Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, March 8, 2020
You Must Be Born Again - March 8, 2020 - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: John 3:1-17
This morning we celebrate birth and rebirth. In the Old Testament reading we hear God reiterate the promise He first made in the Garden of Eden, the promise to send a Savior to take care of the sin of disobedience of Adam and Eve, the sin that brought a curse on the whole world. In the Epistle lesson we are reminded that God’s covenant was not a covenant of flesh, but a covenant of faith and grace. Thus, when we get to our text for this morning we are reminded that we, you and I, are indeed children of Abraham and children of the covenant, not by genetics, not by DNA, not by flesh, but by rebirth and faith. Just as we witness anyone being baptized become a child of Abraham by their baptism, so each one of us are children of Abraham, by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, faith first given to us at our baptism.
Our text brings us to a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. He is identified, along with Joseph of Arimathea, as being one who did not vote for the crucifixion of Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and yet he did not go along with the rest of the Pharisees in their actions. Evidently Nicodemus recognized, from the signs and wonders, from the preaching and the miracles of Jesus, from the Word of God, even from the Word Jesus Himself spoke, that He was not just an ordinary person, but that, perhaps, maybe, just perhaps, Jesus may be the one promised from of old. He may be the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Nicodemus approached Jesus at night. He came at night so that he might not be seen by others and in particular by others of the Pharisees. He came at night so that he might have some one on one time with Jesus, that he might be alone with Jesus without being disturbed by others. He came to Jesus and he confessed his faith. His confession was that Jesus is a prophet and he knows this because “no one can do these signs that [He] does unless God is with him.” Nicodemus understood the signs and wonders, the miracles Jesus’ performed as signs of His divinity that He was the Messiah.
Nicodemus came to Jesus and was concerned and questioned Jesus about eternal life. Jesus’ answer was an answer of faith. One is not saved by physical birth, by being born a Jew, nor is one not saved by being born a Gentile. One is not saved by doing enough good works, nor by doing specific good works. Just as a person does not choose to be born, so a person cannot choose to save themself, no matter by how much a person may try.
Jesus expands His teaching by making a distinction between physical birth and spiritual birth. As for physical birth, that which is born of flesh is flesh, in other words, we are all conceived and born in sin, that is original sin. The sin of Adam and Eve infected their DNA and the curse they received has been passed on through them from generation to generation and will continue to be passed on. And not only are we conceived and born in sin, we add to our inborn sin, that is, we daily sin much on our own, sins of thought, word, and deed, sins of omission, failing to live and do as we ought and sins of commission, doing what we should not be doing, and we are in need of forgiveness. Left in our sin we are doomed to eternal death and hell.
God’s demand is that we are perfect and the fact is that we cannot be perfect. Yet, there is one solution and that is that one must be born again, and this rebirth is not a physical rebirth, but a spiritual rebirth, a being born again of water and spirit. Of course we understand that Jesus is speaking about Holy Baptism. Here Nicodemus does not understand what Jesus is saying, what He means about this being born again and so Jesus explains.
As for physical birth Jesus said that sin is born in each one of us. As for spiritual birth, each one must be born again through Holy Baptism, so that which is born of spirit is spirit, “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a). And as we hear quoted in the liturgy of Holy Baptism from Peter, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). Here again, just as we do not choose to be born, so it is with Holy Baptism. Most of us did not choose to be baptized, but our parents brought us so that through our baptism God saves us, putting His name on us, giving us forgiveness of sins, faith and eternal life.
The analogy Jesus uses is not so hard to understand. Jesus says, the wind is unseen, and yet we see its effect. We may not see the sin with which we are born, but we see its effect. I would suggest that if you really want to see the effect of our inborn sin, put two toddlers in a room with one toy and see if they instinctively share the toy. I would suggest that rather than share the one toy they will fight over the one toy, an effect of our inborn sin. Likewise, the spirit works through Holy Baptism. We cannot see the Holy Spirit work in Baptism, but we see the result and the result is faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
And to the argument that children cannot have faith, I beg to differ. Children can and do have faith, they simply do not express their faith as an adult, mostly because they cannot speak. They express their faith through their actions. If you hold a spoon of food to a child’s mouth they will believe you are giving them something good to eat and will, in faith, open their mouths, expressing their faith. Their faith in Jesus is seen also as they speak to Him in prayers and singing songs to Him as well.
Even in adults, the Holy Spirit, though unseen, is seen in His work of conversion, as He works through the means of grace to work faith, strengthening of faith and to keep us in faith. An unbaptized person who comes to faith through the Word of the Lord naturally has a desire to be baptized, not their choosing, but by compulsion of God, thus we see the effect of the Holy Spirit.
What does this mean? This means that there is a distinction between heavenly beings and earthly beings. And further we are told that only a heavenly being can testify of heaven. In other words, no one from earth can testify concerning heaven because no one from earth has yet been to heaven, except one and that one is Jesus. Only Jesus can testify of heavenly things because only Jesus has been to heaven, for that is from where He came in order to be born as one of us and that is where He ascended following His resurrection.
For what purpose did Jesus descend? Jesus explains His coming to earth using what would be a familiar illustration for Nicodemus and that is the encounter of the children of Israel and the serpents in the wilderness. When Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage of slavery in Egypt it did not take too long and they began to grumble. They grumbled against Moses and against God. As a consequence and as a punishment of their grumbling, God caused serpents to come into the camp and to bite the people. The people, then, cried out in repentance to Moses and to God.
Moses prayed to God and God told him to make an image of the serpent and to put it on a pole. Whenever anyone was bitten by a serpent he or she could look at the serpent on the pole and they would live. The serpent was punishment for their sins. The serpent on the pole was to be looked at in an act of repentance and faith in forgiveness. Thus, the punishment became the cure. Let me say that again and please keep this in mind, the punishment became the cure.
God created a perfect world and in that perfect world He created and placed a perfect man and a perfect woman into a perfect garden. The devil came and tempted the woman to be like God. The woman disobeyed God as did the man and with that disobedience, sin entered the world. The punishment for sin was death, the beginning of physical death, and unless there was a cure, the ultimate conclusion would be eternal death and hell. God promised to send a Savior. Jesus came as the Savior. He came as one of us, one of the beings which brought sin and death into the world. He came in order to suffer the punishment for us.
Now follow Jesus analogy. God placed Jesus on the cross. The serpent in the wilderness brought death, humans brought death. The serpent on the cross was to be looked at in repentance and faith. Jesus was put on the cross to be looked at in repentance and faith. We look at Jesus and believe and we are saved. The punishment became the cure, for us.
Which brings us to Jesus words, what we call “the Gospel in a nutshell,” John 3:16. The price of sin is death, physical death and ultimately left unpaid, eternal death and hell. What sin has earned, the wages of sin is death, eternal death and hell. Sin costs the shedding of blood and death. Left alone in our sins we would be condemned to eternal death and hell. Nothing on our part can take care of our sins. There are not enough good things we could do, not that we could or would do them, that could add up to pay the price for our sins.
In His love God sent Jesus. Jesus is God Himself in human flesh. Jesus is the Creator taking on the flesh and blood of His creation in order to rescue His creation. God knew that we, His creation, His creatures, would not be able to save or rescue ourselves, thus, because of His great love for us, He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, true God in human flesh to pay the price for our sins, to rescue us from sin, death and the devil.
The price, the cost, what sin has earned, the wage of sin is eternal death. What Jesus, God in flesh did was pay that price. On the cross, God died for us, in our place. Jesus suffered eternal death in hell for us in our place.
In our theology we talk about the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law shows us our sins. The Gospel shows us our Savior. The Law shows us how we sin, it tells us what we are to do and not to do. The Law can lead us either to think we can gain heaven through works righteousness, or it leads us to despair. The Gospel is the good news. The Gospel motivates repentance and forgiveness. The Gospel leads us to faith in Jesus who paid the price for our sins.
Thus, Jesus came into the world, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world though Him might be saved. Yes, to those who do not believe in Jesus they are condemned, but to all those who do believe, to all those who have been given faith, they are forgiven and have eternal life.
As we continue to work our way through this Lenten season, this morning we celebrate what a great and loving God we have. We celebrate that He is the one who created us, redeemed us, that is traded His life for ours on the cross, and sanctifies us, that is He continues to work faith in our hearts, strengthens us in faith, and keeps us in faith until Christ comes again. And when Christ comes again He will gather us with all the saints and we will stand before the Lord’s throne and say, “To God be the glory.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.