“(In This Way) God Loved the World”

Text: John 3:16-17; 1 Jn. 4

St. John the apostle wrote in his first letter, our epistle reading, that God is love. This a phrase that most people probably know, even if they don’t always know that it’s from the Bible. True, if you’ve ever been to church, you’ve most likely heard it. (I would hope.) But, we also see it in many other places. It’s on everything: from t-shirts and mugs to bracelets, and at present, even on protest signs on TV or in the paper. Something interesting happens when a word or phrase is used so frequently and in so many different places. What happens that its meaning changes. Words and phrases get their meanings from how they’re used, the context. One comes to my mind right now. What frequently changes, as I’ve learned over the past few years is “Sloppy Joe.” I was always taught the a sloppy joe has three ingredients beside the beef: ketchup, mustard, brown sugar. Does that sound like a sloppy joe to you?

I wonder, has this sort of thing happened to the phrase, “God is love?” What I’d like to to do today is go back to the Scriptures, where the phrase originally comes from, and learn what it’s all about. In doing so we’ll also see what the Christianity thing is all about. Just like with phrases, what people think Christianity is all about fluctuates, too. What Scripture says, and what we must preach, is that God’s love for the world is shown in this way: He sent His only Son to die, so that everyone who believes in Him would not die, but have eternal life.

I.

Let’s remind ourselves of the verse we heard a few minutes ago. A lot of people have it memorized from their VBS days, but I’ll read it again. This is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Another verse goes with it today. St. John also wrote, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.” So, we’ll get this part out of the way: God is love, this is true. Now, Lutherans are a quirky bunch. This is shown by the fact you can tell someone was raised as a Lutheran because they instinctively ask, “What does this mean?” whenever they hear Scripture.

What does it mean that God is love? That’s the question today. First, it means that God created everything – the heavens and the earth. As Scripture says, God is love; but, to love, there needs to be something else – something to love. So, God created. God created all that there is, including us, and He continues to provide for all that we need to support this body and life. Since God is love, He created human beings with the ability to love Him back. But, the ability to love works both ways. If you can love, you can also not love. Unfortunately, that’s what happened. Shortly after God created mankind, they decided that loving God wasn’t what they wanted to do. And that’s where sin comes from.

God created everything out of love, desiring nothing other than to love us and be loved back. Instead, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Bad happened. It’s kind of like going into the basement and loosening up the one light bulb so that it flickers. When it flickers, there’s light. But, in between you stub your toe and knock things over. When Adam and Eve decided to not love God, it broke the world. When they decided to not love God, it also introduced a new and terrible thing: death. See, to live in fellowship with God is life. To live apart from Him is death.

The Scriptures do say that there is a punishment for sin, and that is death. The failure to love God results in death. All those times where we don’t listen to the Bible and do what we want instead, all those times where we think thoughts about those whom we aren’t married to, all those times where we maybe aren’t as helpful to others as we could be add up. The end result is that, for our sins, we will all die.

II.

But, the Scriptures say this: God is love. Love is what led God to create and take care of us. Love is also what made it so that God couldn’t just stand by while the whole world dies. Instead, He loved the world so much that He acted. He acted in this way: He sent His only Son as the payment for our sins. God is a loving God, but He is also a just God – a fair God. Fairness demands that transgressions be punished, that wrongs be righted. God is also mercy, however. Instead of demanding that we right our own wrongs, pay for our own sins, God sacrificed His Son, His only Son, Jesus.

In this way, God’s love for the world is demonstrated. He sacrificed His only Son to pay for our sins. Now, we might not think that we’re really that bad. Think about it this way. When you speed you get a ticket. If you lie to a judge, you can be placed in jail. If you disobey a king, in some countries, you will be put in prison – or worse. That’s for a single offense, and we’re trained to accept that. What do you think should happen if you disobey God? What do you think should happen if you willingly and purposefully break the law many times a day for an entire life? But God is love, so He sent Jesus to die in your place, to pay for your sins.

Jesus Christ’s death did pay for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world. By His death on the cross and His resurrection, Jesus has restored us to a right relationship with God. He put the water back under the bridge, tightened the light bulb so that it shines like it should. By His death and rising again, Jesus has brought back to mankind eternal life. He won for us the ability for us to again call God, “Father,” and the ability to live at peace with those around us and in our community. These things He gives to us not because we deserve forgiveness, eternal life, and peace – but by His grace as a gift. As it says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Some of us are newer to the whole Lutheranism thing. Some of us have been around it for a while; and we sometimes forget, but this is what it’s all about. The Christian faith, and Lutheranism as a part of it, is all about how Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. We’re talking forgiveness of sins for everyone who believes in Him. It doesn’t matter whether you were born into the Church, or came as an adult. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, where you live, how much you give, or even how often you warm a church pew – Jesus died for you. He gives the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life to everyone who believes in Him.

Now, this is all fine and good, but some of us might be thinking why we need to hear this again. Why should I to go to church, if I’ve heard this once already? For starters, life is hard. It is a struggle; it is busy; some days we don’t even know how to do. Even beyond that, before we’ve noticed, we’ve been short with people; we’ve treated them poorly and they’ve done the same in return. Church allows us to hit pause, to hit reset and reflect, to hear God speak to us and tell us that it’ll all be okay – that our sins our forgiven, and that eternal life awaits us in heaven. In heaven there is no pain or sorrow or stress.

Then, St. John also says, “If God so loved us, we also ought to love each other.” Speaking for myself – even as a pastor – I’m not always so good at that part as I should be. So, in addition to pausing to hear God speak through His Word that my sins are forgiven, church also helps me to love others as I have been loved by Christ. “We love because He first loved us.”

May the peace of God be with you this week and always. God is love, and this is the way He showed His love for you: He sent His Son Jesus to die for you, so that through faith in Him, you might not die but live eternally. In Jesus’ name.

Cantate

https://www.spreaker.com/embed/player/standard?episode_id=8343360&autoplay=false

Text: John 16:5-15

      Jesus said to the Disciples, “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”[1] Jesus was preparing them for His departure and training their hearts to not be fixed on the things of the flesh. Up until this point, they had still been hoping that Christ would not be leaving them. They were still looking for that earthly reign of Jesus. Remember how the mother of two of the Disciples asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hands in His kingdom. Now it is becoming clear that that reality won’t be happening. Instead, Jesus is going to leave them. Our text this week comes before our text last week. Last Sunday we heard that, even though Jesus is going away and His disciples will be filled with sorrow, they will see Him again and their sorrow will to joy.

      This week Jesus tells us why He is leaving and what will happen after. He says in our text, “I am going to Him who sent me;” or, as He said it in chapter 14, “I am going to the Father.”[2] We’ll sing it this way after the sermon, “Now to My Father I depart, from earth to heav’n ascending, and, heavn’ly wisdom to impart, the Holy Spirit sending; In trouble He will comfort you and teach you always to be true and into truth shall guide you.”[3] All of these are nice ways of saying that Jesus is going to die. He will be violently taken away, His life cut off from the world of the living. He will be brutally executed. But, Jesus says, it is good that this is happening. Today we’ll look at two things: First, what Jesus means when He says that it is to our advantage that He goes away and, second, what the Holy Spirit does.

  1.                  

      Let us hear the first verses of our text again, “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”[4] What are these things that Jesus has been telling the Disciples? If we walk backwards through the Last Supper in John’s Gospel, we see that Jesus had told them one of the Twelve will betray Him, specifically Judas. Things are beginning to happen just as the Scriptures said they would. And, just as the Scriptures said, Jesus is going to die. Moreover, after His death the world will hate His Disciples just as they first hated Him. In fact, the hatred of the world for Jesus’ followers will be so strong that the time will come when people will kill Christians, claiming to be truly serving God.

      Upon hearing these things, the Disciples were filled with sorrow – only, not entirely for the right reasons. Looking back, we would say that they definitely should’ve been because we know what Jesus is talking about. But, by their own admission, the Disciples didn’t totally understand what He was saying until after the Resurrection. We actually get some clue of what they were thinking when, after Jesus was raised, He says not to cling to Him in the flesh. They were still looking for an earthly reign of Jesus – and themselves. That’s why sorrow was filling their hearts. No, Jesus says, it’s to your advantage that I go away.

      How? If Jesus’ going away means He is going to die and the world’s going to hate us, how is that good for us? Well, remember that for Jesus, “going to the Father,” is code for dying on the cross. And you know how that is good for us. St. Paul says it like this, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”[5] If Christ had not gone to the Father through His death on the cross, than neither could we rise from the dead. If Christ were not crucified, then there would be no forgiveness of sins and we would be lost to death and the devil forever. But, in fact, He has been raised from dead. Notice, too, how Christ talks about His death; He isn’t fearful, but instead calls it going to His Father. That’s how we should look at our own deaths. When we die we are immediately in the presence and joy of our eternal God and Father.

  1.                  

      Jesus also said to the Disciples that evening, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”[6]  Though the Disciples were filled with sadness, it is good for them (and us) that Jesus does depart. For, if He did not go to the Father through the cross, then we would not have the forgiveness of our sins. That was the first thing from the Gospel we should learn: that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. The second thing we should learn from the text this week is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that if He does go, He will send the Holy Spirit after Him. The confirmation students know what the Holy Spirit’s job is – it’s to make and keep us holy, like we confess in the Third Article. If we wanted to be more precise, we could divide His work into three parts: the Holy Spirit teaches, convicts, and comforts. In a couple weeks we’ll talk about how the Holy Spirit comforts us. Today Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit’s work to convict the world.

      The convicting the world is part of what Jesus calls the Holy Spirit taking what is Jesus’ (the teaching) and declaring it to us, and it’s both Law and Gospel. The Holy Spirit preaches Lutheran sermons, you see. Anyway, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin. What does that mean? Well, have you noticed that the world has no problem calling certain things sins? I mean, like sins against the Second Table. Nobody will argue outright that theft, lying, or murder are wrong. They might quibble about what murder is, but not that it is in principle wrong. But, try telling the world that false belief is a sin. That’s what it means that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin – He shows that it’s not just actions that are sins, but also thoughts, including the idolatry that we all commit when we put ourselves above God and our neighbor.

      That brings us to what it means that the Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness. The world has no problem declaring itself righteous. And sometimes, that’s a temptation we also fall into when we declare that we really good people because we do good works. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to preach the Law and show us that all our good deeds are like a polluted garment, as Isaiah says. As soon as He does that, then the preaching of the Spirit moves from Law to Gospel. He preaches the Law through Scripture and the mouth of pastors to convict the world of sin – that everything we are and do is sin. Then, the Holy Spirit points us to the righteousness that is not our own, to Christ’s righteousness. The Scriptures say that as far as the East is from the West, so far are our sins removed from us. That’s because on the cross Jesus takes our righteousness (or, lack thereof) and He gives us His through Holy Baptism.

      Lastly, Jesus says, the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning judgment, “because the ruler of this world is judged.”[7] First, the Spirit convicts the world of sin, because it doesn’t believe in Jesus. Then, He points it the cross where Jesus dies to become our righteousness, which is the only true righteousness. Last, because Jesus has gone to Father – He has died and been raised from the dead – the devil and the world are defeated. The judgment has been rendered and there will be no appeal. Death and all its powers can no longer appall us. They are defeated, and we are victorious in Christ.

      Jesus says at the end of our text that the Spirit will guide us in all truth by taking what is Jesus’ and declaring it to us. And He’s actually doing that right now. There were two things that we should learn from today’s Gospel. We learned about the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. We also learned how it is good for us to have Jesus to go to the Father. For, by that, He means that He goes to suffer and die on the cross. And because He did do that and rise from the dead, we are forgiven our sins.


     

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn. 16:6–7.

[2] Jn. 16:5; Jn. 14:12.

[3] “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice,” Lutheran Service Book, pg. 556. Stanza 9.

[4] Jn. 16:6–7.

[5] 1 Cor. 15:13–20.

[6] Jn. 16:7–8.

[7] Jn. 16:15.

 

Hosanna to the Lord, for He Fulfills God’s Word!

Text: John 12:12-19

As we’ve been getting closer and closer to Easter this year, I’ve had this weird urge to watch the old Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments. I suppose it’s not actually that odd. It probably springs from the years of my childhood when it was broadcast on national television somewhere around Holy Week, which it still is, on ABC. What interests me is that it’s not an Easter movie. It’s about the Passover, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. The name Jesus isn’t mentioned in it at all. And yet, through the eyes of Scripture, it definitely is an appropriate film for this time of the Church year.

It feels like we just heard the Triumphal Entry, and that’s because we have. The lectionary also places the Triumphal Entry on the First Sunday in Advent, where we hear it to prepare for our Lord’s second coming. Today we hear the text again as we remember and confess our Lord’s Passion. The Triumphal Entry marks the final week of Jesus’ life. Today we’ll see that Jesus, our humble king, rides on to the cross in fulfillment of the Scriptures and for our salvation.

But, like I’ve said, I’ve had this weird urge to watch The Ten Commandments. I’ve also been listening to a heavy metal concept album about the Exodus. Maybe it’s because the daily lectionary, which provides Scripture readings for every day of the year (you can find it beginning on pg. 299 in our hymnal), has been walking us through the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and now Moses. This week we’ll hear about the plagues, the Passover, and the crossing of the Red Sea. Now, what I’m getting at with Charleton Heston, with concept albums and the lectionary, is that there’s a connection the Scriptures make that we sometimes forget. In chapter 12, St. John is inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell us that we’ve now entered the week leading up to the Passover. The Passover and Jesus’ Passion are connected; it’s not a coincidence.

The Holy Spirit mentions the Jewish festival three times in John’s Gospel, each time taking something connected to the Passover and doing something new. The first time was at the wedding in Cana. The six stone jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons of water that Jesus turned into wine – those were for washing in preparation for the Passover. The Passover is mentioned again at the feeding of the 5,000. In the wilderness Jesus fed the multitudes, with 5 loaves and 2 fish. The manna and quail were an Old Testament preview. The third time the Passover is mentioned in John’s Gospel is as we enter the week of our Lord’s passion. It’s not a coincidence.

The Passover was given by the Lord in Exodus 12 as meal to be eaten in preparation for the Exodus. The people were to take an unblemished male lamb and slaughter it at twilight. Then they were to take some of its blood and put it on their doorposts. The blood would be sign for them. When the Lord came through to strike down the firstborn of Egypt, He would see the blood on the crossbars of their doors and pass over them. Through the blood, death passed over. That’s not a coincidence.

The Passover pointed ahead to and is now fulfilled in the Passion, the suffering, of our Savior. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we stood in the bonds of slavery. Only our slavery was to sin, to death and the powers of hell. From of old, God has heard the cries of His people. Every tear of distress, every cry of anguish and grief, every prayer of sorrow prayed by loved ones left behind, has entered God’s ears. In the Garden of Eden He promised that He would put an end to death and the devil, and it happens this week. We remember and confess this week the most holy and sacred week in the history of the universe, where the Son of God dies for us. His arms were outstretched on the cross so that His blood now marks our doors. Through His suffering and passion, we are rescued from slavery to sin as death passes over us.

  1.   

The Evangelist writes,

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written.

As I’ve already said, it’s not a coincidence that the Passover and the Passion fall during the same time. We also just heard that Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it had been written in the Scriptures. This another connection that we might not always notice. Everything Jesus did was to fulfill the Scriptures, and there’s nothing in them that isn’t connected to Jesus.

Since we’re in the year 2016, the events of Holy Week and Easter have happened already. We aren’t reliving or re-enacting them. Rather, we’re looking backwards through the resurrection to learn and confess all the things Christ did for us. That’s what Jesus taught the Disciples to do as well. Remember after the Resurrection, how Jesus appeared to them and taught them to understand the Scriptures? He opened their minds to see that throughout the Law and the Prophets He is talked about, particularly how it was necessary for Him to suffer, die, and rise on the third day. St. John writes in our text, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him.”

What was written in the Old Testament about Jesus at the Triumphal Entry? Look at verse 15, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” The Holy Spirit applies the words of the prophet Zechariah to this event, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion…behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation…because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free.” The Holy Spirit is preaching that Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem is the king of glory entering His holy temple. But rather than a building, Jesus’ temple is the cross. The cross is where He offered up His own body and blood as the sacrifice for all the sins of the world. This is where all the Scriptures find their meaning: the bruised and broken body of God dying on the cross for the sins His creation committed against Him.

So, let us return to these comforting words this Palm Sunday, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming.” Fear not, daughter of Zion. That’s the Church. The Lord is speaking to you, now, “Fear not.” You who wait anxiously for the redemption of your souls and the resurrection of the body; You who patiently bear the reproach of the world for the sake of Christ’s holy name; You who suffer illness, trial, temptation, sorrow, and grief: Fear not. Why? Because your King is coming. And, not like the kings of the world does Jesus come, but as the humble Son of God riding on a donkey. He rides on in majesty, in lowly pomp, in fulfillment of the Passover and the completion of God’s promises, to die for your salvation.

I invite you turn to the Lenten hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth.” (438) Stanza 2 speaks about our true Passover lamb. “This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great friend, the Lamb of God, our Savior, whom God the Father chose to send to gain for us His favor. ‘Go forth, My Son,’ the Father said, ‘And free My children from their dread of guilt and condemnation. The wrath and stripes are hard to bear, but by Your passion they will share the fruit of Your salvation.’” Here we sing of Christ fulfilling the Scriptures for our salvation. He is the true Lamb of God, whose blood takes away the sin of the world. He was sent by God the Father, in keeping with His promises through the prophets, to gain for us salvation. Though the wrath and stripes of God’s punishment are hard to bear, Christ bore them willingly. For, by His passion, we are made to share the fruits of His salvation: the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.

This week we remember and confess the events of Christ’s holy passion. We call it His passion because He allowed all the things that happen this week, to happen out of His great love for us. On Thursday we’ll celebrate the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, where at His last supper Christ gave us the feast of His body and blood, through which He gives us the forgiveness that He won on the cross. On Friday we’ll gather in observance of His suffering and death for us. Then, on Sunday we will celebrate with all the faithful His triumphant resurrection, where death’s reign is ended as it is swallowed up in victory.

And Dwelt Among Us

Text: John 1:1-14

The Holy Spirit caused John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, to prophesy in Luke 2, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies.” I don’t know if I can really sum up the meaning of Christmas better than that, and that was spoken before Jesus was even born. But today, we remember, celebrate, and confess that Jesus Christ has been born. Today we feast knowing that the Savior has come into the world to rescue us from the ruinous guilt of our sins. We see in the text from John 1, that Jesus Christ is not simply a man, but He is the eternal Word and Son of the Father. Though He existed from all eternity and created all things, today He has taken upon Himself our flesh, to dwell among us with His grace and truth.

I.

St. John starts with the beginning of the Bible as the foundation of his Gospel. We read, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Here, and other places in Scripture, we learn the beginnings of Jesus – there are none. Instead, Jesus is the eternal Word of God, for whom there is no beginning. He has always existed as the Second Person of the Trinity, in perfect unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Though He has no beginning, He Himself is the beginning of all things. Praying in the Garden of Eden, Jesus said, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” We also know His words in the book of Revelation, “I am and the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Everything that now exists, including our own bodies, was created directly through the eternal Word of God and by His hand. There is nothing that now exists that was not made by His work and nothing exists that the Jesus did not make. As it says in Psalm 33, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,” and as our Epistle text from Hebrews 1 states, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Jesus Christ, the eternal Word and Son of the Father, is true God. He existed before all things and all things were created by Him.

II.

The Gospel text continues by stating that in the Word of God, in Jesus, was life. This life within Him was light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overtaken it. We have here a picture of the reality that we live in, a reality being crushed under the weight of sin. Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, is Light and Life, but there is also darkness. Darkness, of course, is the absence of light. In the same way, sin is the absence of things pleasing to God. In the beginning God created all things good. He created the earth and all things in it; He created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden. He gave them free will, and they used it against Him. Tempted by the Devil, Adam and Eve doubted God’s Word and rejected Light and Life.

God’s Word says that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The language the Holy Spirit uses says that the darkness tries to grab the light and make it its own, to possess it, and control it. The darkness doesn’t win, but it still tries. Isn’t that the nature of our sin? St. John describes it like this, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” John shows a distinct difference between the true light and everything else. The True Light was coming into the world, the world which He made, and yet it did not know Him. The Light of the World came to His own people, and they did not receive Him; instead, they preferred the darkness to the Light.

It’s easy to point fingers at history, at people who obviously preferred darkness; but you know the cliché – when you point a finger, three point back at you. Every one of us has been corrupted by sin. Every moment of every day it’s hiding in the corner, waiting for us to loosen up to catch us off guard; it’s even at work within our own bodies, driving us to do and think shameful things in pursuit of the desires of the flesh. Our natural inclination as human beings is to put ourselves first. We determine what we want. We determine what is right and wrong. We determine what is true and false, and we determine whether or not our truth applies to anyone outside ourselves. We are like the darkness that tries to overtake the light and claim it as our own. We are sinners and deserve the just rewards of our trespasses.

III.

The Gospel continues, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” On our own, we are nothing but darkness and sin. Jesus is Light and Life; we are not. The text says that the children of God are not those born of blood, nor of the will of flesh or of man, but those who are born by God’s will. St. Peter writes that those who are in Christ have been caused to be born again by the mercy of God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He says that those born again are not born of perishable seed, but imperishable, through the “living and abiding word of God.”

The natural person is darkness and doesn’t accept the things of God, but the children of God are made so by His action. As we learn in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” This is where the last verse of the Gospel comes in: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The eternal Word of God became flesh. He did this not by changing from God into man, but by bringing humanity up into Himself, becoming both fully God and fully man. The magnitude of human sin, the painful reality of death and decay, made this the only way. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. He lived among us, fulfilling God’s will perfectly, and then was crucified for our sins.

At His death, darkness and the Devil had one last hurrah, thinking that the darkness had overcome. But it didn’t. Christ burst triumphantly from the grave and now lives forever, having destroyed death itself. And now He dwells among us. Christ, the eternal Word of God, never changes. He never leaves, He never forsakes. Instead, He has come to dwell among us with His grace and truth, His free and plentiful forgiveness. In Him is life, and this life is the light of all mankind. Amen.

What do You Seek?

Text: John 6:22-35

There’s a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where King Arthur and his knights encounter the Bridge of Death. This bridge spans across the Gorge of Eternal Peril and is guarded by a bridge keeper. Each knight must answer three questions or face certain death. Lancelot is the first up and answers wisely. The three questions: What is your name, what is your quest, what is your favorite color? Robin and Galahad fare poorly and are thrown into the chasm before King Arthur prevails by asking the bridge keeper whether he would like to know the airspeed of an African or European swallow. It’s the second question that connects us to the Gospel reading: What is your quest? To put it another way, What do you seek? In our text Jesus teaches us not to seek the food that perishes, but the food that endures forever.

I.

What do you seek? That is the question, or at least it’s one we’re brought to by the text. We pick up in John’s Gospel after the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus’ walking on water. St. John writes that the next day the crowd that was fed began looking for Jesus. They had been so satisfied with Jesus earlier that they tried to make Him king by force, but He withdrew from them. They go to find Him and see that only one boat remains on the shore. Jesus did not depart with the Disciples, and yet He wasn’t there. (We know it’s because He walked on the water.) Some other boats come from the other side, but without either Jesus or the Disciples them. The crowd then hops into their own boats to go find Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’”[1] The crowd found Jesus back on the west side of the sea, but were confused at how He got there. This is another clue that they weren’t thinking the way they should. Jesus didn’t ask them what they seek, because He already knew. He says to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” These people that were looking for Jesus were not looking for Him; they were looking to get fed again. They didn’t believe the signs but assumed that the Gospel had more to do with filling their stomachs than saving their souls.

Lest we fault the crowd for their ignorance, a large part of Christianity has fallen into that trap as well. How could we not? It takes weeks to die of hunger, a slow and painful death, and yet most of us can’t even go 6 hours without food unless we’re asleep. We have families to feed and houses to fix. We’re Christians and so we naturally pray to God that He would provide for these needs. When we look at our own prayer lives, though, what would the ratio be of prayers asking for temporal blessings versus the prayer of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”?[2]

Jesus said to them and us, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”[3] Do not seek the things that perish, Jesus says. God causes the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. God actually gave us many temporal blessings before the Fall. But food, clothing, homes, cars, will all perish. We must long for the food of eternal life.

II.

Jesus told the crowd to seek the food that endures to eternal life, but it doesn’t click with them. So they resort to a different question: “What must we do to be doing the works of God?”[4] Jesus told them to seek the food of eternal life, but they didn’t ask what it is or where to get it. Instead they attempt to self-justify: “What must we do to get this bread of life?” Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”[5] What must we do to work for the bread that endures forever? Nothing.

I love that verse because I think Jesus is being a little smart. They were asking what they must do to be saved, and He answers that the work of God is to believe in the one whom He has sent. The work that they must do to be saved is believe, but believing is the work of God. With these words Jesus cuts out all works-righteousness. Works-righteousness is the teaching that the good works we do merit righteousness and favor before God. But all our attempts to please God or to do good works turn out to be working for food that perishes. Our good works are meant to serve our neighbor, but as with anything, they fade and are forgotten.

The jailer in Philippi was terrified when God opened the doors to all the cells. He was about to kill himself, fearing that the prisoners escaped, when St. Paul called out him that they were all there. The jailer later asked him, “’Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ [They replied], ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.’”[6] What must we do to be saved? Seek not the food that perishes, but that which endures forever. Do not long for a full belly, but for a full soul. But without Christ, that is impossible.

III.

The crowd was convicted by Jesus’ instruction not to seek food that perishes and that the only work of God is to have faith, and so they tried to defend themselves one last time, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”[7] Jesus showed them that what they were really seeking was a full stomach, and that they were wrong to assume that they could perform the work of God. They lifted up Moses as the reason they believed in God, because Moses gave them bread. Moses, the great figure of the Law, wasn’t the one who gave the bread, Jesus says. In fact, what He says is that Moses didn’t give them bread and he still doesn’t; the works of the Law will not merit eternal life.

No, Moses wasn’t the one who gave them bread in the desert. It was God, who is now giving them the true bread from heaven. Jesus said, “The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”[8]

What do you seek? That is the question. What do you seek? Do you long to be well-fed and warm? Health, wealth, and happiness are good and fine, but when you come to church, is that what you’re after? If so, you could’ve just as easily stayed home, because God provides those things whether ask for them or not because He loves us. But food and clothing and house and land, those things fade. Jesus says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”[9] What you don’t get just by staying home and sleeping, though, is the food of eternal life.

What is the food of eternal life? Jesus. In Him we find our security, our peace, the forgiveness of our sins. Because we are human we all long to have full stomachs and good lives, and that’s fine, but those things fade. Jesus’ forgiveness doesn’t. In Him we find the true food and the lasting peace. Through faith we feast on His body and blood knowing that as far as the east is from the west, thus far are our sins removed from us through His death and resurrection.

What do you seek? On our own we might answer any number of things. The reason we are here today, though, is because we have been called by the Holy Spirit. You have been given the gift of faith in Christ and are daily drawn out of your own sinful to nature and taught to seek after Christ and Him crucified. In Him we have the full forgiveness of our sins and the food that endures to eternal life. Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn. 6:25.

[2] Lk. 18:13.

[3] Jn. 6:27.

[4] Jn. 6:28.

[5] Jn. 6:29.

[6] Ac. 16:30–31.

[7] Jn. 6:30–31.

[8] Jn. 6:33–35.

[9] Jn. 6:27.

Born from Above

Text: John 3:1-17

This Sunday brings to a close what is called the “Festival” half of the Church Year. This means that in the first half of the Church year, we have all the sweet festivals like Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Holy Trinity. After today we don’t really have anything super special until we, as Lutherans, celebrate the Reformation in October. During the first half of the Church year we generally follow a chronological series of events in Christ’s life. But during the second half, the non-festival half, our Sundays are organized by theme.

Today is Trinity Sunday, a Sunday where the Church has historically set aside time to specifically treat the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Traditionally, congregations recite the Athanasian Creed this one Sunday of the year. But of course, for us, every Sunday is a Trinity Sunday. We begin each service in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our hymns and prayers address all three persons of the Trinity. Just last week, the sermon mentioned the Holy Spirit over thirty times. This thinking is what led German Christians to be stubborn when Pope John XXII declared this Sunday Trinity Sunday in 1332 and keep the original Gospel reading, instead of switching to Matthew 28.

The original Gospel reading for this Sunday, the first after Pentecost, is from John 3. This gives us an opportunity to speak about another area of Christian doctrine that remains a mystery to many people. In the Gospel reading Jesus teaches Nicodemus about the necessity of rebirth. Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”1 But what is this being, “born again?” Why is it necessary, what is it, and how does it happen?

I.

You must be born again,” is really a slight mistranslation. I know that there is a footnote in my Bible that says the word, νωθεν, is ambiguous and could also mean “from above.” Given the context, we would wager that that is the correct translation; Jesus said, “Unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.”2 But Nicodemus didn’t understand. He thought that Jesus meant that one must be physically born again. And so Nicodemus scoffed at the idea of an old man returning to his mother’s womb to be born a second time.

Though Jesus is not saying that one must be physically born out of their mother’s womb again, He is saying that rebirth is necessary. In fact He makes it a fourfold oath. He uses the word, “truly,” four times. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Then clarifies what He means, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”3

Jesus is dreadfully serious. Unless one is born from above, not only can he not enter the kingdom of heaven, but He can’t even see it. How true that is. Unless one is born again of water and the Spirit, they can neither enter nor see the kingdom of God. And so the world misunderstands the Gospel. Instead of looking to Christ for forgiveness and renewal, many claim from Christ affirmation for behavior they are already dead-set in. The necessity of rebirth is underscored by Jesus’ words, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”4

All things that are born in the natural way are tainted by the corruption of sin. Even the inmost desires of our hearts and minds are devoid of righteousness. Like Nicodemus, our natural inclination is to come to Jesus in the dark, clinging to our own good works and morality as proof of our goodness. But minds set on works and our own worthiness are minds set on the flesh, which St. Paul, says are “hostile to God.” For minds set on the flesh cannot please God.5 Therefore Jesus knocks Nicodemus and us on our butts: “You must be born again.”

II.

But what does that mean, “You must be born from above?” Jesus explains in verses 14-15 of our text, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”6 To be born again, from above, means to have faith. But lest we rest on our laurels and say, “I have faith, therefore I am reborn,” and stop there, we must say that to be reborn is to have a living and active faith. When you are physically born, you have a will, an understanding, and a desire to act. Thus it is also with the spiritual rebirth. We are given a new understanding, a new will, and new desires to act according to God’s Word.

Before rebirth, we were all by nature children of wrath. Our thoughts were evil, our actions were evil. Even our good works were a stench to God. But the rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, being again, is having faith. By faith we are made children of grace. Jesus says this faith, this rebirth is necessary for salvation. He says, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” So far we’ve seen the necessity of rebirth, and that to be born again means to have faith in the Son of Man who was lifted up for our trespasses; But how are we born again?

III.

We are not born again by our own actions. It’s not your decision or prayer that makes you reborn, but it is solely the work of the Triune God. Thus Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”7 This also what James says when he writes, “Of [God’s] own will He brought us forth by the word of truth.”8

Article V of the Augsburg Confession, one of the documents that makes us Lutheran Christians, paints exactly where rebirth, where faith, comes from. It says, “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news…This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.”9

To be reborn, to be born from above, means to receive the gift of faith. Without a living faith, one can neither see the kingdom of God nor enter it. So that we may receive this faith, Christ instituted the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these things the Holy Spirit is given. The Holy Spirit works faith in us to believe in God the Father who created all things and still takes care of them. The Holy Spirit works faith in us through preaching and the Sacraments to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who suffered and died as payment for our sins. And, the Holy Spirit calls us through the Word to believe that He is the divine Comforter who is with us in all afflictions and assures us of the grace that we have in Christ.

Jesus said with utmost seriousness, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. These are serious words, and like Nicodemus, we can be left in bewilderment by them. The biggest question that comes away from these words is, what if I don’t feel reborn? The answer: believe. Believe in Jesus Christ, who was lifted up on the cross as payment for your sins, and you will be saved. Pray that the Lord would continue to beat back the old sinful nature in you. Continue to hear God’s Word preached and receive Jesus’ precious Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. By these things, Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit works in faith in you and causes you to be born from above, so that you already live in the Kingdom of God here in time and will always live there, in heaven.


1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 3:3.

2 Jn. 3:3.

3 Jn. 3:6.

4 Jn. 3:6.

5 Rom. 8:7-8.

6 Jn. 3:14–15.

7 Jn. 3:8.

8 James 1:18.

9 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 33.