Signed, Sealed, Delivered
A sermon based on John 3:1-17
Sunday, May 27, 2018 – Trinity Sunday
In a 1970's hit song, 20 year-old Stevie Wonder wrote of a man who had cheated on his girlfriend and now went back to plead for her mercy and forgiveness. Can you name that song? The young man mailed himself back to her, if you will, in "Signed, Sealed, Delivered. I'm Yours."
In a sense, we could sing this song to God. We've cheated on him. And at times we might feel like singing the opening lines to him: "Like a fool I went and stayed too long. Now I'm wondering if your love's still strong… Then that time I went and said goodbye… Now I'm back and not ashamed to cry." We may plead with God as the young man of Stevie Wonder's song pled with his girl, throwing ourselves on his mercy: "You got my future in your hands."
But in another sense, it's God who could sing that refrain to us. We didn't go to him. We didn't seek him out. No. He came to us. He sought us. He delivered himself to us. And he says to us, "Signed, sealed, delivered; I'm yours."
This Trinity Sunday we look at a familiar text, which includes perhaps the most famous Bible verse. And we see the role of each person of the Trinity in our salvation. Signed by the Father, sealed by the Son, and delivered by the Spirt, our relationship is restored. God is ours and we are his. Our text is found in John 3:1-17…
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."
3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
4 "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
9 "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked.
10 "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, afraid of what his peers might think if they saw him visiting this homeless man who claimed to be the Messiah. But the miracles Jesus did were too convincing to not investigate more. Nickodemus had to know more about Jesus. "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." And so, even though it was the middle of the night, Jesus took the time to teach him. And thankfully John recorded it for us so we get to listen in. And Jesus' message to him was this: the triune God is active in every part of your Salvation.
Now I feel for Nicodemus. Like "Doubting Thomas," I think he gets a bum rap in his nickname: "The Night Disciple." After all, are we much different? Born to sinful parents, we inherit from them a sinful nature—a nature that reveals itself in the way we treat Jesus too. Have you ever been ashamed of Jesus? Afraid of what your friends or coworkers might think if they knew you followed him? Have you ever played the part of the chameleon—when the crowd is cool to Jesus, have you ever changed colors to fit in?
Imagine if your spouse, or your boyfriend or girlfriend, or your parents told you, "Hey when we go out in public, I'm going to pretend that I don't know you. It's nothing personal, but you're not exactly good for my reputation. So if it's cool with you, whenever we're with others, I'm not with you." Wouldn't that hurt? If they did that every time—if they repeatedly showed you that they were ashamed of you—wouldn't that maybe be enough to end the relationship?
That's exactly what we deserve for acting like Nicodemus, for being ashamed of Jesus (imagine how we hurt him!), for all of the times we've open rebelled against him or accidentally slipped up: We deserve to have God end the relationship with us. We deserve to be separated from him forever in hell.
But God loved us too much to let the relationship end. Each person of the Triune God loved us so much that he acted in our rescue…
I. Signed by God the Father
First, the Father came up with the plan and signed it with his Son's own blood. "God so loved the world…" Stop there. That alone is enough to marvel at! That God should love any one of us is almost too incredible to believe! In spite of our sin, in spite of our cheating, in spite of our rebellion he loved us. And not just us, but the entire world. If you were born on the moon, then I guess this verse might not apply to you. But even then it probably still would since the word translated "world" here is "cosmos" and is used for all of the created universe including the stars, the heavens, and all that's in them. The point is that what follows certainly applies to you.
"God so loved the world that he gave…" God didn't just pine away for the world, longing to be with its inhabitants the way a boy pines for a girl with unrequited love. No. God acted. He did something—a big, grand gesture to show his love? No! Much more! A big, grand gift that gave his love.
"God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son… God [sent] his Son into the world… to save the world through him." What more precious and costly gift could anyone ever give than to sacrifice their own dearly loved child to save another? I can't think of any greater price. But so great was God's love for you, so determined was God to save you, that that's exactly what he did. Before the world was made, before time began, he planned your rescue and signed it with own Son's blood.
II. Sealed by God the Son
And how great is the love of Jesus, God the Son, that he would seal your salvation by his sacrifice! Jesus said, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."
You remember the story from Numbers 21: The Israelites had been set free from their Egyptian slavery and were heading to land flowing with milk and honey that God had promised to give them. "But the people grew impatient on the way," Moses tells us. "They spoke against God and against Moses, and said, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!'"
And as a consequence for their whining and griping, God sent venomous snakes. Their poison killed many people when they bit. And the discipline worked. The people repented and they came to Moses for help. And Moses, in turn, went to God for help. And this is what God said, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." (v.8) "So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived."
Now, humanly speaking, it's ridiculous to think that by just looking at a bronze statue poisonous venom would be removed from someone's blood stream. All they had to do was look up at it and they would live?! Yes! That's it! Just trust in God's promise attached to that snake and God would forgive and restore.
And that's exactly the point that Jesus was making to Nicodemus. Though I doubt Nicodemus understood what Jesus was talking about that night, I'm sure this conversation came rushing back to him when he later heard how Jesus died. Just as the snake was lifted up on a pole, Jesus was lifted up on a cross. Just as, humanly speaking, it is ridiculous to think that looking at a statue could remove venom from your blood, so too, humanly speaking, it is ridiculous to think that looking to a man crucified almost 2,000 years ago in faith will remove your sin. But nevertheless, just as those who trusted the promise of the bronze snake looked and lived, so too, those who trust the promise of Jesus and look to him in faith have eternal life.
We do nothing. Jesus did everything. He lived a perfect life in our place. He took our sin on himself. And he willingly sacrificed himself to suffer and die and endure God's wrath in our place on that cross. So that, "everyone who believes in him may have eternal life…" And just in case Nicodemus or we missed the point, Jesus said it again: "whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." What love God the Son has shown to us! He sealed our redemption by his sacrifice on the cross!
III. Delivered by God the Spirit
But finally, we wouldn't know about any of this and we certainly wouldn't believe it, if not for the work of God the Spirit who has delivered these truths by the Word, who had delivered faith into our hearts.
Jesus told Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit."
"How in the world can a person be born a second time?" Nicodemus wondered incredulously! And Jesus explained: by "water and the Spirit… the Spirit gives birth to spirit."
Do you remember your birth? Do you remember choosing when to be born; on what day? Or choosing where you would be born; at which hospital? Do you remember picking out your parents or even deciding whether or not you would have parents? Of course not!
And that's Jesus' point to Nicodemus here. Birth is not something you choose. It's something that happens to you. You are passive. Mom is doing the work the first time you're born. God the Holy Spirit is doing the work the second time.
Through Baptism ("water and the Spirit"), that water connected to the promise of God, your sins were washed away, you were born again into God's family, adopted by him as his own. And through the Word, the Spirit continues to strengthen your faith and deliver comfort, peace, and forgiveness right to your door.
Yes, you and I have cheated on God. And we might want to sing with Stevie Wonder, "Like a fool I went and stayed too long. Now I'm wondering if [God's] love's still strong… Then that time I went and said goodbye… Now I'm back and not ashamed to cry." We do well to repent as the Israelites did in the wilderness and throw ourselves on God's mercy: "You got my future in your hands."
But God responds by revealing his love; the love of the Triune. He came to us. He sought us. He rescued us. He delivered himself to us. And he says to us, "Signed, sealed, delivered; I'm yours."
For our salvation was signed by the Father before the world began. It was sealed by the Son by his perfect life and innocent death. It was delivered by the Spirt by water and the Word. And so, our relationship with God is restored. God is ours and we are his. And we will be together forever. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
In the name of our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.