3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
3:2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."
3:3 Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."
3:4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"
3:5 Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.
3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.'
3:8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
3:9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?"
3:10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
3:11 "Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.
3:12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
3:16 "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.
3:17 "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.
I find it apropos that on the second Sunday in Lent we encounter Nicodemus creeping through the night to meet with Jesus.
What is it about the darkness that gives human beings the courage to do things they would never do in the light—for both good and evil? And what is it about the night that causes such grave questions to rise up in our hearts…
I don’t know about you, but it is often in the midnight hour that worries most assail me. I lie upon my pillow worrying, wondering, praying, and then worrying some more. Sometimes we worry about whether we fed our pets. Other times we worry about whether our children are healthy and whole. And at other times we worry if God has forsaken us…
See, if we’re honest, most of us would confess that one of our most grievous sins is the secret thought that God is actually lying when He says that he loves us just the way He made us.
These worries emerge, especially in the darkness, as we lay upon our pillows. We tell ourselves things like, “Wow, I really messed up. I’m such a screw up. I’m not good enough to have any usefulness to God. God can forgive others, but just not me; I’m too bad…”
I’d dare say that there is not a one of us who hasn’t entertained these thoughts at some time or another.
I wonder if Nicodemus was experiencing a similar existential crisis, when he slipped out of his bed, in the dead of night, to go see Jesus, and try to get some answers to life’s most pressing and eternal questions.
In response to his inquires, our Jesus give him one simple answer, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
This side of the cross and two thousand years of church history later, as Christian-Lutherans we understand this comment to mean that we must be baptized with water and believe—by faith--that Jesus is the Savior of the world.
In Martin Luther’s Small Catechism he wrote that baptism “brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it as the words and promise of God declare.”
Of course, we know that water doesn’t do all of this by itself, rather, it is also the word of God, and our faith in Jesus, that allows the grace of God to cause a rebirth and renewal to take place in the human soul.
On a daily basis we allow the old person in us, with all of our sins and evil desires, to be drowned through daily sorrow and repentance for sin, and a new person to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Perhaps this is why when we bring children or adults forward for baptism we pray over them, “Sustain this person with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of JOY in your presence, both now and forever…Amen.
I love this prayer because our Lenten theme this year is Finding Joy: A Lenten Journey to Easter. I believe that part of finding joy is believing that “joy is the birthright of every Christian person, for Jesus Christ is God’s invitation and promise to joy for all (Foss).”
At our Wednesday Lenten gatherings I said in my sermon, “I know it is impossible to wrap our arms around how much God loves us…”
But, when I got home that evening and settled into my bed, and the darkness and quietness of my home stole over me, the Holy Spirit told me that I was wrong…
If we just look with the eyes of faith, we CAN see how much God loves us, for Jesus showed us exactly how much when he was lifted up on a cross, stretching out his arms (stretch out your arms), and dying to make atonement for our sin and gift us with eternal life.
See? God loves us exactly THIS MUCH (stretch out your arms…)
The Gospel according to St. John the third chapter says it another way, "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.”
Oh what an amazing love that looked beyond our faults and saw our needs…
I am so glad that it is a true fact that God desires for us to know and believe that He is the author of our uniqueness! God has gifted us with our looks, gifts, talents, passions and purposes. God loves us just the way that we are and desires for us to receive His unconditional love with joy (Foss)
Today, it is my prayer that we will all daily crawl back to the font, to be renewed in the promises of the second birth found in our baptism (Martin Luther). It is my prayer that each of us would be enveloped in the love of God, such that even in the midnight hour we would know that we are securely held in his hand. And it is my prayer that each of us would find a way to share this amazing love with others, today and always.
Remember that you are dust, and to the dust you will return…In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
If you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, “Come to Jesus” @ http://bit.ly/JVhaLta