Holy Trinity: John 3:1-17

Paradox: That’s an underlying reality for the Feast of the Holy Trinity.  For the Holy Trinity is the paradox of all paradoxes.  And what is a paradox?  It’s a seeming contradiction that may still be true.  Would you like an example of a paradox?  How about this?  “And the catholic faith is this: We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, without confusing the persons or dividing the divine Being.”  That’s a paradox.

The Christian faith is a paradox.  God is Three and yet He is One–a triunity.  Jesus is God and man–two natures, yet one Person.  The Scriptures are God’s Word and man’s word.  As a believer, you are both a sinner and a saint–at the same time!  Even when you pray in private, you are not alone, for Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father.”

Yet, many dangers lurk in these paradoxical waters.  Perhaps, the greatest is to turn God into an idea, an abstraction, something we can safely tuck into a controllable, little category.  You then have a safe and contained God, which you can bring out when you need a little dose of deity.  You then have a tame God on a leash for those times when you need a little religion to help you through your times of trouble.

Among all the feast days, Holy Trinity is different.  It’s a feast without its own specific, Bible story.  The best we have is Jesus telling His Apostles to baptize in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost all have their rich, scriptural stories.

But the text behind Holy Trinity Sunday is a doctrine, not a story.  It’s a summary of the mystery of God, who made the heavens and the earth, who revealed Himself to Moses in a burning bush, and who led Israel into freedom.  Trinity Sunday is about the God who made Himself known and knowable in His Son’s incarnation.  Trinity Sunday is about the God who breathes His Spirit-breath through His Church and raises the spiritually dead to life.

The Holy Trinity is about a living relationship, a communion within God and with God.  The Father begets His Son; the Spirit proceeds from Father through Son.  And so God is never alone, even when He is alone.  It’s a paradox.

Together as one, the undivided, Holy Trinity creates, redeems, and makes you holy.  Each divine Person is doing what He does–and yet they are always one.  And you, baptized “in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” enter the triune love and life of God.

That means that God the Father is also your Father.  That means that Jesus the Son is also your Brother.  That means the Spirit is also your Comforter and Guide.  You are a member of God’s family.  You live in triune communion with God–with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

A man named Nicodemus, a rabbi, a Pharisee, was a member of the Sanhedrin.  He was about to come face-to-face with a divine Paradox in the flesh: Jesus, the Son of God.  He said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.  For no one could do these miraculous signs unless God were with him.”

Do you get a bit suspicious when someone starts a conversation that way?  As the praise heaps up, you’re waiting for the shoe to drop, the “but” that comes at the end of such praise.  “You did a superb job, but …”  “Pastor, your sermons and Bible classes are excellent, but …”  So, Jesus preempts Nicodemus with an “Amen,” what you say is true.  And then He follows with the perfect follow-up: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he’s born again.”

Yes, those who are born must have another birth.  Again, this is a paradox.  Nicodemus thinks Jesus is speaking in riddles.  “Wait, how can an old man be born a second time?  Is he supposed to go back into his mother’s womb?”  Nicodemus takes Jesus words and argues them to the point of absurdity.

Did Jesus mean born again or born from above?  The word works both ways.  Which is it?  That’s the wordplay Jesus is using: He means born from above, but Nicodemus thinks Jesus means being physically born a second time.

Jesus says, “Listen up.  Let me put it another way.  No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he’s born of water and Spirit.”  As if that made Jesus’ words to Nicodemus clearer!

All right, Nicodemus.  You’re a teacher ofIsrael, you know the Old Testament.  What’s water and Spirit?  That’s creation talk.  In Genesis 1, the Spirit hovered over the waters of the deep in creation.  Ah, so Jesus is saying that unless you are creation made anew, remade by water and Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom.

So then, what’s the first birth if there’s supposed to be another?  Flesh gives birth to flesh.  That’s your birth from below, which makes you child of Adam.  That’s the birth that gives birth to sinners.  You know about that.  Just look at your life.  But that birth doesn’t give you an entry ticket into the kingdom of God.  You need a different birth.  Your first birth delivers you into death; your second birth brings you into Life.

“You must be born from above,” Jesus says.  It’s a spiritual birth through water and Spirit.  Do you hear baptism talk in that?  It’s like the wind, Jesus says.  You hear it, but you can’t see it.  You see its effects–the leaves rustling through the trees, but you can’t get a hold of it.  That’s how it is with the Spirit and everyone born of the Spirit.  You must hear it and believe it because you can’t see it.

Of course, Nicodemus is still confused.  “How can this be?”  Jesus’ words confuse the teacher of Israel.  The problem is not that Nicodemus is stupid.  He’s a rabbi, after all, a Pharisee, a member of the ruling council.  No, it’s not that Nicodemus is stupid; it’s that he doesn’t yet see Jesus as God in the flesh.  Instead, he only sees Jesus as a teacher who has come from God, and nothing more.

Nicodemus is close–but not close enough!  He doesn’t yet grasp the paradox.  He doesn’t know that Jesus is God in the flesh, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, God of God, Light of light, and true God of true God, eternally begotten of the Father.

Nicodemus is staring at the Word made flesh, the One who would die to give life to the world.  Jesus is the Son, sent in love to save the world through His dying and rising.  Yet, Nicodemus had no way of knowing or believing that.

Yet, somewhere, somehow the Spirit-wind of God blew on Nicodemus, and he became a believer.  How do we know?  For Scripture tells us that Nicodemus was a believer the day Jesus died.  He trusted that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.  He, with Joseph of Arimathea, arranged to bury Jesus.

In a way, you and I have an advantage over old Rabbi Nicodemus.  He was standing on the threshold between the old and the new, between the prophecy and its fulfillment.  He saw the signs, but the pieces of the puzzle weren’t yet in place.  The light of Easter had not yet dawned.  The Spirit had not yet enlightened him.

We live in the New Covenant.  Christ has come, Christ has died, and Christ has risen from the dead.  Christ now reigns.  What was a riddle to Nicodemus is clear to us: To be born from above, by water and Spirit, is to be baptized into Jesus.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has gone, and look, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“The Spirit blows like the wind wherever He pleases.”  You can’t bottle the Spirit.  You can only enjoy the refreshing, heavenly breeze.  The Spirit has blown on you in His time and place, as it has pleased Him.  And it pleases Him that you believe the Word that He brings to your ears.  It pleases the Spirit that you trust that Jesus’ death and life are your life and salvation, and because of Jesus, you can pray, “Our Father.”

Yes, God’s triunity is an incomprehensible paradox.  That’s true.  The Athanasian Creed can’t even contain it.  But then, you don’t have to understand someone to be in relationship.  Most of us are in relationships with people we only understand in part.  How much more is it with God?  You don’t have to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  Only confess and praise Him.

Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.  Let us give glory to Him because He has shown mercy on us.  Amen.