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Born of Water and the Spirit May 31, 2015

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John 3:1-17

Trinity Sunday

May 31, 2015

An Updated Version from June 2-3, 2012

Focus: God gave His only Son and poured out His Spirit that we may believe, and that by believing we may live.

Function: That the hearers, by faith in Him, may see the kingdom of God.

Structure: Questions and answers.

 

Born of Water and the Spirit

 

The Apostle John is one of the few writers in Scripture who comes right out and tells us his purpose.  Near the end of his gospel, he tells us that these things “are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

John’s gospel is unique in many ways when compared to the other three.  We believe that John wrote sometime in the 80’s near the end of his life, some 50 years after Christ, and a couple of decades after our other gospel writers.  Because of this, he had the opportunity to focus a little differently than the others.  He starts his gospel by opposing Gnosticism, a pagan belief that was creeping its way into Christianity by that time.

But in our text today, we notice another difference.  John didn’t worry about the sacraments.  The other gospel writers tend to be quite clear when they talk about baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  But by this point, the sacraments are so ingrained into the life and practice of the church, John doesn’t have to focus on them.  He can make small references that his readers will pick up on.  For example, in his account of Jesus feeding the five thousand, Jesus tells them that He is “the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

And in our text today, we’re going to talk about being “born of water and the Spirit.”  Baptism is a vital part of our life as Christians.  Here at St. John’s we are blessed with the number of baptisms we see each and every year.  And we will continue to be blessed with a couple more next weekend.

But when baptism becomes so common, we run the risk of forgetting its importance.  If we don’t stay focused, if we don’t really look at it from time to time, it becomes routine and gets lost in the shuffle.  So today, as John alludes to the importance of baptism, we refocus.

Just prior to this, Jesus had turned water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana.  He cleansed the temple that had become a marketplace.  And He enraged the Pharisees by claiming He could rebuild the temple in three days.  And as John put it, “many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing.”  But Jesus knew their hearts, He knew man.

And so we get a transition, to another man, another Pharisee.  We are introduced to Nicodemus, not just a Jew, not just a Pharisee, but one of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin.  But he’s also not like most of the Pharisees.  He’s starting to believe.  He comes to Jesus and calls Him “Rabbi.”  He admits that Jesus has come from God on account of the miracles he’s witnessed.

Rabbi is one of the many functions Christ had in His ministry.  You and I know all about the others.  But Nicodemus wasn’t quite there yet and so Jesus was fine playing along.  If you want to treat Me as a Rabbi, then I’ll be your Rabbi.  Rabbis teach, so, let Me teach you.

When you know what Rabbis do, Jesus no longer seems to be making some random comment.  Instead, what He says is meant to elicit a question, to bring about the thinking and learning process in Nicodemus.  It wasn’t the part about seeing the kingdom of God that caught Nicodemus’ attention.  It was the phrase “born again.”

Not knowing the gospel as we know it, he comes up with a logical thought.  How can an old man be born again?  If you know how birth works, you know it’s not possible to go back into the womb.  So that’s his question.  And it prompts a teaching moment; it allows Jesus to share the gospel.

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  It’s one of those moments where John points to a sacrament without actually saying it.

So let’s hash it out; what is baptism?  In this text alone, Jesus provides multiple details.  It’s water.  Water is by far the most common thing on this earth.  Something like 60% of our body, as well as 70% of the earth’s surface, is water.  According to health and diet experts, you should probably be drinking at least 64oz. of water a day.  You swim in it and sometimes it even falls on you from the sky.  Another function of water is that we use it regularly to stay clean, from showering to washing our hands.

All of these things correlate to why water is used in baptism.  It’s so common, there’s no excuse to not have any.  As we use it to clean, we can also see in our baptisms a sense of washing, or regeneration, that in our baptisms, our sins are forgiven, and in Christ we have become white as snow.  Martin Luther spoke of baptism as something we should remember daily and that we should daily drown the Old Adam within us, that sinful self.  Professor Kolb at the seminary always reminded his students that your daily time in the shower, as the water pours over you, is a perfect time to remember your baptism, and what it is that Christ has done for you in that water.

Baptism is also Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is strongly at work in baptism.  If the faith is not already present, the Spirit creates it.  If the faith is already present because the Spirit already created it, then the Spirit works in the baptism to strengthen that faith.  As we read last weekend, Jesus told us that it was both necessary and good that He depart from us; because in parting, He would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to us.  He has sent the Spirit to us, who has created faith in us and also sustains it.

The third part that Christ includes in this passage in John is the notion that baptism is necessary.  “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”  We see similar statements elsewhere in Scripture.  And this is precisely why we as Lutherans believe baptism is a sacrament.  We define sacraments as things that meet three criteria.  First, that it was commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Second, that the forgiveness of sins, through Him, is offered.  And third, that it is connected to a visible element.  Thus we come to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

A common question from that: is baptism necessary?  Because Christ commanded it, we say yes.  But truly, it’s the wrong question.  The Ethiopian eunuch got the question right in the book of Acts.  “What prevents me from being baptized?”  If a person doesn’t have faith, the Spirit works through baptism to create it, to begin that new life.  But if they already have faith, baptism should be desired.  If you have faith in Christ, you want the gifts He has to give you, which most definitely includes baptism, faith, forgiveness, and life.

We learn other things about baptism elsewhere in Scripture.  Matthew 28 instructs us to baptize all nations and to do so in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Paul in Romans 6 teaches us that baptism connects us to Christ, that in our baptisms we are buried together with Him.  In baptism, we are bound to Christ’s death on the cross, thus also connected to Him in His resurrection, that we too will be raised and walk in a newness of life.

From passages such as these, we learn that baptism isn’t something we do, but rather something God does to us and for us.  It’s His work, not ours.  He creates and sustains faith through the outpouring of His Spirit.  And He forgives us of our sins through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  So as we observe Trinity Sunday, we can see the entire Trinity is at work in our baptisms.

As we return for a moment to the text to wrap up, we see that Jesus calls Nicodemus “Israel’s teacher.”  There’s a connection there to Nicodemus calling Him “Rabbi.”  The one responsible for teaching the people needs to know what to teach.  So Jesus gives him another piece.  He tells him that “the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have everlasting life.”  He connects back to Old Testament history with Moses, and forward to Himself on the cross, to the gift of forgiveness that God offers to the world for any who are “born of water and the Spirit.”  And that most definitely includes you and me.  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

 

 

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