Holy Trinity Sunday, Sermon B.
"We speak that we do know and testify that we have seen: and ye receive not our witness." John 3:11.
Thus spoke the Saviour to Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night thinking about these spiritual matters. But he was so ignorant, although he held himself to be wise, that he thought the new birth impossible and also not necessary for an old person. No doubt Nicodemus thought as other sorrowless also, that the new birth has happened in beptism, that no one who has been baptized needs to be born again, no matter how many times he would have broken the covenant of baptism. "We speak that we do know and testify that we have seen, and ye receive not our witness." Such ones as Nicodemus will not receive the testimony from people, nor from God either. We have seen such people who certainly hold themselves to be wise and think they know where the road goes to heaven. And if some Christian would tell such a man what he knows about the new birth, no doubt they then say as Nicodemus, "How can a man be born when he is old? Namely, it is impossible for an old heathen to think about this whole matter of new birth. Because first, he does not think that new birth is necessary since he, in his mind, has already been reborn in baptism, and secondly, he thinks that matter to be impossible when he, like Nicodemus, feels how big and fat an old person is. How can such a big old Adam become so small that he can fit into his mother's womb? Therefore he grumbles that he has already once been reborn in baptism, and that he needs no longer to be reborn another time. All those go along with this intellect who cannot entirely bypass this place, for Nicodemus was a master in Israel and consequently had read the Scriptures. Therefore he could not tell the Saviour that new birth was not necessary; he knew from the Word of God that new birth was demanded. It is not known it Nicodemus had ever experiences this place so far that he, from his own experiene, could have felt the new birth necessary. It is hardly possible that Nicodemus has had that knowledge, for he built so much upon self-righteousness that he could not have experienced the whole matter to be necessary. There are many in this congregation who feel this matter to be necessary, but they also feel that the old man is so big and fat that it is not possible to fit into the mother's womb and be born again. Some again do not feel this matter to be necessary, for they think that the new birth has already happened in baptism and that one need not be born again. The first ones who feel that the new birth which happened in baptism does not help, think in general that it will happen yet before they die, and in that supposition the time of grace is spent. And when death comes they feel that it is now impossible to be saved and to be born again, since it has not happened before. Those grace thieves and servants of self-righteousness, who rely upon that new birth which has happened in baptism, live boldly, and when death comes they must condemn themselves and say, "Now it is too late, nothing will help anymore since it has not happened before." Then even that reliance they had in the grace of baptism ends. Such an end has come to many a despiser of Christianity and we have seen that; and therefore we confess and testify "what we have seen, but ye receive not our witness." We have also seen such ones who at one time felt the grace of new birth to be very necessary, and at that time they had a great desire to become saved. But because of love of the world, the sorrow of penitence ended and they went back into the world and became worse than before. What kind of an end has come to them? We have seen that a poor end has come to them, and therefore we testify what we have seen, and ye receive not our witness. We have also seen such ones who have once been born again and come into a condition of grace. How has it gone with them, when through unwatchfulness they have fallen from grace and do not care to arise? They became seven times worse, and when death came upon them, the door of grace was closed, and the devil of self-righteousness began to condemn them terribly that there was no possible hope other than destruction, judgement and a curse. All this we have seen. "And we speak what we do know and testify what we have seen, and ye receive not our witness." We have seen such fools who live like animals, drink, curse, laugh and mock the truth, and are joyous when they commit evil. What kind of an end will come to them? They have here laughed at their own destruction, and when death comes they begin to become delirious and to curse. They ask the devil to come and take care of them. They also curse on their death bed and other pagans say, "That was a nice death." The sorrowless pastor makes a beautiful obituary, so all believe that the soul became saved. All this we have seen, "and we speak what we know and testify what we have seen, and ye receive not our witness." And now when these matters have not happened secretly, but openly, that all have seen how unfortunately it has happened to those who have not received our testimony, so we must place all these matters before the eyes of the sorrowless and remind them of their mortality, to show them a picture of those who have during these years left the world in unbelief and doubts and condemned themselves on the death bed, although we know that the sorrowless no longer care for any example. No matter what they would see or hear, they do not believe that hell is hot before the skin gets hot. Those few souls who are assured of the new birth and have thereby been born of that incorruptible seed into the heavenly truth, and have received the child-right and the spirit of the elect children, wherein they cry, "Abba, dear Father", these few souls surmise well that in this place it is not fitting to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs. But we must speak to the brothers in faith of Nicodemus as the Saviour spoke to Nicodemus, "Verily, verily I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of Heaven." (John 3:3) Our hope is that those few souls who have truly been born again and have wept in that new atmosphere, awaiting that the Heavenly Parent, who is their true Father, would soon take them up from the cold floor of the world into His lap, and would wrap them into clean linens and allow them to suckle the grace-flowing breasts, and would wash them clean in the water of life, will pray also in behalf of those who are in that strait gate, that they would become so small that they would fit through. Hear, Thou Father of the crying children, the sighs of those little ones who are so small that they fit into the Parent's lap. Our Father, who art in the heavens, etc.
The Gospel: John 3:1-7.
We must now, through God's grace and in accordance with the above-read holy text, consider why Nicodemus cannot believe that the old man must be born again. First, he does not believe that it is possible. Second, he does not know how it can happen. Nicodemus is no fool who blasphemes Christ and the Christianity. He is no saloonkeeper who gathers the drunkards around him and metes out to them the drink of the fools. He is no drunkard that he would, on Saturday or even on Sunday, go to the saloonkeeper to pray that the gracious saloonkeeper would open his tap and draw strength for the spirit from the barrel. Nicodemus is not such a man who runs after whores and feels their breasts. He is also no curser or lightminded one, not a lover of finery of the world, but he is very meek, honorable, and on top of that, a master in Israel, a valiant teacher who expounds God's law and God's ordinances to the people, and is kept in high esteem among the other lords. Nicodemus is not angry with Christ like the Pharisees, but he kept Christ as a spiritual teacher and consequently must have believed His doctrine to be right, but that place of the new birth he does not hold to be right, for in his mind it is impossible to believe that an old person can be reborn. For he asks, "How can a man be born when he is old?" And why did he not believe it to be possible that an old person can be reborn? However for the reason that he knows how big and fat the old man is, how hard and stiff the old man's heart is, how wicked and stubborn the old man is to comply to that. If Nicodemus would have known the evil, stiffness and hardness of his heart, he would have surely confessed to that Spiritual Teacher his pitiful condition and asked, "What must I do that I could inherit eternal life?" But it appears that Nicodemus was far from self-knowledge; he who was meek and pious had, without a doubt, founded his salvation on self-righteousness. Nicodemus certainly had no doubt of his salvation as the palsied man. He had no sorrow like the disciples after the death of the Saviour, but it is believable that he came to show his Christianity to Jesus, whom he kept as a spiritual teacher. And even then he kept the talk of new birth to be strange, when Jesus spoke with him so, who was already reborn in the time of circumcision. Such speech would have been befitting to the heathens who had not yet been circumcized or baptized, but Nicodemus had that faith that when a person is once reborn in baptism, he is then a good Christian, and need not be reborn any more. And such a faith the brothers in faith of Nicodemus have even now, that a baptized Christian is a Christian already; he is already reborn in baptism and need not be reborn another time. And though ten year old children here know that the new birth which has happened in baptism does not help adults anymore, all the same grace thieves depend upon that, that the new birth has happened then in baptism, and so a baptized heathen only needs to believe that he is reborn and renew his covenant of baptism. But, however, Jesus did not consider that Nicodemus was reborn when He demanded new birth of him and said, "Ye must be born again." Nicodemus considered himself reborn in baptism, but Jesus did not consider him reborn but began to demand that he must be born again. Behold, this dead faith is now the grace thieves' only refuge, when the devil puts them to seek the new birth all the way back to baptism, for which reason they need not be born again. Behold, thus the devil deceives the grace thieves when a Christian urges them to rebirth. And a Christian knows surely that if he had been reborn ten times before, it does net help him tomorrow if he breaks that covenant and falls from grace, but he must be born again, he must become a child, otherwise all the former rebirth is in vain.
The second consideration: But how would Nicodemus have understood what new birth is? Perhaps he, like many other grace thieves, thought that he had already been reborn in baptism. But how now does he know what new birth is? If Nicodemus had read in the 66th chapter of Isaiah of the pain of new birth, then he must have thought that it was the pain of circumcision in the flesh. But that spiritual pain in the heart when the heart is circumsized must be unknown to Nicodemus. And what the prophets speak of broken hearts, what did Nicodemus know about that, who has not experiences what kind a broken heart is? What David reminds in his hymns of penitence, of his sorrow and his pain, how could Nicodemus understand them since he did not need to be truly penitent? And now if those places from the Scriptures are brought forth to the grace thieves, where the pains of new birth are depicted, as for example, the words of the Saviour, "A woman, when she is in travail, she has pain." How can the grace thieves and servants of self-righteousness understand these places in that way as the disciples under stand them, who themselves have experienced so. And when, in the Bible, it speaks of that joy and rejoicing which is kindled in a believer's heart through living faith, how do those who have not been reborn understand, who have not experienced it? They grope about with the intellect and with that dead faith which they have, but the matter itself is not there. These and other places of the Scriptures Nicodemus has never understood, although they all pertain to that new birth. And when Nicodemus did not understand what new birth was even with his intellect, how could he then believe new birth to be possible and necessary? He who knows that new birth is necessary has already felt himself condemned and cursed, and truly many in this congregation have felt themselves condemned and cursed. Many have condemned themselves under this judgement and condemnation. Many under this judgement and condemnation have felt that it is impossible to become saved in such a state, but from there they have turned back into the world. They have not cared to knock on the strait gate. They have not believed it possible for a person to be born again when he is old, or to become so small and so slender, that he would have fit inside of the strait gate. And when they have turned around from the strait gate into the world, they have begun to oppose the Christians with a bad conscience and to upset the movements, and finally they begin to seek for signs of grace in the bottle and also in worse places. Nicodemus kept the Saviour's doctrine to be right up to the time of the Saviour's death, but when he saw what this doctrine effected in the Christians, when they began to speak with new tongues, then Nicodemus' Christianity ended. Nothing more was heard of the man. Gamaliel, that renowned wise man in whose school Paul was taught the wisdom of the Pharisees, the same Gamaliel groped with the intellect that much, that he prohibited the other lords from persecuting the Christians until they could see if it was from God or man, for Gamaliel was so blind, although he was a great teacher of the Scriptures, he was not able to know or try along side of the Word of God that was the Christianity of God or of man. But nevertheless he held the persecution of Christians to be wrong, until that time when it could be seen what becomes of it, as some pagans even now have preached at the beginning of this awakening, "We shall see if it is lasting." Where was Nicodemus then when the other lords of the council began to persecute else Christians? It is not mentioned anywhere that he would have defended the Christianity or spoken in behalf of the Christians in the council, or said as much as Gamaliel, that to cease with the persecution until it is seen which way things turn. Hear now, all you brothers in faith of Nicodemus: You have now seen what excuse came to Nicodemus, why he could not believe that new birth was necessary or possible. It was his own holiness, self righteousness, which made him unbelieving in that place. He thought himself to be reborn in baptism or circumcision. And may even now depend upon that new birth which has happened in baptism, and in that place they deceive themselves. The brothers in faith of Nicodemus are not whores, nor thieves, nor drunkards, nor cursers, but they are very meek and pious, or such people whom the world thanks and praises. And if it were possible that some person would reach the kingdom of heaven without new birth, then Nicodemus would be the first in the kingdom of heaven. And all others who are hanging on to Nicodemus' coat tails would also have hope that they, too, would reach the same place if they would try to live as meekly as Nicodemus has lived. For Nicodemus has lived so meekly that not one Christian can live so meekly. Nicodemus has also been a secret disciple of Christ, as Joseph of Arimathia. He has believed Christ's doctrine to be right. He has not borne hatred in his heart toward Christ like the Pharisees. He has also defended Christ against the lords of the world. But when he once became blasphemed by the enemies of Christ because of that matter, he became mute. Nicodemus could not become honorless because of Christ and begin to bear the cross. Honor was so great in him, that he did not care to come to Christ in the day time, for if he had come in the day time, then the other lords of the world would have barked at him as being a disciple of that false prophet and disturber of the people. But when he came at night, he could protect his honor. All of the brothers in faith of Nicodemus come to Christ at night. They want to come into the kingdom of heaven as thieves, like that woman who began to sneak in amongst the crowd, but Christ did not allow that woman to go with the stolen grace, but openly she had to confess all her deeds, all the shameful places had to be uncovered, all her deeds had to be brought to light. The honor of the world was one excuse why Nicodemus could not come into true Christianity, And the second greatest excuse was self-righteousness, which made the new birth impossible. Now you see, all you brothers in faith of Nicodemus, in what place you are fastened and with what rope the devil holds you. The devil of meekness, the devil of honor, and the devil of self-righteousness prevent you from coming into the kingdom of heaven. The sorrowful disciples of Jesus,who wept and lamented behind the closed doors, can experience great joy when that crucified One appears before their eyes, but Nicodemus has never seen Christ after His resurrection. The new birth happened to the disciples of Jesus on Pentecost day, when the power of the Holy Spirit came upon'them and they began to speak with new tongees, proclaiming the mighty works of God. Then the honor of the world ended, then they ceased loving their own lives. Then the crowd of the devil began to blaspheme them. Then they received a foretaste of that joy and rejoicing which surpasses all understanding. And to that blessed condition those few souls should strive, who because of sorrow and doubt are not able to believe that Jesus is still living. And you unbelieving Thomas, put your finger into the print of the nails if you dare. And you sorrowful Mary Magdalene, sit now on the edge of the grave, and weep when your Saviour has died. Sit on the edge and weep and lament so long, until you see the crucified and thorn-crowned King alive, standing before your eyes, that you could get to rejoice and proclaim about Him to your brethren, that Jesus is living, and that they can see Him as He is, face to face. Amen.