Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-17

The holy gospel according to John.
Glory to you, O Lord. 

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 

Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

The gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ. 

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

Today is Trinity Sunday. The one day in the church year that is dedicated to a doctrine of the church, the trinitarian form of God. The belief that Gos is in three parts, the Father, Son, and Spirit, and that each part is wholly God. I believe it, but I don’t truly understand it. If anyone tells you that they do truly understand it, they are either lying or just plain wrong. If I tried to explain it with some sort of metaphor, I would most likely utter a heresy. So, I’m going to move on to our Gospel message.

In our gospel text you heard me read one of the most well known verses in the Bible. An untold number of people have heard of it, although I’m sure many of those people couldn’t recite it if you asked them. If you’re not sure yourself what verse I’m talking about, here’s a clue (short slide show). I mean you know it’s well known if it made an episode of “The Simpsons”!

John 3:16 comes almost at the end of a conversation with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and being called “a leader of the Jews” probably meant that he was in the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling party. He came to Jesus at night, presumably so as not to be seen visiting this itinerant preacher and miracle worker.

Now normally, Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees didn’t always go very well. The Pharisees were sometimes openly rude to Jesus and Jesus had no problem calling them out for behavior he disagreed with, sometimes calling the hypocrites to their faces.

This conversation wasn’t like that. Nicodemus addressed Jesus with respect calling him both Rabbi and teacher, words of honor and implies he knows that God is with Jesus. Jesus in turn treated him with respect.

There is no indication that Jesus’ words brought Nicodemus to faith. He is only mentioned twice more in the book of John and not at all in the other Gospels. He does stand up for Jesus to the Sanhedrin When they want to arrest Jesus and John also says that he brought myrrh and aloe for Jesus’ body after his death, but there is no indication  that this was done out of faith and not out of a sense of duty to what the law expected from one who was a teacher of the law.

So what did Jesus say to Nicodemus? There isn’t any record of any small talk and it appears that Jesus just launches right in to some deep theological truths that have Nicodemus confused.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who is really smart about something? You say something to impress them that you know a little bit too and then they just start talking so far over your head that they might as well be speaking ancient Greek? This interchange between the two of them, among other exchanges Jesus had with people, makes me a little nervous about standing in heaven in front of him and opening my mouth. My fear is that no matter what I might say, even something as random as, “Oh I like your robe,” he’ll launch into something so deep that I’ll just be completely lost. Then he’ll ask me a question and I will have no idea how to answer without sounding like a fool.

Anyway, Jesus leaves Nicodemus in the dust, theologically speaking, and delivers a sermon containing some of the best loved words in the Bible. I’m not going to hit on all of the points in these few verses because that would mean a sermons series that could easily take the whole summer. Instead, I’m just going to talk about a few things that jumped out to me in my reading. Let me read John 3:16 again. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” I’m going to read the next verse also because I think it ranks right up there and is often neglected. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

These verses lay the groundwork for Jesus’ purpose here on earth and why. God sent his Son, Jesus, so that we might not perish but have eternal life. Now normally, we interpret this to be talking about the future, that if we don’t believe in him we WILL perish and if we do believe, we WILL have eternal life. I think that is true, but, and this is a big but, it’s also talking about the here and now. 

To quote Pr. Brian Stoffregen, “John 3:15 is the first time “eternal life” is used in the gospel. Every time the phrase is used in John, it is with a present tense verb — usually ‘have’. It is something believers have now, and perhaps should be translated ‘unending life’. It begins now and lasts forever. Just what is ‘eternal life’? O’Day in the New Interpreter’s Bible writes:

‘Eternal life” is one of the dominant metaphors in the Fourth Gospel to describe the change in human existence wrought by faith in Jesus. To have eternal life is to live life no longer defined by blood or by the will of the flesh or by human will, but by God. ‘Eternal’ does not mean mere endless duration of human existence, but is a way of describing life as lived in the unending presence of God. To have eternal life is to be given life as a child of God. To speak of the newness available to the believer as ‘eternal life’ shifts eschatological expectations to the present. Eternal life is not something held in abeyance until the believer’s future, but begins in the believer’s present.’” End quote.

I’d never heard that interpretation before and frankly, I’m just awed by it. We have eternal life and we have it now. We talk of the hope of the resurrection for our physical bodies when people die, but we who believe, who are born of the Spirit from above, don’t really need to wait for that. We have eternal life and we have it now, today. 

How life changing can that be? It depends on how it’s lived out. For many of us, myself included, we mostly just go through our days, working, eating, playing, and sleeping. It’d be difficult to tell if I was a Christian or not to any casual observer. Am I nice? I try to be, but so do many  non-believers.. I usually keep a good check on my language, but so do many  non-believers. I don’t cheat on my wife, steal, murder or fight people or misuse drugs and alcohol, but neither do many non-believers. So, how is living into eternal life for me or for you different from the everyday life of non-believers?

I think that one difference is that when we live fully into the knowledge of our salvation, we need not fear. We know that whatever comes our way in this life, even death, it’s going to be okay. Nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We have eternal life and God is walking with us. 

The early Christians knew this well. There was a lot to fear in their lives. There was the constant threat of not having enough to eat. There was the constant threat of injury or disease ending their lives. These threats were common to everyone back then. But the Christians were also actively being persecuted by the Roman government. These early Christians faced these threats without fear, even praising God in the midst of them, and the growth of the church was unparalleled. They knew they had eternal life and it changed them and eventually it changed the world.

Sometimes, well, probably most of the time, we let life’s troubles distract us and we forget. We forget that God is with us and that he loves us and that it’s really going to be ok in the end. Sometimes we wander far off the narrow path, but even then, God is patiently calling us back. He sent his Son to save us through the cross and doesn’t want to see us wasting our eternal lives on foolishness when we could be spending it loving the him with all our heart soul and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. God wants us to be world changers too.

I haven’t really touched on verse 17 yet, the verse that says. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” I love this verse. It ranks as one of my top 5 favorites. It goes hand in hand with verse 16 but I think it gets overlooked quite a bit. The average person who can quote verse 16 would not be able to quote verse 17.

The Jews of the time were waiting for the Messiah. Their expectations of the Messiah were that he would throw off their Roman overlords and make a world power of Israel, surpassing even David and Solomon in glory. He would judge the Gentile peoples, ie the world, and find them guilty.

Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, would have been all in on this thought. Now Jesus is telling him that God so loved the world and that God’s son had not come to condemn or judge the world, but to save it. When we who believe screw up, God is not there waiting to condemn us. Instead, he is saving us from our sin through Jesus’ death and resurrection, forgiving us. If he wanted to condemn us, he could in less than a heart beat, but he doesn’t.

Later on in the gospel of John we have the story of the woman caught in adultery. When the church leaders brought the woman before Jesus and asked his advice on what to do with her hoping to entrap him somehow, He didn’t condemn her. He told them the one without sin should cast the first stone. They all left with no stones being thrown. Their conversation after everyone else has left is this, “Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’ 

The woman went on her way with no condemnation. It doesn’t say, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she came to believe in him that day having been saved through him. The church leaders, on the other hand, went away already condemned, not by Jesus, but by their own unbelief.

If you are not a believer, may God grant you a new life from above so that through the Son you might have eternal life. If you are a believer, know that you already have eternal life and may you live into it fearlessly, loving God and loving your neighbor.

Amen, come Lord Jesus.