The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ the text for today is the Gospel lesson, John 3:1-17.
Starting in John 3:1-2 we read “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.’”
Think of Nicodemus as the equivalent of the head of the Religious Studies department at the University of Illinois, and Mike Madigan, combined into one. He’s a big shot. He’s got juice. Someone who could really propell the career of this young Rabbi from Galilee. So here comes Nicodemus, the big shot, sneaking around in the middle of the night. Discreetly approaching Jesus. Why was he there? We don’t really know. Perhaps he saw Jesus’ miracles and wanted to see what he was all about. Perhaps his recognition that Jesus had come from God made him want a pat on the back from Jesus. Maybe he was looking for an “attaboy.” We don’t know. One thing is for sure, he wasn’t prepared for what he was going to get.
Jesus, this young, miracle performing Rabbi from no-where-ville up in the boonies, rocks Nicodemus’ world. He doesn’t start with formalities. He doesn’t tell his disciples to bring out the fine china and best drinks they have. No, Jesus looks at this big shot and says something rather cryptic. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
With these words, Jesus removes all of Nicodemus’ works. In a world where good works are the number one way to prove you’re holy. In a world where the reward for good works is the kingdom of God, Jesus’ words don’t make any sense. Nicodemus starts hyperventilating. He asks, how one is supposed to re-enter his mother’s womb? Is this another work that he didn’t know he was supposed to do? How is a person to even do that? What if you’re too old? He tried hard to keep the law! Nicodemus didn’t get to his position by shirking off the law and living loosely. No, Nicodemus had to be a strict observer of the Jewish Law to be in the position he was in. That wasn’t enough? Now he had to figure out how to be reborn? I think it’s safe to say that Nicodemus was disturbed. All he had ever done was not good enough.
Jesus immediately calms Nicodemus down by telling him to not be disturbed that he had told him to be born again. Jesus explains to Nicodemus that the only way someone is going to see the kingdom of God is by being born of the water and the Spirit. This new birth that Jesus speaks of is Holy Baptism. Where we receive the Holy Spirit as a gift. In this Holy Baptism, you are born again.
To Nicodemus, this is crazy talk! He responds with: How can these things be?! To someone whose entire outlook is shaped by the good works he sees himself doing, this sounds ludicrous. Something must be mistaken here!
How often are we in Nicodemus’ shoes? How often do we darken the doors of our church because we are looking for a pat on the back for our good works? How often do we walk out of our church doors congratulating ourselves? How often do we pass our neighbors who are not in church and look down on them? Like Nicodemus, we are big shots in our own mind. We bow to the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. Hearing the rhetorical question of Paul in our epistle reading “Who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?”, we’re confronted with the reality that everything we have ever done, everything that we thought we had done that would earn us heaven, is worth nothing. Sure, we’re used to hearing that we’re poor miserable sinners, but do we really believe it? God doesn’t owe us anything but His wrath.
Like Nicodemus, we also try to keep things discreet between Jesus and ourselves. We make Christianity into our own personal religion so that we don’t offend anyone, and we shy away from any situation that may make us expose ourselves as those who believe in Jesus. For all of this, we stand condemned. No matter how many good works we do, we will never see the kingdom of heaven. If we are ashamed of Him, he will be ashamed of us.
So how is being born of the water and the Spirit supposed to fix all of that? When Nicodemus says, “How can these things be?!” he has a point, doesn’t he? How does pouring some water over a person’s head make them able to see the kingdom of God? By itself, it doesn’t.
This is why Jesus says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” If the Son of Man had not been lifted up like Moses’ bronze serpent in the wilderness, Baptism would mean nothing. But the Son of Man was lifted up. This wasn’t discreet. In the middle of the day, Jesus was lifted up. From 9 A.M. to 3 P.M., the brightest sunniest time of day, he was indiscreetly and recklessly slaughtered.
He never made himself a big shot. He didn’t self-congratulate. He didn’t look down on His neighbor. Jesus, the one who descended from heaven, the only begotten Son of the Father, the Son of Man, the One whose throne is surrounded by angels singing “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” took up his cross and very publicly declared his love for you. His naked body and bloody knees buckled under the weight of your sin. His bloody death on the cross paid the ransom for your sins of self-congratulation so that you may have eternal life. This same death is what you’re baptized into. Because of his death and resurrection, baptism means everything. Unless you receive this birth from above, you remain from below. You have no entrance into the kingdom of God. Through your rebirth in these Holy waters, all of the benefits of Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection are given to you. Your condemnation is removed. None of this is discreet. None of it is hidden. You are saved.
But why? Why bother with us? Jesus also has an answer for that. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life:” God the Father loved us so much that He gave us God the Son, and we are brought to and kept in this truth by God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity is mysterious but He isn’t discreet. Paying for the sins of the entire world is the opposite of calculating and discreet.
God does not hide in the shadows, he places himself before us on our altar gifting us with His precious body and blood which you will partake of today. There is nothing discreet about any of it. God, the only true big shot, doesn’t love discreetly.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.