SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT Series A
8 March 2020
Romans 4:1–8, 13–17
Collects for Lent 2: O God, You see that of ourselves we have no strength. By Your mighty power defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and rules with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
God our Father, help us to hear Your Son. Enlighten us with Your word, that we may find the way to Your glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever.
Heavenly Father, it is your glory always to have mercy. Bring back all who have erred and strayed from your ways; lead them again to embrace in faith the truth of your Word and to hold it fast.
God our Father, teach us to find new life through penance. Keep us from sin, and help us live by Your commandment of love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
The Word of the Gospel Opens the Eyes of Faith and Fixes Them on Christ Jesus
The Lord called Abram (Abraham) to leave his home and go to a land that God would show him. He also promised to make of Abram “a great nation,” to bless him and make his name great as a blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:2–3). “Abram went, as the Lord had told him” (Genesis 12:4), and in Canaan “he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8). He “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3). Here the grace of God is manifested, that He “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5), not by works of the Law, but through faith in His promises. He removes all of our sins and lawless deeds through Jesus Christ, the offspring of Abraham in whom all the Lord’s promises are realized. This forgiveness of sins is the Word of the Gospel, the voice of the Holy Spirit, which “gives life to the dead” (Romans 4:17). It opens the eyes of faith to behold Christ Jesus, the Son of Man lifted up on the cross, “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14–15).
You Must Be Born Again
Ἦν δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τῶν Φαρισαίων, Νικόδημος ὄνομα αὐτῷ, ἄρχων τῶν Ἰουδαίων•
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
οὗτος ἦλθεν πρὸς αὐτὸν νυκτὸς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ• Ῥαββί, οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἐλήλυθας διδάσκαλος•
This man came to Jesus[a] 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.”
a. Greek him
ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ• Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again[b] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
b. ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν Or from above; the Greek is purposely ambiguous and can mean both again and from above; also verse 7
λέγει πρὸς αὐτὸνὁ Νικόδημος• Πῶς δύναται ἄνθρωπος γεννηθῆναι γέρων ὤν; μὴ δύναται εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ δεύτερον εἰσελθεῖν καὶ γεννηθῆναι;
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?”
ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς• Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος, οὐ δύναται εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς σάρξ ἐστιν, καὶ τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος πνεῦμά ἐστιν.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c]
c. The same Greek word means both wind and spirit
μὴ θαυμάσῃς ὅτι εἶπόν σοι Δεῖ ὑμᾶς γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν.
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born again.
d. The Greek for you is plural here
τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ, καὶ τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ ἀκούεις, ἀλλ’ οὐκ οἶδας πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει• οὕτως ἐστὶν πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος.
The wind[e] 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.”
e. The same Greek word means both wind and spirit
ἀπεκρίθη Νικόδημος καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ• Πῶς δύναται ταῦτα γενέσθαι;
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ• Σὺ εἶ ὁ διδάσκαλος τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ καὶ ταῦτα οὐ γινώσκεις;
Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?
ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ὅτι ὃ οἴδαμεν λαλοῦμεν καὶ ὃ ἑωράκαμεν μαρτυροῦμεν, καὶ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἡμῶν οὐ λαμβάνετε.
Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you[f] do not receive our testimony.
f, λέγω σοι The Greek for you is plural here; also four times in verse 12
εἰ τὰ ἐπίγεια εἶπον ὑμῖν καὶ οὐ πιστεύετε, πῶς ἐὰν εἴπω ὑμῖν τὰ ἐπουράνια πιστεύσετε;
If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
καὶ οὐδεὶς ἀναβέβηκεν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εἰ μὴ ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς, ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.
No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[g]
g. Some manuscripts add who is in heaven
καὶ καθὼς Μωϋσῆς ὕψωσεν τὸν ὄφιν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, οὕτως ὑψωθῆναι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου,
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.[h]
h Some interpreters hold that the quotation ends at verse 15
For God So Loved the World
Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλὰ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
“For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
i. Or For this is how God loved the world
οὐ γὰρ ἀπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν [h]υἱὸν εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἵνα κρίνῃ τὸν κόσμον, ἀλλ’ ἵνα σωθῇ ὁ κόσμος δι’ αὐτοῦ.
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.
ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν οὐ κρίνεται• ὁ δὲ μὴ πιστεύων ἤδη κέκριται, ὅτι μὴ πεπίστευκεν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ μονογενοῦς υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ κρίσις ὅτι τὸ φῶς ἐλήλυθεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον καὶ ἠγάπησαν οἱ ἄνθρωποι μᾶλλον τὸ σκότος ἢ τὸ φῶς, ἦν γὰρ αὐτῶν πονηρὰ τὰ ἔργα.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
πᾶς γὰρ ὁ φαῦλα πράσσων μισεῖ τὸ φῶς καὶ οὐκ ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸ φῶς, ἵνα μὴ ἐλεγχθῇ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ•
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
ὁ δὲ ποιῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸ φῶς, ἵνα φανερωθῇ αὐτοῦ τὰ ἔργα ὅτι ἐν θεῷ ἐστιν εἰργασμένα.
But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Nicodemus is a member of the Sanhedrin. He is seeking like so many today. He declares that Jesus is “Come from God” – a phrase normally used only of heavenly messengers, so it hints at his believing “something more” but at this point afraid to commit himself and Jesus is only a “teacher”.
Nicodemus, settling in for a theological/philosophical discussion, would not have expected Jesus’ blunt retort in verse 3 about being born again. Jesus meant to really challenge Nicodemus to think deeper (out of the box) about his own faith and about who Jesus is. AND it is not for Jews alone but for all humanity.
John 3:1-17 narrates the encounter between Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, and Jesus. The first issue that the preacher must address is whether or not to extend the lectionary text through 3:21. There are several reasons to reconsider the parameters of the text set out by the lectionary. First, 3:22 marks a distinctive shift in the narrative action, "After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside."
Second, Jesus does not stop talking after verse 17, so we need to ask whether or not we should be shutting Jesus up before his intended conclusion. A third reason to include 3:18-21 in the Sunday lectionary reading is theological. In verses 19-21 Jesus discloses a major theme for the Gospel of John, light and darkness. For this Gospel, light represents the realm of belief and darkness the realm of unbelief. Either one is able to recognize that Jesus is the Word made flesh, the begotten God, or not--there is no gray area. When Jesus says to Nicodemus, "This is the judgment, that the light has come into world and people loved darkness more than the light" (3:19), these words send the reader back to the beginning of chapter 3--that Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Jesus' words are aimed directly at Nicodemus, "will you continue in darkness or will you come to the light?" The moment of judgment, the moment of crisis, and in fact, the moment of decision for Nicodemus, and for the reader, is in this encounter with Jesus.
After Nicodemus's incredulous question, he seems simply to disappear from the scene, and we are left with Jesus. All of a sudden, Jesus' words are directed to us. In 3:11, the "you" in "yet you do not receive our testimony" switches to second person plural from the second person singular that began the verse, "Truly, truly, I say to you." How will we fair? Do we really think that we could have understood Jesus any better than this well-versed, well-educated Pharisee? And if we do, what makes us think so? What makes us so sure? Because we have two thousand years of Christianity under our belts? Because we have more theological insight? Because we have more faith?
We tend to talk about "our faith" or "having faith," assuming that it is a done deal, that believing is as simple as acquiring faith. But the Gospel of John never refers to faith as a noun. Faith is not a possession, not something that one gets, not something that one has--it is something that one does. Believing for the characters in the Fourth Gospel is a verb. And as a verb, believing is subject to all of the ambiguity, the uncertainty, and the indecisiveness of being human.
We need to ask more often than we are willing to admit, "how can these things be?" We need to take seriously what faith looks like when it is active, living, permeable, and dynamic. We need to consider earnestly that having an incarnated God may require an incarnational faith -- that believing is just as complicated as it is to be human.
Notice that God does not ask the world if it wishes to be the recipient of God's love. God just goes ahead and loves, and not only loves but gives the world God's only beloved Son over to death. The one who dies for you clearly has a significant claim on you, and John makes that clear. God's love -- surprising, all encompassing, unasked for and undeserved -- is also given unconditionally. God loves us, that is, whether we like it or not. In the face of that kind of love, we will likely either yield to God's love or run away screaming, for no one can remain neutral to such extravagance.
Either way, God's judgment is revealed: God loves this world, even the God-hating world that crucified the Lord of glory. At this place in our Lenten journey, we would do well to pray that by the gift of the untamed Spirit we might perceive in Jesus' cross God's redemptive act and in this way be drawn into fellowship with all who dare believe in Jesus and, indeed, the whole world that God loves so much!
The Evangelist recounts that Moses lifted the serpent on a "sign" (often rendered "pole," it derives from the same root). Jesus, like the serpent, will similarly be lifted up (gloried), and this sign can also easily be misunderstood as a mark of the defeat of this rabbi rather than perceived as the place where Jesus accomplishes the mission entrusted him by God (19:30). Only those who can look beyond the material referent of the sign (flesh) will perceive and participate in God's redemptive work (Spirit). At this early juncture in Lent, we might therefore look ahead to the cross and, with John, herald it as the place where we see God'
A second possibility will be to focus on Nicodemus. At this point in the narrative, he is not portrayed with great sympathy. He comes at night, perhaps fearful of the opinions of his peers. He misunderstands Jesus because he takes his words literally and is therefore regularly confused about what Jesus says. And he disappears from sight having shown no signs of greater comprehension or faith. Yet he will reappear at two later points in the narrative. In chapter 7 (45-52), he offers a somewhat hesitant defense of Jesus, and in chapter 20 (38:42) he accompanies Joseph of Arimathea, named a secret believer, with an exorbitant amount of spices for Jesus' burial.
Has Nicodemus come out of the darkness and into the light at this late moment in the gospel? It is not entirely clear, but it may be that John recognizes that while some -- the Samaritan woman in the following chapter, for instance -- come to faith quickly, others take more time. Perhaps John is inviting some of those -- then or now -- who have difficulty believing that the cross is the moment of God's victory to come along for the ride or, in more traditionally Johannine language, to "come and see." Faith, in John's gospel, is always a verb, and believing may take some longer than others.
A third possibility is to focus on the matter of being born "from above." Because of the "born again" movement, this can be somewhat challenging. The preacher's task is neither to critique Evangelical experience nor endorse a less-than-helpful reading of a conversion episode as necessary to justifying faith. Faith, as we just saw, is not a once-and-done action of the believer but rather is an ongoing work of the Spirit who, as Jesus says, blows where it chooses (3:8). For some the coming of the Spirit and faith will be a dramatic event; for others it will move more slowly. Whichever the case, John would shift attention away from our specific actions - the crisis that Jesus creates makes plain the disposition of the heart more than calls for a particular decision -- and instead invites us to witness the powerful and unpredictable activity of the Spirit. Believers therefore should pray and give thanks for God's Spirit, eager and ready to testify to God's ongoing activity in their lives.
A fourth possibility involves in a careful unpacking of verse 16. It holds a special place in the hearts of countless Christians for good reason, as it lays bare God's love for the whole world. Interestingly, because world (kosmos in Greek) normally signifies that entity that is hostile to God's will (see 16:33, 17:9-19), one might capture the force and scope of God's unfathomable love by translating the verse, "For God so loved the God-hating world...!" Indeed, God's love is not only unfathomable but also somewhat offensive.
The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition. Copyright © 2010 by Society of Biblical Literature and Logos Bible Software
ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Schnorr Von Carolsfeld woodcuts, ‘The Crucifixion’ and "Jesus and Nicodemus" © WELS permission granted for personal and congregational use
LCMS Lectionary notes © 2018
Lutheran Service Book © 2006 Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis
The notes and commentary were found in sermon study notes from previous years possibly "Text this Week"