Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent based on John 3:1-17
Dear born again believers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus says that you must be born again to see the kingdom of God. There is no side-stepping or skirting around the issue. If you want to see the kingdom of God, that is, if you want to receive eternal life, you must be born again.
Why must one be born again? Because what is born of the flesh is flesh. The sin that all mankind has inherited from Adam is in our flesh. Sinful parents cannot conceive sinless children. Thus the Psalmist writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Ps. 51:5) The Holy Spirit tells us through the Apostle Paul that all mankind by their first birth are by nature children of wrath and enemies of God (Eph. 2:3; Rom. 5:10). Being born of the flesh means we are born as sinners into this sinful world, so we must be born again by the Spirit if we are to see the kingdom of heaven. The first birth is into this world of sin. The second birth is into the kingdom of God and everlasting life.
We must be born again. We must be born of water and the Spirit. To be born of water and the Spirit means to be baptized. Baptism is a rebirth, as the Holy Spirit tells us through the Apostle Paul, calling it a washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Baptism regenerates and renews; it gives a new life now and promises a new life in eternity. It is necessary because you must be born of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit must come into you and change you into a new person because without Him you are captive to sin, captive to death, and captive to the devil. You must be born again to be released from the bonds of the sin, death, and the devil.
Does this mean that everyone who is baptized is born again? No, it does not mean that. It is possible to be baptized but reject the Holy Spirit by unbelief. The benefits of Baptism are received only through faith.
Jesus says, “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.” Whoever believes has eternal life. If you are baptized but reject the Holy Spirit through unbelief, your Baptism does you no good; it is of no benefit to you.
A believer, however, looks to the Son of Man lifted up on the cross. A believer looks with trust to Jesus on the cross because it was there on the cross that the price of our sins was paid. It was there on the cross that our punishment was laid on Jesus. It was there on the cross that Jesus earned us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
How do we get that forgiveness of sins and eternal life that Jesus earned for us? Through Baptism. We receive it through Baptism because we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3,5).
Don’t try to figure it all out. That’s where Nicodemus got tripped up. He tried to make sense of the spiritual benefits of Baptism through his understanding of earthly things. Jesus responded to Nicodemus by saying, “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.”
Don’t try to figure out how. You can never do it. You cannot put faith under a microscope. You cannot put God’s promises under a microscope. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) In Baptism, we cannot see anything but water. We cannot see what God does in Baptism, but we trust His Word and His promises that He has attached to Baptism. Our faith is not in what we see, but in the promises of God.
John’s first epistle tells us that everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (I John 5:4). We may not always feel like conquerors of the world. When we suffer we do not feel like conquerors of the world. When we fall into sin we do not feel like we have overcome the world. Thankfully, overcoming the world does not depend on our feelings but on our faith.
We may have to face dark and trying times in the world, but that does not mean we have not overcome the world. We may have to face anxious and difficult times in the world, times when it seems death is drawing near. But baptized into Christ, we are baptized into His death and resurrection. We will rise from the dead because He rose from the dead and we are baptized into Him.
Jesus, my Redeemer lives; Likewise I to life shall waken.
He will bring me where He is; Shall my courage then be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the Head Rise and leave His members dead? (LSB 741 st. 2)
We don’t have to worry about life or death. We are baptized into Christ, so we are members of the body of Christ. Christ rose from the dead, so we will also rise. Our fears or our feelings will not keep us from rising from the dead. Our sins will not keep us from rising from the dead. Jesus, our Head is risen. How could the Head rise and leave the members dead? We have nothing to fear. The Head will not forget about the body. Jesus will bring us to where He is.
The fact is, we already have new life now. We have new life now because we have been born again by water and the Spirit. That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. God has claimed us as His own through Baptism, by putting His name on us. The Holy Spirit has saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewal. He has washed away the old and put on the new.
Thus, we will see the kingdom of God. We have been born again by water and the Spirit, so we will see the kingdom of God. There is no side-stepping or skirting around the issue. We have been born again because we have been baptized into Christ. Christ, our Head is risen from the dead, so we also will rise, and we will see the kingdom of God. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.