Trinity Sunday - May 30th and 31st, 2015 - John 3:1-17
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 +
Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday - and the Church year shifts focus. Instead of focusing so much on the life of Jesus, His birth (which we focus on at Christmas) or His passion (which we most strongly focus on during Holy Week), we will end up moving more through His teaching - looking at what He taught and did in His earthly ministry. We are going to end up focusing on ideas - and on Trinity Sunday we deal with God - with God as Triune, Three in One and One in Three -- that mystery that we can't full wrap our heads around but rather simply confess. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - yet 1 God, One God Who loves us. And to start off our time of learning this year - we start with the basics - a text that includes John 3:16 - which most of you probably know by heart. But let's look at this conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus, and see what we learn.
"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.'" At first blush, this sounds good. But it's not. Here is Nicodemus. He's a powerful, strong man. A leader, full of influence. Yet - when he comes to Jesus... he comes at night. Secretly. When no one else can see. And even though he talks big - Oh, WE know - he's there by himself. When a leader, a politician seeks to do a secret meeting at night, is it generally a good thing? No! And basically this is what you have Nicodemus doing. The Pharisees by this time are all up in their vapors over Jesus, they are hemming and hawing. And Nicodemus sneaks off and meets with Jesus - to see how he can work and maneuver the situation to his advantage. He calls Jesus a teacher - but if he really thought Jesus was teaching, he would have spoken to Jesus during the day while He was teaching. It's at night - this is shady. Which explains the curtness of Jesus' reply.
"Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Truly, truly - Amen Amen. This is the phrase that Jesus uses when He loads up and drops a bomb on someone. Nicodemus - you just don't get it. You are not born again, so you don't understand - you don't understand who I am or what I am doing. I'm not here to play your little political games or deal with earthly delights. And to prove Jesus' point, Nicodemus asks perhaps the most disturbing question in the Bible. "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?'" Oh, is there some sort of freaky, kinky cult that I need to join, Jesus? That's what Nicodemus is asking - maybe this Jesus is going to introduce to us one of those pagan cults with the special "ladies" you see for "worship". Comes to see Jesus at night, after all. That's what Nicodemus thinks might be going on, maybe that's why this Jesus is so popular.
Which is why Jesus lays into him even more. "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." Get your mind out of the gutter, Nicodemus. Get your mind off of pleasures of the flesh - I am speaking here to spiritual realities, to truths beyond just rutting around like pigs in slop. This isn't about a good time here on earth - this is about being joined with God for all eternity - about God Himself, the Holy Spirit coming to you. And did you note how the Holy Spirit comes - born of water and the Spirit. Here Jesus is pointing forward to baptism - to your baptism even, where you were born again, where by Water and the Word the Spirit claimed you as His own, so that you would see and understand and inherit the kingdom of God.
Jesus continues: "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 who is born of the Spirit." There's a point we miss in this translation, that I brought up at bible study last week. In Greek, the word used here for "Wind" and "Spirit" are the exact same word. The Spirit blows where it wishes - you hear its sound (think Pentecost), but you don't understand where it comes from or where it goes. And so the analogy is this - you don't get to control the wind, and you don't get to control the Spirit. Rather, the Holy Spirit is in charge and moves you. And folks who aren't born again, who aren't part of the Church - simply aren't going to understand what Christians do. It just won't sink in -- and as you are approaching this not as a believer, but as a huckster trying to gain an advantage, you won't understand.
To which Nicodemus asks, "How can these things be?" How. How is a question of doubt. Yeah, how does this all work? You talk about these folks born of the Spirit - but I've been around the block a few times, pal. I know the way the world works, I know how the bread gets buttered. Nicodemus is basically brushing Jesus off here, disdaining Him. And so Jesus calls him on it. "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?" Come on, Nicodemus - this is Old Testament 101. This is the Prophet Joel speaking to the pouring out of the Spirit -- didn't you pick up on that? You're the teacher, you should know the Old Testament. If I play off of the earthly things - the obvious things from the Old Testament - and you don't get it... how are you going to understand anything? In fact, how will you wrap your mind around this: "No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man." If you can't understand the simple idea that the Messiah has come and that the Holy Spirit will be poured out, how are you going to understand that the Son of Man, that the Messiah is actually true God Himself? Are you going to simply grouse about the Mystery of the Trinity? The Old Testament should have been preparing you - as a teacher you should have been picking up on this. Because the Old Testament is full of foreshadowing about Jesus - and Jesus gives a great example: "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." During the exodus, the fiery serpents came and bit the Israelites, and many of them died, and so God had Moses put a bronze snake on a pole, and he raised up that pole, and whoever saw it, lived. That's why you have a snake on a pole on ambulances or doctors offices to this day. But that's small potatoes, Nicodemus - the Messiah, God Himself is going to be lifted up - He's going to be lifted up upon a cross because Satan, the great serpent, has gotten his teeth into all of you - but the way in which you will be saved is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Because this is how God loves the world. "For God so loved the world..." This is how God loves the world - if you want to know what God's love is, you don't look at wealth or political power or your own connections, Nicodemus. How can these things be? How so? Well, I'll tell you how so - "that He gave His only Son, so 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." There it is Nicodemus - there's the point. It's not about political power, or being in charge of things, or freaky weird cults, or personal glory or wealth or might. No - this is about God looking with love and mercy upon His fallen creation, about God Himself coming down to fix things - and fixing things through death and resurrection. And when you see and understand this by the working of the Holy Spirit, joy and peace and confidence that the world will not understand is yours.
So then - what of us today? Does it bother you, dear friends, how many people just don't understand, don't get Jesus or Church or this place? Does it bug you how many people think your reliance upon Christ is foolish, or that when you speak of Christ that you are just spouting hot air? Well, it's nothing new. Even folks who should know better didn't get it. Nicodemus is an example of this - but also a happier example - by the end of the book he actually believes. The simple fact is this - you are born of the Spirit, and so you have been given by God an attitude and an approach that is not like the rest of the world. You are focused upon sin and forgiveness. You are focused upon the struggle against temptation and waiting for the resurrection. You are taught and trained to love you neighbors - and not "love" being something sappy - but where the chief example and model of love is to die, to give yourself up for their sake - because that's how God loves you. And the world thinks this is all crazy. Poll numbers about issues or the decline of Christianity should never surprise us. In fact, our own sinful flesh thinks all this is crazy - how many times this week did you resist showing the love you know you ought to have? But, by the power of God's Word and Spirit - we know this, we understand. We are sinners in a sinful world, and yes, we will struggle with sin. But our confidence is not in how well we struggle, how successful we are - our confidence is this. Whereas our love is often imperfect and shallow, God has loved us thoroughly and completely - for Jesus has gone to the cross, He has died and He has risen, and thus we are forgiven. Thus we believe in Him. And that is that. That's the point - always the point, in everything and in all things.
And now, we have confidence. When Isaiah looked up and saw the throne of God, He was terrified. Us - we will sing along with the song of the Angels, Holy Holy Holy - the Three in One and One in Three is the Holy God - and we will enter into God's presence, and our Lord will take His own Body and Blood from the altar of the Cross, and He will place it upon your lips, and you are forgiven, your sin atoned for and removed. This is the reality, the truth, the wonder of God's love that we begin to know now and will know in full when He comes again. But be at peace - peace the world cannot understand, for you belong to Christ, He has poured out His Spirit upon you, and now in Christ you are reconciled to the Father and prepared for eternal life. All thanks be to the Triune God for our salvation - in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +