In Greek, as in English, there are a lot of words that have more than one meaning. This is a problem when translating. You have to pick one. The classic example is in the first chapter of John. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not… overcome it.” It can also be “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not… understood it.” Well, they both make sense. But we don’t usually think of darkness or light having understanding. And darkness does not overcome light, it works the other way around. So, it’s usually translated overcome. But John as already said that Jesus is the light. That would make the devil, the world and our sinful flesh the darkness. Now it makes more sense to say, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not understood it.” And the word understood gives us a bit of insight into what John is trying to do. Over and over again, Jesus says something, and the people misunderstand him. Tear down this temple and in three days I will raise it up. They think he means the stone blocks of a building. He means his body.
And here w/ Nicodemus: You must be born again. Well, it sort of has to be translated that way, because otherwise Nicodemus response makes no sense. “How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter for a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Born. Again. But that’s not actually what Jesus was saying. The word for born doesn’t actually mean born. It means begotten. Later in the chapter it’s translated that way “he sent his only-begotten Son.” Jesus is eternally begotten of the Father.
The relationship between a mother and child is born. A child is born of his or her mother: the process of giving birth. But a child is begotten by Father. A child is not born of the father. The father begets. The word John uses can mean born. But it really mean begets. You must be begotten. That is, you must be of my Father in heaven. How do we know that’s what Jesus says? Because the next word – “you must be born again”. The word “Again” can also mean from above. You must be begotten from above. Of course, to Nicodemus that wouldn’t make any sense. So he hears born again. You must find your mother, and go through birth again. But that’s not what Jesus said.
Pretty much every translation translates it that way, because you need consistency of language. Otherwise the conversation makes no sense. But, if we translated the verses according to what the speaker meant, instead of for consistency of language, you’d have this.
Jesus said, “You must be begotten from above.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born again…”
Now, this doesn’t make much sense grammatically. Jesus says one thing, and Nicodemus responds with something else. If bibles translated it that way, we’d say, “Wait, what happened?” In Greek, it makes a lot of sense. In English, we’re stuck without the double meaning.
But that double meaning is everything. We see, first of all, how once again, the people – even those seeking Jesus – don’t quite get who he is and what he’s doing. We need the Holy Spirit so that we can hear and believe the promise.
But the second thing we have is the promise – the Gospel. We have the Holy Trinity saving us.
Trinity Sunday. Athanasian Creed. A lot of words to confuse us. Would things really be that different without the Holy Trinity? Oh yes.
Jesus says, “You must be begotten from above.” You must have the Father in Heaven as your true Father. God created marriage in this world to be a reflection of His relationship with his holy bride – the church. He created earthly fathers to show forth his true fatherhood. As sinful human beings, even the best earthly father messes that up. But the fatherhood of God is true, always loving fatherhood. And the Father loves us so much that he sent his only begotten Son – who is now our brother. One of us – God with us.
Today is father’s day. We need to remember the gift of true fatherhood – especially as it is under attack from the world. But we must understand the source of fatherhood – it is not random biological processes that happened to come together, that we can replicate in the lab. It is God the Father, who created man and woman and blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”
And on this Trinity Sunday that is also, for the world, Father’s day, we celebrate the true Father – our heavenly Father from whom all fatherhood is known. And we celebrate his only begotten Son, who “is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age:”
Last week we heard how important the Holy Spirit is – without him and his work, we can not even believe. And without Jesus and his work, there is nothing, no one to believe in. Without the Father, there is nothing.
The Athanasian creed ties this teaching of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to salvation. That is certainly good, right and salutary. Because the Holy Trinity is our salvation. That’s what he does, who he is. To speak of the Holy Trinity is to speak of God the Father, who creates, sustains, preserves, protects us, the Son who saves, redeems, and the spirit who sanctifies, makes holy, brings us to Jesus, who joins us by Jesus sacrifice, to our heavenly Father.
The other creeds bring us the Trinity as well. The Nicene and Apostle’s Creed follow the same pattern – Three articles. We learn those three articles and what they mean in catechism class. And they focus on all that God does for us. We learn the Law – the Ten Commandments, then we learn the Creed – the Gospel. The good news of creation, salvation and redemption by our Heavenly Father, His only Son our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
And you are joined to this Holy Trinity in your Baptism. God the Father is now your Father. Because you are joined to Christ and His death. In the Holy Supper you are made one with Christ in his body and blood. Again, joined with Christ, and God the Father as your Father. You are His child. Joined to him as father to son. And unlike earthly fathers – or mothers or children for that matter – God the Father is loving and kind, he never fails you, never makes a mistake, never abuses his position. That’s why he is the true Father, and earthly Father’s are modeled after him.
Just as Jesus is the true man. Not just that Jesus was made as A true man. He is THE true man. To be truly human is to be joined to Jesus. And to be joined to Jesus is to be truly human. Where do we find our humanity? In the son of God. Not in our own vain efforts to become gods ourselves – that leads to idolatry and death. And humanity is not supposed to be dead. We are supposed to be alive. So in Christ shall all be made alive. He then is the source of our life. He shows us why God created us, how to be the thing he created us to be. In his life, death and resurrection.
To be alive is not just a state of consciousness. It is to be a par of the life of God himself. Who he is and what he gives through His Son by His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives faith in Jesus, and when through Baptism we are joined to Jesus, then we are also given our heavenly Father. Our true Father. The Holy Trinity, one God, Three persons, giving you salvation. Thanks be to God. Amen.