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"The Incomprehensible God"

John 3:1-17

Rev. Alan Taylor

Holy Trinity, series B
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Jun 3, 2012 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

People in authority often fail to understand the things over which they exercise authority.  Did you ever notice that!?  I would ask for a show of hands as to how many of you agree with me but I won't, lest I goad you into violating the 8th commandment in God's own house.  Those who serve under the incompetent are left to grumble in silent submission and to marvel at life's cruel unfairness.

Thankfully businesses, governments and the world in general generally operate just fine, at least for a time, with incompetent and uninformed leadership.  And fortunately, rarely does someone's life, much less their eternal soul, rest in the balance due to incompetent leadership and poor decisions.  So we grumble, but we carry on, still able to enjoy, at least to some degree, the fruits of our labor. 

That is not the case, however, in the church, for here we deal with eternal matters.  Here souls do rest in the balance.  Poor theology and those who teach it, not only dishonor God, they do irreparable harm to those who listen and who follow.  The devil, it has been said, "thirsts for the tears of the righteous," which is to say, the devil loves for God's people to suffer.  Perhaps, more than that though, he craves the fall of the righteous.  To that end, he rejoices in false teaching and in the saint's ignorance of the things of God.

Nicodemus was in a leadership position in the church.  In fact, he was a Pharisee, an interpreter and teacher of the Law.  Everything in the Law was given by God for men to honor Him and ultimately, in their failings, to drive them to Him for grace and forgiveness.  And yet, Nicodemus didn't understand the condemning nature of the Law, much less the goodness and grace of God in Christ.  He was a leader of Israel, but he didn't understand the mystery of baptism, the new birth by water and the Spirit.  Not only didn't he understand these things he was ignorant of the entire process of conversion and the relationship between a man's natural birth and his new birth in Christ. 

He came to Jesus one night because He had heard that He was a wise teacher.  It was during the feast of Passover.  Thus, Jerusalem was filled with Jews who had come from near and far to commemorate their deliverance from Pharaoh by the hand of God.  Even as death had passed over the children of Israel on that fateful night, so death would Passover anyone whose hope and trust was in God's Messiah, His anointed One, who would defeat the angel of death once and for all.

Amidst the somber atmosphere of the Passover, the scene with Nicodemus becomes quite comical.  Again, he had come out at night to see Jesus.  He came to see Him at night because he was afraid of his peers.  After-all, a teacher of Israel shouldn't be found talking to Jesus, a known blasphemer.  Jesus said to him, "truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."  Nicodemus heard what Jesus said, but, he missed the whole point.  It was sort of like the old vaudeville schik "who's on first, no, who's on second."  "How (he says to Jesus) can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?

Have you ever had a discussion with someone who doesn't get your point at all!?  It can be like you're speaking on one level and the other person is on an entirely different one.  You talk and they listen but there isn't any communication taking place!  That's Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel!  Jesus said something profound and Nicodemus couldn't get past the ordinary.  Jesus spoke of glorious things, of divine things, and Nicodemus thought in terms of his own experience, relying on his own storehouse of knowledge to grasp what Jesus was talking about.  "Are you the teacher of Israel (Jesus said) and yet you do not understand these things?"

Nicodemus, of course, isn't alone in his ignorance, for the profound mystery of the new birth of water and the Spirit is missed even by many who teach within the Church today.  Baptism is seen as nothing more than a human rite, a voluntary profession of one's faith.  Consequently, in a travesty of human judgment, new birth is denied to little children because they haven't the capacity to choose such a birth.  All the while Jesus makes it abundantly clear that, even as we didn't choose our physical birth, so we don't choose our new birth in Him either. 

Fortunately Nicodemus would ultimately come to believe even what he could not comprehend.  We find him later in John's Gospel at the crucifixion of Jesus.  The Rabbi who spoke to him of mysterious things died a shameful death on a cross.  Nicodemus was there to honor Him knowing that He had died for him, even the ignorant teacher of Israel.  He and Joseph of Aramathea are the two men who took the body of Jesus from the hill called Golgatha to lay it to rest in the tomb.  The Word of God, as always, prevailed.  Nicodemus, just like you and me, was "called by the Gospel, enlightened by God's gifts and kept in the one true faith." And yet, while God's grace was at work in his life, he couldn't say for a minute that understood the power of the Spirit nor could he claim credit for anything the Spirit was doing in his life. 

Much like Nicodemus, as we consider God's gift to us in our baptisms, I suspect the mystery of how God does what He does through water and the Word, eludes us.  A little child, dead in his trespasses and sins, is brought to the font of God's grace.  Some water is placed on his head and those words are spoken…"I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  And the child leaves there a new creature in Christ, an heir of the riches of heaven and a holy priest of the living God.  No wonder Nicodemus was so dumfounded!

Today, of course, is Trinity Sunday.  Thus, we exalt the God into whose name was have been baptized and we confess profound things of which we cannot understand.  "We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance."  There is One God in Three Persons, yet, "there are not three Eternals, but one Eternal, just as there are not three Uncreated or three Infinities, but one Uncreated and one Infinite." 

What do you think?  Can you understand how the Son prays to His Father when He Himself is God?  Can you understand how God dies for the sins of the world, for your sins and mine, when God, in fact, can't die?  Can you understand how the Father and the Son send the Spirit into the world, but the Spirit is not subservient to either the Father or the Son, or how the Father forsakes the Son on the cross when the Son is God?  Can God forsake Himself?  Listen to the sound of the wind as it wisps over the tops of our heads this morning.  As it was with Nicodemus, the hour is late.  Darkness has set in, as we struggle to understand such marvelous things. 

We know many people simply by their actions, don't we?  For example: Benjamin Franklin invented the…; Jonas Salk discovered…; Neal Armstrong walked on the…; George Washington crossed…; Vince Lombardi coached…Edward Smith captained the…

I gave you that last one just to stump you.  Edward John Smith was actually the captain of the Titanic.

My point is, we know many people simply by what they did, or, by what they do.  God identifies Himself, for our sakes, as One God in three Persons, enabling us to confess our faith in our Incomprehensible God.  "I believe in God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth."  God created you!  He gave you your eyes, ears, limbs, your reason and all your senses.  And purely out of His Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, He takes care of you and loves you as His own dear child.

He redeemed you, not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of His own dear Son.  And He brought you to believe in Him by the power of His Spirit poured out on you in your baptism.  Indeed, "I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith."

Thus our darkness is turned to light.  God, though incomprehensible, is treasured in our hearts.  His works are exalted and His name is hallowed. 

"Holy, Holy, Holy!

Lord God Almighty!

All Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea.

Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty!

God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!"

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +





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