March 12, 2017 — Lent II
Sermon Text — John 3:1-17
Be a Baby!
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN! Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. John’s gospel account the third chapter.
Beloved in the Lord,
In the Dark
Nicodemus walks in the light of his own works. Truly, Truly dark is the road walked by Adam’s descendants, traversed in Adam’s image. He comes to Jesus not by the light of day, but under the pall of evening’s shadow. His walk is the walk of all men, women and children, on this side of Eden. His path is well worn by those who have come before him . . . and all of us who have come after him. For men loved the darkness because their deeds are evil. Darkness hides the truth. Light reveals the truth. Shadows flicker amongst us, dancing all around us, deceiving us, alluring us, snaring us, even pious Nicodemus. He loves his shadow for he loves himself. That is the deception of the darkness! Nicodemus walks in the light of his own works. Truly, Truly he is a son of Adam bearing Adam’s sin and Adam’s curse.
But now, “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light. For those dwelling in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). Nicodemus has witnessed a flash of majesty on the landscape, a man like no other man has come. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do the signs you do unless God is with him.” He is drawn to light of Jesus by the miracles of Jesus. But he comes in the light of his own works. He approaches Jesus seeking the savior’s welcome, desiring his life to be affirmed by Jesus. He seeks confirmation not forgiveness. Nicodemus is a pious man of the Pharisees, a ruler of the Jews. He is a man of upstanding character before the people. He is a good man to his family, a good man to his neighbors, a good man before the nation, one who is worthy of praise. And that’s his problem. He draws near the light of the world in the light of his own righteousness. Truly, truly dark is the road walked by Nicodemus in our text. Truly, truly dark is the path worn by you and me who have come after him.
The Glory of the Will
But Jesus will have none of it before Him, not from Nicodemus and not from you or me. Jesus lays Nicodemus low at first, for his high and lofty thoughts of himself must be crushed and must vanish. “Truly, truly I say unto you unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” To be born again, born from above, born of water and the Spirit, is to become like a child, an infant, even a nursing infant. To be born again, born from above, born of water and the Spirit is to forsake all that one has built for himself or herself and cling to Jesus alone by grace through faith. Thus Jesus’ call for new birth is a call to repentance and faith, to death and resurrection, to forsake all that is of the Old, and to be made new, to be regenerated, even converted.
“But how can these things be?” You can almost sense the glow of Nicodemus and his works beginning to dim. His pride is being put to death. His head is not held so high. Though seeking welcome and affirmation Jesus has confronted him, and us, with Adam’s curse. It’s as though Jesus were tracing the ashes on his forehead right there right then. “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” Nevertheless, Nicodemus will not surrender so easily. His “will” will not go quietly into the night. He questions the Savior because he still desires to save his pride. “How can a man enter his mother’s womb a second time?” His question has an obvious answer. He can’t. You can’t. No one can be born of his mother twice. So that presents us with a dilemma, one which is intended to rattle us awake! Either, Jesus is wrong and he’s not the teacher Nicodemus thought He was . . . or that’s not what Jesus meant.
“That which is born of flesh is flesh. And that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” That’s Jesus’ reply. And that’s really the nail in the coffin, the snuffing of the candle, the end to the light of our own works. Nicodemus is flesh and all he can give birth to is flesh. All he can work, by his might and power, is the works of the flesh. You are flesh and all you can give birth to is flesh. Flesh begets flesh. You cannot work new life in yourself. No matter how hard you try to “do what is in you”, no matter how disciplined a life you lead, do your best, be sincere, love God and love your neighbor, it is simply not within you to do it perfectly. Flesh begets flesh. What you do, what you will, what you decide, what you choose, whatever comes from you comes from the flesh. And if it comes from the flesh there is no spiritual life in it. Flesh begets flesh. The Spirit begets spirit. Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That means you must be born of water and the Spirit. The Spirit must be doing the working, the birthing, the begetting, and the regenerating. That means you can’t even decide to believe in Jesus. You can’t even choose to follow Jesus. The fact that you need to be born again means that before you’re born again you are actually dead, dead to God and dead to your neighbor, dead in your sins and trespasses. Spiritually dead people have no light to walk in. They’re dead. Spiritually dead people are like pirates who don’t do anything, they just stay at home and lie around. And if you ask them to do anything, they’ll just tell you, they don’t do anything.” Because they’re dead! That’s Nicodemus. That’s you. That’s me. That’s every single man, woman and child descended from Adam. That’s called Original Sin. You have it. I have it. We all have it. And there’s nothing we can do about. We need to be born again, born from above, born of water and the Spirit!
The Promises of God
It was with words that the serpent deceived our first parents and led us into this original sin. So it is with words that our sin is remedied. As the serpent’s words led Adam and Eve into death pursing glory apart from their Lord, so it is the Savior’s Words which woo sinners, people like Nicodemus in our text and you and me today, drawing us away from the false light of our flesh and into the marvelous light of the One uplifted for all of us to see. This new birth from above, one wrought by water and the Spirit brings the Word of the cross to sinners. For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” New birth means new life. New life means everlasting life. The flesh begets flesh. But the Spirit begets spirit and what the Spirit works through water and the word works forever. It really works! It gets the job done. It saves, not good people but sinful people. Jesus has come for sinners. The Old has gone and the New has come. Great and wondrous works the Spirit accomplishes beneath the water. That new birth of water and the Spirit is nothing other than Baptism. The Spirit does the birthing, the begetting, and the regenerating. The Spirit begets spirit. That means no work for you to do to be saved. Salvation does not come by works. Salvation comes by grace through faith. The Spirit does the work and the one who is baptized receives the work.
How do I know this? What does Jesus say? He says, “The wind blows when and where it wills. You hear the sound of it but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.” So, where is the Spirit blowing? Where does it will to be working? We cannot know these things according to our perceptions. We must listen for His sound, His voice. Words got us into this problem. Words shall be our remedy. The Spirit begets new life through water and words. So what words do we hear about the workings of the Spirit in Baptism? Through the water and the Word our God
- Pours the Holy Spirit upon us – says Romans chapter 5
- renews and regenerates us – says Titus chapter 3
- washes away sins as recorded in Acts 22
- Unites us to Christ’s death and resurrection – as it says in Romans 6
- Clothes us with Christ’s righteousness – Galatians 3
- Saves us through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and pledges a good conscience towards God as it says in 1 Peter 3
- All of this is for all Nations – Matthew 28:19-20
- And “all nations” includes you and “all nations” includes babies! For scripture says the promise is for you and your children! Acts 2:38-39.
With so many words about the work of the Spirit in the water of baptism, who can deny the power of God to deliver sinners like us in this way? Who would try to reason with God when God has spoken so clearly? Only such a one like Nicodemus in our text, one who still tries to preserve some work or merit of their own flesh, one who wants to walk in the glory of our their own light, no matter how dim or dark it may be.
The Glory of the Word
This truly is the stumbling block for so many. We simply can’t get past ourselves. And truth be told, we don’t really want to get past ourselves. We like to be welcomed and affirmed too. We like to think that we contributed something, that God expects us to do something, even if it means deciding to believe in Jesus. We don’t like that dust on our foreheads. It burns. It crushes. It’s a curse. Whether we know it or not, when we do that, when we think that way or believe that we, we actually reserve a little bit of glory for ourselves. Then all glory doesn’t belong to God and then neither do we.
Jesus doesn’t woo us with glory. Nicodemus comes to Jesus because of the signs and wonders Jesus has done, but Nicodemus isn’t converted by these signs and wonders. In fact, quite the opposite was happening. His heart was glowing with pride. Signs and wonders don’t convert anybody. Words were the problem so Words are the solution. Jesus preaches to Nicodemus to remedy His heart. Jesus preaches to you and me to do the same. His preaching leads to baptism. In baptism I am born again, born from above, born of water and the Spirit. The old is gone and the new has come. I am made a new creation. I am made a child again. I am made His child. Jesus says, “Unless you turn and become like children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2). That is exactly what the Holy Spirit works in baptism and that is exactly why babies need to be baptized! For Jesus goes on to say, that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin it would be better for them to have a millstone hung around their neck and be thrown into the heart of the sea!” In other words, don’t get in the way of babies being baptized! All need to be born again. If pious Nicodemus needed it, so do you. If you need it so do your children.
Walk in the Light
Beloved in the Lord, don’t let your hearts be scandalized by the simplicity of Christ’s word to Nicodemus this morning. Don’t ask how, or even why? Those are questions our corrupted reason would like to have answered. Jesus doesn’t answer them, anyway. He doesn’t answer them for a reason. If Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel cannot grasp earthly things how can he lay hold of heavenly things? If that’s the case with Nicodemus, how much more so with you and me? Faith is not bound to reason. Faith is bound to the word and promises of Christ. Jesus calls you to trust Him. For all who believe and are baptized shall be saved. He is the light of the world and His light shines in the darkness. His Word is the lamp unto our feet and the light unto our path. It is sure and it is certain and it is for you. There is life in His light and the darkness cannot overcome it. Death cannot defeat it. Sin cannot taint it. Hell cannot prevail against it. Christ is crucified and Christ is risen! “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.” God grant this for all of us, men, women, and children, even babies this morning. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!