When the weather forecast in the winter says that Marion is going to be hit with a heavy snow fall, what is your response? After almost sixteen years of living here, my assumption now it that it is not going to happen. Either it will swing south of us and dump snow in Kentucky, or it will swing north of us and the snow fall will be further up in Illinois. I have seen it happen too many times to trust that the weather forecast is correct.
Now perhaps my perspective has been influenced by the “snowmageddon debacle” that I experienced here at Good Shepherd a number of years back. As some of you will recall, the weather service was certain that Marion was going to get hammered with snow. The city of Marion was convinced it was going to happen due to the official emergency weather reports it received, and had its employees on alert and ready to go.
The heavy snow was expected to begin arriving around 5:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. There was going to be no way to cancel church in time to let people know. So we made the decision to announce on Saturday evening that services would be cancelled for the next day. We wanted people to stay safe. I woke up the next morning to find that there was barely a dusting of snow on the ground. The storm had completely missed us. And then I had to hear about how some of our members had to go over to Carbondale in order to attend church that morning.
In spite all of their technology and science, weather services struggle to predict where storms are going to go and what they are going to do. They prove mysterious and unpredictable, and we get used to living with that fact.
In the Gospel lesson this morning for the Feast of Holy Trinity we are reminded that the way God works is mysterious. As we reflect further, we find that if this is true, how much more it is true about the nature of God himself. However, the very fact that know about this mystery reveals how God has acted in amazing way to save us.
Our text begins by telling us that Jesus received an interesting visitor. We learn, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘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 was not just a Pharisee, but a prominent man among his people. He came to see Jesus – and he did so at an unusual time. He came at night. In his statement we learn why. Nicodemus had not come to attack Jesus or fight with him. Instead, he was genuinely interested in who Jesus was. He thought Jesus’ miracles – his signs – showed that he was a teacher sent from God. And that was a fact he did not want to be known publicly.
Our Lord responded, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was completely confused as he considered how this was physically impossible. So Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” He pointed Nicodemus in a different direction – one that dealt rebirth through the work of the Spirit.
Next Jesus stated why this was necessary. He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The flesh – fallen humanity – can only give birth to more of the same. The Spirit alone can bring about rebirth. Then Jesus added, “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.”
Nicodemus was completely lost, He said to Jesus,
“How can these things be?” Nicodemus wasn’t able to understand Jesus at this point. But Jesus pointed him in the direction that ultimately would provide understanding when he said, “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.”
Jesus had spoken about the mysterious work of the Spirit. Next, he had spoken about how he would be lifted up. Then in the two verses after our text we hear, “For God so loved the world, 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.”
In these verses we hear about the Spirit, and about God who sends the Son. On two different occasions in the Gospel Jesus refers to how the Father sent him. During the recent Gospel readings we have heard about how the Father will send the Holy the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name, and about how Jesus will send the Spirit from the Father.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit - they are all over John’s Gospel. Based on what God had revealed about himself in the Old Testament, this is puzzling. In Deuteronomy, Moses told the people, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Again and again the Old Testament repeats the truth that there is only one God – Yahweh, the Creator of heaven and earth. Every other so called god is a false god – a nothing.
Along the way, there are hints that there is more to the story. God says, “let us make man in our image.” The book of Proverbs speaks about wisdom in a way that seems like more than just personification. We hear about the Spirit of Yahweh. But that is all we can say.
Only through the incarnation of the Son of God does God reveal more about himself. John begins the Gospel by saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” We hear about God and the Word. They are distinct. And yet the Word is God – he was in the beginning with God and all things were made through him.
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 Word is the Son of God. As we learn in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the incarnation of the Son of God occurred as he was conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit.
It is through the incarnation of the Son of God, that God fully reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nothing has changed since the Old Testament. There is still only one God. But we learn that this one God is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the Holy Trinity – three in One. Each person of the Trinity is God. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. And yet there is only one God.
How this is so is a mystery that we can only receive in faith. God is God, and you are not. You and I are his creatures and we are not capable of wrapping our little minds around the almighty God. We can understand the content that God has revealed about himself, but not how it works.
What we need to remember is why we know this in the first place. Jesus says in our text, “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.”
We know about the Holy Trinity because God acted in his love to save us. Just after our text the Gospel goes on to say, “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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
We needed this salvation because we are like all other people – we are sinful. The flesh gave birth to flesh. Sinful parents produce sinful children. It has been that way since Adam and Eve disobeyed God. And we see this in our lives as we put God second, and our interests first. We see it in the way we treat other people.
Yet we know about the triune nature of God because the Father did send forth the Son as he was incarnate through the work of the Spirit. Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross in death as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – who takes away your sin. But then God raised him from the dead on the third day.
The risen Lord has ascended and been exalted to the right hand of God. But as he had promised, he has sent forth the Spirit. Through the work of the Spirit, you have been born again. You have been born from above. It happened in Holy Baptism as you are born again of water and the Spirit. It happened because God has called you to faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” This is what God has done for you. This is what Jesus Christ will do for you when he returns in glory on the Last Day.
On this Feast of the Holy Trinity we ponder the mystery of our triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has revealed this about himself, and so we believe it even though we can’t explain it. Yet our reflection on the Trinity has only been made possible because God has acted in the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, to give us forgiveness and salvation. Our very knowledge of the Trinity has bears witness to God’s amazing love for us.
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