Skip to comments."Born of Water and the Spirit" (Sermon for the Holy Trinity, on John 3:1-17)
Posted on 06/02/2012 6:08:20 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson
Born of Water and the Spirit (John 3:1-17)
Do you know what day your birthday is? I do. My birthday is September 10. What? you say. Pastor, I thought your birthday was in March. Oh, you mean that birthday! Yeah, that birthday was March 7. But my other birthday, my re-birthday, was on September 10 of the same year. That was the day I was baptized. The first birthday was my birth according to the flesh. The second birthday, the day of my baptism, was my rebirth according to the Spirit. And, like me, what you really need is that baptismal rebirth, to be Born of Water and the Spirit.
On this Trinity Sunday, our Gospel reading from John 3 tells us of the work of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in bringing us to that new birth and the new life that flows from it. To be born of water and the Spirit is where Jesus goes in his conversation with Nicodemus, because that is what Nicodemus really needed.
This fellow Nicodemus was highly educated, a religious man, a leader of the Jews. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. Jesus even calls him the teacher of Israel, meaning that Nicodemus was highly respected and prominent in that role. Yet Nicodemus doesnt get it. Not yet. He needs to be born again. He needs a spiritual rebirth to open his eyes and to give him a right understanding and a whole new life.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, presumably so as not to be seen. It might not look so good for a member of the Sanhedrin to visit this controversial figure, Jesus of Nazareth. And he tells Jesus, 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. Well, thats good as far as it goes, Nicodemus, but it does not go far enough. Jesus is far more than a rabbi, even an especially exceptional one who can do some miracles. Nicodemus is low-balling who Jesus is. He will need to see more than that, if he is to come into the kingdom of God.
So Jesus tells Nicodemus, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Friends, there are lots of people who will say some nice things about Jesus--what a good teacher he was, what a fine example he is. But if thats as far as they can go, then they have about reached the limit of what human flesh and reason can discern. And its not enough. You must be born again if you are to recognize who Jesus really is and trust in him and thus see Gods kingdom as you need to see it. You must be born from above--thats another way this phrase born again could be translated--you must be born from above, that is, have a heavenly rebirth, in order to recognize the kingdom of heaven in your midst, which is what Jesus brings with his presence.
Jesus response about being born again puzzles Nicodemus. He doesnt know where Jesus is going with this word puzzle, this riddle. Is Jesus playing with him? So he replies: How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mothers womb and be born? This stuff sounds like sheer poppycock to Nicodemus. Crazy talk.
But no, Jesus really meant what he said. He reiterates and explains what he said a moment ago. 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. To be born again, born from above, is to be born of water and the Spirit. Its a heavenly rebirth, and it involves the use of water, in connection with the Spirit. That is Baptism.
Water and the Spirit, together. Thats what happened in the beginning, at Creation. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, Let there be light, etc. Water, the Spirit, the Word--Creation. Likewise now in the new creation, the spiritual rebirth in Baptism: Water, the Spirit, and the Word. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
Holy Baptism, instituted by Christ, is the spiritual rebirth of water and the Spirit. St. Paul speaks of it in Titus 3: [God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Did you catch that? The washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Washing, water. Regeneration, rebirth. Renewal, new life. The Holy Spirit . . . well, the Holy Spirit. In other words, born again, of water and the Spirit. Just like in John. And this is exactly what happens in Holy Baptism.
Born of water and the Spirit. We need this new birth to see clearly, to see the kingdom of God come in Christ. Otherwise, our spiritual blindness would keep us in the dark. We need this new birth to enter the kingdom of God. Otherwise, without faith in our Savior Christ, our sins and our spiritual deadness would keep us out of Gods kingdom. We need the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit to see the light, to have the scales fall from our eyes. We need to receive the righteousness of Christ, the life he won for us, to raise us from death to life. This is why Jesus says in our text, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Flesh in this sense means our fallen sinful nature, that which is inherited and passed down to us from our first father, Adam. Adam, by his desire to be independent of God, fell into sin. He was placed under the curse of death, driven from the Garden, and cut off from access to the tree of life. Thats you and thats me, brother. We all share in this sinful Adamic nature, doomed to death. Flesh gives birth to flesh. And flesh can only take you so far. You cannot rise above the level of your father Adam.
Listen to how the Bible describes our natural state. Ephesians 2: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
According to the flesh, we were by nature children of wrath. Gods wrath. And thats not good. Flesh gives birth to flesh. Thats as far as you can go, thats as high as you can rise, by your birth according to the flesh. You need a different kind of birth.
And you dont give birth to yourself. No, this is a matter of being born of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives you this new birth. You dont do it. He does. In John 1, we read, To all who did receive him, that is, Christ, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. God gives you the new birth. Its not your decision or your will that does it. Its God giving you the new birth, making you his child, giving you the gift of faith.
Faith in Christ, as it says. Faith is to receive Christ, to believe in his name. For Jesus Christ is the only Savior from sin. Heres where we need to talk about the Father and the Son on this Trinity Sunday. As we heard in John 3: 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. Yes, God the Father sent his Son into the world out of his great love for us. God the Son, Christ Jesus, then was lifted up on the cross, so that you and I would not perish in our sins, but rather that through Christ, through his sacrifice in our place on the cross, our sins would be forgiven. Believing in Christ, trusting in him, we receive that forgiveness, and thus we have eternal life.
Now what the Holy Spirit does is to bring you those benefits which Christ won for you on the cross--forgiveness, life, eternal salvation--the Spirit enables you to receive and take hold of those benefits by faith. The Holy Spirit quickens you, brings you from death to life, through the gospel. The word of God in and with the water is the power in Holy Baptism. It makes Baptism the life-giving sacrament that it is. The Holy Spirit uses this sacrament, then, to bring you to faith and raise you to new life. This is how Baptism is the new birth, your real spiritual birthday.
How can a man be born when he is old? Well, Nicodemus, weve just seen an example of it here today. Im not saying Don is that old, but this is day hes been born again! Today our brother Don has been born of the water and the Spirit. Happy birthday, Don! Welcome to the family of God. You are now Gods child, and Father welcomes all his children. Christ Jesus now is the Savior you know and trust in. All your sins have been washed away, and you are now joined to Jesus and his resurrection. The Holy Spirit has given you the gift of faith, through the word, and the Spirit will keep you in the faith and keep you growing as you continue in the word. What a joyous, blessed day this is for you and for our congregation!
Born of Water and the Spirit. Holy Baptism, in the name of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Holy Baptism, your spiritual rebirth into new life and the kingdom of God. Baptized believers in Christ, in Holy Baptism you have been born of water and the Spirit. And this is the birthday gift that keeps on giving.
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 mothers 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.
Robert Kyser's little book "The Scandal of Lent" begins with "The Scandal of Rebirth". That chapter freed me from the constant angst of "decision theology" and set me on my journey into Lutheran Christianity.
Another interesting take is from Benedict XVI's Wednesday audience--once again he is sounding pretty Lutheran:
We would be unable to pray were the desire for God, and the desire to be Gods children, not inscribed in our hearts. From the moment of his existence, the homo sapiens is always in search of God; he seeks to speak with God, because God has inscribed Himself in our hearts. Therefore the first initiative is Gods, and through baptism, once again God acts in us, the Holy Spirit acts in us; He is the first initiator of prayer so that we may then truly speak with God and say Abba to God
Excellent explanation regarding Baptism and Salvation.
Glory to the Holy Trinity!
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