Second Sunday in Lent

by Crossings

John 3:1-17
Second Sunday in Lent
Analysis by Timothy J. Hoyer

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11″Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16″For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17″Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Note: Numbers in parentheses refer to various theses from Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation.

DIAGNOSIS: We Are Impressed by Good Things

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) :  We Prefer the Impressive
Nicodemus was impressed with Jesus. Nicodemus preferred works more than suffering, glory instead of a cross, strength more than weakness, and wisdom more than folly (21)-which is why Nicodemus called Jesus “Teacher” [Rabbi]. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a teacher of God’s law, of good works.

Look around, what do people prefer in their lives? (Tracking)

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) :  The Impressive Is Rotten
Jesus offers Nicodemus the chance to give up glory and strength and wisdom and good works and have instead water and the Spirit. Jesus offers Nicodemus suffering and foolishness and weakness as the way to see God. Nicodemus, of course, asks incredulously, “How can these things be?” He’d be aghast to be told that though his works seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be sins (3). To trust in works is equivalent to giving oneself the honor and taking it from God (7).

Ask around, where do people see God working in their lives-when people praise them or when people judge and condemn them? (Tracking)

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) :  The Rotten Are Nothing
The problem of our effort to be impressive, our effort so that we can say, “I have lived a good life,” is that we are born of the flesh-born mortal as enemies of God. After all the work we do we are simply thrown away as if we were nothing. Death does make us nothing, and nothing but dust and dirt. We spend our lives trying to prove we are not nothing, that we are of some significance and goodness. Death is not just the way life works, it is God’s judgment of us.

Ask around, ask people how they feel when they think of their death. (Tracking)

PROGNOSIS: God Is Impressed by Jesus on a Cross

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) :  The Rotten One God Makes New
The goodness of God comes to us apart from the law (Rom. 3:21). God creates a relationship with us through Jesus. That is different than a relationship dependent upon us doing the right things, or doing good things to make up for the mess we are in (being born of the flesh). Our relationship with God is formed by the weakness, foolishness, and death of Jesus, God’s own son. Nicodemus came because of the amazing signs Jesus was doing, but all he was offered was Jesus lifted up on a cross. He was offered eternal life in the death of Jesus and forgiveness in the condemnation of Jesus. The condemnation and death of Jesus are unattractive and appear evil, nevertheless they are really eternal merits (4). Amazing that Jesus does not condemn but saves the wicked, the mean, the greedy, and the low lifes.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (External Solution) :  The Rotten Are Made Impressive
God gives us a relationship with God through Jesus. God considers us good because of the faith in Jesus God gives to us. “You are righteous not because you do much good, but because you, having no goodness, believes in Christ” (25). “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it” (28). By creating faith in us through what Jesus has done, God creates a relationship with us that even goes through death.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) :  We Prefer the Rotten
So now we act in faith in Jesus. We act in mercy, and our deeds of mercy are aroused by the works through which Jesus saves us (27). We act in fear of God (faith, 11) and we love sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong. We do not seek our own good, but we seek to make others good. Sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive. This is the love of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person (28). So Nicodemus, along with us, came to Jesus because he looked good; now we go to those who do not look good so that we can give them mercy.

Look around and see how people are attracted to winners, to the best dressed, to those who work hard; and how people blame and denounce the poor, the recipients of welfare, and people they are not comfortable with. Go to them in the middle of the day with love and mercy.


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