A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on May 31, 2015 by Pastor Dale Raether
Please visit our Synod’s website at www.wels.net
How Can This Be?
John 3:1-17

Do you know anyone who’s interested in becoming a Christian, but isn’t ready to commit? The person may be attending services at times. He may have even started reading the Bible or coming to classes. But something is holding him back. He wants to believe, but there are things about Christianity that he just can’t wrap his mind around. On the other hand he can’t walk away either, because deep down he knows there’s something to this. We meet such a man in our text this morning. His name is Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Pharisees weren’t all bad. Some sincerely wanted to do what was right before God. They religiously attended services and did a lot of good. They were also careful not to get involved with anything immoral. Unfortunately the Pharisees had one downfall. They looked at God a bit rationalistically. And so, they believed in heaven and hell and angels and miracles and so on, but it all had to make sense to THEM. Especially they believed in God’s justice and that each person gets what he deserves.

Do you know any Pharisees? Take away the name and we may know a lot of people who think as they did. Maybe even you and I at times have asked a Pharisee’s question. The question I have in mind is, How Can This Be? That question works for a lot of teachings in the Bible. But since today is Trinity Sunday, we might ask, how can God be three persons and yet one God? In our text this morning let’s listen to Jesus’ answer to all of our How Can This Be? questions. 1. Our sinful nature can’t believe. 2. God gives faith through the water and the Spirit.

1. Our Sinful Nature Can’t Believe

Our text reads: Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” – John 3:1-2 This was early in Jesus’ ministry, but already there was a debate going on among the Pharisees as to who Jesus was. Some said He was from God, because they believed true miracles could only be done by God’s power, and since Jesus was clearly performing miracles, they concluded Jesus must be from God. So far so good.

Sadly, many of the Pharisees refused to believe Jesus was from God. Just before this, He had thrown the money-changers out of the temple. This stung the Pharisees’ conscience. But rather than listen to their conscience, they challenged Jesus: Perform a miracle to prove you have the authority to do this. Jesus told them: Destroy the temple of my body, and in three days I will raise myself from the dead. Besides hitting the Pharisees in their consciences and in their wallets, Jesus had also made it clear that there was more to being right with God than being a good person, which many of the Pharisees were trying to be. How much more? That’s what Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to find out.

We read on in our text: Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” – John 3:3 It isn’t enough to be good on the outside. In order to get into heaven, we have to also be perfect on the inside. Nicodemus right away realized, “There’s no way I can be perfect!” We read on: “How can someone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” – John 3:4 This wasn’t a serious question. This was a change the subject question, because Nicodemus because he didn’t like what Jesus had just said. It made no sense to him. No one, he concluded, can be truly perfect and without sin.

2. God gives faith through the water and the Spirit.

Here’s how Jesus answered Nicodemus. I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. – John 3:5 In previous verse Jesus had said that a person must be born again to see heaven. In the original Greek it literally says, we must be born “from above.” But how is a person “born again” or “born from above” so that he’s perfect before God? Jesus says by the water of baptism and by the working of the Holy Spirit.

It has to be this way, because Jesus says: Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. – John 3:6 Ever since Adam and Eve, our sinful nature gives birth to sins and to fleshly ways of looking at things. As a result without the Holy Spirit, a person looks at God’s Law through the eyes of his flesh, and He doesn’t agree with it. He minimizes it and re-writes it. A person will also look at his own goodness through the eyes of his flesh, and sees himself as better than he really is and won’t see his faults. But worst of all, a person without the Spirit sees even God’s love with the eyes of his flesh. And so, he insists at times that God isn’t very loving, or that He’s unjust, or that His goodness can be bought. Can such a person ever come to right conclusions and to a right understanding about God? He can’t. Flesh gives birth flesh!

However, there are people who do have a right understanding of the Bible and about God and themselves. We read on in our text: Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again (from above).’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. – John 3:6b-8 A person with the Spirit believes in man’s total depravity ever since the Fall, not because he has reasoned that out, but because that’s what the Spirit reveals in the Word. Likewise we believe in a 6, 24-hour day Creation, not because it’s been proven scientifically, but because that’s what the Word says. And then there’s the Trinity. We believe that God is three separate persons yet one God, not because we can wrap our minds around this, but again, that’s what the Word says.

And now here comes the perhaps the biggest “how can this be?” question of all, the one Nicodemus was asking Jesus that night. How can a person get from seeing things through the eyes of sinful flesh to seeing all things through the eyes of the Spirit? In other words how does a person cross that line from wanting to be a Christian to actually BEING a Christian? We read: “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. – John 3:9-11 Nicodemus was trying to make the transition from wanting to believe to believing, by his own decision and effort. He wasn’t getting very far. The reason is, he wasn’t accepting either Jesus’ testimony or God’s testimony in the Old Testament.

By the way those two testimonies go together, and a person can’t say he accepts one without accepting the other. For example, Jesus had said in verse 5: I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. – John 3:5 Compare this with what God said in the Old Testament: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean… I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you… I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. – Ezekiel 36:25-27 Now, all this begs the question. If the sinful nature sees, hears, and understands all things through the sinful nature, how could Nicodemus ever stop being a Pharisee, and start listening with spiritual ears? Well, what Jesus said! He needed to be baptized, which he could have been by John.

We have been baptized. But the question for many of us is how do we get back to listening with spiritual ears? Or, maybe we are, but how do we keep growing in listening with spiritual ears, so that though we are spiritually rich, God may make us even richer? Jesus answers this in our text: No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man who is in heaven. – John 3:13 Do any of you like going to the beach? We can’t do this for very long, at least not without a lot of sunscreen, but it’s great to bask in the sun. In the same way it’s great to bask our souls in the S-o-n. He is true God, who is present everywhere and also became true man. When we read the Bible, we are hearing God Himself speak to us. Granted, at times we may not understand everything we’re hearing or reading. But that’s because He’s God and we’re His creation. But all the more, then, let’s keep reading and hearing!

As we do, here’s the message we’ll get from God loud and clear. And this message is His own power to strengthen our faith and give us correct understanding: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. – John 3:16-17 If we get anything out of this verse at all, let it be that we each may say of ourselves, “God loves ME and doesn’t want to condemn me. He wants to save ME through the perfect life and death of His Son. When we can say this of ourselves, God has brought us over that line from wanting to be a Christian to BEING a Christian. And now because we ARE Christians, let’s live as Christians and learn Jesus and serve Jesus! And then instead of asking, “How can this or that in the Bible be true?”, we’ll forever be asking, “How can this be that God so loves me?” Amen.

 

Please visit our Synod’s website at www.wels.net