Genesis 12:1-9; Ps. 121; Rom. 4:1-8, 13-17; John 3:1-17 (translation, Wm. C. Weinrich, below)
See, Jesus answered and said to [Nicodemus], “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is begotten from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God.”(v. 3)
For Nicodemus Jesus is a prophet; he does not perceive the kingdom of God come in the person of Jesus, nor does he hear the voice of the Spirit that Jesus speaks. Nicodemus, one of Israel’s pre-eminent teachers, and Jesus, incarnate Torah from heaven enter into a confused conversation reminiscent of the Abbot and Costello routine, “Who’s on first; What’s on second”.
Unlike the ESV Gospel translation printed in your Service folder, context suggests the Reading delivered (appended) importantly more accurate. Nicodemus and Jesus use the same Greek words capable of conveying two distinct thoughts. Jesus teaches a new “begetting from God (i.e., from above)”; while Nicodemus instead hears of a second human birth “born again”, the language of “neo-Evangelical” Protestantism.
The two teachers talk past one another. Nicodemus speaks nonsense about the impossibility of re-entering his mother’s womb. To be sure modern neo-Evangelicals spiritualize Nicodemus’ “born again” talk to make it palatable. How sad, for unless we comprehend the Spirit’s voice from Jesus, reference to Holy Baptism, we with Nicodemus, must fail to “see the kingdom of God”.
Over the last two Sundays, our preaching concern has been “religious enthusiasm”, asserting private interpretation over God’s word, definitional of original sin. Adam and the woman fell from grace by temptations progressively urging they modify, doubt, and ultimately reject God’s clear instruction, “enthusiasm’s” hallmark mentality.
At the Transfiguration, Peter gratuitously inserted babble into heaven’s discourse. The Father from the cloud silenced him, “listen to [my Son]” (Mt. 17:5). In context Peter’s offer to construct tabernacles made as much sense as Nicodemus’ question; “How can a man enter his mother’s womb a second time?” Nonetheless, religious enthusiasts, by private interpretations, exert authority against Jesus’ teaching the necessity of water and Spirit Baptism for his church.
Jesus, led by the Spirit into the wilderness to confront Satan, relied solely on God’s word; there recapitulating and reversing Adam and the woman’s desire for a different “wisdom” of their own good and evil standards.
Today Jesus in anticipation teaches of his concluding work on the cross: water, blood, and Spirit; to accomplish nothing less than transformation of Satan’s desert to a florid new Garden.
Following the Transfiguration Jesus and three apostles descended from the Mount toward the place of his death. As the crosses proximity approaches in Lent, we grapple with our enthusiastic natures desiring to modulate God’s word by our own lights (2 Peter 1:20, 21).
I reiterate, by nature we follow in the train of ancestor enthusiasm. We dress-up motives toward God’s word, all the while denying its plain meaning from the body of Holy Writ. We insinuate reason, philosophy, and social science from our low “wisdom” of good and evil; we construct tabernacles to provide a sanctuary for Jesus and fail to recognize he alone is our destined Place, God’s temple.
The irony is, that by original enthusiasm we are conflicted toward the Truth, hating its light, lest faux piety and worthless works apart from Christ are exposed (Jn. 3:19, 20).
God called an idolater, Abram, out of Ur of the Chaldees, bringing him to the Land he would give his seed. On journey God promised to make Abram a great nation, to bless him, a blessing to all the families of the earth. (Gen. 12:2, 3). Trusting the promise, Abram progressed from faith to faith. Abram’s faith, the presage of our own salvation by faith was received, pure gift from above.
Abram crossed the Jordan, arriving at the oak of Moreh. There he beheld the Lord’s presence, constructed an altar, and worshipped God in the midst of pagans. Abram’s faith would be counted as righteousness first to his physical seed through ancient Israel’s sacrament of circumcision, and now we who, by faith, are his spiritual offspring through Jesus’ baptismal death for the blessing of all generations (Gen. 15:5, 6).
Nicodemus believed salvation was a function of being Abraham’s physical stock. Jesus, Teacher of Torah from Above, corrected Nicodemus, “the teacher of Israel”. Salvation only comes in the fulness of Christ God’s Son’s Baptism, in which there is a new begetting from the Father (above). Through Christ crucified, faith issues from his rent side for our Baptism in “living water”, in his blood, the Spirit’s new creation.
For Jews still relying on the physical lineage from Abraham, Jesus instructs, “That which is born from flesh is flesh, but that which is begotten from the Spirit is spirit…it is necessary that you all be begotten from above” (Jn. 3:6, 7). Abraham’s seed, circumcision, and Mosaic legal obeisance was only preparatory for creation of new Israel and its Garden coming into being by Christ’s death.
Of Abraham’s physical seed Jesus said to his antagonists, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would seemy day. He saw it and was glad…” (Jn. 8:56, 58).
We might ask: in what was Abraham’s faith situate; what was its object? It was the sight of the pre-incarnate Christ with him on journey through the Land, recognizing in this One the sum and substance of God’s gracious and merciful blessing. Abraham’s faith was in that One whose voice Nicodemus was called to hear the Spirit, the One whom the Father calls, “only Son”.
Modern-day enthusiasts argue over Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, saying salvation is not by Baptism but faith, as though Baptism and faith are unrelated; as though faith were the spiritual reality, but Baptism a mere symbol, legal obligation, or worse, devoid of gospel promise. But Baptism in water and Spirit are: the conveyance of Jesus’ cleansing blood. And to all enthusiasts St. Paul requires that they identify which “Jesus” is object of their faith? (2 Cor. 11:4).
Nicodemus inquired, “How can these things take place?” (v. 9); to which Jesus identified that he is the venom-less Serpent lifted by God in the congregation, that whoever looks on him in Abrahamic belief possess eternal life; this is why a crucifix, not a corpus-less cross occupies our Altar. In this way Jesus directed Nicodemus to Baptism for beholding his death, the manner of God’s love for the world.
Jesus identifying himself with Moses’ raised bronze serpent for healing in the desert, taught the meaning of his coming crucifixion and our Baptism into his death for our life.
On the cross Jesus handed-over the HS, the agency of our cleansing in water and blood issued in death from his side. As Eve was taken from Adam’s side in slumber, the NT Bride of Christ is begotten in his blood and the living water of the Spirit, a begetting from above by the Father’s will apart from the will of man.
Adam and the woman desired to know good and evil. Instead by sin, they enthusiastically knew evil by doing evil. Baptism into Jesus’ death through the Spirit in water and word gives us the Word’s light to see evil taken into Christ for our forgiveness.
In sublime irony, Baptism makes us god-like, to eschew evil by faith in bearing the image of Christ crucified, our sole entry into the Kingdom; an eternal life in his death. Amen.
John 3:1-17 (translation, Rev. Dr. Prof. Wm. C. Weinrich)
3:1 Now there was a man from the party of the Pharisees, Nicodemus by name, [and he was] a ruler of the Jews. 2 He came to [Jesus] at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one could do these signs which you do unless God were with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is begotten from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus says to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter the womb of his mother a second time and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is begotten from water and [the] Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born from flesh is flesh, but that which is begotten of the Spirit is spirit. 7 You should not marvel that I have said to you, ‘It is necessary that you all be begotten from above.’ 8 The Spirit breathes where he wishes, and you hear his voice, but you do not know from where he comes and where he goes. So is everyone who is begotten from the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can these things take place?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Amen, amen, I say to you, that which we know, we speak, and that which we have seen, we witness, but you do not receive our witness. 12 If they have spoken earthly things to you and yet you do not believe, how shall you believe if I should speak heavenly things to you? 13 Indeed, no one has gone up into heaven except he who has come down from heaven, [namely] the Son of Man, [who is in heaven]. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, in this way it is necessary that the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 so that whoever believes might in him have eternal life,” 16 For in this manner God loved the world.
And so [God] gave the Son—the only one—so that whoever believes in him might not perish but rather might have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world in order to condemn the world. Rather, [he sent the Son] so that the world might be saved through him.