Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, t 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
It’s amazing the affect a little rain and warm weather can have. The leaves have popped. The grass and unfortunately the weeds are getting thick. It’s summer and that means it’s time for growth.
The change that is happening in nature is also paralleled in the Church. The seasons have changed. We are now in the time of year where the focus and main character is still Jesus, but instead of seeing the manger, the baptism, the miracles, the suffering, the cross, the empty tomb, the ascension – you know, the cycle of Jesus’ life, what he did for us – we now see and hear the Rabbi, the teacher with his many lessons that the Spirit uses to cultivate our faith making it more and more productive.
To start this season off every year we talk about one of those teachings that is clear from Scripture but completely unclear to our puny human brains: the Trinity, one God in three persons and three distinct persons in one God. 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. This defies every ounce of brain capability we have. It takes something else to have this in our minds and in our hearts. It takes faith. And not faith as in how much hope and trust and conviction you have, but faith from and in the Triune God.
To teach us this valuable lesson, to get our SUMMER GROWTH started in the best way, we are digging in to a very familiar section of Scripture, John 3. I say it’s very familiar because this is the part in the Bible where the gospel is given to us so clearly that we all memorize it. Verse 16, say it with me, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall no perish but have eternal life.” This verse happens to be a part of a meeting Jesus had with a man named Nicodemus.
Nicodemus might not be a familiar Bible name to you, but I think you’ll see that his experience is quite familiar. Nicodemus belongs to two important groups of people back in Jesus’ day. The one group is called the Pharisees – they were the spiritual leaders of the day – and the other group is the Sanhedrin – they were the ruling council for the Jews in Jesus’ day. Belonging to both meant that Nicodemus was a pretty big deal, but it also meant that Nicodemus had some questions swirling inside. And that is familiar territory, isn’t it?
You see, when it came to Jesus, these two groups agreed, which didn’t always happen. About Jesus they were all on the same page. At this time, Jesus was kind of new on the scene; it’s still the first year of his ministry in the public eye. But these leaders believe Jesus is a menace to Jewish religion and Jewish culture. He is troublemaker. He is likely delusional. He is a problem that needed to be solved.
But Nicodemus also hears the reports about what happened in Cana, that he changed water into wine. Then, Jesus shows up for the Passover in Jerusalem and performs a few more miracles. People see them. They hear Jesus. Nicodemus sees and hears, and it didn’t add up in his mind. A delusional menace could not be doing these kinds of things Jesus does. And maybe he thought to himself, “How could a problem be a man who seems to care about helping people?”
So, he planned this undercover, middle-of-the-night, “I hope my colleagues don’t find out about this” meeting with Jesus because he is dealing with this question, “Why do I believe what I believe?”
A lot of people today will say that the reason you believe what you believe is because that is how you were brought up, you are a product of your environment, and that we all believe the things that we have been told. According to that, I’m a thick-skinned WELS Lutheran, who loves the Brewers and the Packers, eats brats and drinks Miller because I was raised in Southeast Wisconsin and not California or Europe. According to many, we are who we are because we have been brought up and brainwashed one way or another. That’s why so many people say you have to go out and figure stuff out for yourself when you are an adult. I’ve always thought that is kind of ironic, because it pretty much means that at different times in life you have to go find some other place and some other people who can do a better job of brainwashing you into better, more acceptable beliefs. And that cycle continues until your dead.
There’s another logical breakdown with that idea. Someone who thinks you believe what you believe because it is what you have been told, because you are a product of where you are from probably says that because that’s what they have experienced, it’s the product of where they are from, what they have learned, and what they have been told. So that way of thinking crumbles with logical inconsistencies.
It’s also a completely inadequate explanation for faith in the Triune God. When you are trying to figure out why you believe what you believe about Jesus, God, and the Bible, this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is a perfect place to find a solution.
Using logic is much MUCH too human. Jesus says you don’t need logic, you don’t need what a lot of people have said about God. You don’t need the natural inclination that thinks I have to earn God’s love and do the work to have a relationship with him. No, Jesus says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” In other words, sinful humans are going to produce more sinful humans. And so that means sinful humans cannot and will not come up with the right explanations about God or the correct path to God. But the Spirit can and will. The Spirit will do his divine work for you.
And his divine work is always going to point you to something that is not human, his divine work points you to the only thing that will save you from faulty human logic and inadequate explanations. His work is going to point to Jesus, because only Jesus has brought the unfathomable, the holy, the true God down from heaven to earth.
Jesus says, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.” Every other religion originates in the mind of sinful human flesh, but not Christianity. Christianity comes from heaven. You don’t believe this because this is what you have been told, because it makes good logical human sense. You believe this because the Father loved you and had a plan to save you. You believe because the Son loved you and left heaven to fully complete that plan for you so that you could call heaven your home. You believe because the Spirit uses this heavenly gospel to create heavenly children. You believe in the Triune God, because the Triune God intervened, because the Triune God gave you the rebirth into eternal life.
Whenever you consider why you believe what you believe you cannot go with the human explanations. Yes, we have been told about God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For some of us it has been since we were too young to remember. But that does not explain why you believe what you believe. What does explain it is the divine intervention, the miracle that happened when the Father sent the Spirit to use the message of Jesus on your heart.
That is the only explanation that will work. It’s the only explanation because it has nothing to do with your background, your education, your intuition, your perception, or anything else from your human flesh, but it has everything to do with God’s love, God’s power, God’s message, and God’s salvation.
The second person of the Trinity left heaven to make sure he could carry out the first person of the Trinity’s plan so that the third person of the Trinity would be able to use his power on puny hearts and minds like ours. That is why you believe what you believe.
The world could never come up with this. Your human head could never conceive this. It’s far too offensive, too improbable, too divine. For God so loved [say it with me] the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
First, we have God. God who is so big, so powerful, so eternal, so infinite, so knowledgeable, so beyond our capacity to understand that it is impossible that any one could understand that he is three in one and one in three. The God whose chief characteristic is the one that he was able to exercise from all eternity, even before creation, because he is Triune, three persons in one God. That chief characteristic being love.
This Triune God loved. John 3:16 does not tell us that he focused his love on himself, not Father to Son, Son to Spirit, and Spirit to Father. But God so loved the world filled with all sorts of evil, evil that can come out in such inhumane and heinous acts of violence and hate, but also evil that can be cultivated so inconspicuously and privately in your hearts and mine. Evil that shows up in the way we think about others, the way we talk about others, the way we act towards others with such self-centeredness.
God loved this evil world so much not that the Trinity formed a committee to study the problem, not that he sent us a self-help book to read and fix ourselves, not that he gave us a second chance to get it right. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. The Son came into this world to do all the work of salvation for us. The Son who lived for you, went to church every weekend for you, listened to his parents for you, cared about his neighbors for you, had the purest thoughts about women for you, stood up for the outcasts for you, was content no matter what the circumstances were for you, was beaten, scourged, crucified for you, broke through the gates of death for you.
God sent his Son into the world that everyone who believes in him, not imitates him, not tries their best to be like him, but everyone who believes in him. Everyone who denies themselves, denies that they have any abilities, attitudes, or explanations that could save them, and simply clings to Christ. Everyone who looks at the cross and empty tomb and sees absolutely everything that matters and makes a difference in their life.
Everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life, not get out early on probation, not go through a reevaluation process, not get a lower rate on a loan that you have to pay back but have eternal life. You have a spot in the home of your Triune God, free and clear, no strings attached, no questions asked.
Brothers and sisters, every word of this verse is the polar opposite of what the world thinks about God and our natural assumptions about who God is and what God does. There is only one possible explanation for why anyone would believe this: The Triune God was and still is at work within you. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has created and saved and sanctified you through and through. In other words, the love of your heavenly Father is revealed through the saving redemption of Jesus Christ, his only Son, and this is made your personal possession by the power of the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament.
This is what Jesus made known to a man named Nicodemus at a night-time, undercover meeting. This is what God has made known to you so that you will not believe what you believe because you chose it or liked it or came up with it, but you believe what you believe because your God accomplished it in you.
And if this faith in the Triune God is in you and you have his Word, not the words of human flesh but his holy Word cultivating in your heart and mind, then do you know what you do? Just look what is happening out in nature, you grow. Brothers and sisters, that time is now. It’s time for growth in your relationship with your Triune God. It’s time for growth in your love and service to your Triune God and his people. It’s time for growth in the work you do for those who might not believe in him. And when the growth happens the only thing left to say is to God alone be the glory. Amen.