O blessed, Holy Trinity, divine, eternal Unity, God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Be Thou this day our Guide and Host. Amen. (ELH #80)
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are some who treat the Bible like a book of magic. They’re almost right, because “magic” can be any power we don’t possess or understand. But the word “magic” implies that this mysterious power can be yours to wield. That may appeal. But the Bible has a special power because it’s God’s Word, so it has God’s power to do His will.
God reveals Himself in His Word. On Trinity Sunday, we focus on the unique nature He reveals. He exists in three persons, each divine, each eternal, yet with only one essence. There is nothing else exactly like Him, and He exists as God over everything.
Today we hear how Jesus was visited by a Bible scholar named Nicodemus. He was baffled by what Jesus said about our salvation. Like with anything revealed by God in His Word, Nicodemus was learning that our part is to hear and believe.
Dear fellow redeemed,
Some people consider themselves proper judges over what the Bible says. Everyone has an opinion. But think: if God speaks to you, and you decide that what He says is wrong, and what you think must be right, then who do you make yourself out to be? Aren’t you then replacing God with yourself?
In a sense, everybody has a god. Someone said, “I don’t believe in atheists.” Well, he has a point. Even atheists have something they trust to be true, something they rely upon.
The way we treat God’s Word sometimes seems like an afterthought. What difference does it make whether you set aside any time for it? You’ll have less time for other things. But the hidden truth is quite the opposite. The way we treat God’s Word is one of the most important choices or habits we can ever make. In order to have the true God as your god, you can’t neglect His Word.
Nicodemus is a great example. He was absolutely sure that he had not neglected God’s Word. In fact, it was his faith — what he believed — that drove him to seek out Jesus in the dead of night. He wanted to know about Jesus because he paid attention to God’s Word. But look how baffled he was by the things Jesus said. Nicodemus didn’t really understand God’s Word. Even though he spent lots of time studying it, he didn’t believe the spiritual things that it taught.
If a teacher like him can end up missing what God teaches, then you and I can, too. It becomes dangerous when we go from not understanding what the Word says to rejecting it. If you reject what God says, then He’s not your god. But only the true God provides eternal life, only the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He’s not your god if you don’t trust what He says.
Hear what Jesus was teaching: “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.”
There are two births, so that everyone who is saved must be born again, of water and the Spirit. Nicodemus had never heard of this before. Jesus was talking about Baptism, where God takes a person by name and adds the incorruptible blessing of His name. Jesus called it a second birth, invisible like the wind.
Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”
He was clearly having trouble believing it. This was surprising because someone like Nicodemus had certainly studied the holy Scriptures. The Old Testament pointed ahead to it. Moses in the Nile, Israel in the Red Sea, Naaman in the Jordan, for starters.
So Jesus said, “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?”
That’s the other place where our text refers to the Holy Trinity. God testifies the truth to the world, but the world does not receive it. Jesus does not testify alone, but says, “We speak what We know,” including both the Father and the Holy Spirit. The reaction of Nicodemus is the same as the Jews and the whole world in general, the same as John wrote in chapter 1(:5): “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” And again, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”
Jesus is God the Son, sent by the Father to accomplish His will, in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. That’s what the Bible says. Only, much of the world rejects it. In rejecting it, much of the world chooses other gods for itself.
There really is no other god who can save. Jesus described salvation in connection with one of the famous events from Old Testament history. In Numbers 21, God sent fiery serpents among the Israelites as a chastisement for their sin. They had grown weary in their journey. They began to despise the care God had shown them, especially the miraculous manna by which He sustained their lives. Serpents bit many of them, until they recognized their sin and repented. So God saved them again through a bronze snake that Moses raised up on a pole. When the Israelites looked upon it in faith, they were cured from the deadly snake bites. Jesus used this to describe what He would do to save.
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.
When they nailed Jesus to His cross, He took the power of the serpent with Him to the grave. We have salvation from the guilt of disbelieving what God says. This salvation is the heavenly message that can turn rebellious sinners into heavenly people, born of the Spirit.
What about the faith of those Israelites who were cured? They had to gaze upon the bronze serpent held aloft by Moses. They had to see it in connection with God’s gracious forgiveness for their sins. Nobody would even look at the bronze serpent unless he knew that he was bitten, poisoned, and dying. If he thought he was well, he’d probably laugh at Moses and the serpent, and go on complaining about God. But if an Israelite was bitten, then he would know he needs God’s salvation.
God sent the fiery serpents because the Israelites despised His gifts, especially the life-preserving manna. God provides many gifts for you too. Everything good in your life you owe to Him, even when you don’t see that it’s good. Thank Him for your food, shelter, clothing, family, mind, health, opportunities to learn or work, and the like. Without such gifts, your life would be miserable, and short.
You yourselves are God’s blessings to each other as a congregation. You are the living stones from which the Holy Spirit has built this church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
Maybe the food on your plate isn’t your favorite. Maybe you have trouble getting along with your family, or your clothes are wearing out. Maybe there’s a leak in the roof or a draft in the window. Maybe your boss is hard to please, and your coworkers hard to tolerate. You can always find fault with earthly things. The problem is that we broke God’s perfect Creation. We broke it, and keep breaking it again every time we lay aside His Word for something else.
So don’t blame God that His earthly gifts to you come with an uncomfortable cross. Even there, He’s given you what you need. To complain about His gifts is to grumble against Him. We should be thanking Him instead.
The manna in the desert was a picture of something greater: God’s heavenly gifts, like the Bible, the sacrament of Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar. Those bestow and sustain life for us now, the way the manna sustained life and health for them.
Your spiritual life is what Jesus was describing, “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.” That’s you. In this life, your daily manna is the Gospel, the message of God’s forgiveness. He’s attached it to you through Baptism. He puts it into your mouth in the form of bread and wine, which is Christ’s body and blood. He keeps it near you (in mind, mouth, and heart) every day.
God calls you to walk by your faith, rather than by your earthly sight and reason. Your spiritual life is an amazing gift, opening your understanding, giving you purpose and direction. It’s an eternal, heavenly life. Death can no longer kill you, because Jesus has taken away its fangs.
Paul wrote, 1 Cor 15:56–57, “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
You might think that nobody with such amazing gifts as these would ever depart from God or doubt Him. But remember those Israelites who brought fiery serpents upon themselves. We have their fallen nature. Haven’t you been bored with the Bible? With your devotions? With our services? With our hymns? Our days are filled with entertaining diversions, but that’s not what God is doing when He comes to us. The problem is within us: sinful flesh that always seeks to replace God with something else.
It’s wicked to complain about God’s earthly blessings when we should thank Him. But it’s far worse to despise His heavenly gifts. Yet your flesh doesn’t hesitate. “How can God expect me to believe what I can’t understand? It’s boring!” That’s the flesh talking, and it’s only a step beyond what Nicodemus said, “How can these things be?”
The venom of the Law only kills sinners, and for us that’s certain death. But your brazen serpent is the Son of God, crucified for sinners. God’s crowning blessing is the forgiveness of sins, which fulfills the Law and takes away the sting of death. Repent daily, and return to the power of your Baptism. Receive His forgiveness, and believe in the Son of Man. Because of His death and resurrection, whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!