Not Change, but Rebirth
Let us pray: O Lord God, heavenly Father: We poor sinners confess that in our flesh dwells no good thing, and that, left to ourselves, we die and perish in sin, since that which is born of flesh is flesh and cannot see the kingdom of God. But we pray that You would grant us Your grace and mercy, and for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, send Your Holy Spirit into our hearts, that being regenerate we may firmly believe the forgiveness of sins according to Your promise in baptism, and that we may daily increase in Christian love and in other good works, until we at last obtain eternal salvation; through the same Your beloved Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you,`You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”
10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
These are Your words heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed,
God brought to great power a foreign nation. And He used this nation, the pagan Babylonians, to accomplish His will. He used them, to invade Judea, and especially Jerusalem, to destroy His temple and take His chosen people out of their promised land and take them into captivity in Babylon. This was punishment for the Jew’s rebellion against God, for their neglect of God’s Word, their unbelief and idolatry and their wickedness.
After 70 years in captivity in Babylon, the Lord caused the Babylonian Empire to fall at the hands of the Persians. And God led the Persian King, King Cyrus, to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem.
Some of the Jews learned their lesson. They learned the foolishness of ignoring and neglect of God’s Word, so they rallied the people together around the books of Moses. But many of the scribes and teachers of the Law didn’t understand the purpose of the Law correctly. They believed that it was simply by doing the Law, they would God’s people and to be under His grace and favor, and avoid punishment. So they accumulated a list of all the Laws of God, and even created their own laws as a buffer around God’s laws, thinking if they kept their own laws they would be keeping God’s laws. And they believed that it was by a change in their lives, a reshaping of their lives according to these laws that they would be good with God and God would bless them and prevent them from being taken into captivity again. This class of Jews are what we know as the Pharisees.
Nicodemus was one. He was even one of the leaders among the Pharisees, a very prominent one. Nicodemus, with the other Pharisees, believed that inheriting the kingdom of God was something they could accomplish by their own power. If they just changed their lives, so that they keep the laws, they would inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus shot that idea down.
Now it is natural for us and for all mankind to think like the Pharisees. Isn’t that the natural thinking of our sinful flesh? If we just change, we’ll be good before God. If we just make an adjustment in our lives, we’ll be able to enter into His kingdom. Is that all it takes? Is that power within you? If you set out to keep the 10 Commandments, will you then be under God’s grace and mercy. Other’s think that even abiding by another law is enough, such as governmental laws, or societal standards. They think if you just change and keep the law of niceness, you’ll be heirs of God’s kingdom. Or others make new laws. If I just stop smoking and drinking, God will be pleased with me, and He’ll have favor upon me. And taking into account that it is Father’s Day today. Many fathers (and mothers) seek to shape their children into moral people, good neighbors and good citizens of the world, and this is good. But even if successfully done, it makes no difference in a child’s standing before God.
All the change in the world is not going help us in any way before God.
You see, every one of us is born of flesh, of the sinful flesh of your parents. And you are flesh. You were born dead in sin, at enmity with God, under His just wrath and condemnation. Your heart, by nature, is a heart steeped in sin, with no love or trust in God.
That which born of flesh, is flesh. Let your flesh try to change and improve on your flesh and it is still flesh. Change your life, and you are simply spiritually dead person that looks good to the world. This was Jesus’ judgment of the Pharisees. He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28). Change, shape and mold that sinful flesh, on the outside, you’ll be a model citizen and a good neighbor, but on the inside is still a sinful mind and heart, that does not love God, trust in Him, worship Him, or hear His Word.
Changing the sinful flesh does nothing for entering into the kingdom of God.
Instead a death must occur. You must die. Your flesh must be crucified with Christ, and you must brought forth anew with a different birth, not one that comes from within you, but one that comes from outside of you, a birth. You must have a second birth, a birth from above, not of the flesh, but of the Spirit. This putting to death and this birth from above takes place through the water and the Spirit, namely baptism. St. Paul says this much in His letter to Romans, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4).
It does not change your heart, but gives you a completely new and different one.
When you are baptized in the name of the Triune God, the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, you are given new life. In baptism the Holy Spirit enters into you not to change your heart, but to give you a new and different one, so that you are no longer flesh, but spirit. You are a new creation in Christ. (2 Cor 5:17). This new heart created by the Holy Spirit hates sin, believes in God, loves Him, loves and hears His Word seeks to do His will. Our new life desires to be connected to Christ as branches to the vine, living in the source of this new life in Word and Sacraments. And this new heart affects everything you do in life, in every vocation, leading you to live according to God’s will in how you live.
Through this new birth given you by the Holy Spirit in baptism, you are made a child of the Father, who created you, and sent His Son, to be lifted up on the cross to redeem you from your sins, from death and from the devil. In baptism, the Son of God clothes in you His righteousness, and gives you entrance into the kingdom of God.
No, this is not something we do of ourselves, is it? This is a birth worked by God that brings us to believe and confess that the one lifted up on the cross is our Savior who has taken away all our sins and gives us eternal life.
Though we have this second birth, born of water and the Spirit, we do still have that sinful flesh. We still have that flesh we are born with that desires to neglect God’s Word, that doubts God’s grace, that loves the world, that does not want to turn from sin, but embrace it. Perhaps, you have turned away from the new life given you in baptism, and have wandered away from God to live in your sinful flesh and in the cares and pleasures of the world.
To all of you, the message is the same. Die, once again, today and every day! Drown that wretched sinful flesh and all its sins in repentance. For your sinful flesh cannot be changed, but only killed.
For life cannot be found by anything that you can produce, but your life, your spirituality, your acceptance before God, and your entrance into eternal life is in Christ and Him alone. So die to your sins and your flesh and by the Holy Spirit, be renewed in your faith and life in Christ.
As the wind blows where it wishes, so also goes the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, after He died on the cross for your sins and rose again from the dead, breathed onto His disciples, and said, “receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them.” Christ’s words, and through them the Holy Spirit, is breathed and blown upon you now. Hear His Word for it is life and spirit. You are forgiven all of your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
And shortly, He will again feed your new creation, renewing you in the Spirit. He will give upon your tongue His very body and blood that was once lifted up on the cross to draw you to Himself and to His Kingdom.
Thanks be to the Holy Spirit, for causing us to be born from above in the waters of baptism, and renewing us through His Word and Holy Supper, that trusting in Christ crucified, we may belong to God’s kingdom now and forever praising our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory be to our Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Forevermore. Amen.