TEXT: JOHN 3:1-17/Genesis 12:1-9/Romans 4:1-8, 13-17
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

To All those at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center who are loved by God and called as saints; Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus said to Nicodemus - Are you the teacher of Israel and you do not understand these things…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. 

Sinful impatience was at the heart of the Old Testament event Jesus recalls!  The people of Israel were impatient with God’s care and God’s provision and God’s leading in the wilderness!  How much lack of contentment – even complaint - wells up in your heart in this wilderness?  Are you ever impatient when you work and wait and pray and nothing seems to change or improve?

TEXT: JOHN 3:1-17/Genesis 12:1-9/Romans 4:1-8, 13-17
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

To All those at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center who are loved by God and called as saints; Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus said to Nicodemus - Are you the teacher of Israel and you do not understand these things…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. 

Sinful impatience was at the heart of the Old Testament event Jesus recalls!  The people of Israel were impatient with God’s care and God’s provision and God’s leading in the wilderness!  How much lack of contentment – even complaint - wells up in your heart in this wilderness?  Are you ever impatient when you work and wait and pray and nothing seems to change or improve? 

Consider a young man impatient with traffic.  He pokes the nose of his car into the opposite lane several times.  Each time, oncoming traffic prevents his passing and he pulls back in.  He is stuck behind a vehicle actually doing 55 mph in a 55 mph zone.  Finally, a small opening appears.  He floors it and roars past the problem just as a curve is reached – a curve with a wet spot.  His speeding car skims off the road impacting a tree.  Death is instantaneous!  The real problem had not been the other car.  The real problem had been sinful, youthful impatience.  The real problem for the parent and the child and the husband and the wife and the student and the teacher and the pastor and the hearer is often impatience.  It can cause bad decisions!  It can lead to frustration and bitterness!  It can even cause speaking against God.

The Israelites spoke against God complaining that He didn’t give them bread!  But He did!  He sent them manna!  They also said He didn’t give them water!  But He did – from the rock in the wilderness!  They wouldn’t have had the strength to speak against God if He hadn’t sent them bread and water.  Their perception of reality was deficient!  Sin does that to us!  They were blind to God’s grace and didn’t believe he would lead them to the Promised Land.  Like Abraham was on a journey he knew not where – so were they.  They wanted something different; they wanted more that God was giving - so they grew impatient!

That’s when God sent fiery snakes among them and many died!  These snakes they could see and feel!  These snakes were evidence that their camp had already been crawling with snakes of another kind – that is, their deadly sins that were already killing them.  But they didn’t feel the venom of their sins.  They were so dull to it that they spoke against God!

Like Israel, the Church of Christ is passing through this wilderness to the Place He has promised!  As we travel, Christ gives us Himself as the Bread from Heaven.  Nonetheless, we are easily consumed with acquiring more daily bread.  As we travel, Christ gives us Himself as the Water of Life.  Nonetheless we are still thirsty for different satisfaction – for other drink!  We get impatient with life and the suffering of life and the struggle of life!  

Like the Israelites we can doubt that God loves us in this wilderness!  Why such disasters?  Why such strife?  Why such uncertainties?  They spoke against Moses and against God saying, “You brought us out of Egypt to die in this desert!”  God, in effect, caused their complaint to become their reality!  The Lord sent fiery and deadly snakes among them!  He made obvious to their bodies what should have been obvious to their hearts – “your sins are killing you!”  They needed to see the deadly mess they were in!

So did Nicodemus!  He came to Jesus at night with some kind things to say about Him.  But Jesus cut off the polite, personal talk with words that mean – “Nicodemus, you must be born again!”  “Kind respected professor of Israel – chief teacher – you are in a stinking mess of sins and death.  You must be given rebirth!  Nicodemus asked, How can a man be born when he is old?”  He perceived that Jesus spoke of something radical.  Jesus conveyed that not only was it radical, it was also a mystery!  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  The gift of baptism is so astounding Jesus calls it being born again – the second birth.  Just as our physical birth is sheer gift, without our decision or control, so also spiritual rebirth is sheer gift, without our decision or control!

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.  So it is with you, dear Christian.  The Spirit willed to blow over you in the washing of rebirth. 

Nicodemus didn’t understand the first “must”, You must be born again, so Jesus proceeded to the second “must.”  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.  Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel understood that Old Testament event!  When God sent poisonous snakes to help His people recognize how their lives were crawling with sins they came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.  Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.”

Then God’s love provided healing in a most extraordinary way.  The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.  Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived (Deuteronomy 21).  How foolish to human religiosity!  What kind of spiritual quest is that?  What type of effort is that to get right with God?  How can healing and life be connected to something so earthy and so ordinary and so one-sidedly God’s doing?  That’s when Jesus added, So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. 

That’s what being born again of water and the Spirit gives – faith in the one lifted up on the cross!  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

The motive is pure - God’s love!  The scope of God’s love is total - the world including you and everyone you know!  The action of God’s love is to give – not to bargain – not to negotiate – not to demand!  The content of God’s giving is His only Son – in the flesh!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  The one thing standing between us sinners and hell is the Son of God.  Whoever believes in Him is drawn to Him by His being hoisted up (lifted up) on the cross.  Peace with God comes by way of the blood that is shed for us by the Lamb of God!

The method of God’s giving is through faith…whoever believes in Him.  Yet even this faith in Him is His doing, not what we manufacture.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Just as you did not choose to be born, so you did not choose to be reborn or to accept God!  By the work of God’s Holy Spirit God chose you.  You now see Christ crucified and risen as God’s gift of love, as life and salvation!  You understand!  That is a miracle of God’s giving to you!  That is the work of the Holy Spirit!

God’s people of old begged Moses to pray that the Lord would take the snakes away.  But the Lord didn’t do that!  Instead, He made His people safe in a snake pit!  The people were still being bitten – as long as there were snakes.  But all that time a wonderful, healing miracle was happening!  When they looked at the bronze snake according to God’s promise they lived.  Beloved, as long as you’re travelling through this wilderness crawling with sins – you’ll get bitten – you will sin.  So will I.  

Thank God if it burns us – if it causes us pain – so we recognize it!  But none of us has to die of it!  For God has given amazing means to keep us safe in this snake pit.  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.  You are baptized into His death at the font!  Behold the Lamb of God lifted up!  Indeed, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  And there’s more -for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you all together proclaim His death!  Behold the Lamb of God lifted up at the altar – until He comes! 

Unlike Nicodemus at that time, you understand these things!  Jesus isn’t made of bronze!  He is flesh and blood!  That’s the antidote for our snake-bitten bodies and souls – His Word and His body and blood!  He keeps bringing it to us.  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.  

To the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
  We can’t work for His righteousness and we don’t deserve it!  It is sheer gift!  But we can fight against the sin of impatience with God and we can work to bring His righteousness to others.  70% of the Japanese say they have no personal God.  Those that hang on to the superstitions of Buddhism and Shintoism believe that everything – including themselves and god is part of the universe.  Each person creates their own Karma – their own heaven or hell.  What happens to each person is seen as personally deserved – inherited from previous lives.  That is an overwhelming thought in view of the recent disaster.  Such thinking is a snake pit with no true medicine!

Indeed, that’s the condition of the world and of ourselves apart from the Son of God!  As we seek the Lord and His strength, as we seek His presence continually, God grant us deep concern for the eternal salvation of others and even holy impatience for the coming of God’s kingdom.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.   In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a