[3:1] Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him."  Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."  Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"  Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?"  Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?  Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except him who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:1-17 (ESV)
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. The Gospel in a nutshell, as they say. Compare that to the Creed we confess together, named after the hero of the Trinitarian faith, St. Athanasius. “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the Catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And the Catholic Faith is this in which it goes on to give a long almost repetitive explanation of the Trinity and the incarnation. Yet each repetition herein conceals important nuances for this explanation. It is long but beautiful, and it ends reemphasizing in the most politically correct of statements, “This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved. (Seriously, the churchmen of that age knew not how to be politically correct. Athanasius was exiled numerous times for being outspoken, spent half of his life in hiding. Oh there were those ready to compromise the faith for popularity and political gain even at that time, they are forgotten, or worse, remembered as cowards or heretics. The true giants were willing to tell even the emporer where he could go for wanting to compromise the faith, the eternal fire confessed in this selfsame creed.)
This is the catholic faith, whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved. At first blush it doesn’t square well with the Gospel in a nutshell. John 3:16 makes salvation so easy, Just believe in the only son of God whom he gave to save the world. But even hidden in the contours of the Greek, John 3:16 hides the theological nuances that underpin the Trinitarian faith apart from which we confess, there is no salvation.
Today, we like to think that believing in Jesus is as simple as saying his name, rather than confessing the name he shares with the Father and the Son. Yes, Jesus name is none other than the name, the being, the divine essence he shares with the Father and the Son, which he himself confesses in Matthew 28:19:Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (It is this baptism, of which Jesus speaks to Nicodemous, a baptism of water and spirit, apart from which one cannot be born again, or see the kingdom of God, that is, be saved. Indeed, Jesus discourse which ends in talking about faith in the Son of God in 3:16, all but equates faith with the baptism, the being born of water and the spirit he talks of earlier. Indeed, baptism and faith are not easily separated anywhere in scripture. ) And this name that Christ shares, that Jesus shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit is infact the undivided unity of the trinity, that needs to be confessed, should Jesus the only Son of God, be able to save you and I, his children.
That perhaps is the weakness of the English translation of the Greek. It reads as if there are no other children, and fails to bring out explicitly the real father son relationship Jesus has with God the Father. The Greek doesn’t just say only, but only begotten. Begotten is an archaic word to be sure, but it is a word that John uses specifically to highlight that Jesus is God. And this is at the center of the controversy. Who is this Jesus that saves us? What is his relationship to God? It is not a new question. And It is such an important question, that after all three of the other gospel’s were written, John wrote his to answer this very question, because it has everything to do with how we are saved! John’s whole Gospel from beginning to end is written to emphasize that it was not just a man who died on the cross for our salvation, and who demands our faith, our fear, love and trust in Him and his sacrifice on the cross, but that that man who died was God himself, very God of very God, begotten not made. It is what Jesus said of himself, and it is what his resurrection verifies for us. Jesus is God, he is our savior.
It is what he says of himself. This is why the Athanasian Creed can justify its length and politically pernicious language regarding salvation, because to believe in Jesus, to believe in the Son, is to believe also what he says of himself and his purpose and being. You cannot believe in Christ without also believing him, and his own language regarding himself was politically pernicious enough to have him crucified, can it be any different for his disciples? And where as the trinity is hammered out and dwells on the divinity of Jesus Christ without which his sacrifice on the cross would be meaningless for us, and leave us in our sins, It is a trinity not a binity that Jesus confesses about his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. They are three in one. A concept that perhaps contains a paradox and it maintains the transcendance of God that will not be fully comprehended by us this side of Glory, but nevertheless is not totally beyond understanding. The Creed we confess today details what is to be understood and believed, a task I think not impossible in a society that puzzles itself with quantum mechanics, string theory, the theory of relativity, parallel universes, multiverses and what not else, indeed these make the intricacies of the Trinity confessed in the Athanasian to seem like child’s play. But faith and understanding, though not mutually exclusive, are not quite synonymous either. And it is in the gift of faith, not understanding that we have salvation in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. Because when God dies for you, there is nothing left for you to do, but believe and rejoice in the good news.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.