Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2014
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 3:1-17
June 15, 2014 (Fathers’ Day)
Isaiah was a priest. The day he saw the Lord in the temple he was probably on duty.
When he saw the Lord, all the confidence you might expect a priest to have before God went up in smoke. “Woe to me! I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the Lord.”
What made Isaiah’s lips filthy? Did he swear a lot? Tell dirty jokes?
That’s enough to make your lips unclean and filthy in God’s sight.
But there are other unclean things that can pass through the lips that are even more unclean. Especially the lips of a priest.
The lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and the people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts, said the prophet Malachi to the priests of his day (2:7-8). But you have caused many to stumble by your instruction.
This is the worst kind of uncleanness to pass from the lips of a priest. To speak false things about God. To set up or strengthen the worship of idols.
And likewise it is the worst kind of uncleanness that can be in the heart to worship idols. To believe false things about God.
This kind of uncleanness was in the heart and mouth of Nicodemus. He didn’t know the first things about how we come to God, and yet he was a teacher of God’s people. Jesus exclaimed, “You are the teacher of Israel, and you don’t know these things?”
Very basic things about who the true God is and how we come to Him. Nicodemus thought the way the flesh always thinks. He knew what the pagans know—there is a God, He is powerful and righteous. So you find God where there is power and other good things that we like. And you please God by doing right things and rejecting immoral things.
Jesus says, “No.” You don’t find God where the flesh expects to find Him. No, you don’t draw near to God by doing good works. “Flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit to spirit.” You cannot even see God’s kingdom unless you are born again. And you cannot enter it unless you are born of water and the Spirit.
Nicodemus found this impossible to accept. He rejected this testimony of Jesus. How could it be that all of his theological training and all of his moral striving left him with nothing, that he knew God just as little as the Gentiles and the sinners?
Nicodemus was a churchgoing, bible-reading idolater. He didn’t know who God is. God stood in front of Him, and Nicodemus recognized His power, but thought that God must be somewhere else. Because God doesn’t come in such humble clothing. God doesn’t come in poverty, in rejection, with only a few disciples, with the holy and great people of the world rejecting Him.
Does it sound familiar, Nicodemus’ thinking? Because it is the same thinking that you have in the flesh.
In the flesh you expect to find God in power and glory and earthly good things. When those things are missing you also think God must be somewhere else. This uncleanness is constantly cropping up in our hearts. We don’t recognize the true God visiting us in lowliness, weakness, and suffering and we despise Him in favor of the gods of success, power, prestige, comfort.
And then you too expect to stand before God on the basis of your moral life. You can’t believe that your attempts to be good count for nothing in God’s sight in the question of your justification before Him.
This is the worst kind of uncleanness to be on one’s lips or in one’s heart. The uncleanness of lifting up our souls to a false god. And this is what we do in the flesh. We believe that we can know who God is by our own reason and senses. Then we try to please God with our works and win His favor. We refuse to believe that our nature is so corrupt that neither we nor anyone else can know the true God or enter His kingdom unless we are reborn, born again.
But thanks be to God! You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but imperishable. Not by the will of man, but born of God. Not of the flesh, but of the Holy Spirit.
For all of you who have been baptized have received “the washing of rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3) You have been born of water and the Spirit. It wasn’t your will that accomplished this, but Christ’s, who instituted Baptism, commanding His disciples to make disciples “baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is Jesus who “loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). It is Jesus who made baptism the means by which “we were buried with him…in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Even though most of us were little children when we were baptized, without understanding, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven belongs” to little children and insists that we allow the little children and infants to be brought to Him, because “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall never enter it.”
How do little children receive the kingdom of God? Those who deny that infants should be baptized say little children do not receive the kingdom of God. But Jesus says they do. And how do they receive it? Passively. They don’t bring themselves to Jesus; they are brought, carried. They don’t use their reason to come to Jesus. Jesus comes to them and opens their eyes so that they see and enter the kingdom of God through baptism into Him.
In the same way our reason and understanding leads us astray. We look for God in the things the flesh trusts in—comfort, wealth, beauty, power, fame. We will not find God there. God is only found in Christ. And Christ is only found in His word and Sacraments, not with earthly splendor, but proclaimed as crucified in weakness and raised by the glory of God.
The Holy Spirit has opened your eyes and caused you to see what the flesh can never see. Jesus is God. The One who was crucified and who comes to us in His flesh and blood under the bread and wine is the Lord of the Universe, the Son begotten of the Father from eternity.
The only-begotten Son of the Father, who was with the Father in the beginning, came in our flesh and blood, in the image of our weakness, fallenness, corruption. He came down to us. We did not rise to Him. And because there was in us no power to make ourselves pleasing to God, since everything in us was corrupt, the eternal Son fulfilled the commandments of God perfectly in your place. And then the Father allowed His Son to be offered up for your sins, and lifted up on the cross and the preaching of the cross so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.
There are many religions in the world and many people claiming that they believe in one God. But no one has the Father unless he believes in the Son, because the Son is the radiance of the glory of the Father, the exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3). The Son is begotten of the Father, distinct from Him, yet equal in glory, of one substance with the Father.
And no one has the Son unless he has been born again of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son, one substance with them. But the Holy Spirit is not the Father nor the Son. He proceeds from the Father and the Son.
And through the Word He opens our eyes so that we see the Son lifted up for us on the cross. And there we learn to recognize God and His kingdom.
We see that God is not only omnipotent and righteous and glorious, but that He is the God who justifies the ungodly and has mercy on the lost and helpless. Because the Son is the exact image of the Father, and He suffers for us on the cross. Through the Son we come to know the Father, that the righteous God is also the Father of all mercies, who gave up His Son to save those who were bound to perish.
It is the Holy Spirit who leads us to the Son. We would never come to Him on our own. We would be like Nicodemus—so close, yet so far away. Still clinging to our own righteousness.
The Holy Spirit shows us our complete uncleanness and idolatry; He also shows us the Son of Man made an unclean thing for all the uncleanness of our hearts.
Today is Father’s Day. Your Father in heaven has given you every good and perfect gift in Christ. One of his gifts to you in Christ is your earthly father.
Many of us may not feel like our earthly fathers were good gifts from God. Others have fathers who are gone from their sight. But others have fathers on earth that they thank God for.
Whatever your situation is, be sure to thank your Father in heaven for your father on earth. It’s your Father in heaven who gave the commandment “Honor your father and your mother.” Your father on earth is not a good gift of God because he seems like a good father to you, but because God the Father honors him with his commandment and by letting him have the title “Father.” And if God gave you a father you think is good, how much more honor and thanks do you owe to him and to your Father in heaven?
Fathers, look at the love shown by the heavenly Father toward sinners. You will never be able to equal His patience and kindness. But receive the kindness of your Father in heaven toward you. Receive painful experiences as the loving chastisements of the heavenly Father. Receive His Son, whom He gave up to adopt you as His child and heir. Receive Him in the Word, in your Baptism, in His body and blood. And as you receive His Son He will form you into the image of His Son, who is the exact imprint of His being, and you will become a father who is a witness to the heavenly Father.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria