Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / Sunday March 12th 2017 - / John 3:1-17/ Drawn to Jesus and His Crucifixion
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 12th 2017: Lent / John 3:1-17 "Drawn to Jesus and His Crucifixion”
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.” 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? No one has ascended into heaven except He 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.
“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.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Nicodemus is a Pharisees, a “teacher of Israel.” Pharisees were a group of Jewish men who were working extra hard to keep God’s Law. Many people looked up to them and they would be described as “pillars of the community” spiritual, hard working, diligent. Nicodemus must have exceeded in his efforts because Jesus doesn’t just call him a “teacher of Israel,” Jesus calls Nicodemus “the teacher of Israel,” and yet Nicodemus it seems has missed a very important point, the central point about life in the Kingdom of God. What is he missing? Nicodemus has faith in God but doesn’t know or understand how faith actually works. He doesn’t actually know were faith comes from.
Are there people like this today? Many people in the world are in the dark when it comes to faith. We live in a kind of “if you got it, you’ve got it,” and “if you don’t got it, you don’t got it” sort of world. But how do you get it? And when you have it how do you keep it? As Christians you may have a better picture of how all this works, Saint Paul in his letter to the Roman Christians says, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And if you remember your Small Catechism, and what it teaches, you might also be able to say with conviction that “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.” How does Jesus put it in our Gospel reading, “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.” When we put all this together we see that faith is an external gift that comes to you, not something you do on your own, not something you muster up, not something you reason yourself into. Jesus says that it requires being ‘born again,’ ‘born of water and the Spirit,’ another way to put it is that a person needs to be ‘born from above.’ Either way the baby who is conceived doesn’t have any say in whether or not they will be conceived, they simply receive conception as a gift and in that gift they have life. Then they likewise have no say in being born they simply receive their birth as a gift, a miracle of life. Once born they more, and more, are able to make decisions about what to do with the miracle that they have been give.
Nicodemus had asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” It’s not that kind of birth. The one who is baptised, the one who hears God’s Word, the one who the Holy Spirit works on “is a new creation, the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” They become one who is born new and fresh in the Spirit and has a new start on life. And like any baby or infant they need the rest of the family to nourish them and bring them up in the faith they have received.
Now Nicodemus had been studying the Old Testament and Jesus knew this so Jesus uses something Nicodemus knew from the Old Testament to help illustrate a very important component of faith. Our faith is not empty, our faith - the Christian faith - has an object. Our faith is particular, you believe in something very specific, it’s not just faith for faith’s sake, it’s not faith in faith or anything like that, it’s not just, “you’ve got to have faith in something faith.” This is not a vague sort of general faith. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “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.” Right here near the beginning of the Gospel of John Nicodemus had come to Jesus under cover of night for fear of being found out so that he could have this conversation with Jesus, and even here so early on in Jesus’ public ministry Jesus is pointing ahead to Good Friday, pointing to His death upon the cross, were Jesus was “lifted up” for the sins of the whole world … that famous John 3:16 passage that follows is a picture of Jesus crucified, when you hear the words, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” you can think of Jesus “lifted up” at the cross for you.
So much so is this Jesus, hung upon the cross for you, a picture of God’s love: So much so is this Jesus the very object of our faith, that guys like Saint Paul will say in 1st Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” And, “we preach Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, ‘remember that time from back in the day with Moses when God told Moses to make that bronze serpent and put it up on a poll for people to look at? Remember that time? … I’m like that.” Those fiery serpents were biting people “and the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” That’s what faith is like. They would live because they trusted God; they had faith in what the Lord would do for them when they looked at it, because the one making the promise was trustworthy and true and they had faith in Him. Like Abram in our Old Testament reading who Saint Paul talks about in our Epistle Reading today, This Abram, who the Lord names Abraham, hears God’s Word and believes it and then has this gift of believing faith counted towards him as righteousness. So it is with the one who has faith in God. The faith is not a work done by the person, it is a gift given by God.
Jesus in His conversation with Nicodemus in our Gospel Reading is planting a seed with Nicodemus: In the end Nicodemus would be like one of those Old Testament Israelites looking upon the bronze serpent lifted up, Nicodemus would be like Abraham who heard God’s Word of promise and trusted it. How does this happen? How do we know that this has taken place? How do we know that Nicodemus became a believer in Jesus? Well in order to see how this worked out we need to leave the room where Jesus had had His night-time talk with Nicodemus and fast forward around three years from that night to Holy Week, the week that will end with Jesus crucified and dead upon the cross. During that week Jesus said of Himself, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” [Saint John points out in the Gsopel of John that Jesus] said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.” Jesus again shows that He Himself knows that He will be nailed to the cross and “lifted up.” That Him crucified there will become the centre of the Christian faith and that it will draw all people to Jesus. And who will be there at the cross? Who will be drawn there? Who will look upon Jesus “lifted up?” Nicodemus. We know this because the Gospel of Saint John tells us that when Joseph of Arimathea, who was a secret disciple of Jesus asked Pilate if he might take away the body of Jesus, this Joseph didn’t come alone to take Jesus’ body down from where it had been “lifted up.” “Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So [it was that] they [Joseph of Arimathea and our Nicodemus] took the body of Jesus [down from the cross] and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”
Before taking Jesus down, before anointing His body, before binding His body in the linen cloths, Nicodemus would have stood there at the foot of the cross looking up at the body of Jesus hanging there dead, and as he stood there might the Holy Spirit have brought to his remembrance Jesus’ words, “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.”
In the dark of the night as Nicodemus walked to the house where Jesus was staying to hear Jesus teach him about being born again, why did Nicodemus put one foot in front of the other? Why didn’t he chicken out and go home? It was the Holy Spirit that was gathering Nicodemus into the church. The wind was blowing into the heart of Nicodemus. On Good Friday as Nicodemus walked to Golgotha where Jesus hung lifted up and crucified, why did Nicodemus put one foot in front of the other? Why didn’t he chicken out and go home? It was the Holy Spirit that was gathering Nicodemus into the church, it was Christ and Him crucified drawing Nicodemus into the church. We trust that in the same way, by Faith Alone, in Christ Alone, the Holy Spirit daily, “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith,” always drawing us to Jesus.
When Nicodemus had initially asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” He’s looking for something that he can do. He is asking, “Can I enter a second time into my mother's womb and be born?” No, as we have seen that is not how it works. Jesus has forgiveness for Nicodemus and for you, when you repent of the desire to be the one doing the doing of faith; forgiveness for those times when you want to take from the Holy Spirit what the Holy Spirit does and claim that work for yourself as if you are the one doing it. Think of it like this: Show me the baby who is not naturally pushed out in labour, or who for other reasons is not retrieved from their mother’s womb by Caesarean section. Show me the baby who is born marching out of their mother’s womb to the beat of a drum! There are no such children. You do not march like a conquering army into your faith in Christ, no you are born into it by the workings of the Holy Spirit. He delivers to you the crucified, risen and ascended Lord Jesus, the very one God the Father gave out of love for the whole world. The Holy Spirit gives you Jesus “lifted up” so that believing in this Jesus you should not perish but have eternal life.
For all the times you think the Holy Spirit is not at work, for all the time you think that you are the one at work there is forgiveness. Ask and you shall receive. Trust that God is at work in your life, trust that He is at work in the lives of the Christians you know and love. That He is at work in the world gathering and calling new people into the Church. Listen for the times He uses your lips to encourage and build others up in their faith in Christ, and speak God’s Word with confidence pointing always to Christ Jesus and Him crucified, “lifted up” for the forgiveness of sins, knowing that the Holy Spirit is at work in such words of Christian faith. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Romans 10:17
 2 Corinthians 5:17
 1 Corinthians 2:2
 1 Corinthians 1:23
 Numbers 21:8-9
 John 12:32-33
 John 19:39-40