Text: John 3:1-17
You may think that faith is just a mental activity. It all happens in the mind, which assents to the proposition that there is a God, that this God is so favorably disposed toward us that He decided to send His Son into the world to seek out those who would agree to this eternal truth. Yes, we may allow this thought to seep into our emotions and evoke joy, happiness, and contentment. But at the end of the day, all of this takes place in the conscious mind.
This is Christianity according to modernism, the child of the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution. All that’s truly important can be grasped with the mind, measured by the caliper, and viewed by the microscope or telescope. But the modernist has a problem with the faith which clings to a God for whom “the whole three Persons are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things, as has been stated above, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped.” (Athanasian Creed) Again, when one approaches the one true God with the mind, he ends up saying with St. Paul,
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33)
This leads many to despair of ever knowing the God who Created all things, who Redeemed the world, and who Sanctifies us and brings us out of sin and death into eternal life. They say maybe it’s an elaborate fabrication, or maybe such a complex deity has no interest in foolish little people like us.
But know that this God really does want to be known by us, and the proof is as close as our five senses.
I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 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. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:1-3)
Isaiah saw with his eyes the throne room of the Almighty. He heard the song of the angels proclaiming God thrice holy. But when he despaired of life because his eyes had seen the King, the Lord of Hosts, the seraphim touched his lips and spoke this word into his ears:
“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
In the Holy Gospel, Nicodemus came to Jesus under the darkness of night, where shadows play and obscure the sense of vision. He came with the assumption that what his eyes and mind were perceiving were the whole truth of the Almighty.
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 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?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
The Son of God taught him that the Almighty makes Himself known in the sense of touch—the new birth of water and the Spirit. By this He also gives us perception in our vision, that we may see the Kingdom of God and where He is at work. Just as the wind rushes against the skin and makes its sound in our ears—not giving perception as to where it comes from—so the Spirit gives assurance that He has come near to bring His hearer into the Kingdom of God.
Again, the eyes are employed in the reminder of the serpents in the wilderness. After the people’s disobedience of the heart, grace and salvation were given to those who looked upon the serpent Moses fashioned at the Lord’s command (Number 21:4-9). Yet more potent is the gaze of faith upon the event where the Son of God Himself is lifted up. All future generations, who hear this news with their ears, whoever faithfully looks upon Him may not perish, but have eternal life.
Our God makes use of our senses so that we may perceive and believe. So far, we’ve seen how He has come in sight, in touch, in hearing. He doesn’t neglect our sense of smell and taste either. The sense of smell was in the sacrifices offered up to the Lord—a recognition of the deadly price of our sins. On earth, it is the smell of death, but before God, He calls it a pleasing aroma. Hear the account of Noah:
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.” (Gen. 8:20-21)
Likewise, the sense of smell filled the worship of God’s people through the fragrant incense. This smell was to connect them to this place, where prayers ascended and were graciously heard by the Lord. Thus, David sung in Psalm 141:2, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” In many places where the faithful gather, incense marks the worship with this potent reminder of our fellowship with our Triune God. Yet, even our sanctuary has a smell imbued by the burning candles and the smell of Holy Communion.
The Lord also made Himself known through the taste. For His people in the wilderness who ate the manna, “the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” (Exod. 16:31) In the sacrifices, the peace offering was eaten before the Lord, where that taste wasn’t just the savor of the roasted meat, but one of joy in having been reconciled to God (Leviticus 3).
As people living in the New Testament, the words of the Psalmist ring true, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8) God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The only-begotten Son says to the believer, “Take; eat. This is My Body given for you.” “Take; drink. This is My Blood of the new covenant, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
So, you see that the Holy Trinity, which is too high for our minds to comprehend, descends to us so that faith may take hold of this mystery even with our lowly senses. Thanks be to the Triune God who makes these truths known to us in our bodies! This gives us so many opportunities to reminder His work:
- With water, we remember our Baptism into the Name of the Holy Trinity.
- With the hearing and reading of His Word, we embrace His speech to us with repentance for our sins and joy at how He restores and gives us new life.
- With the smell of church—the burning of candles or incense—call us back to where He gathers us together around His cross
- With touch, as for centuries, Christians have made the sign of the cross upon themselves in remembrance of Baptism.
- And today, with the taste of Holy Communion. It’s not so much about the appeal of the simple bread and wine, but faith believing that this bread and wine are our Lord’s own Body and Blood for us.
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.