+ Lent 2 – March 16th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Genesis 12:1-9; Romans 4:1-8, 13-17; John 3:1-17
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Abraham and Nicodemus. Different men. Different time. Different place…but the same Lord who called them.
The Lord called Abram to a new home, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
The Lord called Nicodemus to receive new birth from above. Unless you are born from above you cannot see the kingdom of God.
A new birth, a new home – all in Christ.
And although you’re separated by time and space from Abram and Nicodemus, you’ve a lot more in common with these two men than you think.
You have received a new birth that leads to a new home. The Lord calls you out of the land of your father, Adam, and calls you into a new home, the kingdom of our heavenly Father. And you are God’s child precisely because you’ve been given a new birth from above. Holy Baptism, your new birth by water and the Spirit.
In Christ you receive a new birth and a new home. Jesus’ calling us to new birth by Water and Spirit isn’t the only thing with which we can identify with Nicodemus.
No doubt, we also share his bewilderment. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?”
And if the question is a bit absurd, Jesus’ answer sounds even stranger: “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.”
Jesus’ response makes us wonder: “What was wrong with our first birth that a second one is needed?” Though Nicodemus doesn’t ask that question, it’s definitely on his mind. The answer to Jesus’ riddle is simple. You have two birthdays.
“Nicodemus knew only one birth from Adam and Eve. He did not yet know the birth from God and the church. He knew only the parents who beget death. He did not yet know the parents who beget life…Though there are two births, he only knew one. One is from the flesh, the other from the Spirit. One is from mortality, the other from eternity. One of from male and female, the other from God and the church” (Augustine).
Same goes for us…our first birthday is usually in a hospital, where we’re born to our parents. Your second birthday is your baptism in the font. Your first birthday is bodily life. Your second birthday is spiritual life. Your first birthday involves muscular movement and a first breath. Your second birth involves the gift of faith and faith’s breath and movement, love and good works for your neighbor.
But here’s the truth about our first birth, we are born dead, blind, sinful – like Nicodemus. That’s our problem, our first birth brings bodily life. And along with our bodily life comes great affliction: disease, suffering, despair, sorrow, grief, sin, and death.
So, Jesus comes to you as he came to Nicodemus and calls you out of your first birth, out of death and into life. And it is your Baptism, your second birth which bails you out your first birth. In your first birth you are a child of Adam but in your second birth you are God’s own child. Unless anyone is born of water and Spirit…
Water and Spirit. that’s creation language. In the beginning, everything was born of water and Spirit by the Word. The Spirit of God hovered over the chaotic waters of the Deep that covered the earth. This is also baptismal language. Unless one is created anew, born from above by the working of the Holy Spirit with the Word in the water of Baptism, one cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh and blood born of Adam and corrupted by Sin cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Adam wants nothing to do with the kingdom of God. Adam wants to be god in his own kingdom. This is why we have conflict at home, work, school, church – really wherever 2 or 3 (or more) sinners are gathered. We want to be our own gods – on the playground, around the house, at the office, in our congregation.
Lent is a seasonal reminder that our sinful flesh doesn’t need a little rehab or some remodeling or remedial sanctification. We simply need to die. Our sin is that bad. Start completely over. Not a second chance. No, death and resurrection. A new birth from above.
Adam must die; Christ must rise. Your sin must be daily drowned and your new man in Christ raised up.
In Christ you receive new birth, and a new home, by his promise…
The same promise he gave to Abram. “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The word that’s woven throughout this morning’s readings is the word “faith.” Trust in the promise of God. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
“God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This is what you and I believe and confess as Christians. This is what makes Christianity “Christian.” This is what sets Christianity apart from the world’s religions. But it’s also what many people just don’t get. God justifies the ungodly. God grants this as a gift: unconditional, undeserved, and unearned.
The Lord’s promise came to Abram before he did anything at all. God simply told Abraham how it would be. And here’s the remarkable thing: Abraham believed God. He trusted the Lord’s word. He believed the promise, as crazy and far-fetched as it all sounded for a 75 year-old childless man to be the father of a great nation. Abraham took God at His word, and God counted that trust of Abraham as righteousness.
And so he does for each us too.
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…”
The Lord gave Abram a new home, a new land, and a new name: Abraham. And that offspring whom the Lord promised Abraham, through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. Well, it was that offspring, that perfect Seed who stood before Nicodemus proclaiming the new birth by water and Spirit.
Jesus does the same for you as well. Jesus was born into our first birth in order to free us from death by his birth and death. Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us second birth. Your birth certificate in the kingdom of heaven is signed and sealed in the blood of the Lamb. You are born of water and the Spirit. You even have a new name; it is no longer son of Adam and sinner. No, now it is child of God, and saint.
And with your new birth comes a new home, a new land, like Abraham before you, only better.
For the Son of Man had no place to lay his head, no place that is, except the cross and the grave, so that in his leaving his heavenly home you would find the entrance into his courts through the doorway of his cross.
And like Nicodemus, Jesus calls you of darkness into His marvelous light. He calls you out of slavery into freedom of sins forgiven. He calls you out of self-love and self-worship to serve and love your neighbor.
Have no fear of provision on this journey on this Lenten journey. Here our Lord feeds you with his own body and blood to sustain yours. Here our Lord gives and sustains faith in his promises, just like he did for Abraham. Here our Lord pours out a new creation and a new birth for you by water and Spirit. Here our Lord justifies the unglodly. For here our Lord takes our old-inward-curved-sinful-flesh and points us outward to see our neighbor in need and respond in mercy. And know that wherever our Lord calls you, he goes with you.
What will you say? What word of comfort will you share? Do not fear. It’s as simple as Jesus’ words:
“For God loved the world in this way, 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.”
Rejoice! In Christ you have a new birth from above and a new home in His body, the Church. Happy birthday in your Baptism! And a blessed Lenten journey.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.