John 3:1-17 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 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?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 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. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 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.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1). In one enormous act of love, sacrifice, and self-giving, God, who is love, went outside of himself to make a world for him to love nourish and care for. With delicate attention to the very smallest details he created a world, a universe, fine tuned to support life on this planet, a place where mankind could call home. A place where mankind could be nourished, sustained, cared for, protected and loved. A home where man would dwell in intimate communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
A giving God; a serving God; a saving God. A God who loves to give gifts to his people. To provide for them, to care for them. So we confess in the first article of the Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean?
Luther explains: I believe that God has made me and all creatures. He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them. In addition, He has given me clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods. He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life. He protects me from all danger and guards me and preserves me from all evil. He does all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this I ought to thank Him, praise Him, serve Him, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
God so loved this world, that when this world rebelled against him, he still loved us and wants to bring us back. When the evil one came into this world and tempted the man to disobey God and turn from God, God ripped open the heavens and came down to earth, crashing into this rebellious world, ruled by the evil one, to rescue man from his wrath and punishment. He invaded this world to deliver mankind from this present evil age, says St. Paul. This age of materialism, self-love, profanity, pride, and disobedience. An age of darkness where the Self is all important. Where we make ourselves in the image we want, rather than find ourselves in the image of God. Where what God made us to be is worth nothing to us, because we will make ourselves to be what we want to be, breaking free from the bondage of our bodies, our parental upbringing, our church, and our community and country. We live in an age where the Self is god, and the family, the church, even our body have become irrelevant and meaningless, as evidenced by the sentiment today that it is not the body that makes me male or female, but what I feel inside me that determines if I am male or female.
Into this age of darkness God sent his Only Begotten Son, his beloved one, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He came not to condemn the world, but to save it. It would be fair if God had sent his Son to destroy us rebellious people. That is what human rulers would have done. Revenge, destroy, bring them down, wipe them out.
But that is not what God did. Know this for certain that God’s Son came crashing into this world, armed for war against the evil ruler who holds us captive, ready to give his life for us, not to destroy us and give us what we deserve, but to deliver us from this evil age. To save us from God’s wrath. To save us from God’s punishment. To justify us with his own blood so that on that Last Day, the Day of Judgment and Wrath, God will not hold our sins against us. So that God will not cast us into the fires of hell for eternity, but he will declare us innocent and righteous. He came to deliver us from this evil age and from our own sin and rebellion. He came to save us from death and eternal punishment. Therefore we declare in the Second Article of the Creed:
And (I believe) in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
What does this mean?
Luther explains: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. He did this not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that I may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
He delivered us from the kingdom of Satan making himself our Lord, a loving, caring, giving Lord. He delivered us not with power and might. Not with a mighty army and deadly weapons. He came not ablaze with accusing words, condemning criticism and letters of indictment. He came in peace and humility. Born as a baby in a humble stable. Delivering people from the evil one by healing the sick, cleansing lepers, casting out demons, and raising the dead. His was a life of service. A life of self-sacrifice. A life of humility, wandering as a homeless teacher, riding on a lowly donkey into Jerusalem, weeping at the death of his friends, and taking up a cross and carrying it to Calvary where he hung on it, wounded, covered in blood, in shame. Instead of anger and hatred toward his enemies, he forgave them for what they did, and he gave his spirit back to God and died alone and abandoned by all.
That was how he conquered the evil one, with humility and love. That is how he wiped out our sin, by sacrificing himself. That is how he overcame our death, by dying for us on a cross.
And now he sits on the throne in heaven, ruling over all things. Take comfort. Be confident. Have hope. From his throne in heaven he continues delivering mankind from the evil one by sending the Holy Spirit to work through his church. The Holy Spirit supplies us with the weapons: God’s Word and Sacraments. We confess our faith in the Holy Spirit and what he does in the third article of the Creed:
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean?
Luther explains: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise up me and all the dead and will give eternal life to me and to all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
The Holy Spirit gives us faith in Jesus. He calls us by the gospel and enlightens us with the Word and Sacraments. By Holy Baptism he comes into us and lives in us. by Holy Baptism God gives us birth and we are born from on high. Our Gospel reading literally reads: unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God. This is literally a birth from heaven. It is not birth into this world, but birth into the reign and rule of God. This birth is by water and the Spirit.
Baptism is birth into life in heaven; outside this world. It sets us apart from the world. You belong to God, not to the world. Jesus says, “I chose you out of the world, therefore you are not of this world.” (John 15:19 paraphrase). How do the people of God live in this world? As the people of God we march to a different drum. We do not partake in the unrighteousness of the world. We live in the world, we are surrounded by evil and darkness. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are literally breathing, eating, drinking the unrighteousness of the world. Sin and decadence literally fill the air we breathe. Radio and TV waves full of immorality penetrate our eyes and ears. The media, the advertisements, the malls and stores, the mouths of our friends and co-workers are filled with trash and depravity and self-indulgence.
So how do the people of God live in the world? The live as foreigners, strangers in the world. Separated out from the world. In baptism the old self was crucified with Christ and so we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin reign in your mortal body to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6).
Jesus tells you, “You are the light of the world. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but on a stand and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” As Jesus was raised from the dead to newness of life, so we are raised to newness of life. As Jesus came into this world to deliver us from its evil and darkness, when Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit in baptism and you receive power to be witnesses, Jesus continues working in this world through us, through his church, to deliver mankind from this present evil age.
How do we live in this world? How do you go to war against Satan from right here in the middle of his kingdom? As Jesus did, with humility, love, selflessness, giving our lives in sacrificial service to others. Pray for the lost in this world. Pray for the salvation of souls, of your family members, friends, of those living lives of sin and immorality.
As Jesus came into the world to defeat Satan by his suffering and death, so he continues to work through his people to defeat Satan by proclaiming his Word and administering his sacraments. On Pentecost Sunday last week, we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit into his people. From now on, the liturgical calendar focuses on what Jesus, through the Holy Spirit is still doing today in the life of the church in this world as we wait for his return. How do the people of God live in this world until Jesus returns? How does the gospel which we proclaim deliver people from this evil age? These will be the focus for the Sundays after Pentecost, from now until the end of November.
May the Lord empower his church with the Word as the Holy Spirit is at work in you and through you. Amen.