Trinity Sunday – May 21st and 22nd, 2016 – John 3:1-17 and Isaiah 6:1-7
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
“Now, there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night...” The beginning of our Gospel lesson, dear friends, ought to give us pause. And I say this especially because we are in John's Gospel today, and John brings in some unique details, has a unique approach in telling the Gospel of Christ Jesus. And today, we get the famous John 3 passage, and we can want to jump right to the end, to John 3:16 since we've all got that verse memorized, but let's just pause and think about this. Nicodemus comes by night. Doesn't that seem fishy to you? Off to you? I mean, as a Pastor I get that there are some questions you might want to ask that are personal and not in front of everyone else – but Nicodemus isn't asking a question. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God.” There's nothing scandalous there, nothing you'd need to wait for nighttime to bring up. But John is making a very specific point about Jesus, a point about Nicodemus here. On Christmas day, the Gospel reading is John 1, in which reading we hear of Jesus, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
On Trinity Sunday we start the teaching time of the Church year, and here we get lesson 1. Just who is God, what is He like? Who is this Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that we worship? We can talk a lot about Him, we can confess (as we do in the Athanasian Creed... at length) that there is one God but three persons, and that each person is God and yet there are not three Gods but One God. Yes, it's confusing and complicated and we can't fully wrap our minds around the Trinity; of course not, do you think the inner workings and existence of God Almighty is going to fit in our tiny skulls? We aren't called to “understand” the Trinity, but we confess it. But this Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – what's He like? What's His attitude towards people? I mean, especially as we are sinful men, as we mess up in spades. Sinners don't expect to do well in the hands of an angry God. I mean, take Isaiah – he is just minding his own business in the temple one day, and he looks up and then, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple.” Suddenly He sees God filling the place – and there's angels, there's “Holy, Holy, Holy” - the place is shaking, it's filled with smoke. And Isaiah sees all this, and he has a quite logical reaction. I'm dead. I'm dead meat, I am toast. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah expects to die! Right there, Isaiah expects to die. The whole face melting thing from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark – that's what Isaiah is expecting. Yet that's not what happens. The angel brings a coal from the altar, burning with fire, burning bright and giving off light, and places it upon Isaiah's lips and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” God doesn't smite Isaiah – instead, He forgives him.
Okay, but that's Isaiah, and he's a prophet and all. If there's someone who'd get an exception to the mean angry God wanting to smite everyone, surely it would be Isaiah. So let's come back to our Gospel. There's Nicodemus. And who is Nicodemus? He's a Pharisee. Think on all the problems the Pharisees cause for Jesus. Strike 1. And he's a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus is a leader, a member of the Sanhedrin, and the angry mob that he was supposed to be leading is going to end up calling for Jesus to be crucified. Strike 2. And finally, he comes by night. This is a bold and mighty strike 3. In that giant battle between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, God and Sin... Nicodemus is clearly stuck right there on the wrong side. Night time is the time when you do wickedness. And it's clear as the conversation goes on that Nicodemus isn't getting stuff, that his thoughts are off. So, of course, Jesus looks to his disciples and says, “Call Me down some fire and brimstone from heaven to smoke this joker”... wait. No, that's not actually what happens.
Jesus talks to Nicodemus. Patiently. I mean, it's not a great conversation for Jesus. Every time Jesus says something, Nicodemus messes up. Jesus speaks to being born again, getting to see the Kingdom of God (see – something that would require light, not darkness). That's a great thing – hey, there's new birth, being born again, born from on high (because “again” and “from on high” are the same word in Greek), and you'll get to see the Kingdom of God. And Nicodemus' response? Wicked. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Wicked. That's an old testament pagan answer, that's one that would make a Babylonian blush. And, yet again, Jesus shows patience.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of God.” No, actually I'm pointing to Baptism here, Nicodemus. And yes, Jesus here talks about the Father and the Spirit – it's all happily Trinitarian. Just as baptism is – In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus that Nicodemus is in a bad spot here. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'” Listen, you are thinking earthly, sinful thoughts, here. You're down in the muck – I'm trying to give you heaven. I am going to bring you out of this fallen life in the world where you live for a bit and chase after vain pleasures and then you die – and instead I'm going to give you eternal life, I'm going to give you the Spirit of God once again, the same Spirit who breathed in to Adam's nostrils the breath of the life. This is good for you, Nicodemus.
And then Nicodemus just brings more sass. “How can these things be?” Yeah right, Jesus! Just how in tarnation do You think You're going to pull that one off? Three times Nicodemus speaks, three times he speaks disdain and wickedness. That's three strikes again, surely You'll punch him out now, Jesus, right? Nope. More patience. Maybe a little bit of exasperation on Jesus' part - “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” Come on, Nicodemus, everything in the Old Testament drives to this. This is Genesis 3 stuff – I'm here to bruise Satan's head and restore mankind. I've come down from heaven to do this. Or Moses – think on the bronze serpent – see Me and live! That's the point, that's the goal, that's the game plan.
Then we get, finally, to the famous verse – John 3:16 (and I'm going to include verse 17). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” Think about this. This verse, about God's great love, love that takes Jesus to the Cross and kills Him so that you get to live, isn't said in the context of people doing stuff for Jesus. Jesus isn't looking at the disciples when He says this. It's not a matter of “well, you guys are trying so hard, so I guess I can die for you.” He says it to Nicodemus, he says it to a rude, crude, dirty old man who ignores the Scriptures when it's his job to teach the Scriptures. Nicodemus is pond scum... and yet, Jesus, with patience and kindness, tells Nicodemus that God's sacrificial love is for him. And just to make sure we don't get confused – the Son wasn't sent into the world to condemn it. The world is doing a perfect fine job condemning and destroying itself thank you very much – no, Jesus comes to save.
So, who is this Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit? He is the God that loves you and comes to save you. That's lesson number 1. Really, it is. To save you, not because of what you do, not because of what you can bring to the table, but because that's who He is. Who is our God – our God is the One who says, “Oh, good night, man has sinned and is going to die. Guess I better become man and die and rise for their sake to save them.” This is why John in his first epistle will spell it out again – God is love. Seriously. Really. Really really, no bones about it. This is lesson one. This is why the preschoolers sang “Jesus loves me” over and over this past year. Because that's the point, and everything that happens in this place revolves around God's love for you. Period.
You realize, it is precisely the fact that God thoroughly loves us that lets us examine ourselves and confront our sin. If you think that God is mean and evil, you hide stuff. You do it at night, thinking that way you're away from the light. And off and alone and isolated, you sin, you do stupid stuff that only ends up hurting you and causing pain to yourself and others, because all sin is stupid and bad. This Trinity season we'll have plenty of lessons that examine how and why all sorts of sins are stupid and bad. You know what – God doesn't want you stuck in those sins. He doesn't want you stuck in darkness, stuck in the desires and passions of the flesh. That's why Christ Jesus came – and not to smite you for those sins... He came as the Light of the World, to remove and banish that darkness. He came bringing baptism, to take you who were flesh and to give you His Holy Spirit, to create a new heart within you. You think Isaiah got something when he got a burning coal from the altar – from this altar today you get the Light of Light incarnate's own Body and Blood. All your sins, even the scary, nasty ones, even the ones that you still struggle against, have been forgiven by Christ the Crucified. Go now, depart not in fear and dread, but in peace. God loves you, an d He is with you, and He is with you always, even until the life of the world to come. Who is the Triune God? He is love, love come down to you to rescue you from sin and darkness. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.