Almost all Christian feast days have their beginning with an event in the Bible. The feast of the Holy Trinity does not have an event or an account in the Bible. You won’t find the phrase “Trinity” anywhere in Scripture. Yet God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit make their mark on almost every page of the Bible. Without the manifestation of His triune divine essence, the Divine Service is mere idolatry. On the other hand, salvation and eternal life is included for all mankind in the revealing of His essence.
That is what Christ taught Nicodemus. Jesus preaches to him about the person of the Holy Spirit, without Whom no one enters into eternal life. Jesus preaches to him about the person of the Son of God, for Whose sake alone it is possible that you have eternal life. Jesus preaches to him about the person of the Father, in Whose love the work of redemption of mankind has its origin. Jesus’ preaching is not about a mere incantation of a correct formula about God. His preaching makes you from a sinner into a child of God and brings you to eternal life.
The miracle of eternal life happens through a rebirth which the Holy Spirit works, for Christ’s sake alone, through believing in Christ.
“Rebirth” is often called “born again” in Scripture. There’s some baggage with that phrase “born again” that might make it sound like you did something to achieve it. Jesus uses the phrase “born from above”, a better way of putting it because this birth is out of your control. In fact, Jesus seals this truth with an oath: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God. Jesus uses a double “amen” here, meaning this is the only way to see the kingdom of God.
All must be born from above, not merely naughty people. Even the most pious and upright person must be born from above. Consider Nicodemus. He’s an Israelite, a Pharisee, a ruler, a teacher of Israel, does not deny recognized truth, had reverence for Christ and Who He is, recognized the works of God as such, sought out and heard Jesus as a teacher sent by God, and indeed was with God. Nevertheless, he must be born from above. Not even Nicodemus, not even you are left out of our Lord’s statement, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Despite Nicodemus’ résumé, he still cannot deny the natural, fleshly disposition that is set against God. Saint Paul lays it out in Romans chapter eight: For what the flesh has in mind kills; what the spirit has in mind gives life and peace. This is so because the fleshly mind hates God. Yes, it refuses to subordinate itself to God’s Law because it cannot obey God’s Law. The divine demand of Christ displeases Nicodemus. He doesn’t understand it, and he’s a teacher of Israel. The true Teacher of Israel has Nicodemus in a teachable moment. You can’t crawl back into mother’s birth canal and come out again as an adult. Being born from above happens in a totally different way.
The Holy Spirit works rebirth. The Spirit is found by man in the external office of preaching the Gospel. This external office, the Holy Preaching Office, is where God rebirths man through external means of speaking the Word and applying water with the Word in Baptism. This external office has been set up through John the Baptist and continues today, for unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
What is more, being born from above is not trying to get the Old Adam to bring something good to the table. What comes from the Old Adam is of the flesh. The Holy Spirit works to produce a New Creation, where spiritual knowledge, trust in God’s grace, and a new spiritual life in God emerges. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Jesus compares the work of the Holy Spirit to the wind. Wind is not governed by the human will. You know there is wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. Being born from above by the Spirit is also unknown to man, even to a teacher of Israel. Yet it happens and it is real, for you have experienced it and seen it happen to others. The eyes of reason see nothing. The eyes of faith see it all, and rejoice.
No one has ever entered eternal life by his own righteousness. You have eternal life because of Jesus Christ, through Whom alone the gate of heaven is open. No one else can save us, because in all the world there is no other name given among mankind by which we must be saved. The name is Jesus Christ. He descended from heaven as the promised Savior. He, Whose nature is the eternal Son of God, took on our nature, came down in our misery, bore our sins, bore God’s wrath, yet remained holy in His own humanity, so that in Him your sinful humanity is raised into heaven.
Because Jesus now remains eternally both a natural son of Adam and the eternal Son of God, in His humanity our nature is purified, reconciled, united forever with God. His work of redemption on earth happened in inseparable fellowship with the Father in one divine being and authority on our behalf, in our stead, and for us.
Since the Holy Spirit alone works rebirth, based on the work of Christ alone, in that He implants you in Christ’s death and resurrection through baptism, then this is only done through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the bronze serpent lifted up in the wilderness to dying Israelites. Because our sins bring death, and because we don’t have a cure for it, help only comes in the Name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. The Son of Man is nailed to a cross, being in the form of God, yet also in the form of man. Jesus bore in Himself our sin, overcoming both sin and death, in order to save us from everlasting death.
As the Israelites gazed upon the bronze serpent and lived, so you come to eternal life when you hear in faith the wonderful counsel of God and consider Him as the One Who absorbed your sin. This work of God is appropriated in you through preaching, through your Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. When you hear His Word, rejoice in your Baptism, and dine at His altar, then the eternal redemption of Christ is your own redemption as well.
The revelation of the Triune God that happens to you is the only way you are saved. The Holy Spirit makes you a partaker of redemption through the Gifts Christ gives His Church. In these Gifts you receive what the Son of God as Son of Man has acquired for mankind. In these Gifts you are brought into eternal fellowship with the Father in heaven, Whose love has given the only-begotten Son, in Whom you, born from above, have eternal life in Him.