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LSB Lent 2A Sermon – John 3:1-17

March 17, 2014

March 16, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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.”

Some rights and privileges come by birth. So-called “Legacies” find their way into near automatic reception to colleges or to the organizations associated with them. Our political arena has begun to discuss the question of whether American citizenship should automatically be granted by birth: Should that be so for those whose parents are not legally in country? Our language even has snide ways of speaking about advantages and prerogatives, saying that “someone has been born with a silver spoon in his mouth.” But each of these examples confirms the fact that some rights and privileges come from having a particular parentage.

Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus also speaks about rights and privileges that come by birth, by having a particular parentage. He mentions it in relation to the kingdom of God. Jesus notes that seeing the kingdom of God and having the ability to enter it is dependent upon having a particular birth. That was heard this morning: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Those statements from Jesus point out something required concerning the kingdom of God that is given by birth.

You heard how Jesus’ statements initially confused Nicodemus. He hears about having another birth, but he can’t figure out how that can ever be: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” The answer to those questions is a definitive “No”. A man cannot be born when he is old. He cannot somehow figure out a way to be born of his mother a second time. But Jesus is not speaking about an earthly parentage. Nicodemus thinks that way, so he is confused. So Jesus explains what He is talking about: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which born of the Spirit is spirit.” Jesus is speaking of another birth—a spiritual birth, a birth from above that comes from God.

Divine birth from above grants entry into the kingdom of God. It confers citizenship in the realm where God reigns. A new identity is given to a person, one who is been born of the flesh that stands contrary to God’s will. Through that birth from God, that person is transformed, made to be something different than he originally was. Now he is of God. Now he belongs to God. Now he is brought into allegiance to God.

A type of this new birth, new beginning, new identity was seen in the call of Abram. Recall how the LORD worked to change Abram: “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Abram was from Ur of the Chaldeans. He was from Shem’s great clan. He was a son of Terah. That defined Abram’s identity; he was all this by birth. But all this changed with the call that Abram received from the LORD. Being a citizen of Ur, a Semite, a member of Terah’s household no longer defined Abram’s identity. He was now becoming a citizen of the LORD’s land, a member of the LORD’s clan, a child of the LORD’s household. This change in identity came from the LORD. In a way of speaking, Abram was now being born of the LORD.

That divinely-wrought change in Abram included something more. He was now in a right relationship with the LORD. Abram was justified by Him. His call came from the LORD. And as Abram believed in this call with its promises, he was declared righteous by the LORD: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 

The new birth, new beginning, and new identity that comes from being born of the water and Spirit brings the same status that Abraham had to others. You have received a call from the LORD. You have been summoned by Him to become a citizen of His kingdom. You are born of the Spirit, so that you can believe in heavenly things, including the great display of God’s love: “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. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Being born from above happened to you as the Holy Spirit worked through the Gospel of Jesus. The testimony is given concerning who Jesus is and what He has done. He is the Son of Man who was sent into the world—not to condemn it—so that the world might be saved through Him. That Gospel is spoken. That Gospel is also attached to water in Holy Baptism, so that people can be born of water and Spirit. And that is how the Holy Spirit gave you a new beginning. You are now born of God. He has given life to the dead; you who once were dead in sin and trespasses have been made alive by Him. Your being born again from above, being born of God, means that you have entered His kingdom.

If you recall Luther’s explanation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism, he wrote about the petition “Thy Kingdom come”: “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” This is what happened to you. The Holy Spirit has been given to you. You believe what is spoken concerning Jesus. So you are declared righteous by the Father. His kingdom has come to you.

This divine act is your own “Abraham moment”. What happened for him has taken place in you. The apostolic commentary about Abraham then becomes a commentary about you: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ’Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’”

But remember that this calling is a summoning away from what you once were prior to being born again, born of water and the Spirit. Just like Abram’s call away from his country, kindred, and father’s house, you have been called away from something. What is that? The ways of the world, the flesh, the devil. You’re called away from that. You have been made a citizen of the kingdom of God. You have been made a member of God’s clan. You have been made a child of God’s household. God has called you to lead godly lives now in time and there in eternity.

In the Rite of Holy Baptism, that is expressed in the ancient scrutinizing questions that are asked of those being baptized, the one being born of water and the Spirit. So the questions are asked: “Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?” They are questions that clearly put forward the heart of the matter: this person is being given entry into the kingdom of God, so all the ties to the kingdom of darkness are being severed and sundered for eternity. 

Those ancient scrutinizing questions identify another truth: there is no place for that person back there in the kingdom of darkness; there is nothing good there. But the LORD is bringing the person into His kingdom where there is all good. Blessing is provided in the kingdom of God. Eternal life is in the kingdom of God. The great inheritance is given in the kingdom of God. Turning back will only bring disaster. Pressing on toward the final place where the LORD is taking His people, where He is taking you, will end in the reception of the fullness of the salvation brought by Jesus for you.

As a citizen of the kingdom of God living still in this world, you follow in the ways that the LORD has laid out for you. It makes you stand out differently from those who are only born of the flesh. You are a pilgrim now; your proper place is in the eternal kingdom of God. But because you have been born of water and the Spirit, born again from above, you are given the privilege of having the LORD present with you. You can call on Him and He will answer you. He is your keeper who watches over you. He leads you to the promised Paradise that awaits. 

On your way to the eternal kingdom of God, He preserves you by having the work of His Son constantly placed before you, so that you may trust in it and receive the salvation that comes through it. The testimony about who Jesus is and what He has done is not just spoken once at Holy Baptism; it is repeated over and over again, reminding you of your citizenship in the kingdom of God and the eternal life that comes from it. He keeps you by having the Holy Spirit work in your hearts and minds, focusing them in the true faith—the trust in the Son of God who has saved you. 

You have renounced the ways of the devil and the kingdom of darkness; that is your former life. Now you are aligned with the ways of God and His kingdom of light; that is your new life because you have born again from above, born of water and the Spirit. That is the great calling you have received.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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