Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Second Sunday in Lent - Sunday, March 5, 2023

Text: John 3:1-17

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Why would a man like Nicodemus come to Jesus? Humanly speaking, from the little we know, Nicodemus would have looked like one of those people who has everything you could ask for. Our first verse tells us that he is both a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council—you may have heard of this group called the Sanhedrin before: that was basically the Jewish Supreme Court. He has religion, he has the best formal education, he has power and influence, most likely he has wealth and opportunity thanks to his political connections, and that means that he has either the admiration or the envy of most people that he meets on a daily basis. So why would Nicodemus come to Jesus?

In the end, it’s hard to know, isn’t it? The fact that John includes the timing of the visit may be a hint that Nicodemus isn’t even exactly sure why he is coming to meet with Jesus. The business of the day has been concluded, and for most people it would be time to get some rest. Would Jesus be irritated? Might he be honored that someone like Nicodemus came to visit? Would Nicodemus be turned away? Or did he have an appointment? We can’t fully understand what was going through his head on the way to meet with Jesus, but we have the content of the conversation. And that is more than enough for us, because here in John Chapter 3, we have before us some of the most precious and beloved words that have ever been recorded anywhere—all because Jesus was willing to spend some time with Nicodemus.

Let’s listen in again: Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Notice how Jesus doesn’t look at Nicodemus and slap a label on him. The Lord doesn’t see merely a Pharisee or a judge; he definitely doesn’t identify a man who has it all. Instead, Jesus looks into his eyes and sees a precious soul in need, a man who is missing what is most critical and most valuable. Odds are that Nicodemus had been born into the “right” kind of family, and then spent his effort learning how he could get himself right with God, and spent his life trying to maintain a good name among the Jewish people. But Jesus quickly gets to the point and lets Nicodemus know that all of that—his privileged birth, his effort and his life would all be a waste unless he was born again.

The same is true for all of us, and Jesus explains why. Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“Flesh gives birth to flesh.” What does that mean? Every single one of us was born into the wrong kind of family--a family of sinners. Already at birth we inherited the weakness, corruption, and guilt of all who came before us, blind to the will of God, self-centered and hostile toward his law. We were all on the outside of God’s kingdom looking in until God gave us a new birth by his Holy Spirit. We couldn’t come to God on our own, but God came to us in water and the word and we were born again into his eternal kingdom; his Spirit made a home in our hearts and marked us as God’s children through the faith he put there. Let’s all stop and realize what a gift God has given us, that we are able to know and appreciate and treasure the truth of God’s grace that Nicodemus could only wonder about at first.

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. 10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came 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 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

As he brings Nicodemus from confusion to clarity, Jesus reveals how he knows so much about heavenly things: He’s been there! That’s where he came from! And even as we wonder why Nicodemus came to Jesus, we have no doubts as to why the Son of God came to earth as the Son of Man. He was born to die; he came down to be lifted up on a cross, that he might give life to all who look to him.

Jesus uses a comparison for illustration. He reminds Nicodemus of that account from the book of Numbers (chapter 21, if you’d like to review), where the Israelites had been grumbling and complaining that they were sick of wandering, and they were sick of the manna God gave them to eat. They accused God of bringing them out to the desert to die. We might have done the same. We get it. They longed for earthly comforts, for homesteads and harvests and hearty meals whereby they could enjoy their days rather than be led through the wilderness by God. And so God sent snakes…venomous snakes whose bite meant a certain death sentence for all who were affected. And suddenly priorities changed; they were reminded that wealth and plentiful food and comfortable homes don’t mean a thing if you’re dying.

Many of them perished. Some, however, were humbled to the point that they cried out for relief to the God they had offended so greatly. And God graciously gave them a cure. All you who are cursed by the poison of the snakes, look to the image of the snake lifted up on a pole…and live. Take a good look at the curse and know that God alone provides relief, and recovery, and rescue, and redemption. The point is for each of us as well. So, too, all of you who have lived under the curse of sin, all of you who see death approaching, look to the one who came from heaven to be cursed for you, who bears in his body the poison of your guilt. See him lifted up on a cross, and trust that God alone provides relief, and recovery, and rescue from sin, and redemption from the punishment you deserve.

16 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Jesus not only spends his time to teach Nicodemus, he reveals that he was going to spend his life to save Nicodemus…and you…and a whole world full of sinners, all of us who offend God so greatly and yet miraculously hear that God loved us so much that he would be willing to give up his one and only Son. This is good news. This is THE good news, the gospel that only requires faith. And it gets even better, because the faith that God requires, he also gives and strengthens faith through this same message. It’s good news because your eternity isn’t based on your earthly family, your earthly status, your earthly wealth, or your earthly possessions. What is coming for you isn’t a result of your earthly accomplishments or your earthly occupation or your earthly earnings. Your eternal life is all thanks to the Father who loved and chose you, the Son who spent his spotless life to save you, and the Spirit who sanctified you by bringing you to trust in Jesus as your only source of forgiveness and life. This is saving faith, and it is yours through the gospel. You have eternal life already, all thanks to God’s eternal love for you.

Back to Nicodemus…You might remember that this isn’t the last time we hear of him. That occasion occurs in the Passion story, where we are told by John that after Jesus dies, Nicodemus and another man named Joseph of Arimathea were there to take his body down from the cross and lay him in the tomb that we know was so temporary. While the other leaders left to get ready for the Sabbath, Nicodemus prepared Jesus for burial. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. If you’ve ever bought spices, you know how expensive one small jar or shaker can be. He brought 75 pounds! Nicodemus spared no expense, because Jesus was worth far more than any money he could spend.

How much more we have reason to treasure Jesus! We, too, have witnessed his crucifixion, but we also know of his resurrection. We know he came down from heaven to spend his life for us; we also know that he ascended there again to prepare a place so we could spend eternity with him. Whenever it is time to consider our grateful response to his grace (and this is one of those times), how could we withhold anything from the one who gave us everything? The God who so loved the world gives us opportunity to spend our time here sharing salvation with souls in need. The God who saved us forever invites us to spend our lives declaring his praises with all that he gives. May his gospel always be our strength and our motivation, for eternal glory to his name. Amen.