[John 3:1-17] …. Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?”5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”….
Salvation, the Holy Trinity’s Work
“Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
What do people see as they go about their life? You see the grass and the sidewalk. You see this and that store. You see your paycheck. You see your need for the dentist. You see your need for the doctor. Parents see to it that their kids go to school and are raised up. They see to their career.
You see enjoyments and needs and the ways to fulfill those needs. Then your eyelids close in death and all these things are seen no more. Yet they’ve been the priority of your life. This is universal. Everyone born sees what is needed and wanted. But Jesus says you must be born again to see the kingdom of God.
The things of the kingdom of God are all around. You can’t drive many blocks without passing a church. You can’t go even to a secular bookstore without there being a Bible section. Until not long ago, you couldn’t stay in a hotel room without there being a Bible in the nightstand.
And there’s more – man wanders around all day in God’s creation. And man’s need is obvious. Who hasn’t seen death? Who doesn’t know that they themselves will die? And who doesn’t have that empty spot in themselves that needs filling?
God hasn’t left us without witness. The need and the want and the evidence are there. Yet, it is all passed by unseen unless a person is born again by the Holy Spirit.
And, for those of us who know this, we sometimes wish it weren’t so. Maybe it’s not this way, we hope. Because if a person has to be born again from above to see God’s kingdom, what about all those people who aren’t?
What about my sister or brother or cousin – or husband or wife – or my kid or grandkid – or that nice cashier at the store – or this or that person, my neighbor – who clearly does not see the things of the kingdom of God? But they’re kind – they’re as decent a person as any - and I like them, I wish them well.
Wouldn’t it be better if a person could have the kingdom of God based on their own merits? “They’re a good person.” Or, “they tried.” Isn’t that need for faith in Christ – which comes by being born again of the Holy Spirit – isn’t that such a roadblock? A roadblock for the one I’m concerned about who just won’t do it, or hasn’t. Don’t I know a better way that this should all work out?
Our thinking errs in two ways. One, we are failing to understand what sin is really all about. And, two, we are thinking of the promises of the Gospel as requirements to be met instead of as gifts given.
“Why would such decent people be condemned at all?” “I see good things about them – and about me.” When we think of damnable sin we think only of the flesh and body. Murdering someone. Being a thief. Cheating on a spouse. Abusing, harming.
But sin isn’t only found in breaking the commandments, “you shall not murder”, “you shall not steal”, “love your neighbor” – those commandments about us and other people. Sin is first and foremost found in breaking the commandments about us and God – the first three commandments – “You shall have no other gods”; you shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things –
“You shall not misuse God’s name” (misuse means there’s a right use; you shall call upon God’s name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving) – “You shall remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”; you shall keep the day for God sacred and separate to set aside human things and hear God’s Word.
These commands are no less commands than “you shall not murder”. To not have true fear, love, and trust only in the real God who really is God – to not utilize His name for His holy purposes in your life – to not worship God as God – this is all the same as murdering and committing adultery and stealing. Except it’s even worse because it’s against God. This is what man is blind to.
The sins against these first commandments are the source of sin against all the rest. And, if in fact, I or my neighbor have in some way kept those other commandments – we’ve been good neighbors – this is still sin because I’ve only been good for man and not for God. The core of all sin is that we have loved the creatures and the creation in place of loving the Creator. [Romans 1:18-32]
So, my good brother or my good neighbor – and my good self – we all stand condemned because we’re good for man’s sake, not for God’s sake. Mankind has built his house together, but we’ve built it with our ceiling very low, leaving God in the attic unseen.
We see the needs and wants and solutions for this earthly life – but, as our Lord said, “unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
This is the better way – that a man must be born again – because being born again isn’t a hurdle to jump or a requirement to be met. Being born again is a work from above for men who could not – and would not – do it for themselves.
Being born again from above is the work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by which God makes unwilling hearts into willing hearts – unbelieving hearts into believing hearts – unseeing eyes into seeing eyes. Without this work of God, we all, each one of us – by our own will and desire – would remain without God.
Being born the first time was not your choice nor was it any work of yours. Likewise, being born again is not a decision you make nor is it any work of yours. It is entirely God’s doing. Just like your birth didn’t depend on you – nor did it depend on your merits or worthiness – being born again also does not depend on a man, his merits, or his worthiness. It is gift. It is God’s work. Therefore, it is sure and certain – even if we cause many bumps and deficiencies along the way.
Are you born again? You are baptized – you are born again “of water and the Spirit.” You are a new creature with eyes to see. Remember your Baptism and see with those eyes.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” [Romans 11:33-36]
Remember this, you who worry, “who will be saved?!”, God is the one who “desires all men to be saved” [1 Timothy 2:4]. God is the one who “isn’t willing that any would perish” [2 Peter 3:9]. God is the one who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son” [John 3:16]. Jesus is the one who is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29] – and who is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” [1 John 2:2]. And God is the one who causes a man to be born again.
It is exceptionally good that this all depends on God.
God the Father has sent His Son. God the Son has died for the world. God the Holy Spirit makes a man to be born again to see and believe it. Salvation is all entirely the work of the Holy Trinity. God does it His way, through His means of the Word of God and the Sacraments.
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” It is all out of our hands and is entirely in His hands. That is a good thing. In fact, that is the very best thing. Amen.