Feast of the Holy Trinity
Delivered By
Pr. Lovett
Delivered On
June 3, 2012
Central Passage
John 3:1-15

+ John 3:1-15 +

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

If there is anything in the Athanasian Creed that makes us Lutherans uncomfortable it is the final words: “At His coming all people will rise again with their bodies and give an account concerning their deeds. And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire. This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.”

It’s this business about doing good and evil and being held accountable for it and judged according to it that bothers us. We are saved by grace, not works. So what is this business about doing good and evil and so entering either eternal life or eternal fire?
Well, it is nothing different that what St. Paul writes in Romans 3, “[The Lord] will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking an do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” Which is really a commentary on Jesus’ words about separating the sheep from the goats and giving eternal life to the sheep and eternal fire to the goats.
We can’t escape the fact that Jesus will come again to be our judge. And these words either relieve us or damn us.
If we believe on Him, that for our sakes and for our salvation He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered, died, was buried, and on third day rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, that He did all of this that you would be His own, then His coming as judge is a welcome thing. If He did all this for you and for your sake to save you from death and hell, then when He comes to judge you He will find you not guilty of transgression and sin and will give you eternal life.
But if you do not believe these things, if you think that you must do this or that and by your own works of righteous and good behavior stave off the wrath of God, then when He comes as judge He will find you guilty of sinning against the Spirit, which is unbelief.  And He will cast you out into outer darkness.
In short, those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, will do the works of God. Those who do not believe do the works of the evil one. So Jesus says, “By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37). And He says to Nicodemus, “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.”
Nicodemus didn’t come to Jesus to ask Him any questions or be received by Him or to be blessed by Him.  Nicodemus came to give answers and to give Jesus his blessing. He says to Jesus, “Rabbi,” a title of honor and respect, “we know that you are a teacher sent from God because no one can do the works you do unless God is with him.” He’s not seeking a blessing from Jesus like the blind man who asks to see or the bleeding woman who sought to be healed or the leper or the tax collector who wanted forgiveness. He is trying to give Jesus his blessing.
But it is dark and Nicodemus walks in darkness. And in the darkness he stumbles. He wants to be Jesus’ friend, but not at the expense of his own. So he comes to Jesus by night so his worldly friends will not cast him out. But in truth he needs the blessing of this heavenly friend.  He couldn’t see what was really before his eyes. He thought he saw everything there was to see: a man of God doing the good works of God. But that was not all there was to see. He didn’t see the kingdom of heaven. All he saw was a man. Jesus sought to open his eyes that he could truly see.
The world says that you must see to believe. But in truth, it is only by believing that we see. This is not only for supernatural things, but for all things. We believe we can get a job, so we apply for it. We believe we can get the girl, so we ask her out. We believe that the sun will rise in the morning, so we set our alarm clocks and prep our coffee pots. And our belief is rewarded. We get the job, the girl, and we rise in the morning. These are earthly things that the world does not understand. But you have been born from on high, washed by the renewal of rebirth by the Holy Spirit.
A man must be born from on high because Spirit gives birth to spirit. By your birth through water and the Spirit you are re-born a spiritual people. Not simply a people with a spirit, but the people of God with the Spirit of God. And just as all earthly children are copies of their father, so the children of the heavenly Father are copies of their Father who is in heaven. By His Spirit you have been given His eyes to see and His ears to hear. Something Nicodemus lacked. And because he lacked eyes to see and ears to hear, he could not believe heavenly things.
We are often like Nicodemus. We want Jesus as our friend, but not at the expense of our worldly friends; whether our worldly friends are people, money, time, or sleeping in on Sunday morning. But when we seek to keep our life we loose it and even what we have will be taken away.
But you believe.
Attending this divine gathering isn’t simply giving a nod to Jesus. It’s not simply saying to Jesus, “We know you’re a godly fellow and do a lot of great things for people.”  That’s what Nicodemus did. He gave a nod to Jesus. He thought he would flatter Jesus with words of honor and respect, and by flattering Him would be received by Him. That’s what many people do. They give props to Jesus by singing songs about Him and wearing t-shirts with His name on them and putting bumper stickers on their cars. They say things like, “I believe in Jesus just not church,” or “I’m spiritual just not religious,” or my personal favorite, “It doesn’t matter where you go to church as long as you believe in Jesus.”
But it does matter. It matters because Jesus is coming again to judge the quick and the dead. The quick are those quickened by the Spirit, born again. The dead are those who remain in their sin and are dead in their trespasses.
But you have been born of the Spirit. You have eyes to see and ears to hear. You have been given the Spirit of God and are called sons of God. You are born of the Spirit and so you come from where the Spirit comes from and you go where the Spirit goes. And the Spirit comes from the Father and returns to the Father.
Amid the distractions of crying babies and people getting up to go the bathroom and leaving before the benediction, the Lord’s blessing on you, amid the distractions of pitchy organs and fumbled words and off-key pastors; amid the distractions of reacting to what you think your pew neighbor is doing or thinking about the sermon or hymns or what’s for lunch, there is a heavenly reality that we are brought here into the presence of the Father by the living Spirit poured out on us in the name of the Son. There is the heavenly reality that this is heaven on earth where the kingdom of God breaks through the chaos of men and the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob visits His people and blesses them with His countenance.
Here the Son of Man is lifted up and gathers all men to Himself that seeing they may believe and hearing they may understand and turn and be saved.
In Nomine Iesu
+ Amen +