The first half of The Church Year was a review of New Testament Bible History. We started with Jesus’ Birth. We heard about His ministry of preaching and miracles during Epiphany and Lent. We accompanied Him to the Upper Room, Gethsemane, Pilate’s Court, Calvary, and The Tomb. We heard the angel cry, “He is risen!” We saw Him ascend into heaven. Finally a week ago we heard The Holy Ghost come down from heaven.
This day is one of the newer feasts in The Church Year. Our distant ancestors in northern Europe made it happen. For about 1000 years today was just The Sunday after Pentecost. But our ancestors had to fight the Arian heresy a lot more than Christians in Italy did. You may recall the Arians denied our Lord is true God from all eternity, and claimed He’s just the first thing The Father created. For this reason our fathers insisted that The Nicene Creed be said every Lord’s Day at The Holy Communion. And even though our historic liturgy is constructed to confess The Trinity, they instituted this day to make what we believe about God very obvious to anyone: There are 3 persons, yet 1 God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
This day confesses a doctrine and introduces a time that teaches doctrine. During the Trinity Season we learn about The Church – how did it start? what happens in it? Then we learn to grow in Christian faith and love – that’s why we use green paraments! – as The Spirit teaches us to show the fruits of faith in our daily lives. Next we learn about our struggle against Satan and his forces. Finally we prepare for the end of our lives, the end of the world, and Judgment Day.
Last Sunday we heard The Apostles speak God’s Word in many languages. The Holy Spirit came down from heaven, and tongues of flame appeared over them and everyone heard a great wind sound. The Spirit was blowing where He willed. They didn’t know where He had come from or where He was going, but they heard the wind. St. Peter convicted them of killing the Savior, and they repented and were baptized.
But Holy Baptism is not just for those people baptized by The Apostles nearly 2000 years ago. It is for us today. This is what Our Lord tells Nicodemus in today’s Gospel. He told Nicodemus that unless you are born from above, you are unable to see God’s kingdom. That’s right, I said born “from above.” But we’re so used to hearing people say “born again!” And that’s what Nicodemus heard. Jesus said a Greek word that means both “from above” and “again.” He said one meaning, Nicodemus heard the other.
How do we know that? Nicodemus got hung up on trying to figure out how he could have mom give birth to him again. That was completely impossible! He was an adult, probably a generation older than Jesus! So how could this happen? Nothing could give birth to him again. Nor did he want to go through such a process!
But Jesus was not talking about going back into mom or a surrogate. Nicodemus heard Him say “born again,” but that is not what He said. He said in order to be saved one must be “born from above.” Since Nicodemus didn’t understand, He explains Himself. After all, no one had ever heard of being born from above, so it made sense to think “born again.” But He meant “from above.” How? Jesus says you must be born by water and The Spirit.
Now when we hear in English those words, “water and The Spirit,” we might at first think we need water and we need The Spirit, but they don’t need to go together. In Greek that little word “and” ties the two very closely together. They are inseparable. You could just as well say that we must be born of water with The Spirit.
Now you know what Jesus is talking about here. The womb is the font. God is The Father. The Church is mother, for St. Paul says in Galatians 4, “The Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” The new birth is none other than Holy Baptism. You had no choice in being conceived and born however long ago that was. God, and your parents, were behind that. In the same way, we play no part in our own birth from above. God was behind that. Perhaps your parents brought you to the font, and it was probably the pastor who poured the water and spoke God’s Name over you. But he did it in Jesus’ place and at His command. Jesus is the true Baptizer. When He baptized you, He gave you His Spirit. And His Father is well-pleased.
How do you know this? St. Paul says in Titus 3, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by The Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” Perhaps you remember Dr. Luther includes these words in his Catechism. He’s making the point that the water itself doesn’t hold some magical power, but God’s Word takes hold of that water and uses it to apply God’s Name to us.
That gets us back to The Trinity. The Word of God spoken over you as the water was poured over you is: “I baptize you in The Name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Ghost.” When you were born you received your name. Your parents gave you your first and middle names; maybe they named you for a family member, something important to them, or someone in The Bible – my brother and I are named for baseball players. But you also received your last name, the family name. When you were baptized you received God’s Name. You became a Christian. You were taken out of the realm of the devil and your name was written in The Lamb’s Book of Life.
Why was this necessary? Because at your first birth you were born dead. But you took your first breath and got off to a good start that’s still going good today! How could you be born dead? You were born dead in trespasses and sins. When Adam sinned he killed us all. We became unable to do anything good, because we lost God. And if you don’t have God, you don’t have eternal life, the only life that truly matters.
So God put His Son on a Cross. Look to Him and live. See in true faith what He did for you. See your God hanging like a worm and no man dead upon The Cross. See there in The God Who Died eternal life given back to you. Baptism has united you to Him. Your death has been swallowed up by His Death, and you have eternal life now. Your sins are forgiven. You are rescued from death and the devil, and eternal salvation is yours.
There is Three Persons in One God. How this can be is a Mystery. We can’t comprehend it. But we do believe it, for Scripture tells us so. This God is not absent from you. He is with you always, with you with His Gospel’s Means of Grace. He keeps you steadfast in The Faith through His Word and in this way defends you against all adversities. “Blessed art Thou, O Lord God of our fathers, and greatly to be praised and glorified forever. Alleluia”