God’s love. And that’s because it was through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that Paul came to know for certain that “God is love.” Now the creation does give us hints of God’s goodness and providential care. But this broken world does not clearly reveal the love of God. The one place that plainly reveals God’s love is the mount of Calvary. Paul says, “God shows his love for us in this, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…” The one thing we can say with certainty to everyone is that God loves you and longs for you to accept his saving grace.
The words of the benediction are the assurance that you are held by a love that will never let you go in life, in death, and in life beyond death. Paul writes in Romans 8, “For I am sure that neither death, nor life… nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What a blessing it is live with this conviction. “The love of God.”
Finally, “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is often the quiet partner of the Trinity, but the Spirit’s work is vital. The Holy Spirit takes the Christian faith out of the realm of ancient history and makes it a present reality for us. The Holy Spirit opens Scripture for us, fills us, guides us, and empowers the church and each of us for our Christian calling. Most of all, the Holy Spirit gives us fellowship with the living Christ. The Spirit binds us to Christ and he to us.
The Holy Spirit also gives us fellowship with other believers on earth and in heaven. “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.”
In July 2002, nine miners in Pennsylvania were trapped in a flooded mine shaft. Rescue efforts began immediately, but the odds of saving the men were very slim. Amazingly, all nine were rescued. They tied themselves together, so that no one could float away or slip under the water. If one man got tired, his bond to the other men kept him afloat. The miners vowed that whether they lived or died, they would do so together. They later claimed that this fellowship saved their lives. It is such fellowship that holds us together and supports us during these COVID-19 days. On television last week from the United State we saw white police officers walking arm in arm with African American black protestors. And where that was happening there was no rioting or looting or burning, but peaceful protesting. The power of fellowship.
The Holy Spirit assures us that we belong to a prayerful and supportive Christian family, both here on earth and in heaven. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses encouraging us to run the race with perseverance. Spirit-given fellowship with Christ and with other Christians is made real in this sacrament.
So receive the bread and cup in faith and be assured of these triune blessings, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”