June 11, 2006
In the name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
It has been nearly two thousand
years since Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes,
and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and
where it goes.” Nothing has changed. Meteorologists
still can’t predict the weather with sufficient accuracy that you can
count on it. We don’t
understand earthly matters. Men
don’t understand their wives. Women
don’t understand their husbands.
We often don’t understand ourselves.
Yet, we who know so little about
earthly things that we can see, experience, measure, and analyze,
presume to think we know all about spiritual matters that are so far
above us that we cannot possibly understand them.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge
of God!” Who are we to
apply our own human reason to God’s clear revelation and then to
contradict him? But this is
precisely what we do!
Jesus says that we must be born
from above, born anew, or we will never see God’s kingdom.
We will never enter eternal life.
You must be born again. That
is true. Until we are born
again we cannot know God. We
will try to create our own god in our own image and he will be an idol.
We are flesh. God is
Spirit. God brings about
the new birth. When He does
so, we are born from above. We
receive the almighty name of the only true God, the Holy Trinity.
God places His name on us and he claims us as his own.
We die. We rise.
We are clothed with Christ.
We are forgiven of all our sins.
The Holy Spirit comes into our lives.
This is what God does by His
gracious choice. We do not
choose to be born. We
cannot choose for ourselves to be born again.
Jesus explains why. “That
which is born of the flesh is flesh.”
St. Paul reminds us that flesh and blood cannot inherit the
kingdom of God. So if we
are to find God’s kingdom now and in eternity, we must be born again.
Is must be a heavenly, spiritual birth – a birth that God
himself causes. And he
surely does. We are born
again by the Triune God. We
are born again in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
The fact that God does this through Holy Baptism is clearly taught here in our text. Jesus explains that the new, spiritual, heavenly, divine birth is “of water and the Spirit.” He does not say, “Unless one is born of water and born of the Spirit” as if He is talking about two births. No, He says “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” He is speaking of one birth that is of both water and the Spirit. Now God inspired these words recorded by St. John. We must take them very seriously. Jesus is our teacher, too, not just the teacher of Nicodemus. Jesus himself joins the Holy Spirit to the water of Holy Baptism. What God has joined together let not man put asunder!
Many people who claim to believe
in the Bible don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is joined to the water
of Holy Baptism in such a way that this washing becomes the means by
which we are born from above. They
see only water. They reason
that Baptism has only symbolic value.
But we must not subject the teaching of God’s word to the
judgment of human reason. Instead
we must subject human reason to the clear teaching of Holy Scriptures.
The Bible teaches that God gives us this new spiritual birth from
above by means of the washing of Holy Baptism.
This is why we believe this, teach this, and confess this. The Bible calls Baptism a “washing of regeneration and
renewal of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)
The Bible calls Holy Baptism “the washing of water by the
word” and says that this is the means by which Christ sanctifies and
cleanses his Church that she may be without any spot or wrinkle or
blemish of any kind. (Ephesians 5:26-27)
This doctrine that we are
discussing is called “baptismal regeneration.”
Through Holy Baptism we are born again to eternal life.
The sad fact is that most Protestants deny baptismal
regeneration. They often
assume that we Lutherans believe in it because we haven’t fully broken
away from the errors of the Roman Catholic Church.
But we don’t believe in baptismal regeneration because the
Roman Catholic Church teaches it. We
believe in it because the Bible teaches it.
And where Rome is right, she is right because she teaches the
We don’t claim that everyone
who is baptized must automatically be born again.
We cannot see the Holy Spirit at work and we certainly know that
many people simply reject the gospel even when hearing it again and
again. Holy Baptism does
not make everyone who is baptized into a Christian.
The Augsburg Confession states it rightly when, in talking of the
Holy Spirit, it says that he works faith “when and where it pleases
God.” Why some people believe the gospel and why others in unbelief
reject it, no one but God knows.
But God knows.
God the Son – who calls himself the Son of Man – came down
from heaven, while remaining in heaven, because he is and will always be
the omnipresent God over all. He
came and he spoke of heavenly things, things so far above our ability to
understand that we must simply bow before his teaching in humble
submission and believe his words as the little baby receives his
mother’s milk. Jesus
directs us to our baptism, to where water and the Holy Spirit were
joined by his own words and institution.
He invites us to believe that in that holy washing we were born
anew. That holy washing is
the washing away of all our sins by the blood of Jesus.
That holy washing is our burial with Jesus in Joseph’s tomb.
That holy washing is our resurrection from the dead, never to die
The people in the Sinai desert
deserved to die. They had
spoken against God and God’s prophet, Moses.
So God sent poisonous snakes to bite them.
They were dying. They
cried out for help. They
needed mercy. They couldn’t survive.
As they were dying, God told Moses to put a snake up on a pole.
The people were told to look at the snake.
Those who looked lived. If
they thought to themselves that this was a foolish requirement and
refused to look, they died. Only those who looked lived.
God saves us in his own way.
Not in our way. We
are flesh. He is Spirit. We need to take his teaching to heart and to silence our
rationalistic objections by his clear and compelling words.
We have complained against God. We have despised his promises, just as the children of Israel
did. We have questioned his
word as if we know better than he what we need to believe and do.
We deserve the same death that the children of Israel were
suffering when God commanded Moses to lift up the bronze serpent on a
pole. That sign signified
that Jesus would be lifted up on the cross to bear our sins. God directed them to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.
God directs us to Jesus. Our
baptism directs us to Jesus. When
Jesus died, water and blood flowed from his pierced side.
This teaches us that the water of Holy Baptism covers us with the
blood of the Lamb. This is
how our sins are washed away. We
trust in the name given us in Holy Baptism, the name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
We have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the
Lamb. Heaven is our home.
As the hymnist describes the saints in heaven:
a host, arrayed in white, like thousand snow-clad mountains bright,
God the Father is our God and he
is our Father. He has
become our Father through Holy Baptism where we were joined to the death
and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son.
There, the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
came into our lives, giving us the new birth from above.
But our faith is so very weak. It lives with our flesh.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and though we
Christians are born again, we still carry around with us our sinful
flesh. This flesh must be
killed every day. It is by
means of Holy Baptism that he is put to death.
He is drowned. Every
day we are born again. Every
day the Holy Spirit creates us anew.
With David we pray, “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew
a right spirit within me, cast me not away from thy presence and take
not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with
thy free spirit.”
The name of God is a powerful
thing. It is his authority.
Any religious person knows that God has the authority to demand,
and to judge, and to condemn. Those who deny that are simply godless. But only the one who is born again, born from above, knows
that God has the authority to forgive.
Only the Christian knows he is in God’s eternal kingdom. And he knows it. He
knows it because God has given him this knowledge.
He knows it because he knows God the Father who sent his only Son
into the world to die. He
knows it because he knows God the Son who picked up his cross and walked
to Golgotha to bear the sin of the world as the Lamb of God.
He knows it because he knows God the Holy Spirit who has brought
him to faith, who works in him the desire to serve God and to love him
above all things, and who comforts him with the gospel of the
forgiveness of sins every day.
This is the holy teaching of Jesus Christ. This is what it means to bear the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, whom we, with all Christians everywhere worship as one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. This is the one and only God. All other gods are idols. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus