+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +
Text: John 3:1-17
Theme: The Giving of His Son
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Spiritual expeditions seldom traverse the terrain “as the crow flies”. As human beings with the tendency to become misdirected and stumble over ourselves we rarely take the direct route. The journey of Lent is not so much linear as it is circular. We often cover the same ground again and in so doing we not only mature in our faith but we live out our vocations with clearer intent and greater focus. Christ often answered the same questions for the same people more than once. More importantly, He patiently forgave confused and slow-hearted sinners so that they would reach the destination of His kingdom.
Lent then, is not a quick bee-line to Calvary or a slow trek to Golgotha. We might even say our Lenten journey, like the entire Christian pilgrimage, is spherical. We not only come to places we know we’ve been to before, we see them from a different angle and a different perspective. We learn not only the value of “looking back” or to the periphery, but from different points on a sphere. We succumb to the same temptations but not always in the same way or under the same circumstances. We hear Christ’s powerful words of absolution again and again. Sometimes His mercy is as gentle as a soft embrace, yet other times His forgiveness impacts us like being lifted from a bruising trauma and stood firmly on our feet. Once we receive His body and blood with hardly a passing thought, again we receive it deeply moved by its power.
Though infinitely flexible to our idiosyncrasies God, on His part, is incontrovertible in His will and His compassion. He does not tolerate sin. He does not leave sin unpunished. We have no way to circumvent these truths. We are called forthrightly to repent. We have broken His commands in our thoughts, with our words, and through our actions. We don’t simply need revision, we need forgiveness. Here God doesn’t fail us. Jesus’ words to Nicodemus are much-loved and well-known, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only 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.”1
But does the world believe it needs saving? This is a complicated question. The heart and mind not transformed by the Spirit cannot meaningfully entertain this question. Unbelief keeps the unconverted in bondage to different agendas. The Scripture says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”2 That doesn’t mean people don’t desire some type of rescue. People may believe they need saving from social injustice, from economic oppression, and authoritarian power structures. They may want to be freed from damaged relationships, overly hectic schedules, poor health, or general despondency. Young people seem to be hoping to be saved from boredom as the greatest of all evils- and they are certainly hoping someone else will see to it.
The consideration of deeper things can be suppressed by the pursuits and pressures of the daily grind. We have immediate concerns- work, children, school, relationships, health- our status with God is easily pushed to the fringes. A false sense of security about the eternal future contributes to apathy. “Aren’t most people going to a better place when they depart this life anyway?” How could I be an exception, I’m not that bad?” “Maybe when we die we just cease to exist anyway?” These and similar thoughts reveal the pervasiveness of the teaching of universalism: The idea that all paths will lead to the same place in the end.
Nicodemus represents all who have genuine interest in divine things but think we must work out our own means of reaching the goal. Undoubtedly this would have involved family bloodlines and strict observance of the law for Nicodemus. With a thunderbolt these foundations are overturned by the work of Christ. The Scripture says, “For if those who live by the law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath…Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring- not only those who are of law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.”3
But then, if we are saved by faith, how to begin? Again, God has it in hand. We confess with Luther, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”4 This transformation must govern everything for and in us. The Reformers remind us, “Reason and free will are able to live an outwardly decent life to some extent. But only the Holy Spirit causes a person to be born anew and to have inwardly another heart, mind, and natural desire.”5 And again, “As often as believers stumble, they are reproved by the Holy Spirit from the Law, and by the same Spirit are raised up and comforted again by the preaching of the Gospel.”6
The Holy Spirit ties His work to the Word. The Spirit, Word, baptism, truth, grace, faith, and Christ are all bound inseparably together. The Holy Spirit is extraordinarily dexterous, as in, ambidextrous in handling the word of truth. The gospel is not simply information; it has transformative power. The words of Jesus do not contain a communique of God’s latest activities they are performative. That is, when the forgiveness of sins is declared to the repentant soul that forgiveness is valid before God and truly effectual for the one receiving it. As such, you are restored to your baptism.
Dear friends, this world is in the grip of decay. It is a result of the judgment. But God does not hold grudges. Those were eliminated at the cross. In the crucifixion of Jesus the enmity, wrath, and condemnation of God was absorbed for all humanity. The kingdom of God is incorruptible. The risen Christ intercedes continually for His people. We are of the faith of Abraham and before him, the faith of Noah. We are of the faith of Moses, of David, of Isaiah, of John the Baptist. We are of the faith of Rahab, of Ruth, and of Mary. We are cut from the same cloth as all the sinners of the past and we are gathered as lambs into the same fold of the same Shepherd. We are of the same faith as Nicodemus, who was not absent at Jesus’ burial.7
In one sense we do get to heaven “as the crow flies”, that is, we go straight through Christ. But our route here repeatedly traverses the topography of spiritual hills and valleys and is governed by the rhythm and order He ordains. He gathers us and He sends us again, and again, until His final Appearing. God gave His Son- both the end of our struggle and the beginning of our eternal existence. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 John 3:16-17
2 Romans 8:7-8
4 Luther’s Small Catechism,
5 FC SD II, 26
6 Triglotta, SD 17
17See John 19:39
Second Sunday in Lent
16 March 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt