Worship Theme: Jesus Conquers Uncertainty
Sermon Theme: Reborn Confidence
Just like people give life to people, so the Holy Spirit is the one who gives spiritual life. As we learn in John 3:1-17, the Holy Spirit is the one who puts faith in our hearts and opens our eyes to see Jesus. Knowing how the Spirit works gives us “reborn confidence.” March 5, 2023.
He was hardly a bright shining example of confidence! He wasn’t the worst of them, far from it! But he had questions. He wasn’t sure…about Jesus. He had questions about Jesus, and who better to ask when you have questions about Jesus than…Jesus? So, he went. He went to find Jesus so he could ask his questions. Was this teacher the One whom the Old Testament foretold? Was he the Messiah like he claimed to be? Or is another one coming? He didn’t know. He wasn’t sure. So, he sought out Jesus and initiated the conversation that is our Gospel for today from John chapter 3.
Nicodemus was a leader in Israel. A religious man – even a member of the 70 member Jewish ruling court called the Sanhedrin. He had friends who had already made up their minds. They had rejected Jesus and would have done away with him on the spot if they were given a chance, but Nicodemus wasn’t there. He wasn’t sure exactly where he was, but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t ready to make a judgment on him yet…not without going straight to the source – so that’s what he did.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was 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.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
Did you notice how Jesus’ response cuts right to the chase? Nicodemus made a good observation: “Jesus, you must have something to do with God if you are preforming miracles, but what is it? What’s your connection? Who are you?”
And Jesus’ reply: “In order to see me clearly, you have to see God clearly!” It was 2 ½ years later that Jesus was asked almost the same question. His answer then, recorded for us in John 10, made the same declaration: “I and the Father are One!”
“Nicodemus, my son. If you want to understand things concerning the Kingdom of God, then you must be born again, you must be born from above!” Nicodemus’ understanding of being physically born a second time didn’t make much sense to him, so Jesus clarified. “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
“It’s not about how a person gets into the world; it’s about how a person gets into heaven.” I don’t know if Nicodemus at this point understood that he was having the most important conversation that could possibly be had, but he was. Identifying Jesus was more than just a matter of curiosity, bigger than just an answer to a trivia question, but the “who, what, why and how of Jesus” is the only thing that truly matters.
Flesh gives birth to flesh. Sinners give birth to sinners. Original sin is passed down from Adam and Eve, down through the generations until it infects us. There’s no escaping it. And there is no way to fix it. Every sinner passes that nature and that curse down to the next generation. Flesh gives birth to flesh. Every generation, every person, is born incapable of knowing, seeing, or pleasing God. We inherit that corruption and it shows itself in our selfish motives, in our greed for worldly gain, in our arrogance and pride. Flesh gives birth to flesh…. but… the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the one that gives new life. Just like people give life to people, so the Holy Spirit is the one who gives spiritual life. The Holy Spirit is the one who puts faith in our hearts and opens our eyes to see Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the one that works repentance in our lives and makes it possible for us to know God and to see him as our Savior. The Holy Spirit uses the means of grace – the gospel in Word and Sacrament, to create and strengthen faith in our hearts.
And so, knowing how the Spirit works gives us reborn confidence. We are born again. We are born from above. The Spirit has caused new spiritual life to grow in us. We have been baptized into the saving name of our Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can recall our baptisms and gain the confidence that we are, in fact, heirs of everlasting life. We are reborn of water and the Spirit. We have received that life-saving, life-giving gift!
Confidence was waning. Quickly. Uncertainty was growing at hyper-speeds. It started with one snake, then 10, then 100. Slithering and sliding…chasing and chomping. And even as the panic set in, God’s people were starting to figure it out. This was no coincidence. God was sending his judgment and wrath out against a people that had despised him. They had complained against what God was doing in their lives, and finally God had had enough. They were the ones who were defiant and obstinate. And now God would do something about it. And so out came the snakes.
And they figured something else out pretty quickly as well. They were getting what they deserved. How foolish of them to shake their fists at God. How foolish to spit on the blessings that God had provided. But then, a change of heart. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people (Numbers 21:7). And God answered that prayer. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live” (Numbers 21:8).
To be real and honest with you, that doesn’t make any sense. There was no medical or scientific reason that the direction that a person looks would counter the venom of a snake. If you went to a doctor with a snakebite and he gave you a copy of “Serpents Illustrated” magazine and said “Read through this, you should be good.” you’d be getting a new doctor. But when God promised that looking at the Bronze Snake would preserve their lives, that’s exactly what happened for his people.
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” To be real and honest with you, this doesn’t make any sense either. There’s no reason that the death of one person should bring life to another. It doesn’t take a biology degree to know that! Paul admitted that same truth to his friends in the church in Corinth: For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
“Look to Jesus and live!” Many find that preposterous. We find in it power. Some think that’s laughable. We see there lavish, lofty, limitless love. Many in the world are uncertain of God’s plan to send Jesus to live and die for the sins of the world. Others downright despise that message. But we have Reborn Confidence. We have been chosen by God, born again in faith and have been given wide open eyes to see our God and what he so graciously has done for us.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. When we look to Jesus, we are spared. The venom of the devil’s attacks and the sting of our failed attempts to resist temptation, they should be our undoing. But God so loved the world. There was no way that we could pay the price of sins’ debt, but God gave his one and only Son. We are fully undeserving of any of God’s favor. We deserve to be punished, but Jesus is our Substitute. And now as a result of the work and working of Jesus, our God has promised that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Nicodemus had a reborn confidence. This incident didn’t leave him unchanged. He approached Jesus skeptical and uncertain. But Nicodemus learned and experienced something that day. Jesus conquers uncertainty. Jesus proclaimed his love for Nicodemus and his desire that he look to him and live. And that’s exactly what happened. If this was the end of the Nicodemus story, we’d not really be sure what became of him. But it’s not the end of his story. We meet Nicodemus again. When Jesus was crucified, a man from Arimathea named Joseph asked Pilate if he could have Jesus’ body to give him a proper burial. John shares with us this note: Joseph was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds (John 19:39). A lavish gift given by a faithful follower.
We also have a reborn confidence. Jesus has conquered our uncertainty and given us confidence and hope. He has given us the promise of forgiveness and a share in his victory. He’s done everything that needed to be done to accomplish our salvation. We have been reborn – born from above – through God’s saving power in baptism. Our faith is strengthened each time we meet Jesus in his Word.
And now, filled with reborn confidence, we can go into our world and share the message of Jesus’ love. We can open eyes around us that are closed! We can find people who are looking in every wrong direction and point them to Jesus. We can declare, “Look to Jesus and Live!” We can help others who are a part of the world to know what God says and how he feels about them: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life!
What a remarkable blessing it is to have clarity and confidence. We have both, because we have been reborn – from above – and made to be heirs of heaven. And that means that here and there we have joy. Here and there we have peace. Here and there, we will worship our God who has made it true. In Jesus, we shall not perish – but have eternal life! Amen.
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