June 15, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
That which has been born of flesh is flesh, says Jesus to Nicodemus (v 6a). That flesh can even give birth to flesh in the first place owes to God’s Word and blessing in the beginning. After God created them male and female, Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it: (Gen 1:28a NKJV). God does not create a whole population of humans, neither does He cause different races to evolve differently. He gives to man and woman the duty and joy of pro-creation, that is, continuing forward the work of creation begun in the beginning.
This gift of procreation was given to man before sin entered the world, and it still remains—though not without some damage. Woman’s curse is an increase of sorrow in conception and childbirth, but men are also not free from sin’s stain when it comes to procreation. Some men are unable to have children—and even intervening with modern science begets its own set of complications. Other men relentlessly pursue sexual pleasure outside of the union of man and wife with a complete disregard for the children that may become of their indulgences. And still others are corrupted by sin in such a way that their natural sexual desires are marred and turned towards other men, and they come to see this as the new natural.
However, the fact that children still continue to be begotten by fathers every day around the world is proof that God has not removed His providential hand from our existence and turned us over to our own destruction. He has not removed His blessing because He is so outraged and disgusted by our sexual sins. What He promised and gave in the beginning still holds true today. The one-flesh union of man and wife is still fruitful to fill and order this world.
Without this blessing in the beginning, there would be no fathers, and today would not be Fathers’ Day. Fatherhood is indeed a vocation that needs a little attention, because even though men continue to father children since the beginning of time, there are too few who are even interested in true fatherhood. Being a father isn’t just a matter of contributing 23 chromosomes to a mass of cells that will one day be a child. Fatherhood begins at conception—no, even before conception. It begins when a man vows to honor his wife with his body, to love her and cherish her. Because his children will come from her body. True fatherhood continues after birth, raising children, loving them, teaching them. True fatherhood also has a spiritual aspect. When Luther wrote the Small Catechism, he didn’t write it as a textbook for pastor’s confirmation class. It was written for fathers to use in the home. Sadly, too few men are interested in true fatherhood.
True fatherhood doesn’t necessarily come from the person with whom you share half of your DNA. Sometimes in this world soiled with sin men must become fathers to the fatherless. The Holy Writers of Scripture give special attention to widows. The Christian faith is shown in caring for women who are left widowed either by death or by neglect—and by extension her children. Often times a woman is forced into taking on the role vacated by a father.
But even the best and most committed fathers still beget children in sin and pass on Adam’s curse to the next generation. There is no escaping this reality. King David confesses, in sin my mother conceived me (Ps 51:5 NKJV). Fatherhood is a large task, and even the most disciplined, loving men fail. And so St. Paul must include the command: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the instruction and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4). St. Paul writes to the saints—to Christians. If Christian fathers didn’t do what they ought not do and fail to do what they should do. Fathers, have you provoked your children to anger. Have you withheld from them, especially instruction and admonition of the Lord?
“That which is born of flesh is flesh,” says Jesus, “and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v 6). St. Paul elaborates, The flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh (Gal 5:17). As earthly fatherhood continues to perpetuate Adam’s sin and Adam’s curse to each new generation, we ought not be surprised that fatherhood itself breaks down. Any Christian who confesses the second article of the Augsburg Confession should not be surprised that the world, which is flesh born of flesh, delights in the things that are against the Spirit of God.
Is there an end to the cycle? Flesh gives birth to flesh gives birth to flesh—and so it remains. Is there redemption for the failure of fatherhood? There is. And it is found in One who was born in an unusual way. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came from an unconventional family. He was born of a mother who was suspected of fornication and adultery when she became pregnant out of wedlock (it took a miraculous intervention from the angel Gabriel for Joseph to take her as his wife). He was raised by a stepfather in His youth, but by the time He was a young adult, He was the Son of a widow.
Jesus was raised in an unconventional family because He was conceived and born in an unconventional way. Jesus was conceived out of wedlock not by the will of man, but by the will of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. He was born to a woman who remained a virgin. He alone is a Man born in an unnatural way, and because of His unnatural birth, the stain of sin did not blemish His person.
This Man Jesus truly has God as His Father. Not only is He begotten of the Father from eternity, but in time, He is also born of the flesh of His mother. In Jesus alone the flesh does not desire against the Spirit, but they are perfectly reconciled. His flesh is the hope for flesh that is born of flesh, because He gives His flesh for the life of the world (Jn 6:51). Christ is unique among men because He was born of the flesh, but conceived by the Spirit.
When Nicodemus approaches Jesus for an answer to the wonderful works that He is working, Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I am saying to you, unless someone is born from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God” (v 3). Nicodemus, perhaps himself a father of flesh, is perplexed. Nicodemus said to Him, “How is a man able to be born when he is old? Is he able to enter into his mother’s belly and be born?” (v 4). He misunderstands this spiritual saying, because the flesh desires contrary to the Spirit. He thinks that when Jesus says, “born from above,” he’s talking about being born again in a fleshly way. Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I am saying to you, unless someone is born out of water and the Spirit, he is not able to enter into the kingdom of God” (v 5).
This Unique Man, in whom the flesh of man and the Spirit of God are reconciled and united, who speaks with Nicodemus of a second birth from above, says that the birth of the Spirit is a birth that is out of water. Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters at creation, so the Spirit of God hovers over the font to give birth to a new creation.
Today is the Festival of the Holy Trinity. Some people point out that the word “Trinity” is never found in Scripture. And that’s true. But there are two times when the Holy Trinity is explicitly revealed—three distinct Persons with one united will and substance. And both times it’s in water. The first is when Jesus goes down into the Jordan to be baptized by John. The Son of God stands in the waters, the Father’s voice speaks from heaven, and the Spirit descends on Him like a dove. The Holy Trinity is united together in will that Jesus willingly goes to the cross. The second time the Holy Trinity is explicitly referenced is when Jesus mandates Holy Baptism. …baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19b). Holy Baptism reveals the mystery of the Holy Trinity—not in general, but specifically for you.
This second birth of the Spirit incorporates you into this mystery and, what’s more, truly makes God your Father. This is the good news when the world celebrates the fatherhood of the flesh—God is Father, even to—and especially to—the fatherless(Ps 68:5a). Even when fleshly fathers from below bail before the baby is even born, your Father above remains faithful. He will never leave you, or forsake you.
It’s interesting to note that God is seldom called Father in the Old Testament. Fathers are of the flesh—Father Abraham; Father Isaac; Father Jacob. But not God the Father. Not until a few times in the Psalms. Then more so in the latter prophets. God is not revealed as Father until He is revealed as Father by Christ. For He is the eternal Son of God, and we cannot know God as Father except through the Son.
So when you are born from above by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism, you not only receive God as your Father, but Jesus as your brother. What Christ earned by His perfect obedience, by being lifted up on the cross, that becomes yours. You are a co-heir with Christ to the treasures heaven. You are His beloved son, you are His beloved daughter, and with you He is well cplease.
Holy Baptism incorporates you into the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Father, Son, Spirit. You share the same name they share. You gain entrance to the household above by water and the Word. This is redemption for fathers and their children alike.
The Second Birth of Water and the Spirit Makes God Your Father and Christ Your Brother
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard