Jesus’ answer to Nicademus goes back to an Old Testament illustration of sin and its effect. Jesus is referring to the sin of rebellion by the children of Israel in the desert. Here I would refer you to our Old Testament lesson for this morning. The children of Israel had been delivered from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. They had been saved from the Egyptian army by God opening a path through the Red Sea. They had seen the almighty hand of God deliver them and yet, how easily and how soon they have forgotten. When their faith was tested they reverted back to their old ways of whining. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” (Numbers 21: 5b). Had not God provided for all their needs? Do they think He will stop providing for them? What provoked them to believe that He would not continue to take care of them and all their needs?
Yet, before we chastize the children of Israel too much, we might want to stop and take a look at our own lives? God has given us all things. He gives us life at conception and new life, spiritual life, through Holy Baptism. God has provided us with an opportunity to get an education, the ability to work, even a job to perform. God has provided us with gifts, talents and abilities to perform the work we need to perform at our job. God has provided us with a wage to purchase food to eat, to put a roof over our heads, to put shoes on our feet and clothes on our back. God has provided us with all that we need to support the needs of our daily lives and even many if not most of the wants of our daily lives and yet, how do we respond? “What have you done for me lately, God?” Yes, we commit the same sin of rebellion. We daily sin much. We commit sins of omission, not doing what we are supposed to be doing, not helping others who need help, not putting others and their needs before our own, not looking for ways to share our faith with others. And we commit sins of commission, doing what we are not supposed to be doing, not putting God first in our lives. Oh, we might say that we do these things, that God has first place in our lives, that He is our number one priority, that our relationship with Him is our number one priority, but our actions and words betray us. The fact is, we continue to put ourselves first. As children and even as adult children we forget to honor our parents and guardians, we speak unflattering words about a coworker, we gossip, or rather, “we do not repeat gossip, so you better listen close the first time.” We sin and this sin is rebellion against God.
We are reminded in the Old Testament lesson and by Jesus in the Gospel that the price for sin is death, even eternal spiritual death, which is hell. Yes, in our country we put a scale of punishment for crimes committed. Murder is deserving of a much harsher punishment than speeding. Gossiping and lying may not even be punishable. But in God’s eyes, sin is sin. All sins are equal. The sin of lying is just as punishable by eternal spiritual death as is murder. The price, the cost, the wage, what all sin earns is eternal spiritual death, hell.
Thanks be to God, that just as He sent a cure for the rebellious children of Israel, He also has a cure for us and that cure is His grace and mercy. In the “Gospel in a nutshell,” John 3:16, Jesus tells us about His universal grace, that is that God loves the whole world, the whole universe. Jesus was born into this world as a Jew in order to save the Jews, but not the Jews only. Remember, God chose the Jewish nation to be the nation to bring salvation to the world. Their mission was to share their faith in the Lord with others, yet they did not do that, instead they kept it to themselves. (Prayerfully, we will not make the same mistake.)
Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save the world. That does not mean that Jesus tolerates sin. And actually the fact is that He is contrary to our so called tolerant world in that He is intolerant especially He is intolerant of sin. He never approves of sin. Instead, Jesus came to take the sin of the world upon Himself. He came to take the punishment for sin upon Himself. He came to die for the sins of the whole world in order to save the whole world.
God’s will is not that some are saved and the others are condemned. No, God’s will is that all are saved. That statement begs the question, “then why are some saved and some are not saved?” Jesus’ answer is that “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.” Some have already judged themselves because of their unbelief, which is the unforgivable sin, dying in unbelief. Yes, folks, God is intolerant. Anything less than faith in Jesus Christ alone will condemn a person to eternal judgement. When we allow our family and friends to continue on in their lives rejecting Christ, absenting themselves from divine service and Bible study, or when we allow them to continue on in their very religious life, if that very religious life includes a belief in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ alone, then we are condemning them to eternal spiritual death. God’s will is that they have a part in His Kingdom, thus His will is that we share His Word and love with them.
God’s will is, and Jesus died in order, that all people are saved which is universal atonement. Universal atonement is important, but even more important is vicarious atonement, that is that Jesus gave His life for you and for me. God so loved the world and He so loves you and me.
Paul expounds on Jesus’ words in the Epistle lesson for today. Paul reminds us that we are saved by grace through faith. We are saved by God’s grace, His undeserved love for us. We do not deserve that Jesus should give His life, that He should pay the price for our sins, that He should die the eternal spiritual death penalty for us. This love, this living and dying is grace. We are saved by grace and we are saved through faith. Faith is the instrument which takes hold of and makes all God’s good gifts and blessings ours and this faith is also a gift.
Paul does not stop there. We are saved by grace through faith, but we are not saved for nothing. We are saved for a purpose, as Paul says, to do the good works which God has prepared beforehand (in advance) for us to do. In other words, faith shows itself in action, in good works. And as we have said at other times, what makes a work a good work in God’s eyes is this, that it is motivated by God, that it is worked in us by God, and that it is done to His glory.
This morning we have the privilege, the undeserved privilege, of having God pour out upon us grace upon grace. We are reminded that God gives and we are given to. God gives us our life at conception. He gives us new life through Holy Baptism. He gives us forgiveness of sins earned by His death on the cross. He puts His name on us. He makes us His children. He claims us as His own.
God gives even more. Daily He strengthens us in faith through His Word. As we daily make use of His Word, that is as we read His Word, and remember our Baptism He works through these means to give us the strength that we need to meet the challenges which are before us each day. Every week as we come to His house for divine service we have the opportunity to make use of confession and absolution, confessing all our sins and hearing His most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven,” and we have opportunity to make use of His Holy Supper. In His Holy Supper He comes to us through the eating and drinking of His body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine. He comes to us to give us forgiveness of sins and to strengthen us in our faith in Him and in our love for each other.
God is the prime mover. He gives and gives and gives. He gives and He keeps us in faith until Christ comes again, to take us to heaven. When we come to divine service we are like a dirty mirror. The first thing that happens in divine service is that our mirror is cleaned, that is confession and absolution. Once our mirror is clean, then we are able to reflect, to say back to God what He gives us to say. We have nothing to reflect of our own, we only reflect as our Lord shines His love on us.
God gives to us and we respond. Our response is not an attempt at payment for services rendered. Our response is not an attempt to show Jesus that He had to die any less for me. No, our response is a response of faith. We are so filled with His many good gifts and blessings that we cannot help but overflow and share His love to others, to, as Paul says, “do the good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Jesus says it best and we all know what He says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.