Text: John 3:1-17
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I’ve been present at the births of enough children that I can confidently say that those children had no ability to choose the place, the time, or the circumstances of their birth. In fact, to a very high degree, the baby being born is very much at the whim of the mother, perhaps the doctors who are attending, and of course, God’s desired timing. That’s all to say that a child doesn’t get to choose their own specifics of being born. You didn’t get to choose. I didn’t get to choose. And no baby at any other time got to choose the circumstances under which they were born.
The same is true when it comes to our rebirth. We’re drawn to God by the work of the Holy Spirit, just as Nicodemus was drawn to Jesus by the things he and others had seen Jesus doing. Nicodemus explains this draw as he says, “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.” To accentuate the fact that this necessary rebirth is not of one’s own doing, Jesus tells Nicodemus about it without Nicodemus even asking a pertinent question. This interaction, which at first is confusing to Nicodemus, leads to Jesus explaining the truths of the Trinity, and emphasizing the need for rebirth, while John sums the whole thing up with the verse we’ve come to know as the Gospel in a nutshell. In short, what we hear in our Gospel lesson for today is that
THE FATHER SENT HIS SON FROM HEAVEN TO GIVE US NEW BIRTH BY WATER AND THE SPIRIT
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ words seem strange in the ears of Nicodemus and he replies, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Just as a baby has no knowledge of the timing, or even need for, his birth, we cannot at first understand the necessity of our second birth. It makes no sense to those who are unaware of the need for this rebirth and the benefits it provides. Paul says to the Romans “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and we who know the Lord understand that our natural inclination is toward sin. From the earliest of days in the Garden of Eden and continuing on until today, we’ve proven that we are spiritually dead and in desperate need of something that will bring us out of this grave of sin.
Just as Paul states that he “does not do the good he wants to do, but does that which he does not want to do,” we’re also powerless against the sin which is constant in our lives. Regardless of how hard we might try, we’ll continue to lie and slander and covet and steal, and in the process turn our backs on God. Left to ourselves we demonstrate our lack of desire toward God and our inclination to think and say and do whatever we want instead of what He wants for us. This provides a great demonstration of the need for the rebirth that Jesus is talking about because in our first birth we are spiritually dead.
But God recognizes our spiritual inability to be inclined toward Him. He’s seen it for millennia. Every single time a creation of His has turned their back on Him, we as God’s special creation have been demonstrating “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” What we haven’t always demonstrated is our knowledge and adherence to the fact that “that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Clearly here, Jesus is pointing to our baptism where the washing by water and the Spirit is rebirth for the soul which is dead in sin and trespass. But it’s only true because the Father sent the Son to be the sacrifice by which we would be made whole. The washing with water in baptism is not only a union with the Holy Spirit, but it’s a covering with the blood of Christ, who was sent by His Father to make payment for every way we’ve ever fallen short.
What we need to remember is that our rebirth is effected by God, through His immeasurable grace, which is given to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. John summarizes that thought in what is perhaps the most widely known passage in all of Scripture when he says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” From the beginning of time, God knew the enormity of the problem of sin and had a plan in place to deal with it permanently. Our separation from God is the worst punishment possible for us, but it was also not acceptable to God. He could not accept, that without His intervention, ALL would be lost forever for their inability to follow His Law. And so, He made a way that all might be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
“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.” His death and resurrection make it possible for us to be reborn from above. Quite different than our first entrance into this world, our rebirth from above makes possible our entrance into the kingdom of God. An infinitely better place. If we ever thought this world was the paradise that God promises to us, this past year has shown us the reality that this world is full of sin and sorrow. Thanks be to God that He not only has promised us a better place than this, the restored heaven and earth, but that He offers us a way to enter into that paradise that’s not dependent on anything we have or could ever do, but rather on what He has already done for us.
So, we’ve been reborn. And yet, we still live in this imperfect place. We have the promise of the kingdom of God but live in a place that is still full of sin and sorrow. If this is so, what affect does this rebirth have on us? Despite the fact that our world does not change, we have changed. Having been reborn, we have the hope and the promise of eternal life with Christ, our Savior. We also have the opportunity to live a life of worship of God and service to others. As the Psalmist says, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” The desire to worship Him and to serve Him and others is the natural outpouring of the Gospel which has been effected in us. It is not only our privilege, but it is also our joy to lift our voices in praise and our hands in service.
Who can you share this incredible message with today and this week? As the Holy Spirit has worked in you, so too may He use you to work in the hearts and minds of others. We love our neighbors as ourselves, and sometimes this means sharing with them the wonderful news we’ve been given. Through our rebirth with water and the Spirit, we look forward to eternal life. To that last day when the sheep and the goats will be separated. Who do you know whose eternity is not as sure as yours? Just as Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, for fear of how he might be perceived by others, there are people in your life who are silently curious. People who need to hear the Gospel message. People who need to know that in their sin, there is no life, but that God has made a way for them to be reborn. Will you be the one to share this message with them?
We certainly had no choice in the circumstances of our birth, but God has always had choices. He chose to create us. He chose to send His Son to redeem us. And He continually chooses to strengthen us through the work of His Spirit in His Word and Sacraments. We are today, through our rebirth of water and the Spirit, members of the kingdom of God. We have been claimed by God, as His own, through no effort of our own. Thanks be to God that He chooses us above all else. May this be comfort to us and strength for the work that He calls us to do as members of His kingdom. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.