Second Sunday in Lent | John 3.1-17
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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 born of the Spirit.”
And we’re back to the blank stare.
Despite how much he has already learned,
And how smart he is, little Christoph appears to have no idea what I’m talking about.
At one week old, he barely understands the simples of earthly things;
So when I talk about heavenly things,
It’s no wonder that the response is stares, sighs, and spit-up.
You might expect a more informed response from someone like Nicodemus.
He’s a Pharisee, so he has studied God’s Law for much of his life.
He’s a member of the Sanhedrin, the majority ruling party, so he is also a leader.
All in all, if anyone should be able to “get it” when Jesus teaches, it is Nicodemus.
But he doesn’t get it. He’s confused to the point of frustration and vexation.
His intellect and his reason have always been there to bail him out.
But now, when Jesus talks about being born again,
The best Nicodemus’ reason can manage is to imagine how he might go back inside his mother and pass through the birth canal one more time.
That’s all he can come up with: the verbal equivalent of spit-up.
This is a failure to crown all failures.
Nicodemus’ reason and intellect have always prevailed; they’ve always won the day,
But its not day; its night.
It’s night and things are dark –
Dark like Nicodemus’ wisdom; dark like his reason.
Darkness can’t comprehend light.
It can’t contain it or even suppress it.
Light confounds darkness.
It scatters it and confuses it.
When confronted with the light of grace and truth, all darkness can say is:
“How can these things be?”
Lent can be something like that.
Even though our clocks have sprung ahead and we have a bit more daylight,
Lent feels more like darkness.
Even now, Jesus, the Light of the world draws nearer and nearer to the cross,
Where the sun will not shine, even in the middle of the day,
When the Light of the world will be extinguished.
“How can these things be?”
Darkness shouldn’t surprise us, though.
If you are taking Lent seriously,
If you are taking sin seriously,
If you are taking Christian discipline seriously,
If you took Jesus seriously when He taught us about fasting and prayer and mercy,
If you really are confronting the darkness of your world and of your life,
And pushing against it, then expect for it to push back.
It happens this way:
First darkness tries to entice you away from your disciplines. It says things like,
“Hey. Ash Wednesday was a week and a half ago. You were caught up in the moment. You didn’t really mean you were going to give up sweets every day.”
“Or when you dedicated yourself to praying through the Psalms,
how were you to know there were 150 of them.”
“And I know you said you would be giving faithful tithes and alms.
But your tax return wasn’t nearly what you thought it would be.”
Darkness will take the order of your fast, and try to introduce chaos – a disruption
Its exactly how Satan tried to tempt Jesus in the wilderness,
And its always the mark of evil.
Next, darkness will do to you what it does to Nicodemus.
That is, it will fill you with a bizarre and misplaced confidence in yourself.
That’s how the offer of free grace from Jesus sounds more like challenge than gift.
This is why, despite the obvious absurdity of his conclusion, Nicodemus heard Jesus’ words about being born again as a task to accomplish, as homework.
That’s why, frankly, millions of people go to Jesus calling Him, “Rabbi” or even “Savior” and refuse to be taught by Him or saved by Him.
Contrary to nature, to Jesus’ own words, and the whole witness of Scripture, being born again will somehow be something they do.
If only they would consider how much they had to do with their own physical birth, it might make more sense that this birth is something they can’t even assist with.
But, as Jesus says, even the comprehension of earthly things is no promise of understanding heavenly things.
The temptation now is to sigh, and shake our heads, and gawk at how they could be so dense and obstinate in the face of the clear testimony of God’s Word.
But even we, who by God’s unmerited grace have received the pure doctrine of the Christian faith, have no reason to boast.
We’re not smarter or more clever than they.
Do you think it was reason and strength that caused the people in the wilderness to look at a serpent on a pole to be healed of their poisonous bites?
Do you think it is plain reason and intellect that causes us to look to Jesus lifted on the cross for our healing?
Is it an exquisite explanation that gets Jesus Body & Blood to our altar every week?
Does it seem reasonable that God would love a world that hates Him so much?
Even more, does it make sense that He would love us in this way:
That He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life?”
Thank God that in the end, it is not up to you or me to figure Him out.
You cannot, by your own reason or strength, know your Lord, Jesus Christ, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His Gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith.
You were born from above,
Which is a far superior translation of anothen than “born again.”
You were born from above while here below.
You were born in the font, by water and Spirit.
And yours is the Kingdom of God.
You didn’t earn it.
You didn’t figure it out or crack the code.
You can’t explain the Holy Spirit and His work any more than you can control Him.
Next week, our son, Christoph Joseph, will be born from above.
By Word and Water, he who is born of flesh will be born of the Spirit.
He will not understand this any more than Nicodemus does.
We may still get blank stares and spit-up.
He will not understand it any more than you or I.
But Christ is faithful. He will surely do it.