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God, Spirit, Son

May 27, 2018

Passage: John 3:1-17

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Pentecost


In the Name of Jesus. Amen. We have come to Holy Trinity Sunday. It is the Sunday in which we confess the Athanasian Creed. For that reason alone, some might be tempted to sleep in and skip church. One might hurt themselves confessing such a long creed. Your jaw might lock up or you could faint as the result of sheer loquacious exhaustion. After all, it’s all about that religious-sounding stuff, all that doctrine, all those details. Details we’re supposed to know and we’re supposed to learn as Christians and not just to know intellectually, but supposedly to apply to our daily lives. We ought to know the Holy Trinity in-order to pray, in-order to serve others properly, in-order to persevere and know joy in life in the face of trials…all these things come from knowing the Holy Trinity…but it requires some learning, really knowing God…our flesh complains. We’re like little babies who want to have it the easier way and just spit-out some self-deceiving, lowest-common-denominator, so-called “faith”: “I believe in God,” like every demon running around (James 2:19). What does that even mean?

And yet our sinful flesh has no problem with learning and knowing the details about other things. My dad was a journeyman mechanic. There was a myriad of details to learn. Our garage back home in Delano in our backyard was a professional-grade workshop. Pops had the tools to bore and thoroughly clean piston shafts. He rebuilt engines in that garage. He had a high-grade hoist and could lift an engine out and lower it back into just about anything…a car, a truck, a big-rig, a tractor…talk about detail.

What about the details studied and learned represented among the members in this congregation…we have attorneys…what about the details of the law? It is enough to make the average person’s head-spin. What about the details in dentistry? As I sit there in the dentist’s examination chair and hear sophisticated references to my various teeth, I’m struck by the detail. How is that particular-cuspid labeled again? What is it like to have a doctorate in the field of math or sociology or psycho-therapy? Ask some of our members. Details, learning…it is wowing; it is amazing!

But I’ve only mentioned examples at work. What about examples at play and just sheer enjoyment? Consider athletes and the details they learn regarding the techniques to do what they do. Have you watched a really-good basketball player who has the “handles” to dripple the ball that makes one stumble just to try to keep up? Do we realize the technique involved in learning to dive? To have the ability to do things with a soccer ball…how can a sport that seems so simple…no fancy gear, just one’s feet and a ball…how can the human body contort to do the things that great soccer players do? Think about the details in martial arts, in synchronized swimming, and in gymnastics. Think about the technique for that pitcher able to produce a curve, a slider, or a change-up…to complement their fast ball!

What about gardening? The detail involved in handling God’s creation and highlighting its stupendous beauty grants the opportunity to turn a back yard into a place of refuge and peace…but it takes time, it takes knowledge, it takes details…but trying to even scratch the surface of the vast botanical terminology is not easy. Indeed, I am personally quite bad at the whole enterprise. It was just a few years ago that I learned that a “succulent” wasn’t a tasty ice-cream bar.

What about cooking…I mean real cooking? While I have considerable skills in eating food, it is another thing to make it come out so that it is scrumptious. It takes learning, it takes skill, it takes attention to detail. We know this. If there is something important and worth knowing, then we accept the details…they are not to be cast aside.

Finally, we know these things are true for having and knowing other people in real relationships. I talk to men about this. If you think your intimacy with your wife begins in the bedroom, then think again. It begins with the sound of your voice, your hygiene, the way you look at her, your being considerate towards her, by taking interest in what interests her, the way you hold her hand, the way you listen and engage…why would a pastor care about these things? Easy answer, because pastors defend holy marriage and we do not ignore the relational things that guard and protect marriage. 1st Corinthians 7 teaches that coming together in marriage is how we keep the devil away from the Christian couple…but these are things about details…men are compared to Jesus in Eph 5…Jesus’ love for you and me is detailed, relationships are complex…we invest to know and to live out in a healthy, joyful and yes, even in a pleasurable way.

Do you see the pattern? So why would we think that the single most important relationship: our relationship with the LORD, would be any different? This is not to say, however, that this should be a laborious thing. Much to the contrary, when you consider how much you are loved by God, of course you want to know Him…you want to know the details.

When a young man falls in love with a young lady…he wants to know the details…when you love God, you want to know Him…if you don’t want to know Him, then you have a serious problem. If you know more about your favorite Major League Baseball player’s stats than you know about God, then you have a problem. Get to know God, not because you have- to, but because you get-to…because He loves you and because He does you don’t have to die in your sins, but rather through the greatest love imaginable you have freedom from the condemnation of sin and this freedom means that you can know how to really live and keep living even after dying. So, do you want to know the details…do you want to know God? Then know – even in our limited human capacity – the Holy Trinity.

The bulletin cover says, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” from Isaiah 6:3…this is the Trisagion, the three-times “holy” …some theologians insist that this is not a reference to the Holy Trinity. I think theologians make things way too complicated sometimes. The Holy Trinity is everywhere seen in Holy Scripture. It is not information for the sake of information…it is revelation so that you can know God. So that you can know the One who loves you more than anyone loves you. If you know God and His love for you, then you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you…you can really live.

Love is powerful, but it can’t be abstract. God is love. So, do you want to know the power of love? Then know God! Do you want to know God? Then know the Holy Trinity!

The details on our Great God, the Great 3 in 1 are revealed magnificently in our gospel this morning in John chapter 3. By the way, don’t let anyone tell you that the Holy Trinity is illogical or non-sensical. Logic has more than just one angle, more than just one person’s sense of it. It is vast, because it is from God. Christians believe that there is only ONE God and they believe that the ONE God reveals Himself and is known in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you want to really know the ONE God, then get to know the way He is knowable…and relatable…the way He reveals Himself and desires to be known…know the Holy Trinity.

Somebody will scoff: the word “Trinity” isn’t even in the Bible! This is a silly complaint. It is like saying the term “original sin” or “inherited sin” (these two words side-by-side) are not in the Bible…that’s true too. But these concepts, these teachings are most certainly in the Bible. In elongated form, the Holy Word of God teaches that God is ONE, and teaches that The Father is God, that the Son Jesus Christ is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. God is one and God is three; He is one in respect to His substance or His essence; and He is three in respect to His persons.

I know this can sound really-theological – and can make our heads spin a little, so let me put it very simply: God reveals WHAT He is as ONE. And there is no other God. AND, God reveals WHO He is, and there are Three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This truth of the Holy Trinity is represented arithmetically by 1 x 1 x 1 that equals 1. Each factor “1” is distinct and at the same time while multiplied by “1” and again by “1” equal the product that is “1.” There are many illustrations of the Holy Trinity, but St. Augustine put forth an illustration of The Holy Trinity that is much more to the point. 1st John 4:8 and 4:16 reveal that God is love. God is in Himself relational and loving…love must be extended from one PERSON to another PERSON. The ONE God has PERSONS within Himself and as a result, love is in Him and is His very nature as each person of The Holy Trinity loves the others. God loves within Himself. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit is the love between them and this love – the Holy Spirit who is God – is extended to you and to me…so that we too would love the Father who loves us and love the Son who loves us…so that we may truly, and finally know God.

And we must know Him in accord with how He makes Himself known. And to know Him and to love Him this way is to be freed from sin; it is to have confidence through life; it is to be secure in the forgiveness of sins and the gift of life that never ends…know God this way. Know the details. Know the Trinity and John chapter 3 gets this done for us. It is a chapter in God’s Holy Word that helps us tremendously to know the Holy Trinity.

We confess the Holy Trinity every day as we cross ourselves with the words spoken over us when we were baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We know God. You know God, because you know and confess The Holy Trinity. Our Divine Service is full of the Holy Trinity. We begin with the Invocation, we confess the Holy Trinity in the Kyrie, we confess Him in the Creed (especially today) …He is everywhere in the worship of God’s people. But even more, He is everywhere in your daily life. The Christian learns to yearn for God, to pray constantly to God, unceasingly, on all occasions…we pray in our hearts to God as we live in faith…and here the preposition “TO” is significant, because we pray – especially – TO The Father, who provides for us and cares us and gives us everything we need for this body and life; but how do we know that the Father we pray TO will receive us and accept our prayers? We know IN the Son, our lives, our grounding, our status, our position, our stall, our foundation, our lives are IN Christ…and the Father that we pray TO receives the prayers of His children IN the Son…the Son makes us acceptable to the Father because we are covered by His blood and clothed in His victory over sin and death. But how do we remain steadfast and strong – in the face of our great weaknesses – to remain IN Christ, it is BY, or WITH, or ACCORDING TO, the great Counselor, the great Comforter, the great ADVOCATE, the Holy Spirit. He keeps us in the Word, He keeps us in the Sacrament, He keeps us in Christ, He empowers us, He strengthens, He encourages us, He consoles us, He gives us hope, and He defends us from the attacks the devil…that is, the Holy Spirit is not theoretical, it is not doctrine or theology for its own sake…no, no…it is to know, really know God and to walk and live with God…that is why we confess the Holy Trinity.

So, it is fascinating in John 3. Nicodemus the learned Pharisee (and Pharisees were viewed as the religious cream of the crop) assumed to begin with the Father, to begin with God. “Jesus…you come from God…God is with you (how else could you do such great things)?!” Nicodemus begins from above, from up high…up in the heavens…He wants to speak of God this way. When we do, then God is far-away; He is detached, He is in fact unknowable, so people make up stuff to pretend they know Him as they seek to ascend to heaven. Nicodemus reveals his way: it is a “from-above” theology. Jesus doesn’t go along with that. Instead, Jesus teaches that our knowing God is “from-below” …what must happen to know God…something must happen here, down below, on earth, in your life here, where things are messy, in the nitty-gritty…where does it begin to know God, you begin with the Holy Spirit. Ohhh, we shudder at this…it’s just so experiential and possibility subjective…that’s ok, that is what you are…you experience, and you process what you experience…you have thoughts and feelings about what you experience. And what Jesus does here is that He leads you and me to an experience: it is a theology or way of knowing God, a way of beginning to know The Holy Trinity by leading us to the day of your Holy Baptism.

Our walk with God all begins here from below…down here on earth where things get messy. Verses 5-7: “Jesus answered, ‘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 [Holy] Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

Being born is not something we do, it is something that we experience; it is something that happens to us. Again, we don’t do it. When you were born in the flesh, you didn’t birth yourself, your mother did. When the doctor said, “push,” he was not speaking to you. He was speaking to your mother. She was birthing…you were being born. She was active. You were passive. The same is true for spiritual birth.

To be born again or to be born from above…when God acts and comes down from above to our lives here below, then we are taught here in John 3 that it is the Holy Spirit is births us. He does the birthing. He is active. We are passive. He makes it happen. We don’t do anything. And God reveals to us that this new birth from above happens when we are baptized. How important is your baptism? It is everything according to God. It is when you were born from above. It is when you were born again. So, look past your struggles, your doubts, your second-guessing…look past all the ways that you want to make your faith complicated…and look to one thing. Answer the question: were you baptized? Were you baptized in the powerful, almighty Name of God who created the heavens and the earth, for whom NOTHING is too hard? Were you baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?

Were you?

If you were then praise and thanks be to God. You are born-again. You are born from above…because Holy Spirit came to you here down below and brought you into God, specifically into Jesus Christ.

So yeah, it is important to know the Holy Spirit and His work doesn’t end at baptism. He is in fact daily reminding you to remember that you are baptized…you have born again! You are a child of God! And that was God’s work. 100%.

And that you were born into Christ. So, we all want to grow in our lives…we want to develop…how does that happen with one born-again…easy answer: they get to know the One in Whom they live! They want to get to know Jesus better and better and better…the Christian’s life is preoccupied and focused up the LORD Jesus Christ! I used the illustration already about men learning to know and love their wives…according to Scripture men, what is your pattern? Whom are you to imitate according to Ephesians 5. You know the answer! It is Jesus! and so the Jesus here in John 3 teaches us about Himself. Verse13…He is the only One who has descended form heaven among men…the only man whose throne is above, but who came to serve here below…no other man can show us God except the Son of Man who is true man, but also the Savior of all men…” Jesus” is His Name. Know this about this man, this Son of Man, Savior and Lord as verse 14 says: He was lifted so that – as verse 15 says – “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” And then we get to the most famous words in the New Testament that include God the Father – so that we see in John 3 that the entire Holy Trinity is presented to us – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).”