Sermon Lent IIA
The Wind Is Freshening (John 3:1-17)
The Lord be with you.
Over the next few Sundays, we will be reading stories from John’s Gospel. These stories tell about encounters Jesus had with several individuals and how he helped them find faith, forgiveness, healing, and life.
I think this is an important emphasis during this Lenten season. Though we are part of a community of faith, we are also individuals, and Jesus comes to each one of us and meets us where we are in order to bring his life and saving grace to us.
In these Gospel texts we will see Jesus:
- Helping a Jewish teacher understand his Bible better so that he might embrace Jesus as the coming Messiah and enter the life of Jesus’ kingdom.
- Helping a Samaritan woman through the bitterness she had come to know in life and satisfying her spiritual thirst with living water.
- Helping a poor blind man who been living on the margins of his community receive sight and be restored to a place among the family of faith once again.
- Helping a friend who died unexpectedly by raising him from the dead and reviving the hope of those who mourn in the face of death.
Four very different people, four unique encounters with Jesus, four people whose lives were completely transformed through Jesus’ words and actions.
We begin today with Nicodemus. He was the Jewish teacher who Jesus taught about being “born again,” or “born from above.” A lot has been said about being “born again” in my lifetime as a Christian, and it comes from this passage, from this encounter Nicodemus had with Jesus.
I am forever grateful to one of my NT professors in seminary for pointing out the key to understanding this story, what Jesus was trying to say to Nicodemus, and what being “born again” is all about. The key statement in this Gospel text is found in v. 10, where Jesus asks Nicodemus, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”
In other words, Jesus expected Nicodemus to understand what he was talking about from his knowledge of the Jewish scriptures.
When Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” and when Jesus went on to say, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit,” Jesus assumed he would understand because he was a teacher in Israel and had a good understanding of the scriptures. These should not have been new concepts to Nicodemus.
When Jesus spoke those words to him, this renowned teacher should have recalled God’s promises that came to Israel thought the prophets, which he surely knew well. One of those promises was given by the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36, when the prophet announced,
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezek 36:25-27)
Did you hear a reflection of Jesus’ words there? Ezekiel talked about the coming of the new covenant, the time when God’s kingdom would arrive. At that time, God would wash his people with water and put a new spirit within them. They would be reborn, renewed by water and spirit. God’s spirit would come to live within them and their hearts would be transformed so that they would delight in following God’s ways.
Now Jesus comes along and says the same kind of thing. The time has come you to be made new, born anew, he tells Nicodemus. The promised time has come for you to be born of water and spirit. God has arrived, to cleanse you and renew you within. In order to be part of God’s promised kingdom, you must take your place among those whom God is cleansing and renewing.
In other words, Jesus was announcing to Nicodemus that what the prophets had promised was now coming to pass in Israel. God had come and was setting up the kingdom. God was now washing people clean, forgiving and renewing them. God was now putting his Spirit into people’s hearts and transforming them into people of faith, hope, and love.
And how was God doing that? Through Jesus, that’s how. Jesus was not just, as Nicodemus says in today’s story, a teacher sent from God who did miraculous signs. He was the Word of God made flesh, the Messiah, the King who had come to establish God’s rule of peace and justice in Israel and throughout the whole world. He had come to bring Israel out of exile and to spread light and salvation throughout the whole world.
As the author says in a comment at the end of today’s text:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Jesus came to live, to serve, to die, to rise again, and to ascend into heaven so that all can enter the saving life of God’s kingdom. This is not just something that will happen at the end of the age, at the resurrection, but right now. One can be born of water and the spirit right here and now. One can enter the kingdom now. One can be cleansed and renewed immediately. One can enter eternal life and begin living in God’s new age of peace and justice right now.
Jesus is not so much talking about a particular religious experience people must seek or something they must do. He is telling Nicodemus that he should be recognizing what God is doing in the world through Jesus. God is fulfilling his promises! God is establishing his new covenant, his kingdom! God is is moving in Israel, like the wind! The Spirit is blowing through the world as he did at creation, bringing order and goodness to the chaos brought about by sin, evil, and death.
Jesus said this to Nicodemus and he is saying it to us today as well. The promises of God have been fulfilled in Jesus. That which the prophets looked forward to is here. The kingdom of God has arrived because the King himself walked among us and defeated the powers of sin, evil, and death that reigned over this world.
- You and I can know the life of the age to come today.
- We can live as new people.
- We can die to sin and rise to walk in newness of life.
- Self-generated life can be replaced with life energized by God through faith and the Spirit.
- Discouragement and despair can be transformed into hope and assurance that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.
- Our self-centered lives, which are curved in upon themselves and profoundly damaged by sin, can be healed and filled with love for our neighbors.
It’s all there, for each one of us — in the promises of God and in the loving ministry of Jesus. May God grant us faith to see, faith to come, faith to embrace the one who washes us clean in the waters of baptism and fills us with his Spirit! Open the windows of your heart and feel the wind freshening!
May the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom.