Trinity Sunday – May 18th, 2008 – John 3:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
So which are you? Are you a person of the world, a person who looks out and sees money to be made, deals to be brokered, a life to be lived here and now – or are you a person of God’s Spirit, who sees a world full of sin, but hopes in a world to come? Are you a child of darkness or a child of God? Are you content to strive for your best life now, what you want, what you desire – or do you understand that God is your Father and do you strive to be ever more like Him, showing love to all, even and especially those who don’t deserve it?
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.” Nicodemus was a man of the world. He was a ruler, a well respected man. People looked up to him – and so he comes to Jesus at night, when no one can see. He comes to Jesus not when our Lord teaches in the clear light of day, but Nicodemus creeps in after the sun has set, when no one can see. He comes not merely as an individual, but he comes with the pomp he has as a ruler of the Jews. We know – we do, and I now speak for my people, even though I am too scared of what they might think to speak in front of them. With fear of the worldly implications, Nicodemus comes up to Christ Jesus expecting nothing more than a wise teacher – just another man – maybe someone with insight that Nicodemus can use to have more power, more authority here in this life. Teach me, give me divine principals so that I can act and live here, that I can rule and lead here with power.
This, dear friends, is why Christ Jesus gives Nicodemus such a seemingly harsh and caustic answer. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Seems a harsh answer. Seems as though Jesus blows Nicodemus off. We know that you are from God! Nick, you wouldn’t know what is from God if it smacked you upside the head. You can’t. It is impossible for you – you haven’t been born again. You won’t recognize God.
Nicodemus proves our Lord’s point by his response. Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” A worldly answer at best – a disgusting one at worst. Nicodemus doesn’t see yet – his eyes are fixed solely on the world. His eyes are checking only the angles he can play, his thoughts on what He must do. Oh Nicodemus – Christ tells you that you must be born, and you start making foolish plans of your own. Did you even choose your worldly birth? How then would you choose a second birth, if the first wasn’t of you? But Nicodemus is too worldly – he sees things only in terms of what he does, what he brings about, how his plans go. He blows right past the part about seeing the Kingdom of God – no, what shall I do to be born again, what’s up to me, what’s my part, how can I make this work?
Christ our Lord responds again. “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is spirit.” Oh Nicodemus – it’s not about flesh, it’s not about life here. I am dealing with the mysteries of God and eternity. I am speaking to eternal life with God in paradise restored, not this life here where your bones continue to creak more and more. This is not an earthly thing – it is spiritual. You need to receive a Spiritual life.
Christ here speaks of Baptism – of the way in which most of us in this room came to know and understand Christ – of water and the Word of God united, of the Holy Spirit attaching His power to waters and placing it upon a squirming infant, granting faith in Christ Jesus and remission of sins. Of giving new life, of being born of the Spirit, of being born again. Do you not see and understand, dear friends? In your life, in your life as a Christian all things must begin with God, God at work for you and upon you and in you. Behold what God does. He reaches out to you and gives you Spiritual life, makes you His own child. He takes that which is physical, earthly – water – and to this water He attaches His Word, attaches His Spirit, and thus you are given new life, new ears to hear, new eyes to see God’s Kingdom. By Baptism you see and understand who God is. He is the God who would suffer in this sinful world upon the Cross so that He might pull you out of your sin for all eternity. He is the God who comes to you now so that He might bring you to be with Him where He is in heaven forever. God acts, God works, and then and only then do you see and understand what goes on. The key is that God acts, God comes to you, and you are given new life.
“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Do you see, Nicodemus? It’s not about your control, your power. You can’t control God any more than you can control the wind. And yet, as God provides the wind to cool you on a hot day, behold what God does – He gives out His Spirit to cool and protect you from the fires of hell. God acts when and where He wills, and we are brought to life in Him. Do you see Nicodemus?
Not quite yet. Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” The classic error, the error that has dogged people on earth since the fall. God speaks, and we wonder, “How can this be? It doesn’t make sense to me – my little human mind doesn’t wrap around it – it’s not the way I’d do things.” Dear friends, if God has said it – how can it not be? If God almighty, who speaks and creates the world, says something, how can it not come to pass? Behold the heritage of Adam’s sin – behold your sinful nature at work in Nicodemus’ words here. Sinful man always doubts God. Sinful man always thinks that God can’t follow through on His promises, that His Word doesn’t stick. That is the temptation we face even to this day, here in this place. The temptation to doubt the Word of God. To hear of Christ’s forgiveness and ask, “How can this be?” We see the person who has hurt us, and our blood runs hot, we are angered – and we hear God’s Word of forgiveness spoken, and we think, “How could God forgive him – doesn’t God know what He did?” We sit in the dark, guilt swirling around, thoughts of past wrongs refusing to leave us, and we think, “How can God forgive me – doesn’t He know what I’ve done.” Always the thought goes to us – what is done to us, what we have done.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. Do you hear what Christ calls out? Repent – and listen to what God has done – listen to what Christ Jesus has done. Believe what He says, believe what He does here on earth. He went to the Cross, He suffered and died, and sin is destroyed, sin is forgiven. He destroyed the sins done against you, He suffered in your stead to remove the guilt of your sin. Behold the simple earthly act – Christ dies upon the Cross – and know the heavenly, the Spiritual significance – that your sin is blotted out, and you are welcomed into the joys of heaven. See the physical which God provides you to grasp on to, and be taken into the heavenly and the eternal. Christ descends, He comes down to you, so that He may take you with Him unto heaven.
This is the pattern. You cannot work your way to God. As Paul says, there is no gift that you can give Him that would somehow repay Him. Rather this – God Himself takes simple earthly things that we are familiar with, and by them, He gives us life and new birth and forgiveness, so that we might be with Him. This is the beauty of the Trinity. We cannot approach the Father on our own on account of our sin – so He sends His Son to die for us. He sends the Holy Spirit so that we might believe in the Son and have eternal life. And how is this done? We hear the Word, and the Spirit accompanies that Word and produces faith – and we are brought into the presence of God. The Word of God is attached to Water, and the Spirit uses that Baptism to give us new life – and we are made part of God’s family. God takes bread and wine, declares to us that this is now the Body and Blood of His Son – says, “behold, this has touched your lips, your sin is atoned for” – and we enter into the presence of God now on earth, we enter into the presence of God for all eternity. The Son and the Spirit work here on earth with earthly things – Words, water, bread and wine – and we see and believe these earthly things, and so we see and understand the heavenly things that God gives to us through them.
God comes to you – God gives you all that is His, life and salvation and peace – all so that you might be with Him. God sends His Son to you – God pours out His Spirit upon you – so that your eyes might not be set simply on the earthly things of this life, so that your concerns might be more than food and clothing and reputation – but that you might see and understand God and be with Him for eternity. Understand what God has done for you. He has called you by the Gospel and washed you in the Waters of Holy Baptism – so you are born again. He has invited you to His Supper – so you are forgiven and brought into the presence of God, to be in Communion with Him forever. You are more than just a person slugging through life – you are a child of God, brought by Him into eternal life. Cling to God, cling to that which He gives to you, that you might enjoy all that He gives you forever and ever. Amen