The Introit p. 16
The Gloria Patri
The Kyrie p. 17
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Salutation and Collect p. 19
The Epistle and Gradual
Praise be to Thee, O Christ!
The Athanasian Creed p. 53
The Sermon Hymn #251 We All Believe in One True God
We Confess the Holy Trinity
The Lord's Prayer p. 27
The Words of Institution
The Agnus Dei p. 28
The Nunc Dimittis p. 29
The Benediction p. 31
The Hymn #657 Beautiful Savior
When we speak the Apostles, Nicene, or Athanasian Creed together, we are confessing the truth of God's Word with all believers of all ages. That is why we call them Ecumenical Creeds - they are the stated or implied confessions of all Christian denominations.
Whenever I speak those words, I think of the millions who have gone before us, saying and believing those same words of faith. Each phrase is shaped from the Scriptures. To say we do not need Confessions is the same as saying we do not need hymns, many of the hymns coming from times of religious and doctrinal crisis.
The Book of Concord is our major textbook because each section (except perhaps the Apostles Creed) comes from a known doctrinal crisis. A large part of it comes from the Reformation and the second stage, when the students of Luther and Melanchton worked out a harmony, a concord, and dealt with all current disputes.
KJV John 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
We have to view each episode in the context of the entire Bible, although few have the scope of Luther in that regard. Nicodemus can be seen many ways, but they are conditioned by what we know about him later, risking his life, and the way Jesus dealt with those who came to Him.
Nicodemus was a great scholar among the Jews, a leader among scholars and a saint in their eyes. He could not have been more trained in the Scriptures and traditions, and as a member of a strict sect, he could have have been more saintly in the eyes of others.
2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Many long explanations can be given for "by night" but the most obvious is timidity. It was not natural to be out and about at night, but that was the easiest way to be anonymous.
Luther said Nicodemus was fond of Jesus, an interesting term. Nicodemus is not being a two-faced flatterer as some were, but showing his glimmer of faith. If he came from his studies, as some would offer, Nicodemus was intrigued by the power of Jesus' miracles, acknowledging this could only come from God.
So Nicodemus is a man with a great reputation, some faith, and no understanding. Many have reaching the tipping point and listened to reputation, man's wisdom, and popularity, so Nicodemus is an Everyman in one sense, representing what many go through in a confessional crisis.
If he continues along the path of faith, his life will be in danger and people will shun him. We often discuss at home the cross-cultural and inter-denominational game of shunning. It is all the rage. If someone questions a sacred cow, the word spreads and the shunning begins. That may be Common Core or the new definition of diversity. One may touch the third rail of page 5 and 15 and become unemployable among Lutherans. One must belong to the proper sub-group within the sub-groups.
So Jesus seems to be quite harsh in his response, but that misses the context of the Gospel and Jesus' way of dealing with the wrong understanding. In John's Gospel especially we see people listening to Jesus' spiritual wisdom and only seeing the material side. Examples:
2. The woman at the well, John 4.
3. The Keystone Kops leaders in John 9.
4. Peter wanting a complete wash after protesting his feet being washed.
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
This sounds dismissive and it is intended, no doubt, to shake Nicodemus from his trust in works and his scholarly knowledge. While it may seem harsh to some, it is Jesus revealing the truth, which never sounds good from the perspective of man's wisdom.
Jesus began with truly, truly, to emphasize the truth of God's revelation. The word is one we still use - Amen. We sing that or say Amen to express agreement. Jesus took the ending and made it the beginning.
Man must be born from above, an interesting pun, which Nicodemus took the wrong way. The main definition is "from above" and the Greek word is formed from those two words, from and above.
Soundcheck - So Jesus always taught in Aramaic? If so, why do we have them debating a Greek conversation? Wouldn't Aramaic be natural, a Jewish rabbi speaking to a Jewish rabbi? If the pun could be created in Aramaic, then few in the whole world at that time could understand it. In contrast, thanks to Alexander the Great, Greek was the universal language of scholarship and commerce.
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
Nicodemus cannot grasp this truth, which is shown in his assumption about the secondary meaning of the word - again.
So his wisdom is foolish, as Paul pointed out in "making foolish the wisdom of the wise." Wisdom was the great virtue among the pagan scholars at that time, and Jewish wisdom was encased in traditions apart from Scripture. I can think of Lutheran examples, such as open communion, which is a contradiction, because it is popular with sceptics, mockers, and unionists.
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Naturally people will jump to bad conclusions about this sermon alone. Many want to isolate the Spirit, and they will if given a chance. But the Spirit always includes the Word throughout the Scriptures. "The Word never without the Spirit. The Spirit never without the Word. That is sound doctrine." - WELS A. Hoenecke.
The Word is so powerful that the Spirit's effect is compared to the wind. In Hebrew and Greek, Spirit and wind are the same words. That is no accident, because we see the effect of the wind without seeing the wind itself. In fact, we only know the wind from its effects.
Teaching and preaching are the invisible Word. The wise of this world mock teaching and preaching because it does not have material gain associated with it - not like a CPA audit or a visit from the plumber. Therefore, it cannot have value, cannot be measured, and cannot even be assessed based on effect because the effect may come much later.
9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
This is the great revelation of truth, which will be fulfilled in the crucifixion. This passage unites Moses with Jesus, showing us the the Exodus foreshadowed the ministry of Christ.
So we have the conclusion, which is found on Pentecost Monday, rather than a continuing story about Nicodemus being converted. So when did that happen and how do we know? He risked his life to associate with Jesus after the crucifixion which he heard predicted.
Thus we never know the true results of the Word at any given moment. The harvest may be realized decades later, like the story of the organist who finally came down from the balcony to receive Holy Communion. After all those years of playing hymns and hearing sermons, he believed.
And there are many clergy who gladly sold their souls to Satan for the chance to enjoy the wealth and power of the world. They thought they were only leasing their souls for a short time, but of course, mortal life is a short time and not to be despised as God's gift.
The de-confessions are more significant today than the confessions, which should warn people the End Times are nearer than ever before. But what God promises is invisible and untouchable, the truth of His grace in Christ, received in faith.