Blog / Book of the Month / “Remember Your Baptism” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Trinity Sunday Sermon May 26th 2024 – John 3:1–17

“Remember Your Baptism” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Trinity Sunday Sermon May 26th 2024 – John 3:1–17

“Remember Your Baptism” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Trinity Sunday Sermon May 26th 2024 – John 3:1–17

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday May 26th 2021: Trinity Sunday / John 3:1–17 “Remember Your Baptism”

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?  Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Do you remember your birth? Do you remember it every day? Do you remember your baptism? Do you remember it every day? Do you remember the LORD? Do you remember Him every day? Trinity Sunday is a day focused on remembering the LORD and who He is: One God in Three Persons. And today we will likewise remember the gift of our birth and our baptism.

Jesus says, ‘You must be born again,’ and the question quickly comes forward, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” This is the Pharisee named Nicodemus’ question. He was a ruler of the Jews and had come to Jesus in secret because Jesus had caused Nicodemus to wrestle with what He was seeing and hearing concerning this rather exceptional Galilean Rabbi and former carpenter from Nazareth. Was this Jesus the long expected Christ, The promised messiah? Should he take what Jesus taught seriously? We know this Jesus to be the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Nicodemus was only just being confronted with this possibility. His experience with Jesus was clearly in its infancy. And so here on Trinity Sunday we have presented to us the question which arises from Nicodemus’ wrestling with God, “What does it mean to be born again?”     

There are people who think that this has something to do with coming to a rational ascent, a choice or a decision in the affirmative, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’ that if Nicodemus would be born again it would surely be because of Nicodemus’ sincere grappling with his faith, and ultimately because of his final acceptance of the truth of who Jesus is; that Jesus is in fact actually God, the uncreated infinite eternal almighty Son of God, “true God and true man” as we confessed in our Creed today. This way of thinking puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders of the individual and if taken to heart can crush the individual seeking to understand it apart from the grace of God.

If you took a toddler who wasn’t able to even speak yet and said to them, “I will feed you when you decide what we’re eating tonight, just tell me what you want and I’ll cook it up for you, but if you say nothing then I’ll just wait for you to figure it out and to tell me,” it could take years before the kid could tell you what they wanted to eat and in the mean time they would starve for lack of food. Elsewhere in the Gospel of Saint Matthew Jesus calls a child over to Him as an object lesson and putting the child in the midst of them Jesus teaches, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”[1] What does the wisdom of King Solomon say in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”[2] This is what Nicodemus “the teacher of Israel” is being called to do, to trust and believe as a child, to humble him self and remember he is a child in the eyes of the LORD. He is being called to be born again not of flesh but of spirit in the LORD. Think on that, Nicodemus is like one gestating in the womb and as he grows fed by God’s Word he eventually will come to term and then after all the labour pains he will be born a child of God in his baptism. And just as a baby in the womb is still a child of its earthly father in the flesh, Nicodemus would be a child of his heavenly Father in the spirit even in the womb as he moves his way to the day of his being born again in baptism.    

Let’s unpack that a bit more: when someone is born they have a mother and a father. And even if they for various reasons are separated from their mother or father that doesn’t change the fact that they have a mother and a father. When mother and father have an intact relationship and the child is born into a family, then they are raised up with an identity. They are given a name, they receive their family name. They belong. Under those circumstances they are part of something bigger than themselves, although as infants they cannot see it or know it, a family and identity which they will grow into throughout their days. Now a child can be abandoned, they can be kidnapped, they can—when they are older—even disown their family but that doesn’t change the fact that they have a mother and a father. Our Lord Jesus has His eternal heavenly Father to whom He has eternally been the Son of the Father. God the Father is the First Person of the Holy Trinity. He, as we heard in the Gospel of Saint John, is the Person of the Holy Trinity who gave His Son, Jesus, in order that the world might be saved through Him, through this Jesus. Jesus promises that He will not leave us as orphans,[3] and Saint Paul explains that “In love [God the Father] predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.”[4] Dear ones it is the Holy Spirit who facilitates this, and gives you faith through hearing the Word of Christ and in the waters of Holy Baptism He makes you born again, this is your spiritual second birth. He is like the wind which blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with the Holy Spirit the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. One God in Three Persons each one involved in your spiritual life, each one involved in your life of flesh and bone: One God who loves you and cares for you.   

“Are you the teacher of Israel” Jesus asks Nicodemus, “and yet you do not understand these things?” It’s like Jesus is asking ‘is it that you’ve never been taught these things, or is it that you’ve lost track of or forgotten what you’ve been taught in the past?’ In our Young Adult Bible Study we’ve been digging into the book of Judges in the Old Testament and there’s this pattern that emerges: While God never forgets His people, His children, His children, His people often forget Him. In the Book of Judges we often hear this, and phrases like it, “and the people of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side,”[5] in fact this next bit, which fits with the forgetting, is repeated at the end of the Book “in those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”[6] It is easier for people to make a habit of sinning when they have forgotten their identity as children of God: when they have forgotten how a child of God is to live in this world to the glory of God and to the good of their neighbour.   

There is a word that is used when someone forgets their identity: Amnesia. And there is a reason why the Catechism teaches that we Christians need to remember our baptism every day, when we wake, and when we go to sleep at night,[7] forgetting to do so increases the risk of developing a kind of spiritual amnesia, where you begin to forget that in Baptism you are bound to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity. If your baptism slips between the fingers of your mind like sand, your identity as a child of God can slip between the fingers of your mind too and in the forgetting your identity as one who has been “born again” is in jeopardy. Because this one baptism binds you to the name and persons of the one true God the negligent disregard and ignoring of your baptism becomes a breaking of the 2nd Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”[8] In this case the name into which you are baptised. Do you find yourself up to your neck in sin because you failed to remember that you are a Christian that you have been welded cemented anchored into the name of Christ Jesus? Is this you? Do you fail to “fear and love and trust in God above all things”[9] as a baptised Christian in your work, with your family, with your friends and neighbours? Do you fail to remember your baptism or to call upon the name of God as a baptised child of God in every time of trouble, do you fail to keep in mind that you are a baptised child of God when you come to your Heavenly Father in prayer, do you forget to praise God and give thanks as one who has been born again in Christ Jesus? Here we are not talking about people with physical dementia but folks who are fully capable of remembering that they are baptised but don’t remember or won’t remember. The result of this is that they begin to fail to interact with the world and their neighbours as people who are part of the family of God, as His children, they act as if they were never born again and that they’re first birth is all that matters. They begin to live lives where they simply do what is right in their own eyes and not what is right in the eyes of the LORD.[10]

If this is you in full or in part there is forgiveness for your spiritual amnesia. Listen carefully: In Christ you are forgiven, in Him you are born again. He remembers you even when you forget Him: this is particularly true for the young who have yet to learn and the aged and those with genuine impairments to memory, and yes even for you. Therefore remember your baptism, and if you are not yet baptised come and be baptised it is for people of all nations, it is for people of all ages, it is for you because as Jesus said to Nicodemus, as Jesus says to you today, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Dear ones, this truly is a gift full of grace, as St. Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”[11]

If therefore the one who has been born again desires to boast in their new life in Christ Jesus, in their new birth in baptism, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”[12] Let them gladly boast in the One who lived His life never forgetting that He was the Son of God the Father, the one who had no spiritual amnesia, who remembered full well who He was every painful step to the cross, and who in His crucifixion kept true to His baptism[13] where the Sprit descended upon Him and God the Father said from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”[14] Dear ones remember we all are baptised into His blood, the blood of Christ Jesus. We are baptised into His death, Jesus’ death upon the cross. We are baptised into His resurrection: you who are baptised are baptised into this same Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, are baptised into the one who walked alive out of the tomb Easter morning, who now sits at the right hand of the Father. What belongs to Him belongs to you, for in Him you are born again and have become part of His family, “born, not of [the] blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man [that is of your earthly father], but of God [your heavenly Father who has given you both body and soul].”[15]

So even if you do not remember your birth, God the Father does He is the maker of all things including you? He remembers your birth every day? Even if you don’t remember your baptism, God the Son does He commanded that you be baptised into the Triune Name of God? He remembers your baptism every day? And Even if your do not remember the LORD every Day, God the Holy Spirit does and He who searches hearts is the one who calls, gathers and enlightens with the sole purpose of keeping you with Jesus Christ in the one true faith, the Christian faith. He helps us in our weakness and remembers you every day in His prayers.[16] You are not forgotten by God. Do not forget Him. “What does it mean to be born again?” It means to be baptised into the name of this God and by His grace and mercy to become ones remembered by the LORD, and cared for as a child is cared for by a faithful parent.

And what about Nicodemus did he go away disappointed in Jesus’ answer to his questions? We do not have an account of his baptism recorded in Scripture but it would be safe to believe Nicodemus was eventually baptised, and why would it be safe to think this? First in the Gospel of John this Nicodemus defends Jesus to his fellow Pharisees and the chief priests of the Temple as division arose among the people concerning Jesus and His teachings, so there he is defending Jesus later on.[17] And then second, when Jesus died Nicodemus, at great personal risk of reputation and even at risk for his life, was one of the men along with Joseph of Arimathea who came and took Jesus’ body down from the cross and buried Him in the tomb.[18] How happy and full of joy would Nicodemus be to hear news that his Lord Jesus was risen from the dead that first Easter morning. And lastly Nicodemus then would be one of the ones Jesus includes in His commanded to His disciples when He says them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” that baptism into the Triune God was for Nicodemus as much as it is also for you. This makes him your brother in Christ Jesus. Amen.[19]

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Matthew 18:2–4
[2] Proverbs 3:5
[3] John 14:18
[4] Ephesians 1:4–5
[5] Judges 8:34
[6] Judges 21:25 it first shows up in Judges 17:6
[7] Daily Prayers, Luther’s Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House 2017, Pages 30-31.
[8] Ibid, 2nd Commandment, page 13.
[9] Ibid, Explanation of the 1st Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” page 13.
[10] To know what is right in the eyes of the LORD look to the Ten Commandments and contrast them with what the World teaches and what your unbridled heart selfishly wants from life.     
[11] Ephesians 2:8–9
[12] Corinthians 1:31
[13] Psalm 22
[14] Matthew 3:17
[15] John 1:13
[16] Romans 8:26
[17] John 7:50
[18] John 19:39
[19] Matthew 28:19

Photo Credit: Main photo tinted montage detail of James Tissot's "Entretien de Jésus et de Nicodème" from brooklynmuseum.