Jesus Keeps Getting in the Way
You heard the Athanasian Creed, a confession of the Holy Christian Church for 1,500 years; it's plain enough: Whosoever will be saved it is necessary that he believe in the Triune God. Deny the Trinity and you lose your soul, but try to understand the Trinity and you lose your wits, so quit trying to understand it. The truth of the matter is that if you could somehow get into heaven with a camera to take a picture of the Trinity, no matter how many pictures you took all you would see is Jesus. This is what Nicodemus found. Each time he tried to get his head around the kingdom of God, the Spirit, and God the Father Jesus got in the way.
Jesus kept getting in the way in a bad way. This ought not surprise us. The Old Testament prophesied that Jesus would be a stumbling block, a standard that would attract some and repel others, a banner to be spoken against. Nicodemus, not just "a" teacher of Israel, but Jesus calls him "the" teacher, was attracted to Jesus. But notice he comes at night. John will later make the point that when Judas leaves to betray Jesus it is also at night.
Jesus is in Nicodemus' way. He thinks he's paying Jesus the highest of compliments when he says, "We know you're a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God where not with Him." Unitarians, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, and Buddhists, likewise will say Jesus is a great teacher, even a prophet, and that God was surely with him. But Scripture says so much more.
Nick is willing to say Jesus is a teacher, but Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen." Why does Jesus go from first person singular to first person plural, from "I tell you" to we speak, we know, we testify, we have seen? He doesn't just teach about God; He speaks as God of what God knows and sees right then and there. The plural is like the ones in Genesis: "Let us make man in our image." "Let us go down to Babel and confuse their languages." There is only one God but there is plurality, a 3- foldnesss in the Godhead. There is one divine Being who has revealed Himself in three equally Divine persons.
Though in our text Jesus confronts Nicodemus with the Spirit and with God the Father, it's Jesus who Nick keeps stumbling over. Nick's willing to say Jesus is from God, but Jesus won't let him or us stand there. In the last verse Jesus says, "God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world." Send is the Greek word apostello from which we get the word apostle. An apostle was regarded as the person who sent him. He had all the power, all the authority of that person. Nick's ready to say Jesus is from God; Jesus says not so fast; you are to see Me as God Himself.
You can see that Nicodemus shows an ever higher opinion of Jesus even before Jesus says a Word. He begins by saying Jesus is a teacher; then he says He's from God, and then he concludes God is with Him. Mighty high praise indeed, huh? But it's far from God's revealed truth. Holy Scripture says Jesus is God with us, Immanuel: God in our flesh and blood; God in a woman's womb even as we were; God on a mother's lap as we were.
Point your camera at the mystery of the Holy Trinity and what do you see: the flesh and blood Jesus. Jesus keeps getting in the way, but this can be a good thing, not a stumbling, frustrating, irritating thing but a relieving thing.
God in His essence is unknowable, unapproachable, and unnerving. Not only Scripture but others tell you that. Above the familiar gods of Zeus and Thor the Greeks had the Titans. In Athens there were altars to many gods, still they knew there was an unknown God. Several places the Scriptures say, "No man has seen God at any time." Paul says in I Timothy 6 that God dwells in unapproachable light. Hebrews says, "Our God is a consuming fire." When God came down to Mt. Sinai, the people were so unnerved they asked God not to speak with them. Even Moses, whom Scriptures says God spoke to face to face with, was not allowed to see Him from the front but only from the back.
You know there are people who've seen something so terrible, so horrible that they are dumbstruck; they are driven out of their minds; their brains can't process the information. God in His essence is such terrible beauty, such splendid horror, such glory unutterable that all of our circuits would be blown if we saw Him, heard Him, touched Him. Our eyes would melt, our ears would burst, our fingers would burn, and our brain would short-circuit. If men could make up the Gorgons who were so dreadful that if a man saw them he turned to stone, what must the true God be like in all His glory, majesty, power, and might?
But this God who would overload all our circuits sent His only beloved Son into our world. Jesus is a not a Son like we have sons but One begotten in eternity not made in time, of the same essence of God the Father. But God the Son wasn't sent into the world in glory, but humility. He hid His glory. He didn't fully use His divine power, authority, or privilege. Why not? Because He was being sent to save the world not condemn it.
Man was given God's law to keep, so a Man had to keep it. But already in Eden it was shown that a perfect man couldn't keep the law perfectly; God the Son was sent into the Virgin's Womb to take on our flesh and blood through her. Now you have a Man born under the Law who is also God with the ability to keep it perfectly. All the things you don't do and know you should, Jesus did. All the thoughts you don't want to have but do, Jesus didn't. All the sins, the shortcomings, and failings you see when you look in the mirror were not in Jesus' mirror.
But not just God's Law had to be satisfied but God's wrath. Just as you are angry when a child deliberately disobeys you; just as you are mad as can be when someone ignores your authority; just as you are enraged when you do everything for someone and they walk all over you, that's how mad God was at the world, at you. What you say in the confession is true: you deserve not just eternal punishment, but temporal, here and now, punishment. All the diseases you fear, all the accidents you worry about, all the bad things happening that you are constantly putting out of your mind, God's wrath should bring upon you today.
But God's wrath brought them upon His Son instead of you. As true God Jesus couldn't bleed, cry, suffer, or die, but He took on your flesh and blood so He could do these things in your place, under God's wrath. O Jesus got in the way big time here. Again and again God in wrath hurled, sickness, disease, disaster, and damnation at a world that deserves it but these were all drawn to the crucified Christ as lightening will repeatedly strike a lightening rod. Again and again the bolts struck God the Son, till God the Father had no more left to throw not at you, not at me, not at the world.
As often as you try to capture the Holy Trinity on camera, so often does Jesus jump into the picture. No matter what you talk about, you have to talk about Jesus according to Scripture. Want to talk about God the Father and creation? "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth by speaking words," says Genesis 1. John 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Without Him not one single thing was made." And that Word was made flesh in Jesus.
Want to talk about God the Spirit, about being born again and being holy before God? The Holy Spirit takes the things of Jesus and gives them to you. Jesus' words, Jesus' water, Jesus' Bread and Wine give the Spirit, are in fact the only way anyone gets the Spirit. The words of Jesus are the Spirit of prophesy, Scripture says; Baptized into Jesus you receive the Holy Spirit, Scripture promises. The only Man the Holy Spirit is ever shown visibly descending on is Jesus. He's the only Man Scripture says received the Spirit without measure. He's the only Man who has enough of the Spirit to share.
Want to talk about forgiveness for the sins you have done in the flesh? Want to talk about the resurrection of those bodies in the pew? Want to talk about an everlasting life in the flesh that you can feel aging and decaying day by day? Try talking to God about these things. Try approaching the consuming fire, the blinding light, the unnerving holiness of God almighty. Pray, pray, pray about these things. Tell this God who dwells in blinding light how sorry you are for the shameful things you done with your flesh and blood body. Tell this unknowable God that you don't want this body of yours left under 6 feet of dirt for eternity. Beg this invisible God to give you some assurance that there is an everlasting life for the flesh you know dies so easily.
So what did you get? I got nothing. God the Father didn't say a word. God the Spirit didn't give me a warm feeling. My words, my prayers, my pleas echoed into eternity sending back no assurance, no comfort, no help. No wonder people kill themselves, sedate themselves, distract themselves, do anything but look into the long night of eternity with a God they can't hear, know, or trust.
Thank God, Jesus keeps getting in the way. When my shameful sins of the flesh haunt me, I see that God the Father put them on the flesh and blood of God the Son and He carried them away from mine. When the grave opens wide under by feet, I see that God in the Person of Jesus already went into the grave with my flesh and blood and came back out. I see that by means of Water empowered by God's Word I am joined to that flesh and blood body of Jesus so that where He goes I go. And when I feel not only no everlasting life in me but not enough for another day of life, I see God the Son reaching out to my dying flesh and blood with His Body and Blood for me to eat and drink giving me His everlasting life today.
Nicodemus was not taken to task for not understanding the Holy Trinity but for not believing the Jesus who stood right in front of him; Jesus was everywhere Nick turned. When he talked or thought about God, Jesus kept getting in the way. Maybe that's because Jesus is not only the Truth and the Life for fallen mankind but the Way back to God. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Holy Trinity (20120603); John 3: 1-17