************ Sermon on John 3:8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 1, 2016
John 16:5-16; 3:5-8
"The Wind Blows Wherever it Pleases"
If you could go back in time, where would you like to go? What Biblical event would you like to witness? Maybe you want to see Israel crossing the Red Sea or marching around the walls of Jericho. Maybe you want to hear Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount. Maybe you want to witness one of Jesus' miracles -- the healing of the man let down through the roof, the changing of water into wine, the herd of pigs running into the sea. I, for one, would like to talk to Lazarus about his experience of being raised from the dead. I would love to be there when the resurrected Jesus appears to Thomas.
God, being God, can do this. He is the "Alpha and the Omega." He is the God "who is, and who was, and who is to come" (cf Rev 1:8). He is past, present, and future all at the same time. He is above time and beyond time and outside of time. So God right now is at the Red Sea. And right now He is a witness to the resurrection of Lazarus.
Man, being man, cannot do this. We are bound by time. We are limited by time. And, this might surprise you, as we celebrate Ascension Day this morning Jesus tells us we are better off this way. Jesus tells us we don't want to go back to the time He was ministering on earth.
I The Good of His Going
A I want to begin by asking everyone to open the grey Psalter Hymnal to Q & A 46 of the Catechism (p.879). I will read Q 46 and I ask you to respond with the answer ...
What do you mean by saying,
"He ascended to heaven"?
while his disciples watched,
was lifted up from the earth to heaven
and will be there for our good
until he comes again
to judge the living and the dead.
Notice the phrase: "for our good." Jesus went up to heaven "for our good."
Turn now to Q & A 49:
How does Christ's ascension to heaven benefit us?
First, he pleads our cause
in the presence of his Father.
Second, we have our own flesh in heaven--
a guarantee that Christ our head
will take us, his members,
to himself in heaven.
Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth
as a further guarantee.
By the Spirit's power
we make the goal of our lives,
not earthly things,
but the things above where Christ is,
sitting at God's right hand.
Notice the phrase: "benefit us." Christ's ascension to heaven benefits us.
Turn now to Q & A 51:
How does this glory of Christ our head benefit us?
First, through his Holy Spirit
he pours out his gifts from heaven
upon us his members.
Second, by his power
he defends us and keeps us safe
from all enemies.
Notice the same phrase again: "benefit us."
According to the Catechism, Jesus is in heaven for our good. Jesus is in heaven for our benefit. The Catechism doesn't just make this up. This comes from the Bible and from our Bible reading.
B Jesus told His disciples He was leaving. He was talking about His ascension into heaven. And the disciples were filled with grief. With airplane travel and Skype and Instant Messaging and FaceTime and email we don't ever really say good-bye anymore. But now go back 100 years ago to Europe right after World War I. People were leaving for United States or Canada or Australia or New Zealand or Argentina. And family members were filled with grief. Family members who are leaving will be missed. Those who stayed behind wondered if they would ever see them again; they doubt if things would ever be the same again. It is these sort of thoughts that were going through the minds of the disciples.
I want you to notice what Jesus says in response to the disciples' grief in our Bible reading from John 16. Jesus says, "It is for your good that I am going away" (Jn 16:7). The word for "good" here means "profitable, beneficial, advantage." In other words, the disciples are better off with Jesus in heaven than with Jesus on earth. As the song writer puts it, "My Savior, can it ever be, That I gain by losing thee?" The answer is "Yes!" Or, as Jesus put it later on in chapter 16, the disciples' "grief will turn to joy" (Jn 16:20).
Why will grief turn to joy? Why are we better off with Jesus in heaven? Notice what Jesus says:
(Jn 16:7) But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.Who is the Counselor? That's another word for the Spirit. Jesus says He needs to leave so the Spirit can come. Jesus says He needs to leave so He can send the Spirit. In other words, if Jesus does not leave for heaven, the Spirit does not come to earth in a new way. When Jesus goes up, the Spirit comes down. It is as simple as that.
Ascension Day is for our good, our benefit, our advantage, our profit because we get the Spirit.
II The Wind of the Spirit
A Now, our text is part of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus, "no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (Jn 3:3). Nicodemus did not understand. So Jesus explained that flesh gives birth to flesh and the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Then Jesus added the explanation of verse 8:
(Jn 3:8) The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
Two key words in this verse are the words "wind" and "Spirit." Though they are two completely different words in the English, they come from the same word in the Greek. Depending on the setting, the Greek can be translated as wind, spirit, or breath. In our text the same Greek word is used twice and has two different meanings.
B On this Ascension Day, what can we say about the Spirit? That the Spirit is like the wind. That the wind is a good symbol for the Spirit.
Think about the wind. Last week Sunday night we heard thunder outside. Then a warning message came across our TV: Dangerous winds and hail were moving northeast from Tulare to Farmersville to Woodlake. On Wednesday the sky suddenly turned dark and a strong wind was blowing southeast from Fresno. In between we had a couple of days without any wind at all. Do you hear what I am saying? Wind is unpredictable. It blows from the north, south, east, west and points in between and some days it hardly blows at all. Wind exists everywhere on earth, is continually in motion, and varies from a slight breeze to a strong wind to a destructive tornado or hurricane. We can hear the wind and feel the wind but we cannot see the wind or control the wind.
Now, apply this to the Spirit. Like the wind, the Spirit's work is universal -- not limited to one country, race, or continent. Like the wind, the work of the Spirit is unpredictable -- you can not say where the Spirit will work with great power today or tomorrow. As the Gospels illustrate, no one can predict when or if the Spirit will invade a human heart; for instance, the Spirit was at work in Nicodemus but not at work in the hearts of the Jews Who hated and persecuted Jesus. Like the wind, the work of the Spirit is out of man's control. Like the wind, you cannot see the Spirit, but you can feel Him and see the results of His work. Like the wind, we experience the Spirit in different ways.
On this Ascension Day we celebrate that Jesus went up so that the Spirit could come down.
C When we turn to the book of Acts and look at the Pentecost account, we again see the Spirit described as wind: a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where the disciples were sitting; they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that rested on each of them; they were filled with the Holy Spirit; and, they began to speak in other languages. Then Peter preached and about three thousand repented and believed and were baptized (cf Acts 2:1-4,14ff).
The Holy Spirit begins His work and enters our lives like the blowing of the wind. We need the wind of the unpredictable and uncontrollable Spirit to blow through our hearts and make us born again.
We see this in the life of Nicodemus. Nicodemus visited Jesus because he liked what he saw and heard. However, he came at night because he was scared of the Jews. He was not intending to be converted. But that is what happened. Like the blowing of the wind, it was unpredictable and uncontrollable.
I am always surprised, even shocked, when students in Pastor's Class and Catechism Class don't seem to realize we need to be born again. Part of the problem is that we don't talk much about this work of the Spirit. Another part of the problem is that the whole concept of being born-again has been hijacked by those who believe it is their decision and their action; in other words, they deny election and sovereign grace.
D The message of Ascension Day is that we must change and only God can change us through the coming and blowing of His Spirit invading our lives. We must change because we are sinners.
We were talking about this on Thursday's bike ride. One of the guys wanted to know about the eternal destiny of people in China or Japan who belong to the Confucius faith? Or, he asked, what about those in the jungles of South America who have never heard of Jesus?
I had to tell him the sad news that they were all lost because they didn't believe in Jesus. He didn't think that was fair, especially if a man led a good, clean life, didn't beat his wife and kids, was a good provider, and so on. I sensed an opening. "Are you talking about people like yourself? Do you think of yourself as basically a good person?" When he nodded, I asked if he ever swore, drank to access, took something that did not belong to him, lied, or cheated on a test. I asked him about arguments with his wife. I asked if his divorce was biblical. Another guy joked we would be there the rest of the night before we covered all the sins.
I asked him to compare himself to Billy Graham. If Billy is a 3 or 4 on a scale of 10 where are you? He agreed he came under Billy. Then I asked how Billy compares to Christ. He admitted Billy comes way under Christ. "And you," I said, "come under Billy. But so do I and everyone else here."
People, like my friend, have a hard time admitting the truth about us humans. Many churches have a hard time admitting the truth about us humans. So, let me ask, what is the true condition of all people apart from Jesus Christ?
The Bible says we are dead. Not sick, not dying, not fading away, but dead (Eph 2:1).
The Bible says we are condemned by God and under His wrath (Jn 3:18,36).
The Bible says we are blind and without understanding (2 Cor 4:4; 1 Cor 2:14)).
The Bible says we are captives of Satan (2 Tim 2:26).
The Bible says we are hopeless and helpless (Eph 2:12; Jn 6:44).
Do you see, my brothers and sisters, do you see the desperate plight of those without Christ? They are dead but think they are alive. They are blind but think they can see. They are captive but think they are free. They are helpless but think they can do anything. They are without hope but think they will go to heaven.
Unless you have been born again by the Spirit of the risen and ascended Christ, this describes you. This is you. And me. And my cycling friend. But Christ has ascended. The Spirit has come down. Like the wind, He does His invisible and invincible work, and we are born again.
So how does the Bible describe us if we are in Christ and born again by His Spirit?
-I was dead but now am alive.
-I was lost but now am found.
-I was blind but not I see.
-I was condemned but now am forgiven.
-I was a captive of Satan but now am free.
-I was headed for hell for now am going to heaven.
All of this because of the Spirit of the risen and ascended Christ.
This Spirit is like the wind. He blows wherever He pleases. He changes whoever He pleases.
E It should be obvious by now that I am not in charge of my own salvation. This truth should humble us because it all depends on God. This truth should make us bold in witnessing and drive us to our knees in prayer. People may fight the Lord, they may resist the Lord, they -- like Nicodemus -- may admire Him from a distance, they may deny the Lord, their hearts may be hardened in their delusions of life and freedom and understanding and sight and hope. Yet, the uncontrollable and unpredictable Spirit is more than able to change the hardest of hearts.
Truly Jesus is in heaven for our good, our benefit, our profit, our advantage. Because Jesus is in heaven He was able to send His Spirit down to earth.
What difference does the Spirit make? It makes all the difference in the world. It makes all the difference in the world, dear friends, because we all need to be changed. We all need to be changed but only God can change us. It is the Spirit, as a wind, that blows into our hearts and our lives and makes us born again.
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