Today is the festival of the Holy Trinity. In some ways, this festival is sort of odd. If we look at the other major festivals of the Church Year, they tend to be the commemoration of an event … Christmas: the birth of Jesus; Good Friday: the crucifixion of Jesus; Easter: the resurrection of Jesus; Ascension Day: The Ascension of Jesus; Pentecost: the special revelation of the Holy Spirit that we celebrated last week. All these days commemorate events. The festival of the Holy Trinity does not commemorate an event. It commemorates a characteristic of God as He reveals Himself in His word.
Furthermore, the Holy Trinity is odd as well. It is a divine mystery. It is not like the mystery in a crime drama. At the end of a crime drama, the detective explains everything, and the mystery is solved. In the mystery of the Holy Trinity, you can study everything the Bible says … you can read all the great theologians of the church … you can memorize very last scrap of information on the topic … in the end, you will still say, “I don’t get it.” It is a mystery that is above and beyond the capacity of our mortal minds.
We just said the Athanasian Creed. This creed does an excellent job of expressing the mystery of the Triune God. When you are dealing with God the Father, you are dealing with all of God, not just part of God. The same is true of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. In order for this to make sense to our finite minds, this requires three gods, but there are not three gods. There is only one God.
It should not surprise us that there are things about God that are mysteries. We human beings live under the rules of God’s creation. The creation that God made for us places limits on us. God, on the other hand, reigns over His creation. He has no limits. The fact that God has mysteries that we cannot understand should be a source of comfort. A god that is totally understandable is not much of a god.
We encounter the Trinity immediately in Genesis chapter one. In verse one, we hear about God the Creator. In verse two, we hear about God the Spirit. In verse three, we hear about God the Word, through Whom God created all things. At the beginning of John’s account of the Gospel, we learn more about these three persons. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) Here, John identifies the Word, through Whom God created all things as the only-begotten Son of God the Father.
The account of Jesus’ baptism records an appearance of the Trinity: When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16–17) As the Spirit of God rested on Jesus, God the Father identified Jesus as God the Son.
When Jesus instituted Holy Baptism, He used the name of the Trinity: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20) It is in the name God gives us at our baptism that we receive His service and live our lives.
In today’s Gospel, we heard a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. There is much to learn in this conversation. On this festival of the Holy Trinity, we can learn how the Triune God works to give us salvation.
As Jesus taught Nicodemus about the work of the Holy Spirit, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5–8) With these words, Jesus teaches Nicodemus and us that it is the Holy Spirit who brings us into God’s Kingdom. We cannot enter under our own power. The combination of water and Spirit points to Holy Baptism as the way the Holy Spirit calls people to the faith. The comparison between the wind and the Holy Spirit teaches that the Holy Spirit has His own time table for when and where He brings people into the Kingdom of God. We do not enter the Kingdom of God at a time of our own choosing, but when and where it pleases the Holy Spirit.
As Jesus taught Nicodemus about His own work, He said, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:13–15) With these words, Jesus teaches that, although He calls Himself the Son of Man, He is from heaven. As the one from heaven who took on human flesh, a crucifixion squad will lift Him up on the cross just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness. By this sacrifice, all who believe in Him will have eternal life.
At the end of today’s reading, Jesus taught Nicodemus about the work of God the Father and said, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16–17) With these words, Jesus teaches that, salvation has its source in God the Father. It is God’s love that sent His beloved Son to save the world.
Jesus taught Nicodemus that all human beings are born of the flesh. This means that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own. We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. But the Father of all mercy and grace has sent His Son Jesus Christ, who atoned for the sin of the whole world that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Nicodemus struggled with this teaching. The natural man, the one born of the flesh, looks to the law for salvation. He searches for salvation in his own works. Jesus spoke for the prophets and for Himself and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.” (John 3:11) The testimony of Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets is the same. God does all the work of saving us. We resist Jesus until the Holy Spirit blows into our lives and works faith in us. It is then that we receive the eternal life promised to us by the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We can give praise to Almighty God that Nicodemus eventually did receive the testimony of God’s Holy Scriptures. We know that he eventually became a Christian for the account of him in today’s Gospel is not the last time we read of him in Holy Scripture. We hear of him one last time shortly after Jesus died on the cross. After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. (John 19:38–39) It is so interesting that it is a couple of Pharisees who supervise the burial of Jesus in the tomb.
The account of Jesus and Nicodemus can teach us a great deal on this Trinity Sunday. Jesus taught that God shows His love for us by sending His only begotten Son into the world in order to save the world. He taught that, like the serpent in the wilderness, the Son would be raised up on a cross in order to save the world from sin. He taught that the Holy Spirit gives the gifts of salvation to us by giving us a new birth into the family of God. The struggle of Nicodemus shows us that if we reject the work of any one of the members of the Trinity, we reject them all. On the other hand, when the Holy Spirit brings us into the family of God by the new birth, we receive all the blessings that our gracious Triune God has for us … including forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. We have indeed been blessed by
God the Father’s grace for
God the Son’s sake through
God the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. Amen
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