Archive for March 20th, 2011

God So Loved You!

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

The Second Sunday in Lent (A), March 21, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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In last the last few weeks we’ve learned that the purpose of all of God’s Word is that we would know Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  Last week we learned that this was the case, even in the very first Words of Genesis… in the beginning!  Well, this morning we shall see that God is love; God is love for you!

 Now, don’t tune out this message simply because you can quote John 3:16; everyone who attended Sunday school for more than a year can do that.  No, you need to understand how God so loves you and that is exactly what this message will declare to us this morning.

I. “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” [John 3:1]  Uh, oh!  Another Pharisee out to get Jesus?  No not this one; this Pharisee was known by all to be a good man.  He was on a real journey to live a God-pleasing life.  He’s highly educated and very moral and religious.  He is what others would call an upright man; he is not a hypocrite like many of the other Pharisees; he actually tries to please God!  In verse 10 we are told that he is Israel’s teacher, so we know that he is trying to help others please God as well.  So this man, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night.  Why?  Well because he doesn’t want the other Pharisees to know that he is seeking out their enemy.  But why is he seeking out Jesus?  Because, he has seen the miracles and he has probably heard some of Jesus’ sermons and the Word of God is beginning to work within his heart.  In essence he wants to know more!

So he approaches Jesus and he starts a conversation in the usual way, he pays Jesus a compliment: “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.” [vs. 2b]  Now if you or I were in Jesus position we would probably repay the compliment; but Jesus is not you or I!  Jesus is instead the Great Physician, and He must get right to work on the soul of Nicodemus.  “Jesus answered him (and said), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” [vs. 3] 

 Now that is strange, and Nicodemus thought so too; that’s why he asked, “How can a man be born when he is old (like me)?”  Poor Nicodemus’ mind must have been spinning out of control.  All of his education and religious training had taught him that he was doing everything he could to please God and now Jesus is telling him that he will never get into heaven as he is!  Nicodemus didn’t understand yet, and neither does our world today.  Why?  Because their focus is on what they do and not on what God does!

 So Jesus must adjust the focus of Nicodemus and He must adjust our focus as well!  Listen: “Jesus answered, “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 the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [Vs. 5-6]  Jesus is actually saying that if we keep our focus on what we can do in our flesh, that is on our own we will never get beyond the flesh; that is we will never enter the kingdom of God; we will never inherit eternal life.  He is saying we need a new focus, a new life; we need to have spiritual eyes if we are to understand the work of God’s Spirit! 

 “But how?”  That’s the question of Nicodemus and the question of this unbelieving world!  They ask how because they still have eyes and a heart of flesh!  “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 Sprit.” [vs. 8]  What is this wind?  It is the Holy Spirit!  And what is its sound?  It is the spoken Word of God; it is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  It’s He who was speaking to Nicodemus, and He who is speaking to you this morning!  Listen to the wind.  You believe in the wind because you can feel it and hear it; you can even see the effect it has around you right?  Well the sound of the wind is also heard in the Word of God.  “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  You hear the Wind of God in these Words as well: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn back from their ways and live.” [Ezekiel 33:11]  “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]

 In His love for the world God provides the sound of His Holy Wind, the public proclamation of His Word so that we can see His Son, Jesus Christ as our only means of salvation.  Through this means, God wants to call all people to eternal life; He wants to draw all of us unto Himself and to give us new birth.  He does this only through His Holy Wind, the Word of God.  “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save (through rebirth) those who believe.” [Acts 11:14]  “So faith comes through the proclamation, and proclamation comes through God’s Word.” [Jn. 17:17, 20]  And it is God’s will that all people should hear this proclamation and come to Jesus Christ.  And Jesus will never push anyone away from Himself, just as the Word of God declares: “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” [Jn. 6:37]  So we see that our salvation is entirely a work of God’s Holy Spirit which He uses to cleanse us and blow new life into us.  It is God alone who “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” [Titus 3:5]

 II. Jesus told Nicodemus not to marvel at this teaching about this washing of new birth that comes through the Word of God and He is telling you not to be surprised by it as well. Where does this washing and rebirth happen?  Where are we brought to be cleaned from all of our impurities and saved from our sin?  First to the cross and then to the fount; the fountain of Holy Baptism.  Let me show you this in scripture.  Listen to God speak through the prophet Zechariah: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” [Zechariah 13:1]  Do you hear the wind of God blowing and promising a source of salvation outside of the power of sinful men?  Do you hear how God Himself would provide a fountain of cleansing and do you notice that it would do two very specific things?  What are those things?  It will cleanse from sin and impurity!  What is this fountain?  First it is the cross and second it is the font! 

What did Jesus say to Nicodemus about God’s means of providing eternal life?  He said, “And 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.” [Jn. 3:14-15]  Now why did Jesus feel the need to bring up Moses?  Because Moses and His Law were the very things that Nicodemus was trusting in to please God.  But Jesus wanted Nicodemus and everyone else to see that everything that Moses said and did was done by God so that we would look to  a prophet much greater than Moses; so that we would look to Jesus alone as our only source of hope.  The people with Moses had sinned greatly against God with their grumbling and lack of faith, so God had to get their focus off of their flesh and back to Him; He had to give them eyes of faith; they needed spiritual eyes.  They were being attacked by snakes and they were dying by the thousands; so God had Moses craft a bronze serpent and lift it on a pole.  It they would look to this bronze snake on a poll and trust in God’s means they would live!

So what does this have to do with anything?  Well let’s allow the prophet Zechariah to speak once again: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.” [Zechariah 13:7]  Now remember, in the earlier reading from Zechariah God promised to open a fountain that would cleanse the people of their sins, right?  Well this is the day that the fountain would be opened; the day that the Shepherd would be struck!  On that day there would be cleansing for all sinners, and it would come from a fountain that God would open!  Jesus Christ dear friends is the Good Shepherd!  He was the Shepherd who was struck down on the cross.  He is the final provision of salvation that the bronze serpent on the poll of Moses represented!  Remember on the day of our Lord’s death a Roman soldier pierced Jesus side with a spear?  What was the result?  A fountain of water and blood; a fountain of cleansing!  Now we must go to the cross and see Jesus dying in our place; we must go to the cross and see God’s means of cleansing us from all of our sin and uncleanness!  This is love!  The Son of God died for the world so that the world would not have to die!  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For (you see) God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” [Jn. 3:16-17]  But in order for this finished work of Jesus Christ to become yours you must travel by faith to the cross and then to the waters of your own baptism!

 III. It is in baptism, your baptism that God made His love for the world His love for you!  In the waters of your baptism God gave you His gift of forgiveness and cleansed you from all of your sins.  In your baptism God delivered you from death and the devil and gave you eternal life!  In your baptism God made you a disciple and part of the body of Jesus Christ.  Through your baptism you put on Jesus Christ, that is all of His righteousness was made yours through faith in the Gospel that assures you that God so loved YOU that He gave His Son up to death for YOU!  In the waters of your baptism you were buried with Christ into death, so that you would rise with Him into a new and eternal life.  That which IS Spirit has given birth to a new spirit!

 CONCLUSION: How can a person be born again when he is old?  Only by the work of the Spirit, the wind of God which gives eyes of faith and turns simple water in to a spiritual means of rebirth!  Simple water yes, but when it is combined with the powerful Word of God, it becomes God’s means of showing and giving you Jesus Christ.  First that Word shows you Christ high and lifted up upon the cross and then it shows you Christ high and lifted up, ascended and reining with the Father and Spirit in Heaven. 

 Yes friends, that is how God so loves you!  I pray that He continues to give to you eyes of faith that look to Jesus Christ alone as your only means of God’s love and grace… AMEN!