Lent 2, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
An old farmer stood outside his place one day, leaning on a fence. A city slicker from Chicago rolled up in a shiny car and asked the way to half a dozen different places, one after the other. To each inquiry the farmer had nothing but a monotonous and gruff reply: "I don't know." Finally the young fellow, thoroughly exasperated, muttered as he started to drive away, "You don't know much, do you?" Whereupon the farmer straightened up with a twinkle in his eye and said, "At least I ain't lost!"
More people know the answers to more questions today than ever before in the history of humanity...just ask them! But for all that, a great many of our world leaders are quite willing to admit that ours is the most completely lost generation the world has ever known.
Nicodemus was a learned man. Scripture says that he was "a man of the Pharisees...a ruler of the Jews." (John 3:1) He was one of the men known to be "keepers of the law." They studied Scripture and the writing of the Elders of Israel. They thought they kept the law perfectly. They knew answers to more questions than anyone else at that time in history. Nicodemus sought out Jesus at night. He seemingly knew that Jesus was important and a man of God even as the other Pharisees feared and reviled Him. The Pharisees were completely lost.
"Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony." (John 3:2-11)
Here in our text Jesus is describing salvation as a miraculous work of God. Nicodemus comes to Jesus and says, “We know you are a teacher from God. We've seen the miracles and things you have done.” That is why he addresses him as “Rabbi”, which is basically a respected religious teacher. Nicodemus knows that Jesus must be able to explain about the things of God because He must have been sent by God. His miracles proclaim that.
So our Lord begins with a statement that is initially confusing. “You must be born again.” “What do you mean!?!” Nicodemus responds, “Born again? Can a man go back into his Mother's womb? That doesn't make sense!” But Jesus is not talking about having another physical birth. He is providing a sort of compare and contrast. He is teaching about two different births. The first birth involved your mom and dad and probably a hospital room with a few nurses and a doctor. The second birth, the new birth, is spiritual. Christians are born, not from Mom and Dad, but from water and the spirit. Literally the Greek phrase can be translated “born from above”. John Chapter three is about Baptism.
Our new life in Christ doesn't come because we make a “decision for Jesus” or try to “turn over a new leaf” and start being good little obedient boys and girls. It comes as an act of God, his washing of rebirth and renewal, his forgiveness of sins, his salvation poured out for us. Nicodemus completely fails to understand and so Jesus wags his finger and gives him a scolding: “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:10-12)
Ultimately, nobody can understand and believe the Gospel on their own. Our brains just are not smart enough. Our will-power is simply not strong enough. "No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:3) We can't do it alone. We can't do it at all! All we're able to figure out is what God has chosen to reveal about himself. His thoughts are a million miles above our thoughts, and so God must come down to our level. Jesus says, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:13)
Only God himself coming down could bring salvation to us. If you want to be able to see and understand God, the best way is to look to Christ crucified. There is the perfect and final example of God's love for the world. It is shameful to the world, but it is the Glory of God. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Salvation and baptism and faith. These are all gifts from God. They are all gifts of love. God is love. We know God's love by His action toward us through His Word. John 3:16, that verse known by so many, shows us God's love. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17)
God loves us so much...that He didn't just talk about love...He showed us His love. God sent His only Son, Christ Jesus our Lord, to die on the cross in our stead. Jesus shows His love for us by willingly dying on the tree an innocent man. God sent His Son to save all people...to save the world through Jesus. That is love. God loved the world...even as the world hated Him. Jesus loved the world even as they would murder him and chant "crucify Him."
God loves you. God sent His Son to die for you. Jesus did die for you. And the salvation won by Jesus through His death is given to you...as you are born again...born from above...through the waters of Holy Baptism. There your sins are washed away. There you are clothed in Christ. There you are made a child of God and an heir of everlasting life in heaven. For God loves you His beloved child. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.