Holy Trinity: John 3:1-17

So naive is Nicodemus.  In the concealed obscurity of night, he visits Jesus.  Though seeking to remain undetected, he offers Him the highest praise, “Rabbi, you must be a teacher come from God.  For no one can perform the signs you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).  Swept away by His miracles, such as water into wine, Nicodemus wants to find out more.

Still, Jesus can tell he is fixating on the little and lesser signs.  So, at once, He points this nighttime guest to the greater sign He will soon put in place.  For “unless one is born from above he cannot be part of God’s kingdom” (John 3:3).  Drawn down into the deeper depths, Nicodemus surfaces for air.  How can this be?  Can someone squeeze back into his mother and be born an additional time?

Ah, “anothen,” the word Jesus chose to use.  For this word can be time-related, something taking place two different times.  Baffled, Nicodemus assumes this is what our Lord means, as the poor man obsesses over a second, flesh-and-blood birth.  The other meaning for “anothen” is not dealing with time but a location, something above, from heaven.

“From above” is what Jesus intends, but Nicodemus believes He is speaking about second birth.  A sizeable portion of John 3 is Jesus pulling Nicodemus toward this new, spiritual birth, away from another physical one.

Now our Savior rephrases His words, “Unless someone is born of water and Spirit, he will not enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).  No, this isn’t a physical birth but a spiritual one.  For flesh can only birth another enfleshed being, Jesus reminds him, which is your birth from below, from your mother.  Once delivered, you can’t crawl back into your mom’s belly for another go around.  No wonder Nicodemus is mystified.

Like all births, being born is something you can’t do to yourself.  No, childbirth is something done to you, by another.  So this water-and-Spirit birth is God’s doing, birthing someone into a spiritual reality by the Spirit’s use of water—baptism.

Earlier, John hinted at this.  “To all who received [Jesus], those believing in his name, he gave authority to become children of God.  For they are children born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of man’s desire, but from God” (John 1:12-13).  So baptism and belief always belong together.  In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus joins the two together, first speaking of baptism followed later by trusting in Him.

The confused Rabbi is starting to drown, tossed into the depths of divinity.  Ill-informed, his religious thinking shapes his response.  “How can a man go back into his mother’s womb?”  So, Nicodemus thinks this birth must be something someone must do by somehow crawling back into his mother.  Silly man, he hopes Jesus will tell him how.

No, Nicodemus, you didn’t cause your first birth.  So, what makes you think you can bring about this birth from above?  Let’s connect the dots.  Back in the beginning, during creation, Spirit and water are together.  Combine water, Word, and Spirit, and you find God creating.

Let’s not be too harsh on Nicodemus.  Don’t many people miss the point today?  For they think to be “born again” (a heavenly birth) takes place without water, brought about by asking Jesus into your heart.  So, prayer turns into a saving work, not a faith-generated response.  Such thinking denies Jesus’ words and what God does through water and Spirit—birthing and bringing you into His kingdom.

Still, how does this tie into Trinity Sunday?  Every Christian receives a washing with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the thrice-holy God.  Like Nicodemus, we can’t understand everything about God and how He saves.  For He is a paradox, three eternal Persons in one Being—Three-in-One and One-in-Three.

Into the deep end of the doctrinal pool we go.  Today, God is reminding us He rises above our reason and washes away the tidy boxes into which we place Him.  Baptized believers are born into a divine mystery, the enigma of God Himself.

In all this, the Son is the linchpin, our point of contact in this Trinity, which is why the enlightening Spirit beams the spotlight on Him.  The second Person of the undivided Trinity is God’s revelation to us.  A God who becomes incarnate for us is a God we can better understand.  For He comes to us in a relatable way, in a physical way for us physical beings.  In human form, Jesus is bone of our bones.

To be grounded in our belief in Jesus is to be well-watered in the truth of the Trinity.  For the only Son reveals the Father to us, who also sends us the Spirit.  In the center of this mystery is baptism, through which the en-Spirited waters unite us to all three Persons of God.  Without Jesus, no one can come to the Father, and Jesus further discloses He is the One who sends down the Spirit (John 14:6, 16).

So, if you don’t recognize Jesus’ role in this, you will find little value in the Trinity.  The flipside is also true.  For if you don’t appreciate the Trinity, you will devalue what your Redeemer does for your everlasting deliverance.

For your redemption, the Father sends the Son to die and rise.  So you can trust in Him, the Son conveys the faith-creating Spirit.  So you believe in Him, the Spirit leads you to the Son.  At last, the Son brings you back to the Father, fulfilling your salvation.  Such is the working of the Triune God in your life.

This is what this spiritual birth of baptism is all about, being born by the heaven-sent Spirit.  Baptized into Christ, God the Father becomes your Father.  The Son is now your Brother.  The Spirit, whom Jesus sent, is now your Guardian, Guide, and Friend.  In Christ, we are delivered into a mystery above our awareness and senses, teaching us God is God and we are not.

Nothing we gather by our senses or contemplate within our minds can touch the mystery of God’s Being.  Of course, we use examples to help us understand, but they all fail us in some way.  So, God must tell us who He is, and explain who and what He is for us.  To do so, He shows us who He is in the form and flesh of His Son.

Long ago, Isaiah stood, quaking in fear, awestruck by wonder, as God cracked open the curtain to allow him a peek of His glory.  Human words betray him.  The prophet is unable to portray God.  So he depicts what surrounds God: The train of His robe, the fiery angels with their six pairs of wings, but he can’t describe God.  Such words don’t exist because such an experience is foreign to us, keeping us from developing a vocabulary for such encounters.

Here and now, we can only do the same as Isaiah.  So, we bow down, confess our sin, receive absolution, and join the angels in singing, “Holy, holy, holy.”  Ah, three “holies,” one for each Person in this sacred Trinity.  So transcendent, we can’t gaze on God and live or recount the experience.  So, to bring His righteousness to us in a way to furnish us with life, not death, God humbled Himself to dwell with us as Mary’s Son.

Unlike the gods of our making, ones we can control and contain, which affirm us, the true God makes no sense to us.  Is He three or is He one?  Yes.  Somehow, this doesn’t satisfy our thinking, darkened by sin.  Past our mortal minds, the Jesus-revealed God taught in the Scriptures, is something beyond our invention.  For He transcends our limited experiences to do so.

Let’s go back to Nicodemus.  Later, he pops up two other times in John’s Gospel.  First, he defends Jesus before the Jewish Ruling Council, to which he belonged.  A reliance on Jesus takes root inside him, but he doesn’t want to risk life or limb.

Wait until Jesus is dying by whip, nail, and wood.  No longer overcome by fear, Nicodemus appears at the cross, wanting to take Jesus’ body to provide a proper burial.  Somewhere along the way, Nicodemus changes.

The clandestine encounter with the promised Messiah began the start of something more substantial than Nicodemus imagined when he first met Him.  A holier-than-thou Pharisee is now a disciple, losing the deformed Judaism of his day for the life Jesus gives, gaining a Savior.

No fallen creature can comprehend the Holy Trinity.  The Athanasian Creed we confess doesn’t explain the full mystery.  What does all this show us?  To trust in Christ is not something contingent on our intellect.

Consider this.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus spoke of “little ones” who believed in Him.  Again, don’t miss His use of words.  For Jesus used a word from which we derive our word “micron,” meaning infants and small children.  A toddler cannot believe because he’s smart enough to choose Christ.  Of course, our understanding of the Faith is to grow with our intellectual ability.  Which is why Jesus requires His pastors to teach all He commanded (Matthew 28:19-20).

Though we cannot grasp much about God, we should still receive all He desires to give us.  By water and Spirit, our baptismal birth, our life with God begins.  Once born, you need food.  So, Jesus provides His Supper.  In between our eating, God calls us to repent and delight in His forgiveness—absolution and the sermon.  Don’t forget about learning all Jesus wants you to learn, which is what Sunday school is all about.

Earlier, we confessed to believe and worship the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity.  So what if we can’t fathom this, we still are brought to faith in God.  The angelic messengers voice this truth in their song: “Holy, holy, holy.”  So much in three words, testifying to three holy Beings who are one God, in whom they trust, as well.  Amen.