Trinity Sunday Sermon| Rolf D. Preus| June 7, 2020| St. John 3:1-15
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.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 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?” Jesus answered, “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 the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:1-15
Today is Trinity Sunday. God is one. The Old Testament Church confessed the shema, which is the Hebrew word for hear: “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) We worship only one God. There is only one God. The one and only God who actually exists is the Triune God. We are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In baptism we are born again and enter into the kingdom of God. In this kingdom we worship the Father who sent his only begotten Son into this world to rescue us from our sins. We worship the Son who was lifted up on the cross to suffer and die for us and who rose again on the third day. We worship the Holy Spirit who gives us the new birth so that we can know God and enter into his kingdom. We are born of water and the Spirit when we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
We confess the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday. We confess the greatest mystery of our Christian religion. We begin this creed by saying that whoever does not hold this faith “whole and undefiled” will perish eternally. We close this creed by saying that whoever does not believe it “faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.” The Athanasian Creed confesses the pure Christian truth about who God is. This creed was written some years after Athanasius died and was named after him. Athanasius was a great defender of the faith who lived during the 4th century. He defended the mysteries of the Trinity and the true deity of Christ against the heretic, Arius. We confess the three catholic creeds – the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian – because these creeds are faithful and true confessions of the holy, Christian, Trinitarian faith. We confess:
The catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.
All Christians worship the Holy Trinity. Many so called churches that call themselves Christian are not Christian. Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Pentecostal Church International, Christian Science, and many others claim to be Christian churches but are not Christian churches because they deny the Trinity. All Christians confess the Trinity. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Such as the Father is, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit. But the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. God is three distinct persons and one divine substance. All Christians confess this. Any so called church that denies the Trinity is not a church. It is not Christian.
How can God be three and yet only one? How can the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each be true God, inseparable, but nevertheless distinct persons? Don’t ask how God can be God. That’s an insolent question coming from a mere human being! God is who he is. When Moses asked God his name God replied, “I am who I am.” To be a Christian is to be Trinitarian. This is not an intellectual achievement. We don’t try to figure out how God can be who he is. We believe in him as he has revealed himself to us in Christ. Faith is a miracle of God.
We cannot believe in him unless we are born from above. You must be born from above by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s because when you were born of the flesh you were flesh. You were born in spiritual darkness, blinded by sin. You were born spiritually dead. We must be born from above. Only the Holy Spirit can enlighten our darkened hearts and enable us to believe in the true God. Jesus made this clear to Nicodemus. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Perhaps he was afraid to be seen with Jesus in the daylight. He was a bright, successful, observant, and well educated man. He knew that Jesus was a true teacher sent by God. He saw his miracles and concluded that Jesus was not an ordinary man. Nicodemus was not biased by jealousy of Jesus or by judgmental legalism as were many of the Pharisees. He was a decent and fair-minded man. But he was spiritually blind.
That’s why Jesus told him that unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Our reasoning ability is a wonderful gift from God. But human reason can only deal with things of this world. We hope and pray that scientists will be able to use their God-given intelligence and reasoning abilities to find a prevention and cure of the virus that has wreaked such havoc on the physical and economic health of our nation. We all hope that calm and reasonable people will be able to deal reasonably with problems that arise in policing our cities so that both justice and public peace will be established. If only reason were to prevail in civil affairs!
When it comes to spiritual matters, reason must be placed firmly under the authority of God’s word, and God’s word teaches us things that appear to us to be very unreasonable. This is why we must be born again, born from above, born of water and the Spirit. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit works faith in us through baptism and through the gospel we hear. The Holy Spirit works faith through the word and sacraments of Christ. We call them means of grace because they are the means by which the Holy Spirit gives us grace. We know that the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts through the means of grace. We don’t know how.
The wind blows where it wishes. We hear the sound and see the affect but cannot understand how it works. So it is with the Spirit. I’ve been preaching the gospel for over forty years. Some receive it with joy. It penetrates their souls and changes them. They repent of their sins. They cling to the gospel of Jesus lifted up on the cross for them to die for their sins. They look to the cross, trust in Christ, and find new and eternal life. All of this is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Others hear the gospel and are not interested. Talk about Christ, his suffering, his substitution, his bearing away our sins, and forgiveness of sins through his blood and they become bored. Such talk is foreign to their lives. It’s not relevant to their perceived needs. You must be born from above! God gives the new birth through Holy Baptism. God sustains us in the truth faith through his gospel. Yes, he does. But many are baptized and hear the gospel and yet reject what God gives them. Only God knows why some embrace and others reject the gospel. The wind blows where it will. The Spirit is like the wind. We cannot give the Holy Spirit power or take away his power. He is God and we’re not.
Nicodemus knew Jesus as a teacher sent by God. He needed to know him as the only begotten Son of the Father. To know God you must know Jesus. You must know that he is God. More than that, you must look for him where he is lifted up. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so that those dying from poisonous snake bites would live, the Son of Man was lifted up on the cross that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. You must be born again. If you are not born again you cannot see God’s kingdom.
You must be born again or you will make your own god in your own image. Only those who are born from above know the Holy Trinity. Only those who see God lifted up on the cross taking away their sins and rescuing them from death know the Holy Trinity. The Father’s love put the Son up on the cross. Faith in him comes from the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity is not an arithmetic equation. The Trinity is God. He’s not an idea. He’s a who. Dort and I took a little vacation in Wyoming and saw some very beautiful country. From the Snowy Mountains west of Laramie to the Devil’s Tower north of Sundance we saw the beautiful creation of our Father in heaven. Our Father who claims us as his children, who so loved us that he gave us his only begotten Son to die for us, is the One who made the beautiful world we take for granted. This is our Father’s world!
This Son, this eternally beloved Son whom he gave to us, joined us in our humanity. He who was the Son of God, equal with his Father, called himself the Son of man. He came from heaven, joined our flesh and blood, and remained in heaven all the while, joining his eternal deity to our humanity. He – true God and true man – bore in his body all our sin to remove it from us as far as the east is from the west. Our God is our brother! He does not bear our sin to toss it in our face. He takes it away.
We could not believe this without the Holy Spirit. Faith isn’t our work. Faith doesn’t do. It looks. The Spirit of truth creates and sustains in our hearts the true faith that looks up on him who dies for us. Faith sees in that holy sacrifice the only true God: the Father who sent the Son, the Son who suffers for us, the Holy Spirit who, by inscribing this crucifixion on our hearts, gives us the new birth from above, enlightens us, comforts us, saves us, and keeps us in the true Christian faith.
Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.
Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.