In the Gospel lesson for the Feast of the Holy Trinity, Jesus says, “The 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.” Now on the surface of things, this sounds like a quaint ancient way of speaking. After all, Jesus spoke to people in a pre-scientific age. He spoke to people who didn’t have understand how wind was produced. They didn’t have instruments for accurately measuring wind. They didn’t have Doppler radar and other tools for tracking weather. They didn’t have computers to help them forecast and predict weather.
We now know that wind is caused by differences in atmospheric pressure. Air moves as it goes from high pressure to low pressure and this is what we call “wind.” Of course, that is expressing things in simple terms. It turns out that there are many other factors that impact the movement of this air – that impact wind. First, there is he basic fact that the wind is moving over our planet which is a rotating sphere. The result is that air is deflected in a clockwise movement in the Northern Hemisphere and in a counter-clockwise movement in the Southern Hemisphere, rather than moving in a straight line.
Then there are other factors that come into play. The differences in temperature between land and water produce pressure differences, and of course these are constantly changing during the day. The topography of the land – features like mountains and plains – impact the way wind moves.
When you put together all of the different factors that can impact wind at any one time, it turns out to be extremely complex. In fact because of the complexity, there are different models that are used to explain and predict the weather. There are a tremendous number of variables and they can change all the time.
So while we know where the wind is coming from – we can track it; and while we know in general why it occurs; we don’t really know where it is going. The weather forecast can predict what is going to happen based on the available data, but it does not provide certain knowledge.
However, sometimes we forget about this deeper mystery of the wind – it’s unpredictable nature. So, for example, I have heard it said that some pastors cancel services in the winter because the weather forecast says that wind is going to bring a bad snow storm, only to have the wind shift in an unexpected way and the result is nothing on the ground. Not that I would know anything about that personally.
Our Lord says this morning, “The 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.” He is describing the mystery of the operation of the Holy Spirit in giving people new life. But on this Trinity Sunday they are also words that underscore the mystery of God himself – our triune God, the Holy Trinity.
In our Gospel lesson today we learn that a man named Nicodemus came to see Jesus. He was a Pharisee and a leader among the people. He said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Nicodemus refers to “signs.” In the Gospel, Jesus has just performed his first sign at Cana in Galilee as he turned water into wine. After he cleanses the temple in Jerusalem, John tells us, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.”
Nicodemus is apparently one of these people. He believes in Jesus. However, this doesn’t mean that he really understands. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night – and in John’s Gospel when the evangelist goes out his way to mention night, it isn’t just because he wants us to know the time of day. Instead, he is telling us that the person is “in the dark.” He is telling us that a person doesn’t understand.
Jesus answered by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? This made no sense to Nicodemus. After all, how can a man enter into his mother’s womb a second time?
However our Lord came right back and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The 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.”
In our text we encounter the mystery of the way God works. Here Jesus is speaking about God working salvation. But frankly, the same thing is true when it comes to the circumstances of our lives. God works - he allows and denies things – in ways that we don’t understand. They are a mystery to us – though the pain of the hardships we experience is no mystery at all. And this is something that we do not want.
We see things that don’t make sense to us. And on this Trinity Sunday we are also reminded that when we turn to God we encounter the One we don’t understand. We encounter the One who defies our reason even as he calls us to have faith in him. We meet the One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, even as the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God.
In times of trial, our reaction to painful circumstances we don’t understand and a God we cannot fathom can be one of anger or doubt. And our text tells us why. Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” We were conceived and born as flesh – as those whose existence was ruled by the sinful, fallen nature. And though we have been born again – born from above by the work of the Spirit – we still bear the ongoing struggle against the devil, the world and our sinful nature. They don’t own us. They aren’t our Lord. But they want things back to the way they were before we were baptized. And they struggle for this.
We may not understand why things are happening in our life. Though we can describe it, we aren’t able to fathom fully the nature and character of the God in whom we are called to believe. Yet our text this morning brings us back to why we can trust our God in spite of this.
Jesus says, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And 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.” In our text, Jesus describes himself as the One who has descended from heaven. This Gospel teaches that as the Son of God he came from God and that he is God. The first verse of John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word – the Son – is God. And then John tells us, “And 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.”
The Son became flesh when – as we learn in Scripture - he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He came down from heaven as flesh – true God and true man – so that he could do something stunning; something that seems to make no sense for him. He came down from heaven so that he would be lifted up on the cross in death. Jesus says, “And 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.”
The Father sent the Son who was conceived by the Spirit. The Son came down in order to be lifted up. He came to die, and by his death to give us life. He came as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And for this reason Jesus says that whoever believes in him has eternal life.
This was the plan, unexpected though it may seem to us. Immediately after our text Jesus says, “For God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
The incarnate Son was lifted up on the cross in death. But as we celebrated during Easter, he did not stay dead. Instead the One who descended from heaven rose from the dead on the third day, and on the fortieth day when went back up to heaven in the ascension. Yet before he did this he said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” Jesus promised the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on Pentecost.
Do we have problems? Are there things we don’t understand? Yes. But you know what we have because of the work of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Life. We have life – eternal life now. We have the forgiveness of sins. We have peace with God. And those things enable us to trust confidently in God in spite of the things we don’t understand.
Do we understand how the One God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Do we understand how the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there is only one God? No. But the only reason we even know about this reality is because God has acted in his Son to save us. The only reason we know about the Holy Trinity is because God has revealed his saving love for us. And this fact bears us up in the mist of all the things we don’t understand. As John said in his first epistle, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”