The God Who Saves
St. John 3:1-17 (5/22/16)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… The God we celebrate today on the Feast of the Holy Trinity is not the god of this world, nor is He a god of man’s own making. Our God is not a far-away-too-big-for-us God, but a Lord who comes to us in a way we can receive Him and believe in Him and in which He saves us. This is the truth that Nicodemus did not understand.
When Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, he thinks he’s got God all figured out. For Nicodemus, the Lord is the Holy One of Israel. He is the Eternal One to whom the seraphim cry out continually, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” God is the one that St. Paul describes as the God whose wisdom and knowledge and glory are infinite and far beyond us! So Nicodemus assumes that if he can just figure out what Jesus knows, he too can be a part of what has going on. He figures Jesus must have some kind of access to this glory, and he wants Him to show him how he can get in on the action.
But Jesus teaches Nicodemus that you can’t get to God that way. You can’t be with the Lord by doing an end-run around Jesus, as if Jesus just knows something that will get us set up with God and isn’t Himself the way in which the Lord relates to us. Everybody, it seems, wants the big, holy God up there somewhere. Just listen to much of what passes for Christian music these days: it’s all about God’s glory and God’s bigness and God’s majesty, but hardly anything about incarnation, cross and suffering, or the Sacraments. That’s the religion of the world. Give me a great big powerful God I can control.
But this is what Jesus teaches Nicodemus: if we want anything to do with God, we must have Christ. Contrary to what non-specific generic spirituality shows us, there is no other way to the Father’s kingdom than through water and the Spirit. And water and the Spirit are what join us to the Savior who was lifted up for us on the cross.
Repent, dear Christians, of any desire to scoot around Jesus and get to the great-big-shiny God “up there” somewhere. If you do it that way, you won’t find Him. Rather, hear and learn from Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “Unless you are born from above by water and the Spirit, you cannot see the kingdom of God. Unless you are born again you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus here teaches us that to have forgiveness, life, salvation, the Spirit, the Father and the Son, we are to be baptized! “Water and the Spirit” means the “washing of new birth,” as Paul tells Titus. That’s holy Baptism. That’s Word and water and the font which brings with it the Holy Spirit and new life.
But Nicodemus doesn’t get it. “You mean, I have to crawl back into Mom and be born a second time?” “Nicodemus,” says Jesus, “How are you a teacher of Israel; how are you a member of the clergy and a seminary professor and you don’t understand what I’m talking about? If I tell you earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things.” In other words, if Nicodemus will not grasp Christ as the Savior and Baptism as the means of salvation, how will He believe that Christ is God and the Son of the Father? If he can’t understand a man and some water, how will he ever know anything about the Spirit and the works of God?
We must not be like Nicodemus, dear Christians! Instead, we must learn to believe that the Holy Trinity, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all working together for our good. See how this happens! The Father loves the world in this way: He sends the Son to be lifted up on the cross for all sinners. Christ, the Lamb of God in the flesh, takes away our sin Himself. He suffers for us and with us. He dies for us. Then that same Father and Son send the Holy Spirit who, through water, gives us new birth.
To see this, look again at the Athanasian Creed we confessed earlier. It starts out with some pretty high-falutin’ stuff about the Triune God, but it ends by confessing God in Christ with His saving work for us. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all about saving you and rescuing you and giving you new life. If you know nothing else about the Holy Trinity, know that.
All of which means, dear Christian, that our life as God’s people is not about some secret access to the majesty and mind of God. Rather, our relating to God and His relating to us is all about His becoming a man in Christ and rescuing us from our sins and delivering that salvation when we become His children at the baptismal font. The Christian life is a baptismal life; it is a life in which every day you wake up and confess that by water and the Spirit, you have a Savior and a heavenly Father.
If you will live as a Christian, then, don’t be like Nicodemus who only wants Jesus so he can get to the fire and glory and unsearchable mind of God. Rather, cling to Jesus because in Him is all the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily. Cling to Christ because in Him you have God Himself. Cling to Christ because there we learn what the Lord’s mind and heart are all about – saving sinners.
If you try to have God apart from Jesus, apart from your baptism, apart from Absolution and the preaching of the Gospel and the Supper, the only God you will find is the God who is a consuming fire. But in Christ, you have the love of God made manifest, by His death and resurrection and His delivery of that salvation through Holy Baptism and the other means of grace.
And what will such life look like? Jesus says, “You hear the wind but you can’t see it. So it is with the Spirit and those born of the Spirit.” If I look at myself, how do I know that I have the Spirit? Is it by my actions? I hope not! If I look at how I treat the Lord and His Word and how I treat others, I can only conclude that I am a sinner who has no Holy Spirit!
Likewise, if I look at you, what will I conclude? Do you always seek God’s kingdom first? Do you always seek His Word? Do you always seek His gifts? Do you always seek the good of others and put them before you? If not, then how can I conclude that you have the Spirit? How can I conclude that you are a Christian? Answer: Holy Baptism. Are you a child of the heavenly Father? Have you been born again, born from above? Are your sins forgiven? The only answer to that question is your Baptism.
And not just “baptism” in general, but YOUR Baptism. When sin, death and devil plague you, then cry out, “I am baptized!” When you see how your life should change but hasn’t, when you see how you keep right on sinning, when you see how you struggle with the flesh, when you see so clearly that you don’t deserve anything from the Lord, then cry out, “I am baptized!” And believe and say what your Baptism gives you! “I am baptized and therefore I have the Holy Spirit. I am baptized and Christ was lifted up for Me on the cross! I am baptized and therefore I know that the Father loves me and has taken away my sins by His Son.”
And then make that confession towards your brothers and sisters in Christ! “You are baptized! Therefore you are also in my family, for we were born the same way: by water and the spirit. Therefore I will treat you not as one who does not belong to God or to me. Rather, I shall treat you as one who is baptized, that is, as one who has been born from above, who has the Spirit and who is my brother or sister in the family of God.”
That’s the baptismal life, dear Christians. No wonder the Catechism instructs us to daily make the sign of the holy cross and say our baptismal name!
Sorry Nicodemus, no end run around Jesus to that “Big God” somewhere. Rather, that God is there in Jesus: in the water, where the Spirit is. No, Nicodemus, you don’t have to crawl back inside the womb. New birth is a gift from the Father and Son through the Spirit and the water.
All praise and thanks to the Holy Trinity who is there for us in Holy Baptism!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.