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How Someone Can See the Kingdom of God

John 3:1–15 (CSB)

3 There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform these signs you do unless God were with him.”

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again,, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

“How can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus.

10 “Are you a teacher of Israel and don’t know these things?” Jesus replied. 11 “Truly I tell you, we speak what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you do not accept our testimony. 12  If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man.,

14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

Dear fellow redeemed: On this festival of the Holy Trinity we acknowledge the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity of the true and living God, the God who is actually there, as contrasted with all of the counterfeit religions out there, the Mormons, Muslims, pagans, atheists, and whatnot.

We have confessed that in the Athanasian Creed, so we don’t get careless or lax about Who is the true Creator, Redeemer, and Faith-giver.

Because He IS the true God, we see it reflected in our text that there is one God, but that this God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Reflected. What is actually taught here is …

HOW SOMEONE CAN SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD

  1. By the Creation of New Life
  2. That Opens Our Eyes to See Heavenly Things
  3. Because of Christ’s Gracious Redemption
  1. By the Creation of New Life

John has begun His gospel by proclaiming that Jesus, about whom He is teaching, is the Word, the true revelation of God, and that He is the Creator. “All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.(John 1:3, CSB) Now He has entered this world He continues to create life where death has intruded, death in the form of unbelief, which is spiritual death. He was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.(John 1:10–13, CSB)

This new life cannot create itself, but is created according to the will of God. (By the way, it is in teaching this faithfully that the Lutheran church is distinguished from the “evangelical” heresies that are so popular.)

So along comes someone who is dead and blind: Nicodemus. He comes at night. In just the next chapter, John says, … people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19, CSB)  So, John doesn’t give any reason to think that Nicodemus was a believer. And Nicodemus reveals this attitude in the way he addresses Jesus, not as the “Eternal Word,” but as someone who had God with him, like Jeremiah or Malachi; modern liberal theologians would say as much.

While Nicodemus uses flattery and yet confronts Jesus as less than He is, Jesus lays out the fundamental problem of humanity and its solution:  “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The human problem is that we are born spiritually dead, so we must be born again. Literally, the Greek is “born from above.”

Nicodemus replies sarcastically about going back into the womb, showing he doesn’t understand. Jesus goes on: “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

This is a spiritual birth, a birth of the soul by the power of the Holy Spirit. You have a physical birth as God blesses the union of your parents – with you. But they cannot give you life. The work of the Spirit is shown in the spiritual life of faith and all the fruit it brings to our lives.

2. That Opens Our Eyes to See Heavenly Things

If there were a good candidate to get these things and “make a decision” for Christ, it would be Nicodemus. As a leader of Israel, He should know about the grace of God. Israel was not chosen because they were special, or Abraham was special. They were special because God chose them.

But “How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus.

10 “Are you a teacher of Israel and don’t know these things?” Jesus replied. 11 “Truly I tell you, we speak what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you do not accept our testimony. 12  If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

This is an application of what Jesus had just said about being “born again.” Coming to faith is a miracle. It isn’t something we earn, deserve, are “more receptive to,” or are more prone to. It is just like the mystery of existence itself. Once, according to the flesh, we were not, and then we were given life and were born, and now we live.

“Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Jesus is speaking of baptism here. “Water and the Spirit” is one thing; it isn’t “of water and OF the Spirit,” but “of water and the Sprit.” Where God’s word is, there God is, and so there is the Spirit.

For some years before Christ, converts to Judaism were called “newborns,” and they received a ceremonial washing because, after all according to the Pharisees, gentiles were unclean. But here Jesus says, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. He cannot enter the community of faith, the church, and therefore heaven. Nicodemus would have to be born again by water and the Spirit. “How can these things be?” was His response.

3. Because of Christ’s Gracious Redemption

Of course, John began almost at the beginning of his gospel speaking of baptism – the baptism of John, and the rest of this chapter recounts Jesus and His disciples baptizing “unto repentance for the remission of sins.” God has used His word -also in this sacrament- as the means of grace to create life where there was death.

How can this be? Because God (the Holy Spirit) is the creator and giver of life.

How can this be? Because God (the son) bore our sins. Baptism isn’t a transaction, as in “I’ll be baptized and therefore you will forgive my sins. It is a gift of life because of the perfect life and atoning death of Christ. So Jesus said, 14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” The righteousness He lived, and the atonement He won for your forgiveness are given to you as you are alive, believing, in faith, to receive it.

It is by the water and Spirit of baptism that God gives new life, that we are born from mere fleshly life, doomed to die, to spiritual life, destined to live, because, living, we know Christ, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.” (Philippians 3:9, CSB)

Remember, you ARE baptized. It isn’t that you WERE and it is over, you were baptized into new life, so that you shared in Christ’s death, which He died for you, and now share in His resurrection, and so live according to the spirit. “Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection.” (Romans 6:3–5, CSB)

Rejoice in the new life in which you now life, by which you now see the kingdom of God, and by which you will live eternally.

AMEN.