St. John 3:1-17
May 31, 2015
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christian teaching, just like the Bible itself, is simple enough for a child to understand, but profound enough to baffle the wisest theologian. Trinity Sunday exists today because a few of the Church’s wisest theologians were baffled with regard to God’s essence and fell into heresy in their teaching. This forced the Church’s bishops to develop the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and write our creeds. Yet, from the beginning of the Christian Church, babies were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and laity believed in God as such. There is no doctrine so clear as to be immune from the attacks of Satan and this world. It should not surprise us that God’s identity is attacked, but it should also not surprise us that the truth shines forth even brighter after the Church defends against such attacks.
The discussion between Nicodemus and Jesus seems, on the surface, to be a strange text for Trinity Sunday. There are passages in the Gospels that mention explicitly the three persons of the Trinity like at Jesus’ Baptism, or Jesus’ Words in Matthew 28, John 14, or John 16. But in fact, the mystery of the Trinity and the mystery of the kingdom of God are similar in that they must be received in faith. Human reason will always be stumped by these two doctrines. “How can God be three distinct persons in one undivided unity?” “How can a man be born when He is old?” “How can a sinner be saved?” In order to be saved you must “worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity” and “believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In order to see the kingdom of God, you must be born again, become something altogether new.
Nicodemus personifies of our own personal struggle with God and our own salvation. In our sinful flesh, we are constantly engaged in an internal battle. Having been converted by the Holy Spirit, we have been given faith to believe all that God teaches us in the Holy Scriptures, but our sinful human reason experiences the world differently. We see the pain and suffering that is in our life and we’re tempted to think that either God doesn’t care about us, or that He can’t really help us or doesn’t want to. We experience our own weaknesses in the face of temptation, we know that we are selfish and self-centered. We know that we put ourselves above others, don’t pray as often or as heartily as we ought. So we Nicodemuses come to Jesus furtively in the cover of darkness to question Him. That way, if He fails us, we can sneak off again by ourselves and not be embarrassed in front of our friends or family. We come to Jesus with our questions and our lists of problems.
But before we get a chance to ask the first one, Jesus fires off a creedal statement: “Truly, truly, I say to you, (there are three such statements in this Gospel text, alone, each building on the last) unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus gets right down to the point. He sees through the fog of Nicodemus’s unbelief. It’s as if Jesus says, “Nicodemus, I know you are scared of many things. You’re scared that I’m either a fraud or really the Messiah; you’re scared of what your religious peers would say if they saw you talking with me; you’re scared for your salvation and the salvation of your family.” Jesus does not want to leave Nicodemus in his fear. He wants to bring him into the light of the truth. His life has been held captive in the darkness of a misunderstanding of the Scriptures.
It is impossible for human reason ever to comprehend the fact that salvation cannot be achieved by keeping the Law. It is part of the nature with which we were born, that we all desperately want God to consider us relatively good people who have done many good things. The moment God denies us this praise, and shows us our sin, our flesh balks and complains that God is too harsh and is not fair, many even fall away not wanting a God like that. But Jesus says, whoever is not reborn, will never see the kingdom of God. The whole person must become something new and different. The flesh must be killed and the Spirit must give life. A tree must become a good tree before it can produce good fruit; therefore, man must first become truly good and holy before he is capable of having faith and doing anything that is good. The focus of Jesus upon being born of water and the Spirit is no accident. Baptism is the rebirth of a person into something different. It is as passive as your physical birth from your mother. You did not participate in your human birth. It happened to you. So also, your spiritual birth in water and the Spirit is a passive act, done for you by God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s what Jesus is trying to tell Nicodemus.
He attempts to show him from an earthly example of the wind—He does not know where it comes from or where it’s going. But just because you can’t see it, or understand it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or isn’t real. The Holy Spirit moves and works whether we see Him or not. God’s Word always accomplishes what it sets out to do.
Jesus makes a third creedal statement, speaking in the first person plural like He did at creation. Here he speaks of being the Messiah, the Son of God. All in one verse, Jesus confesses His incarnation, His crucifixion, and His ascension. He proves to Nicodemus from the Old Testament that the Law will not save him, but rather the Son of Man, who came to be lifted up on a cross like Moses lifted up the snake. Nicodemus doesn’t have to be fearful of salvation. Jesus came to win it for everyone and give it away for free. It’s universal, for everyone, even timid people who are afraid and come to Jesus in the night of their lives, and the darkness of their mis-understanding.
Finally, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “This is how God loves the world, He sent His only Son into it so that WHOEVER believes in Him, will have eternal life. The Son of Man did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” There is therefore a connection between being born again, being born of water and the Spirit, hearing the testimony of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, looking to Jesus on the cross, and seeing the love of God. All these things are wrapped up into one big mystery that must be grasped by faith.
The Holy Spirit has worked from the first Pentecost until now, so that you and the whole Christian Church on earth has and preserves this Gospel. And by His work, you are made into something new. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are attentive to your salvation. Just as they created heaven and earth, so they re-create you by water and the Spirit into child of God, because they love you.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
 Athanasian Creed.
 Luther, House Postils, 2:209.
 1 Cor 2:14.