WE SPEAK OF WHAT WE KNOW.
In the name + of Jesus.
When Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, he was prepared to debate religion. Nicodemus was a rabbi, and so was Jesus. Nicodemus was looking to trade insights with Jesus, to talk about God. Jesus was not interested in talking “about God.” The fact is, God was sitting right in front of Nicodemus, and Nicodemus did not see it. Jesus explained why: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) As knowledgeable as Nicodemus was about religion, that was not enough for him to see the kingdom of God. The truth of God's word had to be made known to him so that his confession would be true.
It has been said that religion is one topic you should not discuss with people. But that's not because people don't care; it is because everyone seeks to fervently defend their idea of God. Everyone worships a god in one fashion or another. Martin Luther wrote, “Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” (par. 3, First Commandment, Luther's Large Catechism) Whether your trust is in the Triune God, in money, in scientific discovery, or in your own wit and wisdom, there is something you trust above everything else. Even atheists have their own god; for they put their trust in something, even if it is themselves.
One of the devil's great lies is that all religions are basically the same, or that every confession of God is valid. It is remarkable how many people say that, but it is ridiculous. It is not even honest. For instance, Muslims and Christians do not have the same god. If you think it is scandalous to say so, it is probably because you have been conditioned to believe that telling someone from another religion that they are wrong is equivalent to hating them or wanting to kill them. Muslims reject the teaching that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They acknowledge a different god; it is honest for us to say so. If you tell a first grader that 1+1=3 is wrong, that doesn't mean you hate her even though she may burst into tears. It is not evil to correct her. If we tell a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, or any other religion that they worship a false god, it is not because we hate them. But to say that it is all the same is a lie. More than that, to say that what you believe doesn't matter is like a pharmacist giving you an unlabeled bottle of pills and saying, “It doesn't matter; medicine is medicine. It's all the same.” But it does matter! If you take the wrong medicine, it can kill you. If these differences matter in earthly things, they matter all the more in heavenly things.
When we confess our faith in God, we speak of what we know. More accurately, we speak of what has been made known to us. Just as Nicodemus had to be enlightened to see the kingdom of God, so did we. Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6) When fallen mankind ponders who God is and what he is like, he invents a god who is like himself. The Greeks had many gods, each pigeon-holed into a certain area of influence. Beyond that, they were pretty much useless. What's more, the Greek gods were all flawed. They could be manipulated and fooled to do what men wanted. Allah, the god of the Muslims is touted as almighty, glorious, majestic, and holy, but ultimately he wants nothing to do with people. Even in eternal life, Allah dwells off in the distance. You would only see the glow of his glory, but Allah does not want to be with people.
But the point is not to mock people for their gods. You and I like to craft God in our own image, too, assuming God would think, act, and be like us. The fact is, no one would invent the God who is revealed in the Bible. God is omniscient. No one invents a god who knows the desires and thoughts in you which you hope no one ever discovers. God is omnipresent. No one invents a god from whom you cannot escape to do something in secret. We would not even invent a God who is merciful as the Lord is. If we regard someone as an enemy, we want God to smite him. We do not want to be told that there is mercy for people who shoot up schools, who abuse their children, who deal drugs, who cut us off in traffic, or who steal our parking space. God is not like us.
We speak of what we know, or what has been made known to us. There is one God. One God is three distinct persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is not reasoned out, but revealed. Just as I do not get to assign characteristics to you, and you do not get to tell me what I like and don't like, so we do not get to make God as we want him to be. God reveals himself as he is. We do not believe it because it appeals to our reason, emotion, or matches our personality. We believe it because God has made it known to us. We confess what God has revealed. We speak of what we know.
When people make their confession about their god, whoever it is, they usually say that God is loving. We would not necessarily disagree. 1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.” But how does God prove or demonstrate his love? Once again, this is where Christianity parts ways with all other religions. It is not all the same. It matters, because if you believe in a false god, it will kill you.
Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the way God makes himself known most vividly. He said, “God so loved the world...” (John 3:16), that is, God loved the world in this way: “He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God the Father loves his creation. He does not want anyone to perish, so he sent his Son. And God the Son became a man so that in his flesh, he would take on the sins of the world and suffer and die as sinners deserve. Jesus perished at the cross so that you would not perish because of your sins, but would rather be pardoned of them. This forgiveness was applied to you when you were baptized into the name of the Triune God. For this is what the Lord says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) But you have been born again of water and the Spirit. The waters of baptism have cleansed you of every evil, even the sins you want to keep hidden. The Lord has taken them from you too. And the unclean spirit which was in you has been driven out. The Holy Spirit dwells in you now and enlightens you to see the mercy of God. And so you will not perish because of your unbelief, but the Holy Spirit has created saving faith within you.
While the Bible reveals many characteristics of God, the name into which we were baptized is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” These are family names. They speak of family relationships. You have been brought into the family of God, and you even now bear the family name. You are not merely knowledgeable about God as Nicodemus was. You are not merely acquainted with some concept of God, like people who confess a god which is strikingly similar to themselves. You are children of the heavenly Father. You are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit makes his home with you. And since you are in the family of God, you are also heirs of the glorious kingdom. The mansions of heaven are yours.
Martin Luther gave us a good definition for God. “Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” (par. 3, First Commandment, Luther's Large Catechism) We trust in the Triune God for all the blessings we receive, and we call on his name in days of trouble and sorrow. But Luther also urged us not only to remember who God is, he also has urged us to remember who we are. Every morning and every evening, he calls on us to bless ourselves with the sign of the holy cross, saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.” This is the name by which God has made himself known to us. It is the name that marks us so that we are known by God as his beloved, redeemed, and sanctified children. And it is the name by which we will be delivered to the everlasting presence of the God who loves us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.