May 31, 2015 — Trinity Sunday
Sermon Text — John 3:1-17
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN!
Beloved in the Lord,
Nicodemus is a good, religious person. He is what most people think all people should be. He has a good reputation. He’s an upstanding citizen. He’s well respected in his religious community – a Pharisee. Jesus even refers to him as a “teacher of Israel.” So why does he come to Jesus during the night? Why not by the light of day? What does he see in Jesus? And what doesn’t he want people to see in him?
Nicodemus does see something in Jesus. That’s why he comes to him. “We know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do the signs you do unless God were with Him.” Nicodemus looks at Jesus and sees a great teacher. Nicodemus looks at the signs and wonders Jesus does and he sees God with Jesus. This is what the eyes see. This is what the flesh sees. The flesh is always looking to lead by sight and being led by sight the heart is given to pursue the works of the flesh. It’s a cycle of leading and following which ultimately ends in death because what we see is often in error and therefore fails us.
Nevertheless, what we see often lures us. It appeals to what we already think we know. That’s why Nicodemus is so confident. “Rabbi, we know . . .” who you are. We’ve see your signs. And now because Nicodemus knows who Jesus is He comes to Jesus, secretly, because he’s not ready for everyone else to know that Nicodemus knows. Nicodemus comes to Jesus to let Jesus know that he knows, and because he knows he hopes Jesus will affirm what he knows, but not only what he knows but also what he does. Nicodemus is really there to get some affirming words for his flesh. “I know who you are, Jesus. I know you are a good Jewish teacher blessed by God confirmed by these signs you do. I also am a good Jewish teacher.” It’s as though Nicodemus were asking Jesus, “do you know who I am?”
Need for Rebirth and the Desire for Reform
Jesus does know who Nicodemus is. He knows who you are. He knows the hearts of men. In fact that’s how chapter 2 ends. “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (Joh 2:24-25 ESV) Nicodemus is no different than any other man and neither are you. Jesus knows what is in Nicodemus and He knows what is in you. You and I desire the same things from Jesus as Nicodemus. We all want Jesus to affirm us. We want to be praised for the kind of life we’re leading. We want Jesus to see what we’re doing and smile on us. Jesus knows this about us and He won’t let us remain in such delusions.
Jesus immediately responds to Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again, born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus thinks he sees and because he sees he thinks he knows. You and I see what’s on the outside and because we like, well really because we love what we see, we think Jesus does too. We think we know – but we don’t. And Jesus won’t let us remain in such ignorance. What see in ourselves, what Nicodemus thinks he sees, is not nearly as good as we believe. Jesus says we need to be born again. We don’t need to be reformed. We don’t need to try harder. We don’t need to practice longer, develop better methods, or do things with a more fervent sincerity. We don’t need to tweak a part of our lives a bit here or a bit there. We don’t need to be more passionate about our relationships, our vocations, or even our worship. We don’t need to show God how much we love Him. We don’t need to improve our piety. In fact we don’t need to be better. Jesus says we need to be born again. That means our first birth wasn’t good enough.
That’s offensive. That hurts my feelings. That certainly doesn’t affirm my beliefs or my lifestyle. When Jesus says I need to be born again He’s telling me that I’m not good enough for the kingdom of God, that I’m not good enough for Him. And you know what? He’s absolutely right on. I do need to be born again. But to be born again I need to die first. But I don’t want to die? I am afraid to die. How can I die and survive to be born again? How can these things be?
Jesus dies first!
Again, Jesus knows this. Jesus knows you. He speaks what He hears and gives testimony to what He sees. There is nothing hidden from Him. He saw your unformed body in the womb and was actively knitting, weaving, forming and fashioning you before you were born the first time. Nothing has been hidden from Him since then either. That He knows you so well is not cause for alarm but rather your comfort. Jesus cares for Nicodemus. He cares for you. He loves Nicodemus. He loves you. God sent Jesus for this reason. Not to condemn the world but to save the world. You are part of the world. Therefore God sent Jesus to save you.
Being saved and being born again are one in the same event. Jesus, Himself, links to two when He directs Nicodemus to the serpent on a stick. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent so also must the Son of Man be lifted up. In other words, just as God provided salvation from death and judgment but giving His people an object to see and a promise to believe so also does He work the same wonders giving His Son into death that all who believe are saved not just for this life, but for eternity.
For God did not send a servant or an angel or even an archangel!
God sent His Son to be born for you.
He laid down His life for you.
He poured forth His precious blood for you.
Even though there is nothing good in us.
In Christ God stooped low, bending head, heart, and knee to my festering wounds caused by my own rebellion against Him and His Law.
He took on my wounds as a mortal man but He was God in the flesh.
He was crucified as a victim of justice and yet also entered the holy of holies as our eternal High Priest.
He offered up His blood and cleansed the whole world. The whole world includes you and me and Nicodemus. By His death sin dies. All sin. Your sin and my sin. And by His resurrection new life reigns. His life, eternal life, life which He desires to give as a gift, freely and joyfully to you and me and the world.
Born of Water and the Spirit
This is the gift He desires to give to Nicodemus. But Nicodemus cannot fathom the love of God. He has come to Jesus seeking affirmation and Jesus has offered Him a second birth. Nicodemus doesn’t know what to do with that. He doesn’t know how that happens, how that can be, who can work such things. Nicodemus arriving assuming to know. But now, listening to Jesus He just doesn’t know because He wants everything to fit in his tiny theological box. God is bigger than our boxes. Jesus says, to be born again, one must be born of Water and the Spirit. Why? Because flesh gives birth to flesh. We need a Spiritual rebirth. This cannot happen by our own doing. It can only happen through the Spirit and Water. Jesus unites the Spirit’s word and work with water. And Nicodemus is not given to marvel at such things. For the Spirit blows where and when He wills it. And the Spirit wills to be at work in the water. This isn’t cause for confusion but is rather given for certainty.
How can I be born again and survive? Jesus says to be born again by water and the Spirit. Water is for the washing and the Spirit is for regeneration. Through these God saves us, “not by anything we have done in righteousness, . . . but by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ.”
Thus new birth is a gift that is given in water and the Word. We can be sure of it because we have God’s Word and promise. Before this new birth, we were blind, dead, and enemies of our God. We could do nothing towards God except sin and make matters worse. But now that God has come to us in the person of His Son, revealed His heart under water by the Spirit, we are quickened to life and given to believe the gospel. Faith is wrought in the heart and God is shown to be loving and merciful, gentle and gracious. For in baptism I am united to the One who was born for me, born without sin, never having sinned, and took my place in death. I am crucified with Christ. In baptism I die and yet I survive. Dying with Christ I am also raised with Christ. In baptism I die and I rise, you die and rise – not the same old sinner as before, but a new creation, raised unto newness of life towards the God who loved us and gave His life for the world. Baptism puts you in Christ and Christ in you. If I am in Christ I am a new creation. If you are in Christ you are new Creation.
Repentance not Affirmation
Beloved in the Lord, you are new creation so long as you are in Christ. Thus your abiding in Christ is of utmost importance. Abiding in Christ means abiding in His Word – it means following your ears not your eyes, believing, not seeing, trusting even when you don’t understand. For us Christians we continually return to Christ in repentance. Repentance is nothing but returning to the waters of our baptism. It is going back to the place of our new birth and being nurtured with the life-giving water what is given to well up within us by the Spirit’s power. For this reason we worship. For this reason we repent and seek forgiveness. The Christian life is always one of repentance and the reception of forgiveness which comes to us through Word and Sacrament. If we approach Jesus seeking affirmation we will be offended, we will have our feelings hurt, and we will be told that we need to be born again. Jesus doesn’t give out affirmation. He gives out salvation through the forgiveness of sins. That’s why He was sent by the Father. That’s why He was born of a virgin. That’s why He died and rose again on the third day. That’s why He ascended into heaven and sent the Spirit on Pentecost. That’s why He speaks to you today. For the Son of Man was not sent to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!