There's a saying: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Well, today, our Lord tells one old dog, "You can't be saved otherwise." That is, "Unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God." And Nicodemus asks, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"
Our Lord's teaching on the necessity of Holy Baptism apparently seemed like some new-fangled trick to Nicodemus. Our Lord does His own share of marveling. "Are you a teacher of Israel," he asks, "and yet you do not understand these things?"
Dear Children, Baptized into the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, today is Holy Trinity Sunday. Learn again the New Things of God's Spirit, the New Things of Christ's Gospel, which are the fulfillment of all that God had put before His people. Things that Nicodemus knew about but didn't get, for they are only received from above. Things like the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses to point God's people to the Son, Who would be lifted up in death for our salvation.
When Our Lord says we must be born from above, He is saving us from that religion of the dust, religion of the flesh corrupted by the Serpent, inherited through Adam. That religions says, even though God's done His work of making us in His own image, in the image of God, male and female, in the likeness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - even if the Holy Trinity has finished such work, the religion Adam gave us goes like this: "Still, we have to do SOMETHING to be like God."
Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, says Jesus. You must be born of the Spirit. That is being born from above, not from the will of man or any decision of a sinner, but born of God! So, Jesus condemns as false that belief so prevalent today that our salvation rests on something that we do. You must be born from above, says Jesus.
"From above" is a better way of translating the Greek, by the way. Usually, we hear, "born again." Born again Christians usually boast that they have given their lives to Jesus; that they have made some big decision for Christ, and so, have been born again.
When I was on vicarage in Green Bay, WI, a lady heard me preach. She apparently mistook me for whatever she was looking for in a preacher, so she asked me, "When were you born again?" I told her, "April 16, 1961, when my parents brought me to the font of Holy Baptism." She said, "No, when did you give your life to Jesus?"
Jesus speaks of entering the Kingdom and being born from above, as if they go together. No one is born dry. We are all born wet, being raised out of our amniotic fluid into the light. No one enters the Kingdom of heaven dry either. You must be born of Water and the Spirit, Jesus says, and that is Holy Baptism. At the Font you were named with the Triune God. He called you His. He gave you the Name which is above every name, the Name of Jesus, which is His alone to give out as He pleases, and He gives it out like this: "Go, therefore, and make disciples - baby Christians, newborn babes who crave pure spiritual milk - make disciples of ALL nations - young and old, male and female, adult and infant - in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." That's being born from above.
We all are born into God's Kingdom wet with the Water and Word, and thereby drowned and raised again. St. Paul says in Romans chapter 6, We were buried with Christ through Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life. Washed in Jesus. Clothed in Jesus. His life, death and resurrection laid on you. HIS work, not yours; given to you. Like life and love and your parents' name were all given you freely on the day that you were born from below.
Do you marvel at this, that such being born of God in Holy Baptism is necessary? Don't be such an old dog that you can't learn something new from Jesus. Nicodemus, according to John's Gospel, comes around to such a heavenly way thinking and believing. By the end of the Gospel, he is asking for the body of Christ.
That is always the direction of believing, from the font to the Body and Blood of Jesus, so please, don't go drying off Christ's Words today and making them a desert. That's what people do with that well-known verse, John 3:16. There is great comfort there, for sure, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. But please, don't pull believing out of Jesus' Word and Water. That's like yanking fish out of the fish bowl. How long will they survive?
When Jesus speaks of believing, He means, "Believe in My Word. Believe in My Gifts. Believe in all that I have given you through Word and Water, Bread and Wine." That's believing all wrapped up in Jesus, in what He says and does and gives.
Read John 1 thru 4 this week. In John 1, the Baptizer is baptizing in the Jordan. He testifies to how he saw the Spirit descend upon the Son of God - wet with His baptism - as the Father spoke from above. In John 2, Jesus changes plain, ordinary water into the finest of wine. In John 3, Jesus speaks about Baptism to Nicodemus. By the end of that chapter, we read that Jesus is baptizing more people than the Baptist, who is explaining how those who are born from above all leave him to follow Jesus and His Baptism with water and the Spirit. Finally, just before Jesus points a woman to His living water, John 4:1 tells us, again, that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than the Baptist.
When John 3:16 uses that little word "believe," don't think that Christ is drying off our faith. No way! Faith is always in Jesus, in the Word of God IN THE WATER! It is always in Christ's suffering and death GIVEN TO US. Believing is wet with Jesus and His saving Gifts.
It's easy, if we think that we are something in God's eyes, to dry faith off, to pull it - and ourselves!- away from God's saving work in Holy Baptism, or His saving Gifts at this Table. We no longer need our ears wet with God's promises or our lips wet with Christ's Blood, when we think that we are something before God. That can only get us - well - what you get when you pull fish out of water. So pay attention! When Jesus says, "God so loved the world," He isn't saying that God was just so head-over-heels in love with you and me He had to save us, but that God loved the world THUSLY. In THIS way, God loved the world - that He gave His only-begotten Son, Who died for us and rose again.
Now, that doesn't mean that God - Who is love - didn't love the world. He does. So, don't go being an old dog and refuse to learn a new thing today. By reading John 3:16 the way we should, we run the heart of God through Jesus, not through ANYTHING we are or do. It's not that God saw something good in us, something savable in us, something that made His heart go pitter-patter. That, finally, is what leads so many to think that faith is all dried off from Holy Baptism, doesn't have a thing to do with being baptized, absolved or Body and Blood fed. When people think God just went ga-ga over us and so He saved us, they think: "Why then must I be baptized, or my children? God is just as ga-ga over babies as we parents are, so why do they need Baptism to save them from their sins?" Old dogs refusing new tricks.
Jesus says, "Unless you are born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." BELIEVE that! Whoever believes that will never perish but have eternal life. Whoever does not believe will be condemned, and Jesus didn't come so that we're all condemned, but so the world is saved through Him. All nations. Baptized and instructed in the One True Faith. Bar none. That's what Jesus came for.
And that's the catholic Faith, dear Christians, which we confess and teach. Ah, there's a new one: We believe the holy, CATHOLIC and apostolic Faith! Apart from the catholic Faith, confessing that God the Father loved the world like this - He gave God the Son to die upon a cross for us, and now, God the Holy Spirit buries us in that through Holy Baptism, bathes us in it, raises us up in it, gives us faith in it and all the Gifts that go along with it! Apart from that, we can't be saved.
We confessed the catholic Faith in the Athanasian Creed this morning. Lots of Lutherans have their heads spinning right about now. They didn't realize we're catholic, that is, in step with the faith and practice which the Church has always held. They thought this wasn't our grandfather's synod anymore! Holy Trinity Sunday is always such a wakeup call for Lutherans!
I wish we'd all wake up a bit more and learn not to take for granted what we have. We have the Name of God the Holy Trinity upon us. You are holy ones because of that; your whole lives are holy because of that, so treat each other as if it's fearful to abuse the holy things of God. It is!
Isaiah trembled to be in the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy One of Israel. Hear how the seraphim confess the Trinity? Hear how we, with angels, confess the same each time we gather in the liturgy of Jesus' Supper? The ancient liturgy of St. James, which we're looking at on Wednesdays, teaches us anew that Christ is the two-natured coal, True God and True Man, Who was consumed in sacrifice for us upon a cross. Here, that coal of double nature touches your sinful lips, as He did Isaiah's, and He takes your sins away. He makes you holy, cleansing you, so you might be about your lives of holy living.
You'll never get old enough to find an end to learning what that means, your standing before God in Jesus and what it means for your living before each other. Your guilt is atoned for. See, this takes your sin away. Though unworthy and unclean, the God Who made you makes you right in God the Son, Who sends His Holy Spirit so you are comforted, so you believe, so you put off your sins, confessing to each other and setting aside your differences. So reconciled, thusly united to God and one another, you bring your gifts: your sins, your prayers, your lives of loving one another. And rising from the unsearchable riches of God's grace in Jesus, you live from Him, through Him, and to Him, for the benefit of everyone around you. In Jesus' Name, Amen