Sermon — Rev Tony Sikora — When Piety is Not Enough


In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit.   AMEN! John 3:1-17


Beloved in the Lord,

Pious Nicodemus comes to our Lord by night.  The world is dark and the hearts of men are darker.  Hearing the Word, beholding the signs, we go with him for “no one can do the things Jesus does unless God were with Him.”

As a man of the Pharisees with a heart after Adam’s, Nicodemus doubts what he should trust and he trusts what is doubtful.  He is old of age and his age betrays his spirit.   The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  The spirit is seeking but the flesh is frail.  Hair turns grey. Steps grow slow.  Eyes dim.   Flesh begets flesh.  And the flesh avails for nothing.  The wages of sin is death, death is already in Nicodemus.  Death is already in us.

But Nicodemus is a Pharisee, and the Pharisees are known for their piety.  Piety is the good work of the flesh.  Piety can be seen and more importantly piety can be praised.  It seems we also are Pharisees.  We like to be seen. We like to be praised. The night is darker than he imagined.  So is his heart.  So is the heart of all men.  So is yours.

Thus our steps trace that of this Pharisee and we come before Jesus in the night of this world and the darkness of our hearts.  What is spoken to Nicodemus is spoken to us and to all people.  “Unless one is born again you cannot enter the kingdom of God.”    Jesus’ words strike our hearts and our life.  For we love our life.  We love our works. We trust what we should doubt and doubt what we should trust.  We’ve been taught to be good.  We’ve been trained to be Pharisees.  We’ve been led to believe that our works are worth more than the promises of the Savior and the promises of the Savior pale in comparison to the deeds of the flesh.

But the Word of Jesus still stands and we must wrestle these words to the ground and pin them to our hearts.  “Unless you are born again you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” To be born again is lose this life, to start over, start anew.  With these words Jesus teaches us that we are to become completely different.  Flesh begets flesh.  Sinners have children who are sinners.  The wages of sin is death.  Even good people, pious people sin and therefore good people, pious people die.   Nicodemus is not as good as he thought.  He must be born again, born anew, born from above.  You also must start over, start again.  As good as you are in the flesh, you are not good enough. Descendants of Adam die.  The strictest of Pharisees succumb to sin’s wages.   Our fallen flesh avails for nothing towards eternity. You must be born again.

Reckoning the Words of Jesus with the mind of men, Nicodemus doesn’t get it.  “How can this be?  Can a man enter again into his mother’s womb?”  Even the greatest mind of men cannot discern the Spirit of God.  “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them for they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).   We mortals must learn that Jesus doesn’t seek our understanding with these words.  He seeks faith.  Faith is not the same as understanding. Understanding is from the mind and the mind is corrupted with sin.  Faith is a gift of God and transforms our understanding of our God, ourselves, our neighbor and our world.  To be born again is to be born of the Spirit not of the flesh.  It is to receive a new heart not patch up the old one.  It is to trust the promises of Christ and to crucify all that is old and of Adam.

All that is old and of Adam is crucified in Christ.  As your New Adam Jesus took upon Himself your frailties, your faults and your failures.  God so loved the World, God so loved you, that He sent His only-begotten Son.  Flesh begets flesh. Sinners have children who are sinners.  But Jesus is begotten of the Father and born of the Virgin.  Begotten of the Father from all eternity Jesus has no sin.  He is “God of God and light of light, very God of very God, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”  Born of Mary Jesus is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh though He is without sin, original or otherwise.  Fully God and fully man Jesus is all that is necessary for you and me and the world to be saved.  He takes your old life and He crucifies it in Himself.  He carries your burdens, bears your iniquities, and suffers for your transgressions.  He does what you fail to do, and He does it perfectly, without sin, and full of love.

To be born again is to be born again in Christ. It is to receive His death as your death, His resurrection as your resurrection, His Father as your Father.  To be born again, born from above, born anew is to receive a new heart and new spirit, His Spirit, His Holy Spirit which cries out Abba, Father.

Where is this Spirit?  How do I get it?  “The wind blows where it wills and you hear its sound but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”  Truly, you “hear its sound.”  For the Spirit is not seen, observed, nor made manifest for the eyes of the flesh.  He is not to be grasped with the hands nor chased over hill and dale.  The Spirit is heard.  His mighty, rushing wind is the voice of God Himself.  The voice of the Lord thunders from the lips of men as Peter preaches Christ crucified to the peoples.  The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon as the hearts are surrender to the gospel.   The voice of the Lord hovers over the waters!  The God of Glory thunders!  The Lord is over many waters.  For where the Word of God is preached there is God’s Voice box!   Where the voice of the Lord is made manifest there is God’s Spirit!  God’s Spirit is given to save and to regenerate, to forgive and to make new, to restore and to resurrect.  The Lord has bound Himself to His Word that all may be sure and certain of His heart and His will toward us.  Therefore the Lord’s Word has bound us to the Lord that we may never doubt our eternal welfare.

Our eternal welfare is made sure in water and the Spirit.  Nicodemus thinks like a man with the mind of men.  He looks for God and salvation where God has not promised to be. Thus our Lord directs His heart to the work of the Spirit hidden under the water.  He leads Nicodemus and all who would be saved the waters of Holy Baptism.  “You must be born again” means “you must be born of the Water and the Spirit.”  Water is necessary for life. Baptism is necessary for new life.  Baptism gives God’s Word.  Baptism saves through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  For, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness,” not because of our piety nor our good works, “but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit 3:5-7 ESV).  This is the Word and promise of our God for all people.   God’s Word is sure.  God’s Word is a trustworthy word.  It may be difficult to understand at times but the Savior is not seeking understanding. He seeks faith. Faith is of God and given in the new birth which comes by Water and the Spirit.

Beloved in the Lord, Nicodemus came to our Lord sure of the wrong things and doubting that which is given for certainty.  He approached the Savior in the confidence of his flesh, glad that he was a good man, a good Pharisee.  The darkness of the night enveloped his heart.  Jesus saw Him, loved Him, and versed Him with Holy Words.  “You must be born again.”  These Words cut to the heart, to our heart, even the heart of all men.  These call us to faith, faith in Christ, faith in the God who sends His Son to suffer, die and rise again, faith given in the water by the Spirit.  Faith comes by hearing and hearing the message of Christ. Nicodemus heard Christ.  Do you hear?  Do you believe?  Come with Nicodemus to Jesus. Come in the darkness of the night or the brightness of day.  Come and listen.  Come and rest. Come all who are weary or worn, broken or frail, feeble, old or young, suffering, sick or healthy.  Come to the Waters and be baptized.  Come to the Word and remember your baptism.  Come to the table, eat, drink and rejoice in the flesh and blood of the Risen Jesus! Come to the Lord.   Repent, start over, start again, and cling to Christ by faith.   Jesus seeks after faith, faith in the right things, faith that takes away the darkness and receives the favor of God.

And so, this morning Jesus voices His favor for you.  “For God so loved the World that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish have everlasting life.”


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN!


The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!


Pastor Tony Sikora
Hope Lutheran Church
De Witt, MI

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