Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Lent 2

Jesus and the Night Visitor

John 3:1-17

March 16, 2014

Early on in our Lord's public ministry, He caused a lot of controversy. At first the Pharisees were drawn to His teachings because they focused on the Law. Later, however, and it didn't take too long, they became vehemently opposed to Him. After Jesus cleansed the Temple the first time, the Pharisees became even more hostile. Yet, not all of them had come to hate Jesus. Some remained curious and intrigued by this new teacher on the scene.

Nicodemus was one of those who still wanted to know more. The things Jesus was teaching resonated with him. To borrow from the wedding rhyme: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue; in Nicodemus' case it is something old, something new, something confusing and something like a bolt out of the blue. Out of fear and seeking a private audience with Jesus, Nicodemus came to Him at night, under the cover of darkness.

John 3:1-17 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "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."

Here we have the something old and new. The old was the Mosaic Law. Nicodemus was a pious Jew who tried in every way to live up to the requirements of the Law. As an old man, he thought he understood it. As far as he was concerned, he had everything down pat. Then, this new rabbi on the block came into his life. Jesus seems to have been giving a new twist on understanding what it meant to observe the Law. Nicodemus' certainty and confidence in his understanding began to erode. This drew him to Jesus.

Early in their conversation, Jesus throws what seems to be a curve ball at Nicodemus. It's a new twist that is confusing. Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "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 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. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 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."

Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 

The conversation is about how one enters the Kingdom of God. Like many people in the church, Jews thought they had automatic membership in the Kingdom because they were born into it. Others could enter by becoming a Jew. Jesus is explaining that entrance into the Kingdom is not by observing the Law but by regeneration of the Holy Spirit from above. This is confusing to Nicodemus.

He was familiar with being born anew. When a Gentile converted to Judaism, it was said that the person was born anew. Everything in their past was set aside. They were now considered new people in the eyes of God and the Jewish community. This is why when Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born anew, he is confused. "But, I was born a Jew. I've always been an observant Jew. How and why do I need to be born anew? It makes no sense." Either you were born a Jew or you chose to become a Jew. If you were born a Jew, there was no need to be born anew. Nicodemus is scratching his head: I don't get it. 

Now, Jesus will take the old, new and confusing and transform them into an enlightening revelation about the Kingdom of God that seems to hit from out of the blue. Jesus continues: No one has ascended into heaven except him who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 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."

He takes Nicodemus back to the Jewish sojourn in the wilderness. The Lord God provided them with bread from heaven each day. It was theirs even without their asking. They had seen the love of God and heard Moses teach what it meant but they had not believed. Rather than receive their daily bread with thanksgiving, they murmured and rebelled. This sin was punished with the infestation of fiery, poisonous vipers. If bitten, death was slow, painfully agonizing and inevitable. There was no cure or antidote. It was hopeless.

In their despair they repented and turned to the Lord. In answer to their prayer, Moses was instructed to fabricate a likeness of the poisonous viper in bronze. When it was lifted up, if people would look at it believing the promises of God, they would be healed. By looking on the bronze serpent in faith, they would be putting away their past sinfulness. By looking at the bronze serpent they would be born anew. They would have a new lease on life. It was possible only because God had mercy on them and offered a remedy for their sin.

Now, Jesus brings the meaning of the upraised bronze serpent to its fullness. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, 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. 

Here's the really out of the blue lesson for Nicodemus. God loved His people so much that He chose to offer them a perfect remedy for sin. Rather than an inanimate bronze snake, the very beloved Son of God would be lifted up. Instead of the snake on a pole, the living Son is lifted up on the cross that whoever would look to Him in faith would not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus has been lifted up for us as the antidote to the deadly poison of sin in our lives. If sin were little more than a "moral flaw," why did Jesus have to endure the pain of the cross? He could have given us a 12 step program and been done with it. It is because sin is as deadly to us as the venom of the vipers that we need His antidote.

Once again God offers the remedy. He has given us His Son. Jesus came not to condemn but to save. This is wonderful good news. Yet, many, like Nicodemus are confused. They think if they live right and do good, that should be enough. The idea of believing in Jesus as their Savior is un-necessary. Unless they begin to understand their grace spiritual jeopardy, they are not going to want, desire or appreciate Christ the Savior. Only when hearts are crushed by the despair and poison of sin will people look to the cross of Christ for healing and restoration.

Nicodemus was part of the spiritual establishment and he didn't get it. There are lots of church members who still don't get it. Just because you belong to a church doesn't mean you're saved and going to heaven. The purpose of the church is not about making you feel good and soothing your ego. The church is not about rules for moral living. The church is not just a place that offers rites of passage. While there are elements of these in the church, the church is the community of believers gathered around the Lord. They come together to hear the Word and receive the sacraments. They come to confess their sins and receive forgiveness. They come filled with the poison of sin to find the antidote in the love of Jesus Christ. They come broken to receive healing and restoration to the Father now and forever. 

Forgiveness of sins and the promise of salvation are yours because Jesus was lifted up on the cross to die for you. He did not come to judge and condemn. He came to lead you to believe and be saved. Thanks be to God for His saving love which is yours now and forever. Amen.


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January
01/25/2015
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December
12/28/2014
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12/07/2014
November
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11/02/2014
October
10/12/2014
10/05/2014
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09/28/2014
09/21/2014
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09/07/2014
August
08/31/2014
08/24/2014
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05/11/2014
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04/27/2014
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03/30/2014
03/23/2014
03/16/2014
03/02/2014
February
02/02/2014
January
01/26/2014
01/19/2014
01/12/2014
01/05/2014