Monday, March 21, 2011

Sermon for 20 March 2011, Lent 2C

The Rev. Paul J Cain
John 3:1-17
Baptism and More
Second Sunday in Lent, 20 March 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Just about everybody loves Jesus. Eighty percent of Americans claim to be Christian. Of those nominal Christians, nearly half call themselves “born again.” But what does that mean?
The Lutheran answer might begin, “We should fear and love God…” and would be a very good start. Beyond that, I would rather ignore modern sociological definitions of “born again” and go right to the Bible text that gives us the phrase, John Chapter 3.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 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?”
You hear the disconnect. Nicodemus was a Jewish ruler, what we might call a Senator, part of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the ruling body that would later put Jesus on trial. What he says early on makes sense. Then, he can make no sense of being born again. Or born from above. The Greek here is ambiguous and can mean both “born again” and “born from above.” Such is the beauty, depth, and challenge of the Gospel according to St. John.
Many readers of John Chapter 1 know what Nicodemus hasn’t figured out yet by faith: 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. [1]
Compare that text to Jesus’ answer here in Chapter three:
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.”
Born again. Born from above. Those two phrases mean the same thing. And both of them mean the same thing as “Born of water and the Spirit.”
Does John 3 talk about Holy Baptism? Yes. There is another question we should ask if we’re being responsible Bible scholars: Does John 3 only talk about Baptism? No. Jesus speaks of Baptism and more!
Can a Christian come to faith before baptism? Certainly! Many adults and children hear the Word and the Spirit, who blows where and when He wills, brings some to faith. Others resist. Sadly, some never hear of the promise to Abraham fulfilled in Jesus. Some never hear the Gospel. And the Spirit doesn’t work with thin air.
God the Holy Spirit delivers the gift of faith. He works through means God has promised to use, including God’s Word, as mentioned before, and Holy Baptism. The Holy Spirit delivers the gift of the Holy Spirit, faith, and the forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism. Read it for yourself in Acts 2, at the end of Peter’s Pentecost sermon.
Yes, John 3 is a great Baptism text, but it also speaks of the faith given to the thief on the cross, the man to whom Jesus said, “I tell you the truth. Today you shall be with me in paradise.” The Spirit delivered faith to that man. And shortly after, when Jesus’ body was pierced, water poured from His side. That man was born again from above by water and the Holy Spirit.
Nicodemus’ questions continue.
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 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. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Lifted up. That’s what the serpent in the wilderness was: lifted up. The promise Moses gave the people from God was pretty simple. Look to the bronze serpent and believe the Lord can heal you. Some still died of their snake bites. They couldn’t or wouldn’t believe in such a cure.
The Law says “do” and “don’t do.” The Law always leaves room for doubt if enough has been done. The Gospel says, “It is finished.” The Gospel proclaims Christ’s Calvary work for you in your place. The Gospel says, “Believe this” and “This Is.” And John 3:16 and following speak of this Gospel:
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. 17 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. [2]
Kosmos. That’s the Greek word used here for world. You’ve heard it in English. It is an inclusive word that doesn’t leave anyone out. That’s Gospel. That’s how big the love of God and the promise to Abraham was. Christ will return on the Last Day as Judge, but His incarnate coming was to accomplish, proclaim, and deliver salvation.
In Jesus, all are blessed: Abraham, Moses, Nicodemus, and you, born again from above by water and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn 1:12–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[2] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn 3:1–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.