Trinity Sunday – John 3:1-17 – June 19th, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Who are you? That is the question that I would ask of you this day. Who are you? What is the key thing that defines, that shapes you, that makes you who you are? There are many ways we might answer. I myself could say that I am a husband, a father, a pastor, a son, an OU graduate. These are all true, but they and answers like them are not the vital, the most important thing. No, the highest, the most important thing for both you and I is this. We are those who have been baptized in the Name of the Triune God, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is there, in our baptism, that we are defined. It’s not that we chose or define ourselves, but God calls us children of God, God gives us life everlasting and forgiveness, God pulls us out of the darkness of this fallen world and brings us into His marvelous light, even forever more. Everything else pales in comparison to the truth that you have been baptized into the Triune God – male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, young or old, rich or poor – they all pale in comparison to the fact that you have been joined to God Almighty in the gift of Holy Baptism. That is why, on this Trinity Sunday, the day where we contemplate the reality that God is Triune, Father, Son, and Spirit, that our Gospel lesson is John 3. This text points us to the truth that we know who Christ Jesus is, that we understand the Father’s love, that we have received the Father’s love all by the washing of water and the Spirit.
To begin our text, a fellow by the name of Nicodemus approaches Christ. Now, I will warn you, I will be a bit harsh concerning Nicodemus, because in this text, he doesn’t understand. However, by all accounts, he does after the resurrection, in fact, tradition holds that he becomes a leader in the early church. But right here, in this text – he doesn’t get it yet. Let us note what happens: “This man [Nicodemus] 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.’” It sounds good at first blush, but in reality, it just shows that Nicodemus doesn’t understand. All he thinks of Jesus is that Jesus is a good teacher, a wise Man, someone God likes. And moreover, while Nicodemus will admit that Jesus is a good teacher, he’s a bit ashamed of this fact. He comes at night – Nicodemus doesn’t praise Jesus in the daylight, when people are around – he comes at night. He doesn’t want to be labeled, doesn’t want to be identified as one of those Christ-followers. Nicodemus doesn’t understand who Jesus is, and he is embarrassed by the grudging respect he gives to Jesus.
Is this not just the attitude of the fallen world? Eh, sure, Jesus was a good teacher, but that’s it. Eh, Christ was okay – but those Christians, those who believe that He is something more than a mere teacher… oh, forget that! The world will pay our Lord a token of respect – Islam will call Him a prophet, a Buddhist will say He a wise teacher, an atheist will cite the Golden Rule – but that’s it.
Our Lord explains why. “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Unless you have been born again – unless you have been given the gift of faith, unless God Himself has worked in you faith and given You His Own Spirit – you won’t rightly see Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Apart from God we are spiritually dead, and the dead don’t see anything. Unless God opens your eyes, gives you New life in Him – doesn’t make sense. As proof of that, listen to Nicodemus’ reply. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Nicodemus has no clue. None, whatsoever. His best guess is just plain icky at best. His focus is just on physical, mundane, worldly things.
Then Jesus answers him, “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.” And here Jesus lays out what is coming, what He is going to give to His Church in the gift of Baptism. When you were baptized, when you were born of Water and the Spirit, you were given new life, you were declared to be no longer simply part of this fallen world, but attached to God. Indeed, the Holy Spirit publicly declared that you would be His temple. And because of this, because the Holy Spirit, by the power of the Word of God, attached to the water of Holy Baptism, you now see Christ Jesus, you now know His salvation, and you have entered into relationship and communion and fellowship with Him – you have entered the Kingdom of God, the power and righteous rule of God, because you have been joined to Christ Jesus.
Now, can one come to faith apart from Baptism? Sure – the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, whether it is preached or whether it is tied to water in Baptism. That “he cannot enter the kingdom of God” isn’t speaking about permission, but ability – it means “is not able, does not have the power to enter the kingdom of God.” Apart from the Holy Spirit, who both works faith in Christ and brings us to the font – we simply will not be able to know Christ or His salvation. This is catechism lesson stuff – I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel… and so on. But the point that our Lord is making here is that in His Church, this is how things will work. God will bring His own to the waters of Holy Baptism, and there the Name of the Triune God will be placed upon us, and we will be united to Christ and all that is His, the Holy Spirit will dwell in us and give us faith in Christ, and thus we are joined to Christ Jesus who is the Way to the Father, the Truth of God, and is Life Himself. Baptism gives faith, and when faith is given by the Word, that faith always leads directly to baptism – when the Spirit opens the eyes of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts, he asks to be baptized. The Gospel is preached at Pentecost, people are baptized. A small child is born of the flesh – and his parents see that He is baptized and born of the Spirit as well.
And Jesus points out something neat in His next few sentences. In Greek – Spirit and wind are the exact same word. So, listen: “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.” Apart from faith, apart from the working of the Holy Spirit, the things of the Christian faith make no sense. People might see things, but they won’t understand. But what we confess is this – the Holy Spirit works faith in people by the Word of God, when and where He wills, and He has promised to be with us and establish His own relationship with us in Holy Baptism. And of course, in our text, Nicodemus doesn’t get this yet – “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’” How? I don’t get it. I don’t understand. Well, of course you can’t understand these things apart from the Holy Spirit. As of yet, Nicodemus doesn’t believe, doesn’t really know who Jesus is, and so it all makes no sense. And then our Lord proclaims who He is. He is the One who bears witness to the Father – for He is the One who has come down from heaven for our salvation. He is the One who will be lifted up upon the Cross, so that whoever believes in Him would have eternal life and be saved from Sin.
And then we get the famous verse we all know. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” And this is the verse the world will never understand. If you want to know God’s love, if you want to know how God loves and cares for the world – you don’t look to your pocket book. Sometimes it’s full – sometimes not so full. That changes. You don’t look to your feelings or emotions. Sometimes you are up, and sometimes you are down. They change. You don’t look to the wonders of the world, because sometimes that prairie that looks so beautiful starts to look dark and ugly and violent as the storm comes sweeping in. The world changes. Everything changes in this fallen place, except for one thing. God’s love for you, and how you know, how you can be certain that God loves you. Christ Jesus had died upon the Cross. This is fact. This does not change. He is Christ the Crucified, who went to the Cross to pay for the sins of the world.
And do you know what? The world may not see this, the world may not understand God’s love for them – the very people who hate and revile Christ Jesus do not understand His love for them. But you, dear friends, you are baptized. You have been claimed by God, God Himself has washed you in water and the Spirit, and your eyes have been opened, your mind has been opened, you have been given the precious gift of faith so that you might realize and know and trust in the wonder and mystery of all ages. Christ Jesus died for you. He rose for you. He shed His blood for you. For God so loved you, that He baptized you and declared you to be His own precious son, His own daughter, so that you would believe in Christ Jesus, so that the Holy Spirit would dwell within you, constantly call you here to this place to be in the Word, to receive Christ and His forgiveness, all so that you might share in the life everlasting, the life of the world to come.
The cross is the proof that God loves the world. Your baptism is the proof that God loves you, and the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit given in Baptism is what gives you life and makes you to know this truth, what brings the Cross to you. The most important thing in your life is the fact that you are baptized – and this shapes everything in your life. Now you strive to do good works, not because God is angry and mean, but because you are His forgiven child and that’s just what happens, what you do. You resist sin and temptation, because God has claimed you as His own dwelling place, and He doesn’t lead you into temptation. You stand boldly in this world, and when you sin in your frailness and weakness, you confess your sins, you receive forgiveness, you come to the Altar and receive Christ’s Body and Blood – because the God who delivered you from Evil at your Baptism delights in delivering you and will forgive and once again create in you a free and clean Spirit, give you His Holy Spirit. This is His promise to you, sign, sealed, and delivered in the waters of Holy Baptism, in which you were joined to the Triune God. Thus, all of our lives, wherever we go, are lived in Confidence in Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +