O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Breath without Doubt
Breath without Doubt
Based on John 3:1-17
Preached on March 16, 2014
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Fellow baptized saints, how often are you troubled by doubts? How often do you find yourself questioning your faith? Questioning God? I mean, what if you've got it wrong? How do you know you don't? Nobody wants to be duped. Nobody wants to look like a fool. And so it is human nature to play the skeptic. To approach things from the darkness, from disbelief, from the position against what is being said.
This is what we see from Nicodemus in our Gospel lesson this morning. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. In the darkness. Hiding himself from the other religious leaders, and hiding himself from the Lord. Because at this point, Nicodemus is not on Jesus' side. Oh, he certainly acts like he believes in Jesus. He makes it out like he approaches in faith, but he is the doubter, the critic, and Jesus calls him on it right away, before he can even ask a question - Jesus speaks to the heart of the skeptic.
"Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." This statement is magnificent in the Greek, because Jesus is saying like three things all at the same time. Something about us, and something about Himself. Unless one is "Ginnao Anothen" - typically translated here "born again" he cannot see the kingdom of God. Ginnao Anothen. Ginnao is the word for born - but it also means begotten. In fact, only a few verses from now, in our treasured John 3:16, Jesus uses the same word for only begotten Son - the only Ginnao Son. Begotten. And then there is Anothen - typically translated "again." But it also means from above or from heaven. So hear the whole verse again: "Unless one is begotten from above, from heaven, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, "I am the only begotten Son, the only One who can see the kingdom. You cannot. So how do you say that you believe?"
But poor Nicodemus doesn't hear that at all. He isn't able to think that way. He is thinking of earthly things, and his words only reveal his unbelief. "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" This is the proud height of man's reason. When our lofty thinking and wisdom cannot fit the eternal mysteries of God into our pea-sized brains, we presume something is wrong with God's Word. I mean, it couldn't possibly be my limitations. My eyes can see just fine Jesus. What are you talking about?
Jesus answered, "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." Jesus stood in the water of the river Jordan, the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove and His Father spoke from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son. My only Begotten Son - the One I have always been pleased with. He alone will enter my kingdom. He will be the only One, but you will be in Him. You will enter my kingdom in Him, for He is the way. You will be baptized into my Son, born again into His death and resurrection, united to the One begotten from above. My Spirit will do this to you in the water and the Word. - for this is the way into my kingdom. In Christ.
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The reason you cannot understand Nicodemus, is because you are of the flesh. You have not been born of my Spirit, but only of the flesh. And what is the flesh? When Jesus talks about the flesh what does He mean? Is He talking about my physical body, as opposed to my soul? No. When the Bible speaks of the flesh it is talking about our ungodly desires. Our sinful human nature. And Jesus leaves nothing out here. Men are flesh, He says, and have a taste for nothing but the flesh. Even your highest, most noble decisions and actions- the most excellent thing in man is neither godly, nor good. Your reasoning. Your will. The part that governs you. Vile, corrupt and unaccepting of the Word of God. And not part of you, but all of you. And not a couple of you, but all of you. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. You were all Begotten in ungodliness. Do you hear me Nicodemus? This defect is so serious that you must be born again. But that is why I'm here - the only Begotten Son. This is why the Spirit comes - to justify the ungodly.
Then we hit the next amazing words our Lord speaks in our text. He says, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." Again Jesus is saying much more than meets the eye, because the Greek word for wind is the same word for Spirit. And the Greek word for blow is the same word for breathe. Yes, the wind blows. But the Spirit breathes. He breathed life into Adam, and He still breathes wherever it pleases Him. But when He breathes, Jesus says, you hear a sound - and that sound is my Word. My words are spirit. They are life, and those who hear the breathing of the Spirit believe - they are born again. Begotten from above. Breathed into from heaven.
But here is the kicker, just because you hear the sound doesn't mean you can tell where it comes from or where it is going. You don't automatically understand God's ways. Yes, you are born of the Spirit, but you still wrestle with your flesh. You still battle your human nature. You're still sinful. And so you doubt. You question. You worry and fret, because that is what is in you. But God has also put a new breath in you. His own breath. One that doesn't doubt. One that doesn't question. You have the Spirit of the Only Begotten Son - who fights for you until your last day. You don't even finish the job. God's Spirit gives you life, and He keeps you in it. He keeps you connected to Jesus in the Word.
But tell that to someone without the Spirit. Poor Nicodemus is flabbergasted. How can this be? How can baptism do such great things? How can the Spirit breathe new life and faith into someone through the Word? "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and you do not understand these things? These are the basics. This is the earthly stuff. If you cannot believe that the Spirit works through the Word, what will you say when I tell you how the Son of Man will redeem His people? What will you say when I tell you that He will be lifted up on a pole like a cursed serpent? Cut off from His Father, and left to die!? For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. This isn't about you figuring it out, or making the right choice, or doing the right thing. You are already dead, but My Father has sent Me here to save you. I've come here to die, that I might raise you in me back to my heavenly kingdom. (major pause)
Oh, how difficult it is for us to understand God's perspective, even when we have faith! Oh, how incredible it is for us to realize that we are dead, but that God loved us so much that He sent His own Son into our death to bring us out of it - that we would no longer be ungodly -but flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones - even those who eat His body and drink His blood. Only the Son can enter His kingdom, so He puts Himself in you. Come now, my people, rise from death, for I am your Saviour and I want to be with you forever. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr