Lent IV — March 15, 2015
Sermon Text: John 3:14-21
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,
The Descension of God
The ways of God are not the ways of man. The thoughts of God are not the thoughts of man. No one as ascended into heaven but he who descended from Heaven. Nicodemus wants to ascend. He wants to go up from the darkness of this world and enter the light of God’s presence. That’s why Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Like a weary traveler drawn to a glowing hearth in the wilderness he makes His way to the light of the world, the doer of signs and wonders. He sees with his eyes but cannot perceive. He hears with his ears but he does not know. Jesus sets before Nicodemus water and the Word. “You must be born again,” He says, “born from above, born of water and the Spirit.” Apart from which there is no entering into God’s kingdom, there is no ascending into heaven. Nicodemus is a teacher of Israel but lacks understanding.
How does this second birth happen? How does what’s up above get to me here below? Surely man must make his way up. Surely man must ascend the ladder of morality to reach the heights of heaven! Surely there must be a way, a pat, a method for Nicodemus to get himself up there to be born from above. But that is the way of men! That is the thinking of men.
Jesus says, “No one has ever ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. The way to heaven is not to go up. The path to God is not through morality. New birth happens from below, under the water, in the darkness through the Son of Man. Salvation is through the Son of Man. For the Son of Man has come down. The Son of Man has descended to our midst. The Word became flesh and dwells among us. The Light has come into the world and scatters the darkness. The warmth of the evening hearth is found in the heart of Jesus. From His heart is light and life and salvation.
The Depravity of Man (Men Loved Darkness)
But men loved darkness. Men love the wrong things. Weary travelers are we. And like Lot with Abraham we look to the right and we look to the left. It is not the fires of the Spirit that draw us but the manufactured glow of man’s passions. It is the not the heavenly promises that echo in our ears but the desires of the flesh which appeal to our eyes. It’s not the love of God but the love of self which compels us to pursue the delights of Sodom and Gomorrah. These are the ways of men. These are the thoughts of men. This way seems right to us. This way feels right. Our hearts want to go this way. Our minds want everything to make sense. And this way, leads to the depths of hell. This way denies the laws of nature as well as nature’s God. This way hopes to make things better by following what scripture says is evil. Our depravity prevents us from seeing with open eyes and hearing with open ears lest we turn and be saved from ourselves.
Thus, like Israel in the wilderness we cannot see past our wounds. We cannot hear beyond our cries. We have been bitten by a fiery serpent, one that has enflamed our passions and stolen away our senses. The Serpent’s venom has taken its wrongful place in our hearts and seeks to destroy us through sin, great shame and vice. Believing that what we’ve done is the cause of our demise we try to undo it. Believing that God’s ways are the same as our ways we exert our will, make every effort to stand on our own. We work hard. We try our best. We do all that we can do and hope for the best. But in the end, such behavior only hastens the poison’s purpose. We die, in body and soul. Weary travelers are we, lovers of the wrong things by nature. There must be a way that saves. There must be a life that endures.
God loved Men and Sent His Only-begotten Son
The answer is not in man’s ascension. The hope is not found in your efforts. The way is not for you to go up but for God to come down, way down, all the way down into the deep darkness of death. Come down He has! Like the fiery serpent in the wilderness Jesus takes on our likeness. He is human in every respect, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, born of the virgin Mary, born under the Law, but without sin. He is the fiery serpent’s destruction and your eternal salvation. For God so loved you that He gave His only-begotten Son. The Father doesn’t send an angel. He doesn’t offer a self-help tutorial. He doesn’t get the stone rolling and expect you to push up the mountain into paradise only to have it roll all the way back to the bottom. He is not like the greek gods, and you are not Sisyphus. Yous ascension into heaven first comes by God’s descension to earth below.
God so loved the world, God so loved you that He send Jesus. God’s descension is manifested in Jesus. Jesus is God’s answer to your fiery, passionate sin. Jesus is God’s answer to your approaching death. Jesus is the one hung on a pole, a wooden pole, like the fiery serpent. Jesus is the one to whom the promises of healing and redemption are attached. This is how God gives salvation. He gives Jesus. Stakes Him on a tree. Fixes Him there with nails. Spears Him through. Pours out blood and water. And then raises Him on the third day.
Jesus’ death is the darkest of our history and yet it is also the bright light of our salvation. Like candle burning in the depths of the night, stands the cross in the heat of the day, while the sun itself is darkened and man seeks to exalt himself over God in the flesh. Like a beacon in the deep shadows of our mortality shines the cross of Christ! The cross is pole. The Christ is the light. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel. No one fires up a torch and places it under a bed! No! He who is the Light of the World is
set in the middle of the house,
in the midst of the darkness,
when the darkness is greatest,
when death seems to conquer,
when Satan appears to win,
when all hope seems lost,
when the light is dimmed for three days!
Then steps for the light of life! Then walks out of death the Son of Man. Then comes our mighty conqueror; alive, risen, bearing the marks of death as a testimony to death’s destruction and our eternal victory. Christ is risen. The Light shines! The darkness is scattered forever.
God’s appeal to the Heart of Man through means
But, men love darkness. Humanity rejoices in itself. People hide in the bushes. They are afraid to come out, for their deeds are evil. It is not God’s will to terrify or frighten. Thus the ministry of His victory is one of gentleness and humility. He does not come to us as we would suppose. He is not high upon a mountain calling us up. He is not in a palace beckoning us to pay tribute. He is not standing beside us with armored guards and steely encouragements. Rather, He is meek and low and draws near to us with love and mercy through common means. He uses words, and water, and bread and wine. These are not given for our harm but our comfort, not for us to work our way to Him, but for Him to be with us,
to save us, regenerate us,
share Himself with us,
and encourage us to follow Him out of the bushes, out of the darkness and into the light of His life through the forgiveness of our sins. Through these promise filled elements the Lord Himself is present to save. He is present to forgive. He is really and truly there, here for you, today, right now, for your good. Those who believe and are baptized shall be saved. Those who eat and drink shall be forgiven. Those who hear and believe shall be comforted. Everything hinges on the Word, for the Word brings us Jesus and Jesus brings us to the Father.
The Light has Come and the Darkness has not Overcome it
Beloved in the Lord, God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. Nicodemus is given to hear the Savior and behold the light. This is of great comfort for us weary travelers. Though there are manifold lights to the right and to the left, there is only one which scatters the darkness, only one which blazes the path to heaven, only one which endures the deep darkness of death and triumphs on the third day. He stands before you now, though you cannot see with your eyes, you perceive He is here. Though His voice is hidden in the voice of another, you know the Words are His. Though the darkness of this world would confine you, you have been set free by the one who scatters the darkness, enlightens the world, and warms the heart with the Love of God. The darkness cannot understand Jesus, nor can the unbelieving world. The darkness cannot understand you, nor can your unbelieving family, friends, and neighbors. Be not dismayed. Christ is with you. Christ is for you. Follow Him and press on towards the goal. Paradise is yours, purchased with blood, given by grace. Therefore let your light shine before men, that men may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven, that men may behold a way that leads to life, that men may see and perceive, hear and know, love and be warmed, believe and be saved. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!