Text: John 3:1-17
Date: Lent II + 3/12/17
The road to becoming a Christian begins with this: you cannot just join up, you cannot just change your actions, you cannot just cover over your sin. The road to becoming a Christian begins with this: You Must Be Born Again. That is, you must be changed, be made totally new. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. You didn’t have anything to do with that. You must be born now from above. You also don’t have anything to do with that! Those who are born again, from above are born of God and have been given the gift of faith, faith in God, faith in His Word.
People for the entire history of the world since Adam have needed to be transformed from unbelievers to believers. That’s a fundamental fact of the fallen, sinful nature, unbelief, lack of faith in God, rather, spiritual blindness, deadness and enmity with God. Adam hiding in the bushes! The Lenten journey of the catechumenate addresses all of this. All have sinned. All suffer the same separation from God from the beginning. And we all need to be transformed in the same way whether in Old Testament or New Testament times, namely by faith because you can’t do it by yourself.
Today we are told about a man named Abram. He was a descendant of Shem a son of Noah the eighth generation descendant of Adam to whom the first promise of a savior was given by God. Do you remember the promise? God said that one of the descendants of Adam and Eve would be the Messiah, the savior. God did not say how long it would take, however. But each of the descendants were taught about this promise of God to be given through the line of Abraham.
Abram knew God’s promise. More than that Abram believed God’s promise. When God told Abram to leave his home and go to a land he didn’t yet know, amazingly, he went. Have you ever done that? Would you go if God directed you to go yet not telling you where to go? Why did he go? Only because God told him to. That’s faith. God told him He would make of Abram a great nation. God promised, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” namely, through the Messiah. He is reminded of the promised Savior. Today St. Paul reminds us of Genesis 15:5 where God promised Abraham, saying, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be” of whom the promised One would come. Then Moses writes this most important sentence: “And he (that is, Abraham) believed the Lord, and he (that is, the Lord) counted it (that is, his belief, his faith) to him (namely Abraham) as righteousness.” That is why Abraham is called not “our father of the works of the law,” but “the father of all who believe” (Rom 4:11), pointing to “the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16), that is, all believers.
As we said, all are to be transformed, made fit for heaven we could say, in the same way, namely by faith. And how does God give faith? Answer, through His Spirit and Word. The same Spirit and Word of promise of God to Abraham is given to all who are baptized with water and the Word of God.
But you say, baptism didn’t come along until John the Baptist and Jesus, right? St. Paul says, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:1-2). This is why we will hear at the Easter Vigil the account of the miracle of God’s deliverance of His people from Pharaoh through water, through the Red Sea. To be saved means to believe God’s Word. That’s what it means to be born again.
Actually, catechumens, you don’t have to totally understand or comprehend this mystery of how God works through His Word, His Spirit, through earthly elements like water. For it is not your understanding that counts at the beginning of faith. It is your hearing that counts, your hearing of God’s Word and command and promise. The miracle happens when you can say from your heart those words of the Creed along with all Christians, “I believe.”
Today we heard of a teacher of Israel, a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews coming to Jesus by night. In a way you will be walking in his steps as we gather for the night vigil of Easter when you will be baptized. I ask you not to be hesitant, afraid or ashamed, but truly seeking salvation. Nicodemus was truly seeking and was born again in faith as his attendance at the crucifixion and burial of Jesus proves. He did come to understand, that is to believe, in what it means to be born again by water and the Spirit. It has everything to do with the Word, the gospel of God.
Now you all heard those familiar words of John 3:16. Everyone knows those words, right? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” To be born again, anew, from above means to believe in Jesus Christ and God’s promise that whoever believes in him has eternal life.
Faith. This is the beginning of your new life. For by faith we join Abraham, Nicodemus and all those who have gone before us and we join them in this way. The letter to the Hebrews says, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…. As it is they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Heb 11:13-16).
As “these all died in faith” so you must know that all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death. We are buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Rom 6:3-4). That is a picture of what happens to you as you are born again in Holy Baptism. In Christ you are born anew to the new, eternal life by the power of God’s Spirit and His gift of faith.
By faith we already have died unfearing. And at our Lord’s return we all will be awakened, and with your very own eyes you will see the Son of God with joy. To this end we pray. Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, And I will praise Thee without end.