HOLY TRINITY – MAY 22, 2016
TEXT: JOHN 3:1-17; ROMANS 11:33-36; ISAIAH 6:1-7
THE FATHER GAVE HIS SON
TO GIVE YOU LIFE BY WATER AND THE SPIRIT
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 


Nicodemus was the best of the best in that culture – intelligent – serious – respectable. He greets Jesus with kindness.  No deceit or wicked intent is evident in his approach.  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. 


As a religious leader, Nicodemus would have known of John the Baptist and his witness to Jesus and his baptism of Jesus.  That wondrous event beautifully colors this conversation.  Nicodemus would have known of the great wonders Christ worked.  Yet he also would have known that Jesus’ teaching did not direct hearers to the works of the Law as the Pharisees did.  Therefore Nicodemus was conflicted.  He could not simply reject Christ’s teaching confirmed by so many wonders and signs.  We know that you are a teacher come from God.  Nor could he, in good conscience accept Jesus’ words for the Pharisees thought them contrary to the Law of Moses. 


Nicodemus is looking for a middle way.  He desires to understand Jesus in a way that fits the Pharisees focus on rules for righteous living.  But Jesus isn’t from God in some sense – Jesus is God!  His answer to Nicodemus is a thunderbolt!   “Amen, amen, I say to you unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Having the law and fulfilling the law are two different things.  The bold security and self-confidence of the Pharisees is false confidence.  Jesus’ teaching is not about doing and not doing – but about becoming.  It is not first about living differently but being born differently.  I say to you (Nicodemus – upstanding, respected leader) unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.  This was a strange sermon for this outwardly righteous man to hear.  It seemed a bitter answer to Nicodemus’ good intentioned approach.  He had praised Christ as a man of honor.  Jesus response tags Nicodemus as a man of dishonor – unfit for the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ answer is a sharp preaching of repentance. 

HOLY TRINITY – MAY 22, 2016
TEXT: JOHN 3:1-17; ROMANS 11:33-36; ISAIAH 6:1-7
THE FATHER GAVE HIS SON
TO GIVE YOU LIFE BY WATER AND THE SPIRIT
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 


Nicodemus was the best of the best in that culture – intelligent – serious – respectable. He greets Jesus with kindness.  No deceit or wicked intent is evident in his approach.  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. 


As a religious leader, Nicodemus would have known of John the Baptist and his witness to Jesus and his baptism of Jesus.  That wondrous event beautifully colors this conversation.  Nicodemus would have known of the great wonders Christ worked.  Yet he also would have known that Jesus’ teaching did not direct hearers to the works of the Law as the Pharisees did.  Therefore Nicodemus was conflicted.  He could not simply reject Christ’s teaching confirmed by so many wonders and signs.  We know that you are a teacher come from God.  Nor could he, in good conscience accept Jesus’ words for the Pharisees thought them contrary to the Law of Moses. 


Nicodemus is looking for a middle way.  He desires to understand Jesus in a way that fits the Pharisees focus on rules for righteous living.  But Jesus isn’t from God in some sense – Jesus is God!  His answer to Nicodemus is a thunderbolt!   “Amen, amen, I say to you unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Having the law and fulfilling the law are two different things.  The bold security and self-confidence of the Pharisees is false confidence.  Jesus’ teaching is not about doing and not doing – but about becoming.  It is not first about living differently but being born differently.  I say to you (Nicodemus – upstanding, respected leader) unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.  This was a strange sermon for this outwardly righteous man to hear.  It seemed a bitter answer to Nicodemus’ good intentioned approach.  He had praised Christ as a man of honor.  Jesus response tags Nicodemus as a man of dishonor – unfit for the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ answer is a sharp preaching of repentance.


How would Nicodemus receive that word?  The Pharisees approach was to do what they thought necessary to please God.  True to form Nicodemus’ question seems to proceed from the foundation of – “give me something to do.”  His question seems like an absurd rebuttal.  “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
 
Jesus’ ignores the absurdity and simply sweeps away any thoughts of man’s doing gloriously proclaiming God’s doing.  “Amen, amen, 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 the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. 


That which is born of the flesh is flesh.  Everything man is and can be according to fallen human nature falls short.  This condemns the weakness of our mortal nature.  The Law does not make our nature new in the way that God requires.  Nicodemus would continue – “How can these things be?”  Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and you do not understand these things?”  Indeed he was!  The brightest of the bright – yet devoid of understanding the most profound and crucial truth for sinful man!


So are you apart from the gift of the Holy Spirit.  You want to counsel God – to look for a middle way that fits the template of your feelings – your flesh – your surrounding culture.  So do religious groups that claim to honor Jesus as a prophet or caring man while denying His oneness with the Father and the Spirit and the necessity of His crucifixion.  Dr. Luther said in this regard, we do not know the how of our own speaking, laughing, or sleeping, although we daily perform and experience these natural functions.  And yet we want to speak of God and the conditions existing within His divine Being.  We want to do so without the Word of God, solely according to our mind.  Is it not blindness above all blindness for a man who cannot explain the insignificant function he daily observes in his own body to presume to know what is beyond and above all reason and of which no one except God alone can speak…(WLS #4466).


To Nicodemus, God the Son speaks about reconciliation with the Father (about presence in the kingdom of God) through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.   Dear Christian, you should, marvel, however, at how Jesus says you are born again – of water and the Spirit.  Remember again John the Baptist’s office of preaching and baptism.  Remember again John’s baptism of Jesus and His proclamation that Jesus is the Lamb of God and the Son of God (John 1:29, 34).  Jesus is asking Nicodemus to recognize Him as such – the Lamb of God and the Son of God.  Nicodemus’ confidence cannot be in his lineage in Old Israel or in his performance of the Law’s demands.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh.


Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  This is God’s nature at work – free in mercy and grace.  This is God begetting from above.  John’s office was one of preaching and baptism.  That’s how the Spirit worked – not hidden or unknown but in word and washing.  This was not man seeking the Spirit by his own initiative.  This is God’s arrangement – water (the external sign) through which the Spirit uses the word of the Gospel to give life.  The font of life, the fire of love, the soul’s anointing from above – in water and word.  Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.  His decrees cannot be tracked out by human investigation.  But they can be received in faith!  Faith in Himself as God’s gift is what Jesus invites Nicodemus to. 


Amen, amen, I say to you (the pronoun is again singular – to you Nicodemus – confident, respected teacher) “we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.”  “We” indicates that here Jesus is joining His voice in confirmation of the voice of John the Baptist.  Jesus is saying – “I am indeed the one John proclaimed.”  I am the true Christ – the true Son from above who now preaches and baptizes with the Holy Spirit.  The external office of John the Baptist – of preaching and baptizing is confirmed by Christ.


Only now, God is on the scene in the flesh!  The new birth He brings is something new and different.  “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus must let it be done to him, not do it himself.  The Holy Spirit is the doer and He produces a different heart in man, justified, freed, alive – knowing God as He wants to be known. 


To that end Jesus continues – 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, God is on the scene to be lifted up in sacrifice – in payment for sin.  The holy LORD of hosts – Yahweh of angel armies – high and lifted up will be lifted up on the cross.  This is how we know what love is (1 John 3:16) – oh wondrous love!  The new begetting of water and the Spirit will be in and through the death of the Son of Man  The crucifixion of Jesus is the key to Moses and the bronze serpent – indeed the key to all Old Testament fulfillment (1 Corinthians 1:20). 


In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ crucifixion is also His exaltation – His glory (John 12:23, 27; 17:1ff.)  The more Jesus descends in obedience to the Father’s will for our salvation – the more He is revealed and exalted as the true Son.  The descent of the Son of Man in once-for-all sacrifice is also His ascent in a gift of love from the gracious and holy nature of the Trinity.  Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.  O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.  Who has given a gift to him, that he might be repaid?


Beloved, the Father gave you His Son to give life to you by water and the Spirit.  In this saving work the Holy Spirit does not point to Himself but swings you around to see Jesus for who He is – the Lamb of God – Son of the Father – Savior.  The Gospel writer is carried along by the Spirit as He writes – “For God so loved the world (that is He loved the world in this way) – that he gave his only Son, (He gave His Son for this purpose) 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.”


It is impossible to think of a greater blessing than this God of love putting His Name on you – the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  That blessing you have received in your rebirth of water and the Spirit.  C. F. W. Walther in a sermon for Holy Trinity (1844) preached concerning this gift…You who indeed believe, though in weakness, know this: you have in your Baptism a glorious means of strengthening.  Consider this: even if everything is doubtful and uncertain, your Baptism stands fast.  It happened once, and God does not go back on His Word.  There God has, so to speak, made Himself your captive … (TTDP – p. 351). That is the depth of His faithfulness.  Such are the riches of His decrees.

 

No one has ever given a gift to Him that he might be repaid.  But He continues to freely bestow His gifts on men.  Today He comes to you with gifts to touch your lips and your tongue.  An angel of the Lord spoke to Isaiah with burning coal in hand.  The risen Lord Himself speaks to you with His body and His blood in hand bestowing the same gift of life Isaiah heard – “You guilt is taken away – your sin atoned for.”  This gift is not too great for Him to give fully to you – For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him – the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit be glory forever,  Amen.   

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
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Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a