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It's the Same for Us

May 27, 2018
By Rev. David French


Not all Pharisees were jerks.  Actually, there were many honest Pharisees.  Nicodemus, for example, when he heard about this young rabbi from Galilee had genuine curiosity.  During the crowded festivals, Jesus and many other visitors usually slept out by the Mount of Olives.  It was on one of those nights that Nicodemus saw his chance to visit with Jesus.

Nicodemus came to Jesus with a great deal of respect.  He wasn’t quite ready to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but He was ready to admit that He was no ordinary prophet.  And even as an ordinary prophet, Jesus’s words would have been considered God’s words.  And so it is, because the Holy Spirit worked through the apostle John to record this conversation, all today have the opportunity to learn about the work that each person of the Trinity has in our salvation.  

The Father loves us so much that He sends His Son into our world.  The Son saves us by living and dying in our place so that the Father might now offer forgiveness, life, and salvation to you and to all.  The Holy Spirit creates and maintains the faith God put in you on the day of your baptism, and that gift alone receives and holds onto the gifts that the Son offers to us.  The Holy Spirit delivers these gifts through the Means of Grace that is the Word of God – as we hear it and read it – or as it comes to us in the water of Baptism – and in the very body and blood of Christ as we eat the bread and drink the wine of the Holy Supper.

As Jesus began answering Nicodemus’s questions, He actually worked His way from the end of the process of salvation back to the beginning.  He began with the Holy Spirit’s activity of establishing faith in us.  We call this conversion.  The Holy Spirit converts people from spiritual death to spiritual life.  Jesus said this process of conversion is a spiritual birth.  After Nicodemus introduced himself, Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Later, after Nicodemus asked for more explanation, Jesus started over and added more details saying, “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.”  So the spiritual birth of conversion is like a physical birth.

Ask any mom or anyone who has assisted or witnessed the birth of a baby, “Who does all the work?”  The baby endures quite a bit as he or she travels through the birth canal, but the baby does not provide the work.  The work comes from mom.  The baby experiences the work, but provides none of it.  It is mom who does the work of giving birth.  The experiences of the birth are passive ones.

The same is true for our spiritual birth.  Although a great deal is happening to us during this life changing process, we do absolutely nothing to make it happen.  We do not decide to follow Jesus.  We do not give ourselves to God.  Just as Mom does all the work of physical birth, so God through Mother Church does all the work of spiritual birth.  We do nothing.  When Jesus answered, “… That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” He was telling Nicodemus it is the Holy Spirit who brings the Christian into the spiritual world with a spiritual birth.

That means your faith is a miracle of God, which is why we can and do infant baptisms.  In fact, if you think about it, the miracle might be greater in adults since the Holy Spirit must work to undo a lifetime of false belief before He can work the true faith in them.  A baby, on the other hand, is a blank slate.  But why does God go through all the effort to produce this faith in us?

Well, faith receives the work that God has done for us.  The first thing Jesus told Nicodemus about Himself was that He had descended from heaven.  The first benefit Jesus revealed to Nicodemus: the knowledge that Jesus is both God and man means that He is the kingdom of God.  The benefit of conversion becomes even clearer when Jesus moved on to tell of the work He would do as God and man: “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.”  Here is the chief benefit of the faith - Whoever believes has eternal life.

And what is it we believe?  Well, we believe that Jesus was lifted up on the cross just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.  That by His suffering and death, Jesus earned eternal life for us.  And now Jesus offers that life as a gift to all and we receive by faith, the gift that the Holy Spirit worked in us in our spiritual birth.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that we are saved by faith in Him alone.  Nicodemus can try to keep the laws of Moses until the effort itself kills him.  It’s the same for us.  Because God’s standard is perfection, it only takes one sin to condemn us forever.  And still, we sin every day and cannot stop ourselves.  How blessed we are to know and believe that by faith in Christ alone do we receive all the benefits of Christ’s cross, that is forgiveness, life, and salvation.

And what is the Father’s roll in all this?  He is the one who loves, gives, and sends.  “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.”

God who is love sent His Son into our world to be our substitute - to be lifted up on the cross so that the world might be saved through him.  With these words Jesus is teaching that the kingdom of God does not come to Nicodemus because he is a descendant of Abraham, but comes because the Holy Spirit gives him the same faith as Abraham.

That faith was indeed created with Nicodemus’s heart, as we see by his actions.  We read in John 19: “Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission.  So he came and took away his body.  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 they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.  Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.  So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”

One can only imagine the joy of Nicodemus when he learned that the body he had laid in Joseph’s tomb was no longer there - that Jesus, his savior, had risen from the dead.  What joy he must have felt knowing through the Spirit’s gift of faith that he would live forever within God’s kingdom.  What a joy it is for us who also have been born of that same Spirit, that the day will come when we shall join Nicodemus around the throne of God in the eternal joy of everlasting life

In Jesus’s Name.  Amen

Tags: John 3:1-17