Trinity Sunday – June 7th, 2009 – John 3:1-17
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Today, on Trinity Sunday, we celebrate and examine the mystery of Who God is and our wondrous relationship to Him. As we just confessed in the Athanasian Creed, “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity” – our God is Three in One – Father, Son, and Spirit, yet only One God – a God beyond our understanding, beyond our comprehension. “The Father eternal, the Son, eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal, and yet there are not three Eternals, but one Eternal”. This is a mystery, a wonder, something far beyond what we are used to dealing with. But this is our God – in all His awe inspiring majesty – Three persons, yet One God.
God is so beyond what we as Christians are used to. God is so beyond the everyday, normal things of life – and yet sometimes today the world, and even we Christians, can take such a ho-hum, such a cavalier attitude towards God. But when we pause, when we consider the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, we see once again that God is beyond us, above us, more than us – and once again we are taught humility and wonder. Too often we can think of God merely as a tool of our convenience. If I need something, I’ll ask You, God – if not, well. . . don’t call me, I’ll call You. And because of this attitude, because we can just fall into this unthinking, unappreciative attitude towards God – we miss out, we overlook the truly wondrous nature of God’s relationship with us.
This is shown clearly in the discussion between our Lord Jesus and Nicodemus in our Gospel lesson. 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.” Here we have Nicodemus – a ruler of the Jews – a silver spoon, a muckity muck – one of the hoitey toitey. And He comes to Jesus by night and tells Jesus that He is a great teacher, sent by God. Well, sounds good so far, right? No! Not at all. First of all, Nicodemus comes by night. Why by night? So no one will see him, so it will be merely a private thing and not public knowledge. Nicodemus doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s talking to Jesus. Jesus had been out publicly teaching – plenty of time in daylight – but instead, Nicodemus hides in the shadow. And even then, he wiffs on who Jesus is. We know you are a teacher. A teacher. A Rabbi. That’s it? Nicodemus doesn’t even think of Jesus as a Prophet, much less the Son of God, the Messiah. Teacher is low on the totem pole – I’m basically a Rabbi, Jay’s learning to be one – that’s a hum-drum every day thing that we expect all the time. Nicodemus doesn’t understand who he is dealing with yet, and even so he’s ashamed.
This explains why Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus is so curt, so blunt. Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus, Nicodemus, until you have been born again, until you have been brought to faith by God, you aren’t going to get it. Your life will be one where you simply run around in the shadows and really know nothing of God know nothing of Me, although you think you do. Now you and I know God, we have relationship with God only by faith, only by the gifts we receive from God, freely given. Nicodemus doesn’t get that yet. He probably thinks he doing Jesus a favor by talking to him, after all, Nicodemus is a leader of the Jews. Nicodemus’ confusion shows. “How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Nicodemus again is thinking simply earthly things – simply coarse, and probably vile things. This is a flippant answer, a dismissive answer. Apparently Nicodemus doesn’t even think Jesus is that great of a teacher, for he blows Jesus’ teaching off.
And then Jesus lays it out. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Here we see our Lord speak of the wonders of Baptism, that wonderful gift of God whereby God takes us sinful humans and washes us in Water and Spirit (because remember, wherever the Word of God is present, as it is at Baptism, there the Spirit is as well) – where God washes us in Water and Spirit and makes us to be part of His kingdom, part of His family. There is a change that must come – you cannot remain simply something of the world – something merely of the flesh. When you hear “flesh” in John’s Gospel, it’s not just body, it’s the coarseness and grittiness and wickedness of life in this world. That’s where we all start, in the gritty, dog eat dog world – and unless God makes us to be born of the Spirit, that’s where we will always remain. But consider what happened to you at your baptism. When you were born, you were born sinful, you were born a fleshly being, given and prone to the sins of the flesh. You came into this world a greedy, selfish thing. Sinful like your parents before you, and theirs before them, and so on and so forth, all the way back to Adam and Eve. You were, as Isaiah would say, a person of unclean lips who dwells amongst a people of unclean lips. A sinful being, with no right to be in the presence of God, no ability to come to Him, no hope but wrath and woe.
And then the wonder – God comes to you, God comes to you in Water and the Spirit, takes you and claims you as His own, makes you to be born of Spirit by the power of His Spirit at your Baptism, and you are born again, a new creation, created in Christ Jesus for life and salvation. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, comes to you, applies His very own name to you – I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – and brings you into relationship with Himself, makes you holy and righteous and forgiven, cleans your flesh into something spotless, and makes you part of God’s family, for all eternity. It is no small thing that you are baptized. It is no small wonder – but rather a miracle of earth shaking proportions – for indeed, even after this earth has melted away in the fires of the last day, you in your Resurrected and perfected Flesh, sinful no more, by virtue of being one of God’s baptized children, will dwell with God for all eternity. A wondrous thing that God freely gives.
But Nicodemus still doesn’t get it – Jesus’ words are just like whispers on the breeze – they make no sense to him. Like so many people today who hear the promise of Baptism and disbelieve, Nicodemus merely mutters, “How can these things be?” How can this be? How can this possibly work – how can God do this great thing for me? Don’t I have to do it myself, don’t I have to work my way up to God, don’t I have to give my heart to Him, don’t’ I have to do the work? Don’t I, don’t I, don’t I? And Jesus responds, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” You think you have to do it, Nicodemus? Don’t you know what your sinful flesh is like? Don’t you know that you are incapable of working your way up to God? God has preached His law, over and over, all throughout Scripture, Old and New, God has shown ypi that sinful man can do nothing – that Adam and his children are fallen, that all your works are as filthy rags, that even the patriarchs and the pious women of the Old Testament were sinful and fallen and could not earn their way to heaven. If you do not know this – if you don’t know that you are a sinner, you will not understand salvation – because our salvation rests not in yourself, but in Christ Jesus. How can these things be – because Christ acts.
“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.” Jesus refers to the Old Testament lesson of a few weeks ago. When the fiery serpents came and bit the children of Israel, they were dying – and unless they repented, unless they despaired of their own strength to survive, or their own cures and solutions – unless they beheld the bronze serpent in faith, they died. Likewise – God lifts up His Son, Christ Jesus upon the Cross, so that we who have been Baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit, might behold His righteous and perfect sacrifice for our sins and have life. How can these things be, how can Baptism do such great things, How can I have a relationship with God, a relationship which isn’t just an attempt to get stuff for this life but rather a relationship which is a participation in God’s own eternal life? How can all this be? Because Christ Jesus, the Son of God, took up a human body, and though He committed no sin, suffered and died, taking upon Himself the guilt of your sin. Because Christ Jesus strode forth from His tomb, His Body alive, guaranteeing eternal life and perfect to us. That is how it happens.
For God So loved the World – We can miss the point of this verse – God loves the world? Really, how so? God so loves, God loves the world in this way – if you want to understand God’s love for the world the way in which you will see it is this – He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. This, the Cross, is how God’s love works, is how He loves us. In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and gave His Son to be the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice] for our sins. And the benefits, the gift that this is, is what we receive in Baptism, it is at Baptism where we have proof positive that everything that Christ has done is ours, given to us – see, we are in His Name – we have the Name of the Triune God applied to us – signed and sealed unto us, a truth that is proclaimed whenever the sign of the Cross is made. And we are part of God’s family now, not just in pretty picture language, but in reality. This is the wonder that we rejoice in this Trinity Sunday. Not just that God is Triune, but that now, wherever you go, God Almighty, Three in One and One in Three, God so far beyond your comprehension as to be mind boggling – wherever you go God is with you, for He loves you in Christ and has redeemed you, claimed you as His own. This is the relationship you have with God that He has created in You, this is the relationship He sustains by the preaching of His Word, His gift of forgiveness, and His most Holy Supper. This is the relationship you shall dwell in face to face for all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +