Sermon: Confessing the Incomprehensible (John 3:1-17)

Text: John 3:1-17
Trinity Sunday, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” said Jesus to Nicodemus. Poor Nicodemus. He comes to Jesus by night to have a little rabbi to rabbi talk. Maybe compare theological notes. Talk a little shop, teacher to teacher. But, after a bit of conversation, he’s completely befuddled. But really, who can blame Nicodemus for missing the point? A lot of Christians miss the point too. 

Maybe that’s a good reason why this is the Gospel reading for  Trinity Sunday.  Trinity Sunday is not about a work of God but about God Himself. It’s not about God’s work as creator, redeemer, or sanctifier, but about the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the Undivided Unity. At times, trying to make sense of the Trinity is enough to make you to toss up your hands with Nicodemus and say, “How can these things be?” And that’s good for us. Trinity Sunday is a swim in deep end of the pool. It’s a reminder that God is bigger than our heads, beyond our ability to comprehend, and doesn’t always fit into tidy little boxes. Nicodemus’ question, “How can these things be?” is the exact question of the day. And it is the question that can never be answered. 

The Athanasian Creed reminds us that God doesn’t fit into tidy little boxes. The Athanasian Creed was written at a time and place that was plagued by Arianism, the ancient ancestor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The problem wasn’t that they were handing out literature in neighbourhoods throughout the Roman Empire, but they were claiming “there was a time when the Son was not.” In other words, Jesus was not God. Instead, he was a being that God created. He’s a creature, and at some point, he did not exist.  

That’s what happens when we are unable to deal with the incomprehensibility of God. We are tempted to fashion God after ourselves, to have a god to suit our fancy. We are tempted invent a god who will make sense to us and whom we can understand. And this is exactly why many don’t like the Creeds, because they won’t be told what to believe. People want to have a pick-and-choose, do-it-yourself, smörgåsbord kind of god. The Athanasian Creed stands in the way of our self-made gods and says, “Whoever desires to be saved must confess this catholic faith.” That brings us to the heart of the matter: why does my eternal salvation depend upon confessing it?

The Son Reveals God

When it comes to the Trinity, the spotlight is  focused on Jesus. No one has ever seen God, John says, but the only-begotten God, the Word Incarnate, the second Person of the undivided Holy Trinity, He has made God known. Jesus and the Father are not the same person. Jesus is the eternal Son begotten of the Father, and sent by the Father in love to save the world. He prays to the Father as a distinct Person and yet says, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father and the Father sends the Spirit in the name of Jesus. All of this comes from Jesus. And it all could be so easily dismissed. He could be brushed off as some crazy guy with a huge ego complex. Except for this one thing: He died and rose bodily from the dead leaving an open, empty tomb and load of eyewitnesses. He predicted His own death and resurrection at least three times before it happened. Anyone who can pull that off has serious credibility.

We take the doctrine of the Trinity seriously because we take Jesus seriously. He is the One who reveals the Father, who sends the Spirit, who said, “Baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He is the One who said, “No one comes to the Father except by me” and “I will send you another Comforter who will be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth.” Were it not for Jesus, we wouldn’t have a doctrine of the Trinity or have anything to say about the Father and Holy Spirit.

You won’t get the Trinity right if you don’t get Jesus right. And you won’t get Jesus right unless you also get the Trinity right. What we say about the Father and the Holy Spirit reflects what we believe concerning Jesus Christ, the Son. And if we claim to be disciples of the Lord Jesus, followers of His teaching, baptised into His death and life, then we have to listen to Him when He speaks about God the Father and the Holy Spirit. 

Why It’s Important

One of the main ideas in Christianity is that we would never know who God is unless he revealed himself to us. In order to have any sort of relationship with God, we must understand and accept God as he has revealed himself. We have to accept God for who he is. The same idea goes for normal human relationships. The only way I can get to know you is if you share things about yourself with me. I don’t get to change details about who you are just because I may not like certain things, and neither can I mould you to make you the way I want.

God has in fact revealed himself to us. That means that we must accept God as he has revealed himself. The First Commandment tells us that we must have no other gods besides the Lord. If we don’t believe the Trinity, we break the First Commandment. We are in fact making up our own god that we can understand. Put simply, if we refuse to believe that God is the Trinity then we are rejecting how God has revealed himself, and to reject God for who he is. Those who don’t believe in the Trinity end up inventing their own god, one who is made in their image and likeness. And those who don’t care for how God has revealed himself, who would rather not know this God, will still have to face him as their Judge on the Last Day. You cannot have a saving relationship with Jesus if you don’t accept him for who he is as the incarnate Son of God!

Jesus claims to be the Son of God and God validates that claim by raising Him from the dead. That throws a monkey wrench in to any simplistic understandings of God. Jesus has revealed the most profound Mystery of our faith to us , the very nature of God Himself. He has revealed the love of God as the Beloved Son and by his death, he brought us into communion with the Father, with Himself, with the Spirit.

This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is so important! If you lose the Trinity then God is not the Father who sent his Son. If you lose the Trinity then Jesus is not Lord. If you lose the Trinity, then Jesus is not the one and only mediator between the God and man. If you lose the Trinity, then there is no Saviour to die the cursed death of the Cross to save humanity. If you lose the Trinity, then there is no Holy Spirit to give us new life in Holy Baptism. Without the Trinity there is no salvation because it is the Triune God who saved you.

The Father sends the Son. The Son dies for you. The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to proclaim Christ to you and to deliver to you forgiveness, life, and salvation. That’s the Trinity at work. That’s why the Athanasian Creed says, “Whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.”

So, on this Trinity Sunday does it matter that we cannot fully explain the theology of the Trinity? What is crucial in our understanding is the reality of God’s activity in Jesus. Jesus is God’s only-begotten Son, sent and given for the sake of the salvation of the world. Only through the awakening of belief through the Spirit can this be known. That is the good news for this day.

All else is mystery. All else is an attempt to only say what God has revealed to us, no more nor less. And that’s really the point of it all. God tells us who He is. We don’t make God in our image and likeness. That’s an idol. God reveals Himself, and we try our best to say what God has revealed. And when all is said and done at the end of Holy Trinity Sunday, we won’t be any closer to understanding God or explaining Him. But we will have confessed and worshipped the Holy Trinity and the Undivided Unity, because he has shown his mercy to us.

May that peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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