The Penetrating Gaze of God

The Holy Trinity

May 27, 2018

John 3:1–15

Paul expresses in the Epistle reading the mystery and the majesty of God. We cannot comprehend Him. He is eternal, He is almighty, He is all-glorious. With the amazing technology we have we can peer into the far reaches of the universe. We can see black holes that would take us millions of years to travel to.

And yet we cannot peer into the mind of God. He is unapproachable. I will never forget one of my professors at the seminary describing our condition and the holiness of God. He said, “If we were stand before God, we would be vaporized.” You see, we think that we are going to understand the mysteries of the universe, because we are able to learn more and more. But we have it all wrong. We will never fully understand because we are limited in our ability to comprehend the complexity of God’s creation. The more we learn the more amazing we see it is.

And God. People think they can control God. They think they can put Him in a box and understand Him, or make Him do their bidding. But God is above us and we cannot gain control over Him. 

In fact, God is very much like what those people say of Him who tried to scare you when you were little. God sees everything you do, He’s always watching you. We might like to think that God is more like the kindly old grandfather who wants you to come sit on His lap. But that’s not what Isaiah experienced. 

In a vision he found himself in the temple. Listen to his words as he describes what he experienced: 

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

As he stood before the holy God, Isaiah found that God saw right through him. He saw that he was lost, a sinful man in the presence of the holy God. Isaiah didn’t have the thought to try to comprehend God, his only thought was that he couldn’t be in the presence of God in his sin. 

Have you ever talked with someone and they looked right in your eyes and their gaze was penetrating? It seemed that they were looking right through you. It’s an uneasy feeling. It seems as though they can look into your soul. They can’t, of course, but some people can make you feel that way.

When Nicodemus came to Jesus in the Gospel reading, he thought he knew something about Jesus. He and his fellow Pharisees thought that Jesus was asserting of Himself a religious position He had no right to. And so Nicodemus came to Him to try to see if he could find a way to prevent Jesus. His words of Jesus were truer than he even realized. “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 

What we are privy to that Nicodemus was not is the statement the apostle John makes right before our Gospel reading. He says that Jesus did not entrust Himself to human beings because He knew all people and He did not need anyone to bear witness about humankind because He knew what was in humankind. 

So Nicodemus comes up to Jesus and Jesus sees right through him. “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” And with His penetrating gaze He says to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Where did this come from? Had Nicodemus asked something about this? Or was it that Jesus, who sees in the hearts and minds of people, saw exactly what Nicodemus needed to hear? 

This statement of Jesus leads to one of the most controversial as well as well-beloved passages in Scripture, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” Is Jesus speaking of being born again or born from above? Is He saying that you need a Baptism of water and then a Baptism of the Holy Spirit? Is He saying that if you are not Baptized then you cannot be saved? 

As Lutherans we take the words of Christ as they stand. Jesus is saying that in order to be saved you must be born from above. And the way you are born from above is by being born of water and the Spirt; which elsewhere in Scripture is called Baptism. When Jesus said that you must be born from above Nicodemus was confounded. “How can a person be born when he is old? He is not able to go a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, is he?”

Nicodemus does not understand. He is not thinking in spiritual terms. That is our problem too. But Jesus sees right through us. He sees that we cannot grasp Him and His teaching. He sees that we are so wrapped up in our mortal thinking that we are not able to enter the Kingdom of God. 

So enter the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “Whatever is born of flesh is flesh, but whatever is born of Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases and you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Dear Friends in Christ, you can’t understand it. But Jesus is not saying you should. He is saying what is and that you take Him at His word. 

This being born of the Sprit is the Baptism which He says is in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is the new birth. It is the birth that is not like your birth from your mother’s womb. It is heavenly birth, being born anew. When you are Baptized you are given a new mind and heart. Not that you can now see into the mind of God. It is a heart and mind which sees God for who He is, holy and absolute. But also the one who desires not the death of a sinner.

This is why, on the day we celebrate the Holy Trinity, the one God in three Persons and the three Persons in one God, we ultimately dispense with trying to analyze and understand but rather focus in on what our Lord Himself focuses in on: Himself. Jesus says, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.” This belief is a gift of God. That instead of striking you down, He lifts you up. Instead of vaporizing you He restores you. 

Thank God that no matter the age you were Baptized God looked right into your soul and saw nothing there which could be present in His sight. Thank God He saw that so He could then cleanse your sin at the font. And as you live day by day and continue in your sin, being a person of unclean lips, He sees right through you, knowing that there remains nothing in you that is pleasing in His sight. But thank God He sees this so that He invites you often to bring not an angel bringing a burning coal as He did with Isaiah, but a pastor who places into your mouth the very body and blood of Christ, with the words of the angel, “This has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

His penetrating gaze is upon you and He sees that you are His. He has given you His name in Baptism, Father, Son, and Holy Sprit. You do not need to fear as Isaiah did or be confounded as Nicodemus was. But rejoice with Paul, 

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.