Second Sunday in Lent
The Collect: Father, grant us through thy mercy a renewed desire to search the scriptures and a new appreciation of the spirit of prophecy, that our faith may be strengthened in this holy season! May our strengthened faith manifest itself in works that resonate with those who have gone astray, drawing them back into the fold, renewing their desire to seek the gifts of faith and repentance, that they might once again be sanctified by the Sacrament of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, who is one with Thee and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
Psalm 121, BCP Psalter, Coverdale, 1662, St Paul’s Cathedral Choir
For the high born, whose name and social position — and wealth — often stems directly from his or her birth, the doctrine that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) is a troubling proposition. This certainly seems to have been the case with the Pharisee Nicodemus, a “ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1) and a “master of Israel” (John 3:10), who flirted with Christian discipleship during Christ’s ministry. Will I lose my name, my status, my wealth if I am thus “born again”? These considerations perhaps reveal Nicodemus’ question to Jesus — “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4) — as a sincere concern rather than the smart-alecky provocation visible in some popular versions of the story.
But Christ’s Kingdom is not one of elites. He taught that His Kingdom is not of this earth; that is, it is not a kingdom dominated by those of high birth or other characteristics of social elites. Anyone who believes “in the name of the only begotten Son of God” is “not condemned” (John 3:18) but can receive the gift of faith and repentance and, through baptism, may become a part of this Kingdom, taking Christ’s name upon him or her by doing so. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Indeed, “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). Such salvation is available to the whole world, not just those of a certain birth or pedigree — not just to “literal” descendants of Abraham — “but also to those who share the faith of Abraham” (Romans 4:16, NRSV).
This is a universal Kingdom indeed. The Book of Mormon records Christ’s post-Resurrection teaching in the Western Hemisphere that “[t]he Father hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of the Father; and the Father and I are one” (3 Nephi 20:35). This visit and teaching fulfilled the faith of Christian disciples who understood that the Law of Moses was “sanctified for righteousness” to those who kept it precisely because the Law pointed its adherents to the Father and the Son (Jacob 4:5).
So also was Abraham’s faith “sancified unto [him] for righteousness” when, “in the wilderness,” he was “obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (ibid.). The law, as Jacob taught, was not an end unto itself; as Paul explained, the promise to Abraham “that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13), specifically, “that it might be by grace” (Romans 4:16) a covenant with the whole world if they accept that faith of Abraham.
Such has been the faith of “all the holy prophets which were before us” (Jacob 4:4). They knew that, as the Psalmist mused, “the LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul” (Psalms 121:7). For this purpose — so that “we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken” — “we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy” (Jacob 4:6). In this process, “the Lord God showeth us our weakness” so that we can learn that “it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men” that we experience the fruits of our faith as His gift to us, a gift that includes the capability to perform mighty works of righteousness (Jacob 4:7).
Let us then always remember that “great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God” (Jacob 4:8). Let us not seek “condemnation” by “not believ[ing] in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18): “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Rather, let us “do truth” so that we may “come to the light, that [our] deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:21).
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“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). (LDS Bible Videos, John 3:1-21)