IT TAKES A FATHER’S LOVE

I give Up

SERIES: I GIVE UP… being judgmental

SERMON: Luke 15

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable…

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”

 

Have you met my good friend, Bob?  He’s so judgmental.  This is probably not the kind of characterization you want in life, and yet it’s a label that Christians get all the time.  And from what I can tell, there are many situations where that accusation is unwarranted and false, but at the same time there are also many situations where that accusation against us is right on the money. So, it’s probably a good topic for us to discuss.

God’s Word for today gives us a great opportunity to do just that from “The Lost Chapter.”  No, this isn’t some section of the Bible that was found later on or under odd circumstances.  We can be confident that won’t ever happen, because God has given us everything we need in his Word and his promise is that it will never pass away.  It’s “The Lost Chapter” because Jesus tells three parables right in a row about lost things: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.  Today, we’re looking at the last parable of this prodigal, lost son.

First, a little background as to why Jesus told these parables.  It’s in those first couple verses of Luke 15. Jesus’ ministry was always watched by a critical eye.  For three years the religious leaders watched and selfishly muttered as Jesus was kind and compassionate to fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes and sometimes even foreigners.  They thought if Jesus really was sent by God then he would be partial to the learned men and the strict religious elite, you know, the good ones.

But in Romans 2, God says he does not show favoritism, that he’s not judgmental. Jesus’ work is for all equally, and so he paid attention to the everyone, even those who society considers ‘sinners’.  That doesn’t mean he neglected those who are full of themselves, confident that they are better than others, thinking they are closer to God, because that is also a very clear indicator that a person is a ‘sinner’ in their own self-righteous arrogance.  Jesus’ parable beautifully addresses everyone equally, because I hope you notice that it’s not just the son who went away who was lost.  The son who stayed home was also lost. So, let’s take a look at these two sons.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.  Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”

This son thinks life with the father is dull and boring.  He sees all the excitement and fun that could be his, if he just got out from the father’s restrictions.  His sinful heart listens to the cry of a society that says, “This life can give you so much more.  Go ahead!  Don’t just look through the windows of your father’s house.  Get out here and join the fun!  Because only out here can your really live life to the full.”

Do you see how that is being judgmental?  You are saying that you get to be the one who decides what is best for you.  You are setting yourself over what your Father in heaven says.  It’s judgmental to look at life with God as if it is missing something, as if God is holding out on you.  It’s judgement to think that the desires of your heart or the call of this world would be better for you than the love and the protection of our heavenly Father.

There’s another bad example of being judgmental in the other son. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’”

This son thinks he has been a good boy. He hasn’t looked at life in the father’s house as dull or restrictive. He hasn’t been enticed into all the fun and excitement the world offers.  In fact, he’s been working hard, or slaving away as he says, for his father.  How could it be even close to see who is better and more deserving of the father’s love?

It’s pretty obvious to see the self-righteous, judgmental heart, isn’t it?  You are saying that you have decided what is good and what is not.  You are setting yourself over others.  You are putting confidence in works and looks. It’s judgmental to think for Father in heaven plays favorites like that.  It’s judgmental to look at your life, your obedience, your opinions as the standard rather than the perfect standard God sets for us.  It’s judgmental to be angry when others, who you think are worse, get treatment or privileges that you want or expect.

So both sons have the same problem.  One might seem worse than the other, but both are looking in the wrong spot for what is right.  One is looking out there (society/world) and one is looking in here (heart/head).  Neither is looking to the father.  One is serving his desire for fun and pleasure and one is serving his desire for recognition and reward.  Neither is serving his father.  One is lost far away from the father and one is lost in what looks like a closer position to the father.  Neither is found to be with the father.

That’s what being judgmental does to us.  It either makes you wander into a far-off place or it builds up a wall to God’s grace.  Do you see it in your life?  I sure hope you do, because it’s there.  In this sinful heart it’s there looking for pleasures and excitement that seem to be missing from God’s house.  In this sinful heart it’s there blinding me to the perfect standard God has set and instead setting a new standard that I have set where I should get more blessings and accolades from God than those ‘sinners,’ who should be punished because they are not reaching the standards I have set.  In this sinful heart it’s lurking the same way it was for those two sons.

If you are trying to get rid of this judgmental heart, one thing that will not work is work.  The son who wandered from his father and squandered everything from his father with pleasurable evils thought he could go back and work his way into his father’s grace.  “I am not longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”  The son who stayed and worked tirelessly thought his work had earned him more from his father. “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”

My work does not get rid of sin.  Your work does not get rid of sin.  Our work does not remove the heart that seeks worldly pleasures or selfish recognition. Our work turns us from the younger son into the older son and back again.

But there’s someone else’s work going here, isn’t there?  Do you notice what the younger son says when the worldly pleasures do not satisfy him, he spends everything, and the deep need sets in? How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.”  See, that’s not being judgmental.  Calling sin what the Father calls it is called truth.  Humility and honesty before God and others is called repentance.  Trusting your heavenly Father to do what is best for you, trusting him to deliver you, and trusting him to provide for you is called faith.

Do you notice what happens before this son can even knock on the door and beg for a job? “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” See, this isn’t being judgmental.  God’s love that looks and searches when everyone else says it’s not worth it is called unconditional.  God’s love that does not seek to punish but restore is called mercy.  God’s love that seeks to rebuild what he did not break is called grace.

Do you notice what happens to the pouting older son when he sees the younger brother getting what he thinks should be his? “So his father went out and pleaded with him… ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me and everything I have is yours.’”  See, also here there is no judgment.  God still goes to the proud and self-righteous and begs.  God still goes to the arrogant and shows the bounty of his grace and blessings.  God still goes to the judgmental and shows how his standard is different and better.

Both of these sons wander in different ways, and the father doesn’t play favorites.  He doesn’t view one as worse and the other as better.  He sees how both have their problems, both don’t measure up to the right standard.  Still, his love remains for both.  He desires both to be restored.

That’s the kind of God you have, brothers and sisters.

While sinners like you and me wander off to the desires of the world again and again, God’s kindness does not waver.  He watches and waits patiently, lovingly, graciously.  While sinners like you and me stick our self-righteous noses in the air again and again, God’s kindness does not run out.  He comes to us in Word and sacrament, begging for us to see what he has provided.

And what is that exactly?  God’s kindness and love provided a promise to save us from his judgment.  God’s kindness and love provided a Savior to fulfill all God’s promises.  God’s kindness and love provided forgiveness for our wandering and peace to replace our pride.  God’s kindness and love provided a home for us before we ever asked for it or realized we needed it. God’s kindness and love did all the work to get rid of our judgmental hearts.  Jesus was punished like the lost and wayward should be.  He was punished like the self-righteous and arrogant should be.  Jesus gave us the place in God’s home, not because we were all out of options, not because we are so good at repenting, not because we meet his perfect standards, but because God’s kindness and love finishes what he started.

To stop being judgmental, to give all that up, Jesus doesn’t point us to either of these sons in the parable, does he?  He shows us it takes a father’s love.  He shows us what the father is willing to do for his children.  That is the Father you have, brothers and sisters, one who showed you what love and kindness is and wants nothing more than you to enjoy it forever in his heavenly home.

When you are trying to be kind and compassionate, when you are trying to be humble and honest, when you are trying not to focus on your own standards and opinions, remember that your heavenly Father did all the work for you.  Remember that changing our lives does not cause God to love us, but rather his love causes us to change.  God grant it.  Amen.

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TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

 

Light in the Darkness

Luke 2:41-52

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” d 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

 

During the Christmas season, there are times when you have to say, “You don’t need to know.”  You come home from a trip to the store with some bags and of course the kids notice and ask, “What’s in the bags?  Anything for me?” “You don’t need to know.”  A spouse opens up a gift that seems pretty expensive and blurts out with a bewildered excitement, “How much did this cost?”  “You don’t need to know.”  Some family members who said they weren’t going to make it for a visit during the Christmas season show up unexpectedly, and you say, “What in the world are you doing here?  I thought you couldn’t make it this year.  How did you work this out?”  “You don’t need to know.”

There are also times when that seems to be the response from God.  Certain things in the Bible often raise questions for me.  Doesn’t that happen to you?  I want to know more about the circumstances, people, or a doctrine so that I can understand my life, the good and bad, better.  I want to know how to figure things out or what to tell people who are bothered by questions or problems they are having, but it seems like God is content to say, “You don’t need to know” to some of the questions we might have.

Can you understand why that is the case?  I’m not God and I cannot begin to understand everything he does or everything he knows.  How could I understand all the bad things happen in this world, to those close to me, to me?

There are some examples in Scripture of some who wanted answers and thought they deserved better from God.  And from what those sections describe, I don’t need detailed answers for every single bad thing that I see on the news or experience in my life.  I need the simple, straightforward, universal answers. I need to be reminded that I’m not God.  I’m not the one who is in control of all things.  If there are problems and pain all I need to know is that the cause is a world that is dark with sin.  Sin is at the root of every single bad thing that happens.  And sin is not God’s fault, it’s mine, yours…ours.

And if I want to find the answer, the solution to sin, there’s only one simple, straightforward, universal answer for that.  It’s Jesus.  That little baby of Bethlehem wasn’t born so that we could have an entire category of music that takes over the radios from Thanksgiving to New Years.  The eternal Word did not take on human flesh so that we could have a time of year to be off from school, get together with family, share some memories and eat way too much.  The Son of God who came from heaven down to earth did not take up residence here only for us to have a brilliant and inspirational life coach.  Or any of that other stuff that people want Jesus to be.

He came here to be the one answer for our sin.  He came here to destroy the devil’s work.  He came here to make peace for sinners and his Father.  He came here to open the gates of heaven.  He came here so that we could have good news that no one can take away from us.  He came to bring us out of our own darkness so that we could live in the light and also shine with his light for others.

How’s that for keeping things simple, straightforward, and universal?  Every page of Scripture is an answer to what is wrong with me and this world: it’s sin.  It’s the darkness we make by doing what God forbids and not doing what he commands.  And every page of Scripture is an answer to what takes the darkness of sin away: it’s Jesus.  He’s the light that dawned on Christmas and has been shinning brightly through the Word ever since.

But then we arrive at this sixth day of Christmas, and those questions start coming back again.   If the entire Bible is written by God and given to point people to our Savior, then why don’t we have more about Jesus from 0-30 years-old?  What was it like to teach baby Jesus to walk, to talk, to eat solid food, to potty train?  What was his first day of school like?  Did he always get straight A’s?  What was it like to be friends with the Son of God?  What did it look like for a perfect Jesus to make it through the tumultuous teenage years?  Did his voice ever crack?  Did he play an instrument or sing in the choir at synagogue?  What was his favorite sport?  Did he hit a home run every time he batted?  It’s astonishing how little information we have about the upbringing and growth of Jesus, isn’t it?

Wouldn’t this time period of Jesus’ life help struggling parents what to do with their kids?  Wouldn’t this part of Jesus’ life help struggling kids how to have respect and obedience for their parents?  Wouldn’t this time of Jesus’ life be helpful for a lot of things?  Why not more?  All we have is a very brief mention of Jesus at 8 days old being circumcised, Jesus at the temple when he was 40 days old meeting Simeon and Anna,  Jesus as maybe a 6 to 20 month-old kid when the Magi come for a visit (more on that next week), and then this section in front of us today when he is 12.

God is content to say, “You don’t need to know.”  And the reason why we only need these few events and details of Jesus childhood is because of what Jesus was here to do.  Jesus was not here to write a book for struggling parents or children.  Jesus was not here to come up with a teenager’s guide to high school.  There are some sections of the Bible that can help people in all sorts of circumstances, but the main thing is to know who Jesus is and what he does for us.

That’s why this section of God’s Word that gives us such a brief glimpse of Jesus tells us everything we need to know: Jesus was taking care of business, every day and his Father’s way.

We hear that Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover every year.  And that’s exactly what we need Jesus to do for us.  He needs to keep the law that God gave in the Old Testament 100% perfectly.  Those ceremonial laws for Jewish worship were given by God for the people of Israel, so that they would be a light to the dark nations around them, so that foreign people would notice that there is something different about Israel and their God.  The problem was that the people of Israel did not always follow these laws very well if at all.  And that leads to the other reason for all of these special worship and festival laws and customs. They were also given by God as a promise that the Messiah was coming to forgive, deliver, save, and restore people.

These two little verses that seem so insignificant tell us so much about Jesus’ childhood and his life as our Savior from sin, death, and hell.  Every day he was following God’s laws.  Every day he was obeying his parents without a single sideways glance or disrespectful grunt.  Every day he was putting God first.  And he was doing that every day for all the 4, 5, 6, 12, 18, 24, 33, 42, 58, 67, and 92 year-olds who fail every day to obey God and those in authority, for those who fail to keep God as the number one priority, for those who fail to worship the Lord every week, for those who fail to keep God’s name holy, for those who fail to love their neighbor as themselves.  Every day Jesus was taking care of business, he was living as our perfect substitute who walked this world in our place so that some day we could walk in his place in heaven.

He was also taking care of this very important business his Father’s way.  When Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus is not with them, they react like every parent.  They search the big group of relatives and friends.  When that’s not successful, they take off for Jerusalem because this is worse than that Home Alone movie when the little boy, Kevin, is left all alone.  Kevin was in his house.  He knew the territory. He knew the neighborhood and the neighbors a little bit.  Jesus was in Jerusalem, not Nazareth where home was.  This is a huge city for a small-town kid.  I think we call understand the parents’ angst.

But the child was not lost.  He was not missing because of a conniving scheme to get away from mom and dad.  After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”  You can here a little bit of an irritated mother in Mary’s words.  She knows who she is talking to.  She’s seen him every day of his life as the perfect Son of God.  But this seems like a stretch to her.  Jesus had not done something actively against them, but these words still seem to show her shock and anxiety that her son could go three days without his parents.

But this is where God doesn’t want to keep us in the dark.  This is where we need to hear the child Jesus explain who he is.  Mary says, “Your father and I…”  to which Jesus responds, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  Mary and Joseph are focused on their relationship to Jesus as his parents, his caretakers, his nurturers, his providers, but Jesus knows the whole time that his relationship to the Father in heaven is the priority.  It’s not that Mary and Joseph don’t matter.  Far from it.  But he knows why he’s here.  Jesus was here to take care of business his Father’s way.

Almost all the English translations say “my Father’s house,” but interestingly the Greek word for “house” is not in the text.  Literally, Jesus says, “Didn’t you know that it is necessary for me to be about my Father’s things.”  God’s business was that Jesus would fulfill all of the prophecies and laws for us. God’s business was to save the world through Jesus the Christ, his one and only Son.  God’s business was to put perfect Jesus in your place so that our sins would be removed from us and eternal righteousness would be put in their place.

And so that’s why Jesus gently, lovingly, and respectfully reminds Mary and Joseph whose he is.  He is God’s Son.  And in so doing he reminds them what his business is here in this world.   God lets us in on a little detail that Mary and Joseph don’t understand what he was saying to them.  It had to be difficult to raise the Savior, who doesn’t have the same life goals as normal children, but who also has to be a normal child to understand us and what we go through.

This is why Jesus quickly gets up and proceeds to go with them back to Nazareth.  Mary and Joseph are his earthly parents and there is a commandment about parents and authorities that we break far too often that Jesus needs to keep perfectly for us, because he is our Savior who is here to take care of the business of our salvation.

There are definitely times when we want to know more, we want God to let us in on some more information about the Bible, about our lives, about this world, about so many things.  But for all those times when God says “You don’t need to know” we have this beautiful section of Scripture recorded for us.  God says this is Jesus.  This is the one you need.  He is the one who took care of your business every day of his earthly life and just the way God needed him to do it so that we could be saved eternally.  I don’t know about you, but that’s more than enough for me to have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for my entire life and for eternity.  Amen.

WHY DO YOU BELIEVE WHAT YOU BELIEVE?

5.27.18 Holy Trinity B

Pentecost B

John 3:1-17

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.