“He Has Shown His Mercy”
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This past Sunday was Holy Trinity Sunday. On that day we make a somewhat feeble attempt to answer questions about God, questions like – “Who is God? – “What is God like?” “What does God do?” Think about it for a moment, mere human beings trying to describe God to themselves and to each other.
Some time in the history of the church, theologians came up with the words “Triune” and “Trinity.” These are short hand ways of describing how God has revealed himself to us in his Word. These words are not found in the Bible, but they attempt to help us describe God without taking up hours and hours of time.
When we say that we believe in the Trinity we mean that we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not three gods, but three distinct persons who are one God. To say that we believe in the Triune God is a way of saying that we believe in one God who is three persons. Each person is coequal, coeternal, uncreated, and eternal.
No matter how we describe God, we are always going to come up short. It makes no sense that creatures, even creatures who are fearfully and wonderfully made would be able to adequately describe God the creator of all things.
Add to that the fact that we are now sinful creatures. It is just that much more impossible for us to know through our own reason who God is, what God is like, and what God does. When we try to know and understand God, we are like Isaiah who said, “Woe is me! For I am lost.”
He Knows Us – He Knows Our Needs
Rather than spending time trying to figure out God, to know him, and to understand him, it is much better for us to know and believe that God knows us. He know us inside and out, he understands who we are and what we need.
The story of Nicodemus show us that we don’t we know God. We do not know ourselves. We only think we know what we need. Without the help of God teaching us and then providing what we need we can only cry out, “Woe is me! I am lost!”.
Nicodemus was a descendant of Abraham. He was no ordinary descendant of Abraham. Nicodemus was a Pharisees. He was a highly respected member of the Jewish community. He thought he knew God.
As a Pharisee, he not only strictly observed the laws found in God’s Word, but he was seen as an authority and teacher of God’s Word. Others looked to him for guidance and the truth.
Nicodemus was also a member of the Sanhedrin, seventy religious leaders who with the high priests ruled on religious matters in the community. Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin on Good Friday morning and convicted of blasphamie.
We read that Nicodemus came by night to visit Jesus. He said to Jesus, “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.” Nicodemus and others had seen what Jesus had done.
Based on what he had seen, Nicodemus came to Jesus with faith that Jesus had come from God. He called Jesus teacher and opened himself up to what Jesus might teach him. Nicodemus came to Jesus to discuss the things of God. He was, however, not prepared for what Jesus would teach him.
“Jesus answered [Nicodemus], “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” Nicodemus thought that he already knew what the kingdom of God looked like.
In his mind the kingdom of God were the people of Israel, the people who had been born as descendents of Abraham. The kingdom of God would be seen in God performing miracles among the people of Israel, healing them from their illnesses and protecting them from their enemies.
Perhaps in the mind of Nicodemus he saw, Jesus as the one that God would use to bring the people of Israel back into greatness. Nicodemus certainly would have counted himself a member of the kingdom of God and a member in good standing at that.
How Can It Happen
Nicodemus didn’t understand when Jesus told him that he must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God. He had been born once. He was a descendant of Abraham, wasn’t that enough? He was confused. He asked Jesus to explain, “How a man can be born again, how a man can enter his mothers womb again?”
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “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 flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Jesus was not talking about a physical rebirth. He was talking about being “born from above.” Jesus was talking about being born through the power of the Holy Spirit. Being part of the kingdom of God has nothing to do with who our parents are or what membership certificates we hold.
Being “born again” in the words of Jesus is about receiving a new life, a life different than the life we receive when we are born of flesh and blood. Being “born again” means being given a life free from the power of sin and death as a gift from God.
Not Nicodemus’ Doing
When we are born, we have nothing to say about it, nothing to do with our own birth. We don’t choose our parents, we don’t choose our gender, we don’t choose our birth date. Our physical birth is a miracle of God’s creation, a miracle in which he uses a man and a woman to give us life.
Nicodemus had nothing to say or do about being born as a descendent of Abraham. It was nothing to brag about or think that it made him better than others who were not Israelites.
We are all born the same, sinners. Not one of us is born into the kingdom of God by virtue of our natural birth. Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand that he could not rely on his ancestry to place him into the kingdom of God.
Born From Above
Jesus answered the concern of Nicodemus, “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 flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Jesus was telling Nicodemus that to be part of the kingdom of God he must be born again, he must be given the gift of a new life from above, from God himself.
Nicodemus believed he was part of the kingdom of God because he was born as a descendent of Abraham and because he lived a good life following the laws God had given to his people. Many people today believe they are part of the kingdom of God because their parents and grandparents were members of a church and because their name is on the membership list of a church.
God had not only promised Abraham that his descendents would be a great nation, but he also promised Abraham that through him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” King David described the blessings that would come from God.
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and those whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Jesus was and is the fulfillment of that promise to Abraham. It is through Jesus that all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “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.”
- In Jesus alone is the blessing of forgiveness found.
- Through him alone are our sins covered with his righteousness
- Because he took our sins to the cross they are not counted against us
As a final word to Nicodemus Jesus said to him, “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.”
Jesus came into the world so that you might be “born again” so that you might be “born from above.” Jesus did not come to condemn you but to give you a new life. He came so that your sinful life might die with him on the cross and so that you might rise to a new life with him through his resurrection.
You are “born again” into the kingdom of God by the grace of God and not by your own will. You were “born again” when in Holy Baptism God washed you clean from your sins and you received the power of the Holy Spirit to keep you strong in your faith.
You have been given a new life in Christ by the grace of God. You have seen what God has done for you. Jesus came not to condemn you, but to save you.
In the name of Jesus Christ we go in peace. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria