Text: John 3:1-17 (emph vv 2 and 3): 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." 3Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Dear friends on Christ Jesus,
What has that got to do with the price of tea in China? Have you ever heard the expression? It’s usually said in a conversation when one person makes a comment, and then another person responds with a comment that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the conversation.
I have an idea that Nicodemus might have been thinking something like that when he heard Jesus’ response to his comment:
“We know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one cando these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
And Jesus’ response: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is bornagain he cannot see the kingdom of God."
If Nicodemus had been a smart-aleck, he might have responded, “What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?”
Seriously. How is Jesus’ comment a response to what Nicodemus said? Nicodemus is talking about signs and wonders that Jesus had performed. And these signs and wonders are proof that God is with him. And that he is a teacher come from God.
So why is Jesus changing the subject? Why doesn’t he just stick with the subject that Nicodemus has brought up?
Jesus could have said, “You’re right, Nicodemus. I have done a lot of miraculous signs. Did you hear about the one I did at Cana in Galilee? I turned water into wine! And I have been in Jerusalem this whole week doing miraculous sign after miraculous sign!”
That’s what Jesus could have said. But he didn’t. Instead, he changed the conversation and started talking about being “born again”.
I have an idea that Nicodemus may have been a little bit disappointed. Because, with these signs and wonders, it would seem that Nicodemus had finally found what he was looking for.
The same thing happens today, doesn’t it? People are looking for something. Wouldn’t it be great if there were signs and wonders for us to see and experience that could tell us we’ve finally found what we’re looking for?
Illus: I was conducting a worship service in a nursing home once, and in the middle of my sermon all the lights went out. For some reason, some electrical problem, all the lights in the room shut off… except for one. The light right above my head stayed on.
And I said, “Isn’t that weird! All the lights have gone out… except for this one.” And a lady in the back proclaimed, “It’s a miracle!”
Well, I don’t know if it was a miracle or not. Maybe there’s a perfectly logical explanation for why all those lights went out, except for the one directly over my head.
But even if it was a miracle… even if the heavens had opened up, and a ray of sunshine shined upon me like a spot light… that would be nothing… NOTHING compared to another miracle that had already taken place in my life.
And the same thing is true for you. Even if you’ve experienced a miracle… maybe if some sort of light shone on you… or maybe if you experienced some sort of healing miracle.
Even if you were healed completely from some ailment… some sickness…. that miracle would be nothing… compared to the miracle that has already taken place in your life.
And that miracle is what Jesus changes the subject to in his conversation with Nicodemus. What does Jesus say? “Unless one is born again… he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
I said before that it seemed like Jesus was changing the subject. Nicodemus wanted to talk about the miraculous signs and wonders that Jesus had done. Jesus wanted to talk about being born again.
But can you think of a greater miracle … than being born again? And Nicodemus catches on with what might seem like a sarcastic comeback when he says: “Can a man enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
And Jesus answers: Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh. That which is born of Spirit is Spirit.”
There’s no doubt about it. Jesus is talking about Baptism. He says even if it were possible for you to climb back into your mother’s womb… and for you to be born that way again… your mother is still just going to give birth to flesh. Being born again means being born of water… and the Spirit.
If you’re really looking for a sign from God … you don’t have to go any further than His word. You don’t have to sit there and pray, “God, I’m waiting for you to show me a sign. I’m waiting for you to perform some sort of miracle in my life so I can know for sure of your love for me.”
God has given you the sign… and he’s shown you the miracle. In Baptism you have been born again… by water and the Spirit.
I know it doesn’t seem very miraculous. I know it doesn’t seem as miraculous as changing water into wine… or healing diseases… or mysterious shining lights. But it is … just as miraculous … and much more important.
Because those other miracles are only for the here and now. They’re temporary. But the miracle of Baptism… the miracle of your new birth… is for eternity.
You see, we need new birth. We need to be born again. We need to be born again because we are by nature sinful and unclean. “Surely I was sinful from birth” the Psalmist says. “Sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
But God provides for us the remedy for our sinfulness. And Jesus himself speaks about it in verses 14-17 of our text.
14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
It’s no coincidence that Jesus’ talk with Nicodemus about Baptism also includes the portion of Scripture that we’ve come to know as “the Gospel in a nutshell.”
Because Baptism itself (being born of water and the Spirit) is the application of that very same Gospel. It’s the gift of the Holy Spirit where faith is engendered… so that we who are baptized are those who believe… those who will not perish, but have everlasting life.
And how did he bring about that salvation? By being lifted up… just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so that all the Israelites who were plagued by the bites of the venomous snakes… as they gazed at that serpent on the pole… as they focused on it… they were healed. So too are we healed from the poisonous bites of Satan, as we look to Christ… and him crucified.
You know, there’s this notion among some that if we have the image of Christ still on the cross, something’s wrong. If we have a processional cross, or an altar cross, or a cross around our neck that has a corpus… the image of Christ still on the cross… something’s wrong.
Friends, something is NOT wrong when we have the image of Christ and him crucified before us. For as we gaze at him suffering there… as we see him dying there… as we see him on the cross… we see there the propitiation for our sins. We see there the atonement for our sins. We see there the forgiveness of our sins.
And in Baptism, we are joined together with Jesus in his death on the cross. We were buried with him by baptism into his death. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father… we too are raised to a new life. A new life for us to live here on this earth now. And a new life for us to live forever with him in eternity.
You want to talk about signs and wonders? You want to talk about miracles? You want to talk about God at work in your life?
How about the miracle of taking a poor miserable sinner… and turning him into a saint… holy and precious in the sight of God?
Nicodemus had a conversation with Jesus… a conversation that, at first glance, didn’t seem to fit right. But what we have to understand is that Jesus directed that conversation away from what Nicodemus wanted to talk about… and TO what was “truly truly” important for him.
May God grant that our conversations (with Him and with each other) would be directed by Him to focus our attention on what is “truly truly” important for us as well.
…that when we want to focus on something we think is really important… God will focus our attention on the fact that He is truly, truly present among us… miraculously present … in the miracle of Word and Sacrament. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.