Feast of the Holy Trinity + John 3:1-15 + May 22, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #298 Baptized Into Thy Name Most Holy
Hymn #238 All Glory Be To God Alone
Hymn #244 Glory Be to God the Father

Readings
Ezekiel 18:30-32
Romans 11:33-36
St. John 3:1-15

Collect for the Feast of the Holy Trinity
Almighty and Everlasting God, Who hast given unto us, Thy servants, grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the Eternal Trinity and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity, we beseech Thee that Thou wouldst keep us steadfast in this faith and evermore defend us from all adversities; Who livest and reignest, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Holy Gospel



Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, approaches Jesus under the cloak of darkness to speak with Christ. He has begun to see the contours of the greatest mystery of the Christian Faith, the essence of God Himself. He confesses his limited knowledge when he says to Jesus, “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.” Nicodemus is right, of course. The prophets of old could only do signs and miracles in so far as God was with them and that it was God’s will to do such signs and wonders. Jesus’ signs far outshine those of the prophets though. Moses, at God’s command, turned the water of the Nile into blood, brining judgment upon the Egyptians. Jesus turns water into wine which rejoices the heart and makes man glad. Moses’ works wrought death. Jesus’ works work life. Elisha pointed the leprous Naaman to the waters of the Jordan River to cleanse him from his disease. Jesus’ touches the flesh of lepers and cleanses it by His own holiness. Nicodemus has seen many of the signs of Jesus and realized that God is indeed with Him, though to the extent God is with Jesus Nicodemus cannot understand. Later in John 10:37-38 Jesus will say,If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” Jesus’ works demonstrate that He is of the same essence as God the Father. He is as brightness is to light, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” Nicodemus approaches Jesus, wanting to get to the bottom of who Jesus is. The ruler of the Jews wants to talk about God’s essence and Jesus’ relationship to that. But Jesus won’t bite on that just yet. Jesus wants to talk about something else entirely.

2)         Since Nicodemus called Him “a teacher come from God,” Jesus teaches Nicodemus. He seems to change the subject entirely when He responds, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus comes to Jesus to talk about Jesus’ identity. Jesus wants to talk about entrance into the kingdom of God. When Nicodemus can’t fathom being born a second time, Jesus becomes more explicit. “Most assuredly 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 flesh is flesh. That which is born of spirit is spirit.” Jesus teaches Nicodemus that the only way to enter God’s kingdom is through the waters of Holy Baptism, for that is where God rebirths sinners through water and the Spirit. This is why St. Paul calls baptism “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Nor does Jesus teach that this is something which man can decide to do himself. The great irony of American Evangelicalism is that it teaches people must make a decision to be born again, as if they had any say in their first birth according to the flesh! Jesus speaks of baptism as the act of God, the work of the Spirit through water and the Word, to rebirth people, to regenerate them as the new creation. Nicodemus had come to Jesus to figure out who He was and what was His relation to God. Now Jesus is teaching entrance into God’s kingdom as a work of the Spirit. Nicodemus is confounded and asks, “How can these things be?

3)         Jesus, as the teacher sent from God, whom God is with, has His pupil Nicodemus right where he needs to be. “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, We speak what We know and testify what WE have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Nicodemus expects to be able to understand Jesus’ relation to God. He imagines Jesus is no closer to God than one of the prophets of old. He imagines that Jesus is a teacher in the same vein as the rest. Christ disabuses Him of this opinion by teaching Him about baptism, the regeneration by water and Spirit, to show Nicodemus how limited his understanding about heavenly things truly is. It’s as if Jesus were telling him, “You can’t even understand that the Spirit must regenerate sinners through water and the Word. How do you expect to be able to understand God in His essence and My relationship to God the Father? Your human reason is worthless for understanding God in Himself. You can’t even understand how God wishes to bring sinners into His kingdom by giving them a second birth, a spiritual birth, through water and Spirit.” Jesus’ point is simple: Human reason can’t understand the new birth of water and the Spirit, how can it expect to understand God in His essence?

4)         In this Jesus confesses all the more His relationship to the Father by the pronous He uses. Nicodemus approaches Jesus, saying “We know that you are a teacher sent from God.” When Nicodemus says “we” he means the Sanhedrin, the rulers of the Jews, for those He comes to Jesus as one man, a singular entity, He speaks for the other rulers. They, as a body, are impressed with Jesus’ signs and teaching. But Jesus speaks in the plural as well. “Most assuredly, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” The “We” and “Our” of whom Jesus represents is the very God whom Nicodemus recognizes and the very Spirit of whom Jesus speaks of in baptism. And Jesus places Himself right in the middle of both of them, just as He was at His own baptism in the Jordan River, the spirit descending on Him in the form of a dove and the voice of God the Father coming from the heavens, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in the River Jordan, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are present. Nicodemus would have heard about Jesus’ baptism, for it was a public event and not hidden in some corner. By explaining the new birth of water and the Spirit to Nicodemus, Jesus is slowly answering Nicodemus’ original question of “just who are you in relation to God?” Even here, by His own words, Jesus puts Himself in the same category as God and the Spirit, the same Spirit of whom it is written, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Jesus is qualified to speak of this, of heavenly things, because He is the Son of Man “who came down from heaven” to be lifted up as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness.

5)         Looking back on this conversation, through the lens of Christ’s passion and death, His resurrection and ascension, we are able to see exactly what Jesus meant here. He proves to all that He is truly “from God” when God raised Him from the dead. The resurrection of Christ demonstrates that God fully accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as the atonement for the sins of the world. God sent His Only-Begotten Son into the world so that He might be lifted up on the tree of the cross, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” In love for sinners, God the Father sends God the Son to die for the sins of the world, to reconcile God to man, so that all who believe in the Son’s atoning death for their sins might be reconciled to the Father. This reconciliation happens when sinners believe the Gospel that God is merciful to all who seek Him in Christ. That faith is created by God the Holy Spirit, who regenerates sinners through Holy Baptism, so that they are born a second time, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Jesus has been speaking about baptism to Nicodemus. He speaks of His death on the cross. He speaks of faith. And all this time Jesus has been answering Nicodemus’ original question of “just who are you in relation to God?” He is the Son of Man, the Messiah, sent by God, who is also the Only-Begotten Son of God, of the same essence as the God the Father and the Holy Spirit whom He will send to sinners in baptism. And human reason will not comprehend this, just as it cannot comprehend how water combined with God’s Word regenerates sinners as new creations and works the miracle of faith in their hearts.

6)         Jesus teaches Nicodemus, and all who listen, that the essence of God cannot be spoken of and pondered without simultaneously speaking of God’s will for mankind. That God is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is mere academic knowledge if that identity is divorced from the will of the Triune, the three persons in one divine essence, God. God the Father “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), which is Christ Jesus who says, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). God the Father provides His Only-Begotten Son as the atoning sacrifice for all your sins, lifted up on the cross as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in Numbers 21, so that all who look to Christ crucified and believes that His atoning death is good for their sins, is saved from their sins. Faith in Christ, which God the Holy Ghost creates in us through His means of salvation, the Word, Baptism, and the Body and Blood of Christ, faith is what looks to Christ for the forgiveness of all our sins. When we confess the Trinity, we are not confessing a dry, esoteric abstraction. When we confess the Trinity we are confessing that we have a God who loves us and loves us enough to work our entire salvation for us and bestow it upon us through faith. Human reason does not grasp this, just as it is unable to grasp and reason out any of the articles of the Christian Verity. But thanks be to God that He gives us the Holy Ghost, that He rebirths us through water and the Word as the new man, the man of faith, which believes and confesses, “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the Undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him for He has shown mercy unto us.” Amen.

May the peace of God, which far surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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