2nd Sunday in Lent (A)
March 12, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
To prepare for the Sunday Bible class that we had a few weeks ago, about Satan, ghosts, and paranormal activity, I spent a lot of time reading material that was pretty out there. One of the blogs I read claimed that before we’re born our souls choose our parents. If the soul wants to be artistic, it’ll choose artistic parents. If it wants to work with abused children, it’ll pick abusive parents to help them understand abuse. Obviously, this is nonsense. It’s ridiculous, actually. Children are conceived, carried in the womb, and born without any choice at all. They can’t control their parents, where they’re born, or when they’re born. They’re completely without any say. Today, Jesus is going to teach us that it’s not just in our physical birth that we have no say, it’s also in our spiritual birth. We had no more choice to become God’s children than we did becoming our parents’ children. We’re children of our heavenly Father solely because the Son came down from Heaven to give us the new birth from above.
In our text, Nicodemus comes to Jesus fully understanding that Jesus is not just an ordinary man. Nicodemus said, “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.” In His miracles, Nicodemus sees that Jesus is more than just a rabbi, but he doesn’t yet realize the significance of Christ’s teachings. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and Pharisees generally believed that a relationship with God is dependent more on works and not so much on the content of the heart. Now, this doesn’t mean that Nicodemus didn’t love God or wasn’t a good person. But what Nicodemus had to do was to stop worrying about the manmade laws of Judaism and to look instead to the Rabbi from God who was standing right in front of him.
Jesus here wants to teach Nicodemus that being forgiven and saved is not a result of what we do, salvation comes to those who have been spiritually reborn. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”. The words that our Bibles translate as “born again” can also be translated as “born from above”. Of the two, I like “born from above” better because it makes clear to us that we need something from outside of ourselves in order to be brought to spiritual life.
We need our spiritual birth to come from above because we’re all born spiritually dead. Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”, and we’re all born in the flesh. When we’re born dead to God. God isn’t someone we think about, at least not in the way that we should. We think about ourselves. We think about our own selfish needs. It’s not all our own fault, Sin is what caused us to be conceived and born spiritually dead.
Because we are born spiritually dead, we need help, and that help comes from above. Jesus tells us “No one has ascended into heaven except Him who descended from heaven, the Son of Man”. It’s impossible for us to go to Him, so now is the time for the “Gospel in the Nutshell”, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. Despite our spiritual death, Christ descended from Heaven so that we would all be saved through Him. God loved us even though we didn’t love Him and even though we didn’t deserve to be saved, He came just so that He could do precisely that.
This salvation comes to us, not because of who we are, like Nicodemus and the Pharisees thought, or like we sometimes think, but solely through God’s love and grace. Jesus alludes to this grace when He talks about Moses and the bronze serpent. Do you remember that story? The Israelites were wandering in the desert and once again they began complaining about the manna and the problems of wandering in the desert. The Lord, rightfully angry, decides to punish the Israelites, and He does so by sending poisonous snakes that killed everyone they bit. When the Israelites finally came to their senses and pleaded for help, the Lord had Moses put a bronze snake up on a high pole. Anyone who looked at the snake after being bitten would live. But they lived not through their actions; rather they lived because in that bronze snake, God had given them a vision of His grace and forgiveness.
In the same way, we have something to look at when in our sin we rebel against God. Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up”. The bronze snake that was lifted up saved the people from physical death, when Christ was lifted up we were saved from spiritual and eternal death. The lifting up of Jesus is what gives the Gospel in the Nutshell, its promise. This is why our sins are forgiven and this is why we shall not perish but have eternal life. When you look at the crucified Christ you’re looking at your forgiveness and you’re seeing the grace of God that’s for you. This forgiveness and God’s grace come to all those who have been born again, to all who have been born from above.
And how are you are born again? How are you born from above? Well, through baptism! Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Through baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to you and gives you a new life. No longer are we dead in our sins but we’re alive in Christ. Many Christians say that they are “born again Christians”, but aren’t all Christians born again? Sure we are! We’re born again, we’re born from above, in that the Holy Spirit descended to us at our baptism and gave us life. Not physical life, something more important, spiritual life. A spiritual life that is centered on Jesus who was first raised up on a cross and then raised from the dead.
Luther wrote in the Small Catechism in the section on baptism, “What does such baptizing with water signify? Answer: It signifies that the old Adam in us, together with all sins and evil lusts, should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance and be put to death, and that the new man should come forth daily and rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in God’s presence.” We don’t make ourselves Christians, the Lord makes us Christians. But it doesn’t stop there. Once we’re Christians, once we’ve been born from above, we come to the Lord everyday repenting of our sins and seeking His forgiveness. And as we’re forgiven, we demonstrate our rebirth when Christ Jesus is seen in how we love and care for our family, friends, and neighbors. As Paul wrote in Romans, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”. This walking in newness in life is only possible because through Christ’s death we have truly been born again. And we have been born again, not as children of the flesh, but children of the Holy Spirit, children who have been made righteous and now live forever in God’s presence.
If I could’ve chosen my parents, I would’ve chosen the ones that I have. But it wasn’t up to me so I thank God for them. When it comes to our salvation, I’m glad it’s not up to us. If it were up to us, we’d all still be dead. God knows this and so He comes and saves us. He saved us when “He so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”. This is the Gospel in a nutshell and it’s for you, because you have indeed been born from above.
Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen