Trinity Sunday – June 3rd, 2012 – John 3:1-17
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
All sin, when it boils down to is, is nothing but idolatry – indeed, it’s nothing but self idolatry. All sin is nothing but having your eyes focused not upon the Triune God and His Will, but rather the fleeting and vain whims and wishes of your own heart. This is the problem. Has been since the Garden, has been since we listened to Satan and starting thinking that things would be so much better if we were the ones who were like God, if we were the ones who were in charge. So, what is God to do? His creation has been tarnished, wrecked, bound for destruction. His Adam, His Eve, His you, His me… lost and condemned. Shall He just shrug? Shall He just let us get the punishment we deserve, shall He let us remain in our self-destructive self-idolatrous ways? No. The Father, out of His love, sends His Son to win us salvation, sends His Spirit to turn our eyes off of ourselves and rather onto His salvation. With this Sunday, we are entering the Trinity season, the season of teaching, the season where week in and week out God’s Truth, over and against our self-created idolatry, will be shown. For the rest of the Church year, week in and week out we will see the impact, the implications of what having the Triune God get involved in our life means.
And we begin this task with our Gospel lesson from John. “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 the signs that you do unless God is with him.’” At first blush, one might look at Nicodemus and say, “Eh, that’s not bad. That’s a pretty good answer.” Jesus gives him no praise. In fact, Jesus smacks him down hard. “Truly, truly I say unto you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” That’s a smack down. When Jesus begins by saying, “truly, truly I say unto you” – that’s the way of saying, “buddy, you are wrong, and let me tell you how.” And Nicodemus was off. Jesus knew that at that moment that Nicodemus was full of fluff, knew that Nicodemus was blind. Nicodemus’ approach to Christ was terrible. First, Nicodemus comes at night – when it’s hidden. He says, “Oh, we know” – but he slinks in at night, doesn’t want any of his good friends to know that he’s daring to talk to this Jesus fellow. And what does Nicodemus know – that Jesus is what? A Teacher? A teacher Nicodemus is embarrassed to be seen with. And also, while being a teacher is a highly respectable thing – teachers don’t do signs … they don’t perform miracles. That is at least a “Prophet” thing. But do you know what the difference in Jesus’ day would have been between a teacher and a prophet? A teacher would have been answerable to the rulers of the Jews… a prophet answers to God. So what you have Nicodemus really saying is, “Okay, I don’t want other folks to know, but You are just a teacher, and you should be working for us, because we are the ones in charge… and if I get control of you first, it will be good for me.”
“Truly, truly I say unto you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” You are blind, Nicodemus. You are caught in self idolatry. You are stuck elevating yourself – you try to elevate yourself over Me even as you hide from your peers and fear their disdain. At best you think I might give you some insight that you can use in your powerplays. No. You don’t see who I am, Nicodemus. Unless you are born again, unless you are born from on High by God, you will not recognize the Kingdom of God, you will not see that it is no longer about you and your petty desires – I am God, and I have come to establish My kingdom of love and mercy and forgiveness. And without the Spirit, you won’t be able to see it.
And Jesus is right. “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?’” That’s a swing and a miss. Nicodemus has no clue. Christ Jesus has spoken to him of that which is wondrous and Spiritual… and Nicodemus, I don’t want to even think where his head is at. Christ alludes to the Kingdom of God – but Nicodemus isn’t interested in that. No, tell about this born thing… does it involve women? It’s utterly disgusting and self-serving. Of course, what we too must admit, we who have been given eyes to see by God, that our sin, even the thing we try to brush off as small and minor are just as disgusting and self-serving. All sin is disgusting and wicked… even the sins we in our old sinful flesh enjoy.
But Christ, in His wondrous love and patience, answers Nicodemus. “Truly, truly I say unto you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Let’s look at this part first. Christ here points to Baptism, where you were washed of water and the Spirit. And what were you given at your baptism? You were brought into God’s Kingdom, you were restored once again to His rule, to where His love and mercy and forgiveness reigns over you. You are no longer bound to Satan, but you are bound by Baptism to Christ. You are in His kingdom. And this is a wonderful and radical thing. How radical? “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” You had been nothing but flesh – flesh is that word for creation under the impact of sin, creation doomed to die. That’s all you were – but you have been born again, called by God out of the darkness of this fallen world and into His marvelous light. You have been made a new creation in Christ – you are spirit. Again, it’s a small part of the Nicene Creed that we often overlook – the Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life. Spirit is always tied to life – Spirit in both Greek and Hebrew refer to a movement of air, of breath, of breathing, of life. Which is why Christ continues, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The Wind [or Spirit] 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 who is born of the Spirit.” The word there for Wind and Spirit – the exact same. The two ideas are tied together – this is why in last week’s Epistle when the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles there is a sound like a mighty wind. And the contrast is set up. It’s not about you being in control, Nicodemus. You do not get to control God, you don’t get to control God any more than you get to control the wind, the breeze. God works when and where He wills. And here is the thing – those who are born again, they realize that it is not about their will, not about their wishes. The Spirit gives life and rescues from sin, rescues from that self-idolatry. What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam (the flesh) in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man (who is spirit) should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
And then Nicodemus asks the kicker. “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’” How. How is a terrible question of doubt. It implies that what you have heard is impossible. How is *that* supposed to happen? And sinful man loves to doubt God. Just How is God supposed to do all this, Jesus? “Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 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.” How? How? Maybe because I’m the Son of God, brainiac. Do you not confess that God is almighty, teacher of Israel? Then why do you keep telling God what He can or cannot do? No, I have come from heaven, come from the Father, come to bring the Kingdom of God to this world, and by My Spirit working through My Word, to bring people into that Kingdom. And what does this look like – let me give you an example, a parallel that you should be familiar with, Nicodemus. “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.” When the people rebelled and grumbled against God, the fiery serpents came. But when they looked at the bronze snake on a pole as God had commanded them, they lived. This was all foreshadowing, Nicodemus. The serpent has you – not the fiery one, but the old, evil serpent - Satan. And to destroy the kingdom of Satan, I will be lifted up upon the Cross, I will enter into death’s domain and I will rip it asunder, and all who believe in Me will live forever.
That, dear friends, is what the Kingdom of God looks like. It is Christ crucified for your sake. As you suffer the agony of sin, as you deal with guilt and sorrow and pain and anger and hatred and all the other consequences of sin, Christ calls your eyes to behold Him crucified for you. See, your sin is no more, it is done away with – now lift up your hearts and rejoice, for the Kingdom of God has come, and you have been brought into it. Your sins are forgiven, your eyes behold Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit you have been given eyes to see and ears to hear, and you are now restored to the Father, you now even may approach Him in prayer. This is how God loves the world – not with petty baubles or riches that fade, the Triune God loves the world in this way – the Father sends the Son to the cross, and the Spirit makes us to behold the Son so that we might not perish but have eternal life. And that is where we live, that is who we are. That is whom God has made you to be – for you are a new creation in Christ, born again by water and the Spirit. Christ Jesus comes, and He blasts apart sin, blasts apart your sin, and He draws you unto Himself, gives Himself to you, even His very Body and Blood, so that you might have eternal life. This is the Triune God’s love for you, this is how He rescues you from sin and Satan and even from yourself. All thanks and praise be to our God now and forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +