Sermon audio here.
Nicodemus’ words to our Lord sounded pious enough: “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.”
But like deodorant, Nicodemus’ words were only there to cover up something foul. Not wanting to be seen with Jesus, Nicodemus went to our Lord under the cover of darkness. Had anyone seen them together, Nicodemus could kiss his religious career goodbye. He was willing to give Jesus a try, but he wasn’t all-in. He wanted a no-obligation, risk-free, satisfaction or your money back Jesus.
How often, like Nicodemus, have you found yourself going to Jesus, but not for the right reasons? We’ve treated Jesus the same way the boy in the story treated the Giving Tree.
All the Giving Tree wanted was to be with the boy. And as a child, that was enough for him, too. So he spends his days with the tree, climbing its trunk, swinging from its branches, and eating its apples. But as the boy grows older, he’s only interested in the tree for what it can give him.
So he goes to the tree and asks for money. Not having any, the tree gives him all of its apples so he can sell them. When he wants a house, the tree lets him break off its branches so he can build one. When he asks for a boat, the tree says “cut me down and make one out of my trunk.”
How often have you treated your Lord like this? All He wants is to be with you. But instead, we’re only interested in Jesus for what He can give us. Never do we pray so fervently as when we need something. We should go to Christ because being in His presence and receiving His gifts is our greatest delight. Instead, we come for selfish reasons, and when those fail us, we might not come at all.
It didn’t matter how much Old Spice Nicodemus put on his words. Jesus smelled the stench beneath. But He told Nicodemus that He’d do more than just cover up his sin with some divine deodorant. Jesus told him about the new birth of water and the Spirit, that He’d wash all his filth away.
When Jesus is through with you, you won’t need deodorant ever again. When Christ returns, the only aroma you’ll smell is the pleasing incense of His people’s praise.
Nicodemus went to Jesus in fear and for all the wrong reasons, but Jesus doesn’t leave him there. Christ is constantly going to His wayward, fearful disciples saying things like, “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid.”
Jesus wanted Nicodemus to have that same reassurance, reassurance He also speaks to you today: peace be with you. Do not be afraid; let not your heart be troubled. You are my beloved child, and if I am for you, who can be against you?
To further strengthen your confidence in His goodness and love, Jesus compares the Holy Spirit’s work to the wind. Like the wind, you can’t see the Holy Spirit. And the things you do see would rob you of peace and cause you to doubt God’s love.
So quit looking for peace. Listen for it. Eat it and drink it. You can’t see the wind, but you can hear its sound. So it is with the Holy Spirit. You can’t see Him, but you can hear Him. He says your sin is forgiven you. The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.
Don’t worry so much when you see things going differently than you’d like. Don’t trust in that which is seen. Trust rather in that which is unseen, that which you hear from the Word of God. You could never hear that enough.
So we listen to Christ today, and we hear Him preaching about the Bronze Serpent. He said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so much the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”
It’s hard to find a more comforting and reassuring example of God’s grace in Holy Scripture than the Bronze Serpent. But it’s a story that begins, as they usually do, with human sin. The people were grumbling against God and Moses, so God sent fiery serpents to poison them.
As deadly as poison is, this was nothing compared to the poison the people harbored in their hearts toward God. The people had indeed been bitten and infected by a serpent, and his name is Satan—but it took being bitten by these fiery serpents for them to realize this and repent.
And in this, we see how Christ is different than the Giving Tree. The Giving Tree only gave the child things he wanted, things that would make him happy. Our heavenly Father loves us enough to give us what we need, even when the medicine tastes like poison.
This was the great mystery of which St. Paul spoke, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. That mystery, he said, is that God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all. There were fiery serpents before the Bronze Serpent. There’s repentance before forgiveness and death before resurrection.
Again and again we see sinners approach Christ in deceit and fear, be it Nicodemus, the Israelites, His disciples, even you—but Jesus never leaves you in the condition He found you. Your Heavenly Father loves you enough not only to speak the truth about your sin, but to do something about it—even to give His only begotten Son into death for your trespasses and raise Him for your justification. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so was the Son of Man lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life, even you.
Soli Deo Gloria