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Lent 2
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
March 12, 2017
Psalm 121:1-8, Genesis 12:1-9, Romans 4:1-8, 13-17, John 3:1-17

Sermons online: 

Text:                pastorjud.org
Audio:             pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:             bit.ly/pastorjud

There is something sort of addictive about the home improvement shows.  They show you the horribly outdated condition of a house before and how wonderful it looks after and you realize that your house looks an awful lot like the before pictures.  And then you start to wonder.  Where can I put ship lap in my house?  Can I too have an open concept living space?  What would my house look like if I were to tear out a kitchen wall and put in an island and new hard wood flooring?  Would that work?  Can I tear out a wall?

Apparently there are some walls in the house that hold up the roof and there are some walls in the house that just divide rooms.  Which is which?  Which walls are load bearing and which walls are curtain walls, just separating space?  One way to find out is to simply tear down the wall and see what happens.

Our scripture readings today are all about God’s grace through faith brought about because of Gods’ love.  What kind of love is this?

We have trouble understanding God’s love because God’s love is different from our love.  Martin Luther speaks of God’s love in the Heidelberg Disputation, “God’s love does not find its object but rather creates its object; human love finds its object.”

God’s love is different from our love.

We are drawn to and love what we find lovable, for example we order French fries because we like French fries; we hang out with friends because we like them.  Understanding this kind of love we think we can do something to make God like us.  We think we can do something that God will find lovable and he will accept us.

The problem is that by ourselves we have nothing to offer God and are nothing before the creator. But God, in His love, creates what He wants to love.  God makes new creatures out of the nothing we are and nothing we have to offer. God operates in a way so different from how we operate and so we can sing. “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to the cross I cling.”

A Pharisee named Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night seeking answers.  The Pharisees are generally enemies of Jesus and throughout the Gospels we see them try to discredit Jesus, trick Jesus, destroy Jesus, and kill Jesus.  Nicodemus is different; Nicodemus is curious about Jesus.  How can Jesus do such great signs unless God is with Him?  Nicodemus approaches Jesus for answers, but Jesus’ answers defy logic.

John 3:3 (ESV)  3 … “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[1]

Born again?  Nicodemus is confused.  How is a man born again?  Can he enter into his mother’s womb a second time?  That makes no sense.

Jesus continues, John 3:5-6 (ESV) 5 … “Truly, truly, 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.[2]

Nicodemus is thinking about biological truth but Jesus is talking about spiritual truth.  Nicodemus is thinking of earthly things; Jesus is teaching heavenly things.

Nicodemus wants to build his spiritual house out of things that he can feel and see and do.  Like all of us, Nicodemus wants to understand everything and this spiritual talk of being born again in water and the spirit makes no sense.

Jesus gives Nicodemus another mind blowing thought.  John 3:14-15 (ESV) 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” [3]

The Israelites in the desert were dying from snake bites and were told if they looked to the bronze serpent on the pole they would live.  How does that help?  How on earth does a bronze snake on a pole do anything for someone dying of snake bite?  God does not work according to earthly ways; God’s ways are not our ways.  God’s way to save the Israelites was a bronze snake on a pole.  God’s way to save you is Jesus lifted up on the cross.  There is a new way of salvation; the Son of Man will be lifted up.  God taught through Moses in Deuteronomy that anyone hung on a tree is cursed by God.  Jesus becomes the curse for you.  Eternal life now comes to all who believe in the Son of Man lifted up on the tree.

Jesus on the cross is the source of eternal life.  Salvation comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The only thing to trust in for Nicodemus is Jesus on the cross.  The only thing for you to trust in for salvation is Jesus on the cross for you.  How does that work?  How can this be?  That makes no sense.  “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to the cross I cling.”  Only Jesus.  Jesus alone.  Faith alone.  Grace alone.  We have heard these things before.

Your spiritual house is not built from anything you have done, it is built entirely from what Jesus has done for you.

But the trouble is that there is a great temptation to want to build your spiritual house out of things you can feel and see; things that you can do for yourself.  You want to know that things are good between you and God because of the things that you do and the things you can see in your life.  I know things are good because I get good grades, because I am a good athlete, because I have a good job, because I have money in the bank, because I have a great family, because I have good kids, because I have my health, because I am a pretty good person and not like those other people.  You want to build your house of faith on all these things that you think are solid; things you can feel and see.  You can start to believe that these tangible things bear the load of your salvation; it only makes sense. For logical people it makes logical sense.  You lean on the things you can see for security.

But then bad things happen.  You lose your job, you retire, your health fails, you get a bad grade, you get injured, your family has troubles, you child rebels, your finances crumble, your secret sinfulness becomes public.  All the things that you leaned on are taken away and you are left, it seems, with nothing.  You think that everything is destroyed and yet, miraculously, your spiritual house is still standing.  “When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.”  When all the earthly supports are taken away you still have Jesus on the cross for you.  When all your works have been exposed as faulty and fleeting, you realize that all these things you thought were holding up your faith were not the load bearing walls at all.  All of these can crumble and yet salvation remains.  Your spiritual house is not built from anything you have done, it is built entirely from what Jesus has done for you.  All your earthly props give way and you are left with Jesus holding up your spiritual house.  Jesus saves you independent of anything you have done.  Trust Jesus alone to bear the load.  Trust Jesus alone on the cross to be your spiritual support.

Jesus has done it all, for you, all out of love.  Not because you are attractive or lovable in yourself, but because Jesus has made you loveable by washing you clean in the waters of baptism.  Jesus has made you a perfect, holy saint.  How on earth does that work?  It isn’t an earthly thing; it is heavenly. God saves you because He loves you even when you were not lovable.

John 3:16-17 (ESV) 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. 17 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.[4]

Now, at home, it is probably not a good idea to tear out walls to see if they are load bearing, but it is precisely what you need to do in spiritual matters.  Walk by faith and not by sight.  Tear down your trust for salvation in anything you have done, and trust only in Jesus.  Jesus bears the load for you.

Amen .

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

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