The Christian faith always demands your very best. This is not a statement of the Law, but a description of reality. Christianity is dealing with God, and with the truth about God and His will. Because God is God and more than human, He can do and say and be more than we can conceive of. So, while a little child can know and believe enough to have saving faith, the brightest minds in the world, working at full capacity and brilliance, cannot exhaust what may be known, or understood, or believed, about God – and will never quite grasp the totality of God and who He is. You can give it all you got and never quite be finished, and you need to give your faith the best that is in you because the more you know, the more you can believe, and the more you believe, the greater your peace and comfort in the faith.
Today is Trinity Sunday, a day in the Church Year that focuses more than any other time of whom the Trinity is and what the work of the Holy Trinity is. Everything that needs to be said about the Trinity has already been confessed in the Athanasian Creed, a Creed that is confessed only on this day. The Athanasian Creed declares that its teachings concerning the Holy Trinity and our Lord’s incarnation are “the catholic faith.” We don’t mean the Roman Catholic Church, but rather, catholic with a lower “c”, which means universal. In other words, this is what the true Church of all times and all places had confessed.
As we look at today’s Gospel reading, we have a conversation that takes place between Jesus and a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus. Jesus had frequent encounters with the Pharisees, the work-righteous and often hypocritical Jewish religious elite. Usually they sought to discredit Jesus, but this time, one of them came alone secretly at night. Perhaps he feared the reactions of the other Pharisees who saw Jesus as a threat to them. Nicodemus, unlike the other Pharisees, came sincerely seeking the truth. Jesus’ teachings and signs had impressed him. He confessed that Jesus had come from God. He knew so because Jesus did miraculous signs no one could do without God.
As with see with this discourse, Nicodemus correctly states that Jesus is from God and Jesus answers him by saying, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus speaks of being “born again.” In today’s society, being “born again” is dangerous and deceptive language. Here’s what I mean.
Often in evangelical circles when one speaks of being “born again,” it means that moment in your life when you make that decision to follow Jesus or when you decide to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. However, that is not what Jesus means. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” With these words of Jesus, He speaks about the wonderful gift of Holy Baptism, that sacred act where God chooses to make us His beloved child, where Jesus redeems us and where the Holy Spirit gives to us faith. Notice that it is the Trinity who is doing the work and not the individual. Being born again as Jesus explains is an act that is done completely from the outside, not the inside.
These words that Jesus speaks to Nicodemus teach us that the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, work together to bring salvation to us, the sinner. Each member of the Trinity has a role in our salvation: God the Father created us, God the Son by His blood redeemed us, and God the Holy Spirit by Holy Baptism has sanctified us to be His holy temple.
What Jesus said was profound and Nicodemus was left wondering, questioning what Jesus had said. Jesus spoke of glorious things, of divine things, and Nicodemus thought in terms of his own experience, relying on his own knowledge to grasp what Jesus was talking about. And so Jesus asks him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”
Nicodemus isn’t alone in his ignorance of what Jesus says regarding the new birth of water and the Spirit. Many are ignorant of what Jesus means. Holy Baptism does something extraordinary, something that we cannot comprehend, yet we accept it by faith. But for as many as accept Baptism by faith, there are just as many who reject it or see it as nothing more than a human rite that a person does to confess their faith, and that’s where it stops. Jesus makes it clear that even as we don’t choose our physical birth, neither do we choose our new birth in Him either. It is God who does the choosing, not us.
Are we any different than Nicodemus? Do we question God and His work or do we accept it by faith? Do we have to have all the answers or are we content with knowing that God will work all things to His glory, even if that means we don’t understand it? Can you understand how the Son prays to His Father when He Himself is God? Can you understand how Jesus Christ, who is God, can die and rise again from the dead if He is also man? Can you understand how ordinary means such as water, bread, and wine, when combined with God’s Word, becomes something extraordinary that brings about salvation for a person?
Nicodemus still needed to hear just what Jesus was all about and God’s plan for salvation, just as we need to hear that even today. Jesus directed Nicodemus to the Scriptures for understanding of what He was going to do. Jesus tells him, “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.” Everyone who looked at the serpent that Moses raised up was saved from the bite of deadly snakes. Everyone who looks to Jesus Christ in faith, given to them by the Holy Spirit, would be saved from the bite of eternal death and would have eternal life. This is the new life that begins with the new birth by the Spirit. The promise belongs to “everyone” who believes. It is universal. No one who believes in Christ is excluded.
All of this was done so that we would have eternal life. He did all this out of love for us, so that we would have life and have it abundantly in His name. This was done for us because we are sinners in need of salvation. We aren’t born with eternal life. Each and every one of us are born into a sinful world and we die in a sinful world. However, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have that gift of everlasting life.
Once again, we reflect on the work of the Trinity. Just as the Father sent the Son to earn our forgiveness, so He sent the Holy Spirit to offer that forgiveness to us through the gift of faith. Jesus tells Nicodemus and us that the Holy Spirit must give us a new birth. All those who believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins are born again through the work of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God has created you. Jesus Christ has redeemed you, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood.” You have been brought to believe in Him by the power of His Holy Spirit, poured out on you at your Baptism. What a mystery all of this is. We will never understand how this all works in this world. Fortunately, God does not ask us to understand it. He only expects us to believe and even supplies the faith that does the believing. What a wonderful gift from the Holy Trinity. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.