David Kolander

We Need the Water!

by David Kolander on March 6th, 2024
John 3:1-8

If I would say I just heard there’s no school tomorrow, I imagine some of you parents might go into a panic, and all of you kids would enter a frenzy of delight and lose your ability to concentrate for the rest of the service. Now, there is school tomorrow, because school normally gets cancelled when there’s too much snow or too much cold, and right now there’s not too much snow or too much cold. But did you hear about the school in Minnesota that had to cancel school last Monday, not because it was snowing or freezing, but because the city basically didn’t have any more water? Thankfully there weren’t any serious injuries, but apparently there was a horrible fire in a grain elevator that needed so much water that the city’s water tower and water pumps just couldn’t keep up. The fire department said, “We need the water. We need the water to get this thing under control.” So, in order to conserve the water supply, they had to ask the people of the city to limit their water use, and one thing they did to limit water use was to cancel school for the day.

Today’s Bible lesson tells us we need the water, too — not in order to conserve water, but in an effort to get us to make use of all the water we can. We need the water, too – not in order for the fire department to do its very important work, but in order for the Holy Spirit to do the most important work in all the world. After all, this is what Jesus said in verse 5: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” As we continue our midweek Lenten worship on the theme of baptism, let’s see how God ties together our need for the suffering and death of Jesus with our need to have to say as God’s children, “We Need the Water!” – the water of baptism.

Our need for the water of baptism is for the exact same reason we had the need for Jesus to go to his cross. That man in our lesson named Nicodemus who came to Jesus that night was a member of the group of people called the Pharisees, most of whom saw no need for the work of Jesus on the cross, because most of them did not think they needed the forgiveness of sins that Jesus had come to bring. Nicodemus, however, was very curious about Jesus, and, because it wouldn’t have been good for him at that time to be seen wanting to learn from this Jesus of Nazareth, he came to Jesus at night. What a difference there was at the end of Jesus’ life, when, if you remember, Nicodemus joined his friend Joseph of Arimathea in asking Pontius Pilate to take the crucified body of Jesus — and then placed it in a tomb that Joseph owned, applying seventy-five pounds of burial spices that Nicodemus had lovingly prepared for his Savior.

But at this time he was talking to Jesus about the miracles Jesus had been doing, and he said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” He was really close to getting it, so Jesus went on to say that those miracles weren’t just to show that God was with him – and that he was God – but also because Jesus so much wanted people to be part of the Kingdom of God – God’s family of faith. But Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

The kingdom of God is where God rules, so the kingdom of God is in various places. The kingdom of God is in heaven, and the kingdom of God is in our hearts, and the kingdom of God in his Word. What that means is God uses his Word to get faith into our hearts so we can someday live in heaven. But for that to happen, Jesus was saying, you have to be born again. You have to be born a second time. Now, Nicodemus was a spiritual leader, but he had enough knowledge of science to know that someone could not be born of his mother a second time. There is no such thing as two births for the same person. We only get to celebrate one birthday. But Jesus went on to say that there is another birthday we can celebrate with even more joy than our physical birthday, because to be part of God’s family you have to be born a second time. You have to be born spiritually. And Jesus tells us how that happens when he went on to tell Nicodemus, again in verse 5: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

And this then takes us to the main point of the worship service theme this afternoon in connecting the water of baptism with the agony of Christ’s Lenten suffering and death for our sins. We need it. We need the water. Just as there is no way that any one of us could say, “I think I’ll be born today, so mom and dad, March 6 — this a great day for a birthday,” so not a single one of us could say, “I think I’ll be born again today. I think I’ll believe in Jesus today.” We need someone else to do it. We need the Holy Spirit to do it. We need to be born of water and the Spirit to do it. One of our baptismal rites or orders of service reminds us, “We are all born into this world with a deep need for baptism.” The reason we are all born into this world with a deep need for the water of baptism is because we are born spiritually dead – physically alive and beautiful, but spiritually dead and dreadful.

And almost as if Nicodemus might have been asking the question, “What are you talking about, Jesus? How can we be born spiritually dead,” Jesus went right into his explanation in verse 6 of what he had just said: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” What that means is that ever since Adam and Eve committed the first sin, everyone who comes from their flesh – everyone who has been born from their line – was also conceived and born in sin. That is why you and I say near the beginning of the service nearly every Sunday, “Holy God, gracious Father, I am sinful by nature.” We do more than just sin, as we also confess we do. Our very being is sin, and we keep passing that on to everyone else who comes from us, because “flesh gives birth to flesh.”

But, God be praised, “the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” The Holy Spirit gives us a second birth: the second birth that we all need in order to know that our sins are forgiven – we believe it; the second birth that we all need in order for us to want to live lives for Jesus and for others to show how thankful we are that God loved us enough to do that – we want to show what we believe; and, yes, the second birth that we need in order to have the desire and the ability to share what we believe – to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…,” because every single person in this world needs a second birth. Every single person in this world needs the water.

And no one here tonight ever needs to think that God won’t give you what you need, or that maybe this is great for everyone else, but it can’t possibly be true for someone like me. In this very same chapter, John chapter 3, in which Jesus tells Nicodemus that everyone in the world has the need to be born again by water and the Spirit – in this very same chapter, John chapter 3, just a few verses later, is John 3:16. And John 3:16 makes it clear in such simple and unmistakable language that God wants all of us to know that what we all need, we all receive: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish but have eternal life.” What a blessing to know that baptism gives us eternal life, just as the apostle Peter told us in one of our earlier Lenten sermons, “Baptism now saves you also.”  Through baptism we are born again by water and the Spirit.

… To do their physical saving work, fire departments need water — water that comes from fire hydrants. A number of years ago, when we moved into the home in which we currently live, my first property insurance bill included a large surcharge for not having a fire hydrant close by. That seemed really strange to me because there was a fire hydrant right on the edge of our property. Once I told them that, that insurance bill got substantially reduced. I pray there never is a need for it, but if our house should ever be in need of water, that need will be provided for by something right on our property line… All of us in this room have a deep need for baptism, and in his love for us, God has provided much more than an insurance policy we pay for, if something should possibly be needed. God has provided us with the absolute, guaranteed assurance that he has paid for with Jesus’ blood that what you and I absolutely without question need, he has absolutely without question given to us by placing faith in Jesus’ work right into our hearts. Brothers and sisters, we need the water, because we need Jesus. And through our baptism, Jesus is exactly who we have – because God so loved the world, and that means God so loves me – and I can be so happy to think about that every single time I think about the time when someone poured water on me and gave me a second birth in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So all I need now is to keep growing in knowing Jesus better and better – and to keep thanking him more and more in every way I can. Amen.

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