“Born of Water and the Spirit” (John 3:1-17)

The Holy Trinity
Sunday, May 30, 2021

“Born of Water and the Spirit” (John 3:1-17)

On this Trinity Sunday, our Gospel reading, from John chapter 3, tells us of the work of the Holy Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–in bringing us to a new birth and the new life that flows from it. And this is where Jesus goes in his conversation with Nicodemus. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he needs to be “Born of Water and the Spirit.”

This Nicodemus was a prominent Jewish religious leader. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. Jesus even calls him “the teacher of Israel,” showing how highly respected Nicodemus was among his people. Yet Nicodemus doesn’t “get it.” Not yet. He needs to be born again. He needs a spiritual rebirth to open his eyes and to give him a right understanding and a whole new life.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, presumably so as not to be seen. It might not look so good for a member of the Sanhedrin to visit this controversial Jesus of Nazareth. He tells Jesus, “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.” Well, Nicodemus, that’s good as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Jesus is far more than a mere rabbi, even an exceptionally insightful one who can also do some miracles. Nicodemus is “low-balling” who Jesus is. He’ll need to see far more in Jesus than that, if he is to come into the kingdom of God.

So Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Friends, there are lots of people who say some nice things about Jesus–what a good teacher he was, what a fine example. But if that’s as far as they can go, then they have reached the limit of what human flesh and reason can discern. And that is not enough. You must be born again if you are to recognize who Jesus really is and trust in him and thus see God’s kingdom in the way you need to see it. You must be born from above. “Born from above,” “born again”–the Greek here could be translated either way. The point is, you need a heavenly rebirth, in order to recognize the kingdom of heaven coming in the person of Jesus.

Jesus’ response about being born again puzzles Nicodemus. He doesn’t know where Jesus is going with this, this riddle. “Born again”? Is Jesus joking around? Nicodemus replies: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” This stuff sounds like crazy talk to Nicodemus.

But no, Jesus really meant what he said. Now Jesus explains what he meant by being born again: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Thus, to be born again, born from above, is to be born of water and the Spirit. It is a heavenly rebirth that involves the use of water, in connection with the Spirit. And that is baptism.

Water and the Spirit, together. That’s what happened in the beginning, at creation. “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’” etc. Water, the Spirit, and the Word–creation. Same with the new creation, the spiritual rebirth in baptism: Water, the Spirit, and the Word. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”

Holy Baptism, instituted by Christ, is the spiritual rebirth of water and the Spirit. St. Paul speaks of it in Titus 3: “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Did you catch that phrase? “The washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” “Washing,” water. “Regeneration,” rebirth. “Renewal,” new life. “The Holy Spirit” . . . well, the Holy Spirit. In other words, to be born again, of water and the Spirit. Just like in John. And this rebirth of water and the Spirit is what happens in Holy Baptism.

“Born of water and the Spirit.” We need this new birth in order to see clearly, to see the kingdom of God having come in Christ. Otherwise, our spiritual blindness would keep us in the dark. We need this new birth in order both to see and to enter the kingdom of God. Otherwise, without faith in Christ, our sins and our spiritual deadness would keep us out of God’s kingdom. We need the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit to see the light, to have the scales fall from our eyes. We need to receive the righteousness of Christ, the life he has won for us, to raise us from death to life. This is why Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

“Flesh,” in this sense, means our fallen sinful nature, which is inherited and passed down to us from generation to generation. We all share in this sinful nature and are doomed to death. Flesh gives birth to flesh. And flesh can only take you so far. You cannot rise above that level. To be born only of the flesh is a dead end.

That’s how the Bible describes our natural state. Ephesians 2 says: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” So, according to the flesh, we were by nature children of wrath, God’s wrath. That’s not good. As Jesus says, flesh gives birth to flesh. That’s as far as you can go, that’s as high as you can rise, born only according to the flesh. You and I need a different kind of birth.

And you don’t give birth to yourself. No, this is about being born of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives you this new birth. You don’t do it, he does. John 1 says, “To all who did receive him,” that is, Christ, “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.” God gives you the new birth. It’s not your decision or your will that does it. It’s God giving you a new birth, making you his child, giving you the gift of faith.

Faith in Christ. Faith is to receive Christ, to believe in his name. For Jesus Christ is the only Savior from sin. Here’s where we can talk about the Father and the Son on this Trinity Sunday. As we heard in our text: “So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Yes, God the Father sent his Son into the world out of his great love for us. God the Son, Christ Jesus, then was lifted up on the cross, so that you and I would not perish in our sins, but rather, that through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, our sins would be forgiven. Believing in Christ, trusting in him, then, we receive that forgiveness, and so we have eternal life.

Now what the Holy Spirit does is to bring you those benefits that Christ won for you on the cross–forgiveness, life, eternal salvation–the Spirit gives you the faith to receive and take hold of those benefits. The Holy Spirit quickens you, makes you alive, brings you from death to life, through the gospel. The gospel, the word of God in and with the water, is the power source in Holy Baptism. It makes baptism the life-giving sacrament that it is. The Holy Spirit uses this sacrament to bring you to faith and raise you to new life. This is how baptism is the new birth, your real spiritual birthday.

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Well, Nicodemus, it doesn’t matter if someone is eight days old, eighteen years old, or eighty years old, when someone is baptized, that is God at work to give that person the new birth. If you have been baptized, you have been born of the water and the Spirit. You are now part of God’s family, the church. You are God’s child, and Father welcomes all his children. Christ Jesus is the Savior you know and trust in. All your sins have been washed away. You have been joined to Jesus and his resurrection. You have a new life and an eternal life! The Holy Spirit has given you the gift of faith, through the Word. And the Spirit will keep you in the faith and keep you growing as you continue in the Word.

Born of water and the Spirit: That’s Holy Baptism, in the name of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism, your spiritual rebirth into the new and eternal life of the kingdom of God. Baptized believers in Christ, in your baptism you have been born from above, born of water and the Spirit. And what a joyous, blessed thing that is!

Published in: on May 29, 2021 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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