O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The View From Above
The View From Above
Based on John 3:1-17
Preached on March 12, 2017,
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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
That’s the question of the day from Jesus to Rabbi Nicodemus. And it’s for us too. There are two perspectives to this life and to this world – from below and from above. Earthly and heavenly. There are also two religions in this world – the religion from below and the religion from above. The “from below” perspective is our perspective, the world as we see and experience it – a world of cause and effect. The “from below” religion, likewise, is a religion of the law – “do’s and don’t’s” - a religion of principles, methods, exercises - of things you do to gain control over your life, others, the forces of nature, whatever.
We are creatures born “from below.” We are children of Adam, the man of the dust. Dust we are and to the dust we will return. (pause) True, we are God’s handiwork. The hand of God made Adam from the dirt like a master craftsman making a piece of precious pottery, but except for a few verses in Genesis, we’ve lost all memory of that. We have no intrinsic knowledge of what is “from above.” No original righteousness or understanding. At best all we have is a vague sense of “something more.” In other words, nothing.
Nicodemus was a rabbi of Israel, a recognized teacher of authority. He came to Jesus at night. Probably because that’s a good time for rabbis to talk without the disciples listening in. But in the Gospel of John, “night” is not a good time to be talking. Night is the time “no man can work.” Judas betrayed Jesus at night. Walking in the night leads one to stumble, because “the light is not in him.” Night is a picture of the Christless darkness of unbelief.
Nicodemus is groping in the darkness for answers. Can you relate? We don’t know exactly what question he was going to ask because Jesus interrupted his opening flattery and cut to the chase: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” So we might presume that Nicodemus was going to ask what so many religious people asked Jesus – “What must I do to see the kingdom of God?” That’s a question “from below.” What must I do? Jesus is not from below. His answer comes down “from above.” Unless you are born “anothen,” which can mean “again,” but it also means “from above.” Unless you are born from above you cannot see the kingdom of God. You must be born from above to see the kingdom of heaven. Again – from above. Jesus is saying both things here: Unless you are born again from above you cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus does what all we “from below” creatures do. He hears the word of Jesus as Law, something he must do. He must be born again. That’s how he hears it. And so he wonders, “How can this be? How can a man be born when he is old? How can a man enter his mother’s womb to be born again? What sort of nonsense is this?” To the unspiritual man, these words are utter nonsense. And even though Nicodemus is terribly religious, he is also unspiritual when it comes to God’s Spirit, groping in the darkness for answers to questions he doesn’t even know to ask.
But that’s us, isn’t it? We’re as much in the dark as Nicodemus. And no amount of religion in the form of “doing” is going to shed any light on things. You must be born anew, from above. You’ve been born once from below, and you didn’t do anything that time either. If anything, you resisted the birth canal with every fiber of your being. And when you were finally born, you screamed at what happened to you.
In the same way, you don’t do anything to be born from above. You can’t do anything. It happens to you, by baptismal water and Spirit. You were born of the flesh, now you must be born of the Spirit. You were born from below, now you must be born from above. Flesh and blood cannot see the kingdom of God. You must be a new creation, the old creation cannot get you there.
Still, Nicodemus doesn’t understand. He doesn’t see that all life came from water and Spirit in the beginning. Or in the newly created world after the Flood. Or that Israel was born as a nation by water and Spirit in the Red Sea. Nicodemus is stuck in the darkness of his “from below” perspective, and even though he’s a “teacher of Israel,” a credentialed rabbi, he doesn’t grasp this most fundamental thing – that the kingdom of God is something received from above not earned from below.
But are we any more enlightened? No. No one has ascended to heaven to get a peek and come back to tell us about it and point the way. Only One, and He’s the One who descended from heaven to the depths of Death itself, Jesus, the Son of Man. He came down “from above” so that we who are from below might look to Him lifted up on the cross, and like the Israelites in the wilderness, be cured of the snake bite of Sin. This is how God loves the world: He gave His only-begotten Son. He doesn’t love the world outside His Son. He loves the world in His Son. In His dying and rising. This is His love for the world, that whoever believes in Him – who trusts in God’s promise of forgiveness, life and salvation right there in Christ’s death and resurrection – will not perish, but instead – already has eternal life. God didn’t send His Son to condemn the world, contrary to what you might hear some Christians say. The world already stands condemned. Christ was sent to give us a way out. To become a death and resurrection that we all need. God sent His very best. He came “from above” Himself – to be our way.
Beloved, all these gifts come to you by water and Spirit in the Word of your Baptism. How do you know if you are born “from above”? How do you know that you are a child of light, called out of darkness? How do you know that you are born of God? Being “from below,” you can’t know that on your own. You must be told. It must be revealed to you. God must come down to you, you cannot go up to Him. You are darkness, Christ is light. You are from below, He is from above. And He has come down from above to be with us, to be one of us, to be born as we are born, to live as we live, to suffer, bleed, and die as we suffer and die.
“You are baptized!” That’s the Spirit’s from above answer to our from below questions of where we stand. Will I see the kingdom of God? You are baptized. Will I rise to eternal life on the day of judgment? You are baptized. What about the law that condemns me? You are baptized. What about the devil and my conscience who accuse me and remind me of how great a sinner I actually am? You are baptized.
To be baptized is to be “in Christ,” located in Him, meaning that the old has gone and the new has already come. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” It is to be declared legally dead to Sin and alive to God in Christ. And none of this you can know “from below.” You can’t taste it, touch it, see it, feel it. You must hear it. The Word must come down “from above.” The Word must become Flesh and dwell among us. The Word must be lifted up from the earth on the cross so that we might look upon Him in faith and live.
You are “from above” people. Because your Lord has acted on you “from above” when, like little Yukino He spoke your faith alive by water and Spirit. He claimed you “from above” in these waters – marking you with His own Name “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” – a Name that is “from above”. He birthed you “from above” and made you His child who is “from above” and promised you an inheritance that is “from above.” In Christ, you are people “from above.” Living here below for the sake of your neighbour here below.
The One who is “from above” came down to us who are “from below” that we might be born “from above” and share in His life, His death, His victory, His glory. This is God’s love for the world. This is God’s love for you. This is how it looks “from above.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr