Sermon – Lent 2 – “Unless You Are Born Again” – John 3:1-17 – 3/20/11

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We are very fortunate to have quite a few professional, schoolteachers in this congregation. A quick scan through the Membership Directory reveals that there are 13 professionally trained teachers among the membership. We have several preschool teachers, elementary school teachers, high school teachers and college teachers. (stand) Teachers are not just people with a thorough knowledge of a particular subject. They are also people who know how to impart that knowledge to someone else. People are not like computers. If you want to impart the data from one computer to another computer, you connect the two together with a wire or download the information onto a disc and load it into another computer. But it doesn’t work that way with people. They must be taught, and teachers are trained how to do that.

One evening, a man named Nicodemus came to Jesus and said, “Teacher.” Nicodemus thinks that Jesus possesses certain knowledge and he wants Jesus to impart that knowledge to him. Nicodemus thinks that Jesus has knowledge of God because of the things that Jesus has done. “Rabbi, (which is the Hebrew word for a ‘teacher of religion’), 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.”

There are ‘teachers’ and then there are ‘teachers.’ There’s a difference between a teacher who has read all of the books and knows all of the theory but who has never actually done it, and a teacher who has actually done it. If I wanted to learn how to build a house, I’d rather have a teacher who has actually built a house rather than a teacher who has read all the books on house building but who has never actually done it.

Likewise, if I want to learn theology, about God, I’d prefer a teacher who knows the Scriptures and who believes it to be the very Word of God and strives to actually live it, apply it to their life, rather than the teacher who may know the Bible inside and out but who doesn’t actually believe it or apply it to his own life.

Now lets take that one step further. If I had the chance to study theology under a teacher who not only knows the Word of God but who actually DOES DIVINE THINGS, that would be the best teacher of all.

Give Nicodemus credit for recognizing that Jesus was in a totally different category than all of the other ‘Rabbis.’ “No one can DO THESE SIGNS unless God is with him.” Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus has unusual and extraordinary credentials.

Jesus responds to Nicodemus in a very curious and confusing way. What we would have expected Jesus to say is, ‘Nicodemus my dear fellow, I’m flattered that you would think so highly of me and want be my student. And I would be honored to teach you about God. But you see, the problem is, I’ve already got so many other commitments that I just can’t take on anymore. You see, I’ve got these 12 students, and let me tell you, they’re a real handful, slow learners, a little dense if you know what I mean. It’s all that I do just to try to impart this knowledge that I have of God to them to get them ready for the work that I need to prepare them to do.”

But instead of responding as we would have expected Him to, and I think as Nicodemus expected, Jesus says, “I can’t teach you anything Nicodemus, because there’s something wrong with you. You are unteachable. Your problem Nicodemus, is not that you know too little for me to teach you about God. It’s that you know too much. You’re too smart for Me, Nicodemus. You think that you already know about God and Who He is and how He operates and what He can do and what He cannot do what He should do and what He shouldn’t do. You think you already know the truth about God’s thoughts and God’s ways and why He allows certain things to happen to certain people. You think you already know all there is to know about ‘divine justice’ and ‘how He judges between the living and the dead’ and what is pleasing to God and what is not and who is pleasing to God and who is not. Nicodemus, it’s not that I cannot teach you anything. It’s that you cannot learn what I would teach you. Because what I would teach you dear Nicodemus would require you to repent and let your mind be changed. And you are not capable of that.

Oh, you can learn the facts and master the information alright. But you will believe that it is true because my Word will challenge what you are so sure of. As long as you refuse to believe that my Word is true, you will never learn trust what I tell you. And that, dear Nicodemus is what I would teach you – to trust what I tell you.”

“So Nicodemus, if I am to teach you what I would have you learn about God, then something must change and it isn’t Me. Remember, just as you said, I am “from God.” It’s you that must change. And the kind of change I’m talking about here is the most radical change that you can imagine, in fact, it’s more than you can imagine. Nicodemus, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

And sure enough, poor Nicodemus doesn’t get it. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb.” That’s probably something that only a man would actually think let alone say. Every mother knows how painful it is to get a baby out of the womb. The thought of getting one back in… Jesus cuts that thought off before it goes any further.

“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 flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit.”

What Jesus is trying to tell Nicodemus is that everybody who was ever born was born of the flesh, that is, according to the natural laws of nature, a man and woman come together and a new life is created. And it IS what it was made from – flesh begets flesh. Flesh does not beget spirit.

No one born of the flesh, of a man and a woman, is born with the Spirit – the Holy Spirit. Let me say that again for emphasis, everyone born of the flesh is born without the Holy Spirit.

To be born of the Spirit is a categorically different kind of birth than the birth according to flesh. It’s not a natural birth but a supernatural birth. It doesn’t happen by a man and a woman coming together. It happens by water and the Spirit coming together.

What Jesus is describing here is nothing other than Holy Baptism. In Baptism, the water and the Spirit come together and create a new life. And that new life IS what it is made from – Spirit begets spirit.

And the whole point here is that it is only by the Spirit that anyone born of the flesh is able to “see the Kingdom of God” and “enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus would have left the door open for other options for seeing and entering the Kingdom of God if only He hadn’t used that little word “unless.” “UNLESS one is born again…” “UNLESS one is born of water and the Spirit…” Baptism is necessary for seeing and entering the Kingdom of God. It is only by the Spirit that anyone born of the flesh is able to learn what Jesus would teach us, which is, to believe that His Word is true and trust it. And the Spirit is given through Holy Baptism.

This is certainly not to say that men and women who are never baptized are not capable of acquiring amazing knowledge and of doing amazing things. You don’t have to be baptized to figure out how to send a man to the moon or split an atom or map the human genome. But unless you are born of the Spirit you cannot see the Kingdom of God or enter it. “No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3)

And the corresponding point here is this. If “seeing and entering the Kingdom of God” is strictly a matter of being born of water and the Spirit, then the extent of your knowledge and accomplishments and your maturity or immaturity is not the issue at all. It’s ALL ABOUT and ONLY ABOUT what God has done to you through the water and the Spirit.

Only the Holy Spirit, who is God, knows the mind of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this knowledge in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. “Nicodemus, the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:11-14)

But Fred, you and your son, have the Spirit because you were born of the Spirit – Spirit begets spirit. The Spirit has made your body His temple, the place where He dwells. And now you may learn what Jesus would teach you. And what He would teach you is to believe that His Word is true and therefore worthy of your complete trust.

Born again of water and Spirit through Holy Baptism, we may now believe what was unbelievable and put our complete confidence and trust in what was at one time, pure folly to us all. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

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