By Dr. Walter A. Maier

"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again!" Saint John 3:5-7.

     SPIRIT OF LIGHT AND TRUTH: Give us new life, new hope, new assurance of our salvation, through trusting faith in Christ, our ever-blessed Redeemer! Show us that once we know that our transgressions are removed through His atoning, substitutionary love, we become God's children, heirs of Heaven! We need Thine instructing, illuminating presence in our souls; for without Thee, holy and hallowing Spirit, we cannot come to Jesus nor call him Lord. Our own sin-ruined reason can only convince us of our iniquity, but never show us the way to salvation. We must have Thee to guide us to the cross, where the Son of God opened the gates of Heaven for us. Therefore come, sanctifying Spirit, bless us, and bring us closer to our divine Deliverer! Keep us from pride and the rejection of the Savior's mercy! Show all who labor under life's sorrows that He, the Son of the Almighty, can heal when human comforters fail! As we thank Thee for Thy blessings on our nation, we plead that Thou wouldst fortify preachers of the Gospel grace with fervent faith and thus Strengthen America with repentance and return to the Father, who alone made us the mightiest of nations! Above all, build our faith in Jesus, through whose promise we pray confidently! Amen!

     One of the happiest moments for millions in our country is the time when their loved ones return from distant battlefields across the oceans. Yet how sad that homecoming may be! Recently a C-47 transport left Newark, New Jersey, with twenty-three veteran fighters from Europe, most of them Californians, bound for the West Coast. At Fairfax, Missouri, after the plane descended for refueling, the men wired wives and parents the time of their arrival, scheduled only four or five hours later. Some of you soldiers know how those veterans felt as they looked forward, after several years' separation, to meeting their dear ones on that very day; and all of you parents, who have hurried to the railroad station, airport, or pier to greet your boys, can understand the eagerness with which the families of these returning heroes counted the minutes before they would throw their arms around their dear ones. But none of us, except the Gold Star relatives of our fighting men, can measure their agony when they learned that shortly after taking off from the Fairfax airport their huge Army plane crashed, killing all twenty-three veterans. The anguish would have been less had these men lost their lives in the nation's defense; but to survive the horrors of bloody battles only to die within a few hours from home - that was almost beyond human endurance. As American boys even now in peacetime go into military training, let us pause and earnestly plead: O Lord of love, guard and protect these young men in soul and body on all their ways! Keep them in Thy constant care, safe in the hollow of Thy hand, according to Thy will! We ask it in Jesus our Savior's never-failing name. Amen!

     Thank God because He has marvelously shielded by far the most of our men! Many veterans realize clearly that the Almighty preserved them. Take the case of Clayton O. Decker! He was among the nine survivors on the submarine Tang, sunk by its own torpedo in the Pacific. Captured by the Japanese, he was sent to a torture camp near Tokyo, where American prisoners, especially sailors from submarines, were starved, kicked, beaten, and even had burning cigarette butts stuffed into their noses and ears. Then, after lingering months of living death, came the Japanese surrender. Returning to his wife and four- year-old son, he stepped from a naval air transport at Oakland and cried out, "O God, I am born again!" After the unbelievable horrors of enemy persecutions, life had indeed started anew for him.

     In a much higher and blessed sense all of us, civilians as well as soldiers, can exult, "O God, I am born again!" when we accept and acclaim Christ as our Savior. Indeed after the toil and turmoil of this imprisonment called life we can reach heaven safely and surely only reborn in this existence. In this hour when our nation stands at the crossroads, its course directed either to Jesus or the jungle, to Christ or chaos, to redemption or ruin, the Holy Spirit appeals to America's millions,


     This is the divine direction given by our Savior Himself, who in today's Scripture (the glorious third chapter of Saint John's Gospel, verses five to seven) declares: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again!"


     It was under the cover of darkness that timid Nicodemus came to our Lord to be blessed by the divine Teacher's marvelous and merciful instruction. If only in our peace-robbed age the disquieted and distressed would similarly use the stillness of the later hours in finding an answer to the questions concerning their eternal souls! What do you think would happen if tonight, tomorrow night, each night this week, the 135,000,000 Americans would spurn places of sin, avoid temptations, shun carnal amusement, set aside all distractions and alone, in the presence of their God, devote their thoughts to their soul and its salvation in Christ? If for a single week America would thus spend its evenings with the Savior, then without cost, organization, or publicity our country could be blessed by a real revival of religion and a spread of the true, saving faith, far wider than we have seen before. In sorry truth, however, our Lord loses many of America's darkened hours while Satan secures them. Even on Sunday night, at the close of the Lord's Day, when every true believer should welcome a second opportunity to praise his Lord, an increasing number of churches remain closed, dark, empty. Make up for this serious loss, you who would serve the Savior, by worshiping Jesus at the close of each day with your whole family in your own home! Blessings beyond number can come even to unbelievers and scoffers, through one night spent with Jesus. Listen to Alexander Hamilton's own account of a single evening which helped change his whole life! The first Secretary of our Treasury writes: "In company with some friends I had indulged in remarks much to the disadvantage of Christians and the disparagement of their religion....Coming home, I stood, late at night, on the doorsteps, waiting for my servant. In this moment of stillness, my thoughts returned to what had just passed at my friend's and on what I had said there. These questions did not allow me to sleep quietly. In the morning I sent to my friends, the clergy, for books treating on the evidence of Christianity. I read them; and the result is, I believe the religion of Christians to be the truth; that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that He made an atonement for our sins by his death; and that He rose for our justification." -With the same willingness to learn, follow Nicodemus tonight in his evening visit to Christ! Spend the last hours of this Sunday with your Savior, and you too can experience the unspeakable joy of being with Jesus.

     Nicodemus was a man of affairs, "a master in Israel," with wealth and influence; yet he placed great importance on his visit to our Lord. Again, who can measure how much more support the Christian Church would receive and give if today's leaders in business, finance, politics, education, were to follow Nicodemus' footsteps to the Lord? -Late after twelve, one night last week, I sat with a noted research scientist, head of a department in one of America's foremost schools, to hear him say that despite all recent and startling progress, science itself offers no peace and inner joy. Men's souls must be changed by superhuman means, he concluded. The Holy Spirit grant that today, when some of our deepest thinkers stand aghast at the horrors which may overtake us, as man learns to kill more cruelly, wipe out cities more completely, American geniuses, inventors, manufacturers, bankers, businessmen, teachers, and students will stay up late, trying to devise effective means for bringing America closer to God! In the past the most eminent scientists and scholars have been humble followers of Christ. The mightiest minds have never been ashamed of Jesus. Why should intellectual and political leaders shun Him today?

     Hear how Nicodemus approached the Lord! He began: "We know that Thou art a Teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest except God be with Him." This was true, but the Savior was not satisfied. He was more than a Teacher, more than a Miracle Worker, more than a Leader sent from above. He was, is today, and always will be the great and glorious God Himself. In a few moments He would correct Nicodemus' false notion that He was only a Heaven-sent Instructor, a spectacular Wonder Worker; our Lord would tell His inquirer this crown-and-climax truth of our faith - Oh, that the whole world could now hear it! Oh, that everyone of you would believe it with all your soul - "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." First, however, Nicodemus had to see how completely lost he was without Christ; so our Lord, refusing to take time even to correct this master in Israel's wrong opinion of Him, sounds the sweeping warning, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." Without explanation or exception, the Son of God plainly declares that all men, leaders like Nicodemus and criminals like those slinking through the dark streets of Jerusalem in that very hour, the educated and the illiterate, the high and the low, the princes and paupers - by their birth - all are "flesh," carnal, sinful mortals, rejected by God, doomed to eternal death and reserved for endless wrath. Hear our Lord's judgment again - and remember that He never made a mistake! - All men, including the biggest and outwardly the best; all men, including the Nazis and the Nipponese, but also the Americans, the British, the Russians, the members of every race, the inhabitants of every region; all men, the condemned murderers in Sing Sing's death row, the traitors in France who this week face firing squads, those who traffic in women and destroy children; all men, including you, wherever you may be, are, by birth and nature, "flesh," not good, virtuous, holy, but entirely evil, totally depraved, utterly incapable of pleasing God, sentenced by the Judge of eternity to death and damnation.

     It will not make this broadcast popular to insist with the sweeping judgment of Scripture, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God"; it will not increase the number of letters we receive this week to repeat this statement of divine truth, "There is not a just man on earth that doeth good and sinneth not"; it will not decrease the organized hostility to this radio crusade when I reaffirm the Bible's unsparing charge, "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags"; but this mission of the air has no applause meter; it is maintained to help win souls for the Savior. Woe to me if I soft-pedal or refuse to tell you that in Heaven's sight mankind without Christ and therefore proud, selfish, lustful, hate-filled, false, avaricious, envious, is unsparingly condemned. What would you think of the doctor who, too blind or ignorant to recognize that his patient suffers from poliomyelitis or tuberculosis, would slap the sick person on the shoulder and say, "Get up! There's nothing wrong with you. You are in fine shape"? You would certainly call it criminal to permit that man to continue his practice. Yet how indescribably worse when preachers, moved by public applause or the desire for popularity, steadfastly refuse to declare that all men by nature are "dead in trespasses and sin"! Because the invalid who denies that he is ill can never be brought to seek and find healing, I ask, not the world, not America, not your neighbor, but you yourself, you personally, you especially: "Do you know that without faith in the Savior of your soul, despite bank account, college degrees, business prominence, despite name and fame, influence and affluence, you are, as Jesus says in our Scripture, "flesh," as opposed to God and under His condemnation?"

     True, many will contradict every syllable I have spoken. The other day a New York newspaper prominently displayed Ruskin's praise of man's goodness. The British writer sweepingly insisted: "Human nature is a noble and beautiful thing; not a foul or base thing. All the sins of men I esteem as their disease, not their nature; as a folly which may be prevented...human nature ...I find...always a higher thing than I thought it." Ruskin was radically wrong; he wrote in the peace and prosperity of the Victorian age. The same newspaper which printed his glittering folly featured bloody accounts of the atomic destruction which wiped out ten thousands of civilians, revolting stories of Nazi atrocity camps, shocking records of Japanese prison persecutions, sickening evidence of bloody crime on the increase in our own country. Human nature "noble and beautiful"? History, even as written in this "enlightened" age, proves that it is deceitful, destructive, depraved.

     You have the evidence of this tragic truth in yourself. If Saint Paul, self-sacrificing hero of the faith, taking careful inventory of himself, cried out, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing," dare we, even for a moment, question our own utter sinfulness? Don't sidestep this fatal act of inborn and acquired human evil! Don't question or qualify it! As you behold the stainless holiness of your Lord, admit, by contrast, complete iniquity! Understand that you have one short life to live - it may be even shorter than you think - before you face the Almighty's Judgment, in which you and every unforgiven sinner must be condemned! Realize that to face God, to enjoy the radiance of Heaven, you must become an entirely new creature, you "must be born again"!


     That is the lesson our Savior repeatedly stresses in this third chapter of Saint John, when with triple emphasis He proclaims: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God"; then, in words of our text, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God"; and once more, in summary, "Ye must be born again!" If all this does not sufficiently impress you, I remind you that four times in nine verses of this section, Jesus stresses the truth of his utterance when he declares, "I say unto you," that is, "I", the Son of God, in unfailing, unbreakable, unending assurance, "say unto you." Even this does not exhaust the importance our Lord lays on the new birth, for three times in eight verses He uses, not only the strengthening word "verily," which has the force of an oath, but the double stress, "verily, verily." You see, then, with what extraordinary earnestness the Savior teaches the necessity of this rebirth. Indeed, as I repeat His words, "Ye must be born again!" I put this decisive question before each of you: "Are you born again?"

     Before you answer, keep clearly in mind that nothing less than complete rebirth will permit you to enter the Kingdom! It is not enough that you are sincere, for millions of emperor worshipers in Japan were sincere enough, but entirely mistaken. It is not enough that you are sorry for your sins; most suicides regret their error, when it is too late. It is not enough that you go to church, serve as officer, sing in the choir, speak at youth meetings; thousands who have done this have fallen into unbelief and will not "enter into the kingdom of God." It is not enough that you pray - millions plead in the wrong manner; that you do not drink or gamble - masses of pagans do not; yet they never learn the way to Heaven. It is not enough that you give generously - all the money you can ever acquire will not pay for your title to a place in the eternal mansions; that you work tirelessly, for your labor may be lost without divine blessing. It is not enough that you were confirmed; ten thousands in my own Church who once before the altar pledged their personal allegiance to the Savior have fallen from faith. May God have mercy on their souls and lead them back! It is not enough that you can quote Scripture freely and faultlessly. The devils in Hell can do this far better than you. It is not enough that you are a preacher or a church leader. Even one of the superprivileged few who walked and talked with Jesus betrayed Him and damned His own soul. No, my beloved; above and below, before and after, all this, Christ emphatically reminds us, "Ye must be born again!" Outward reform, earnest resolutions for the improvement of our life, strong religious emotions, and happy inner feelings - all these are helpful and desirable, but, first, the Savior tells us, "Ye must be born again!" If in eternity you want to see your heavenly Father, listen closely as the Son of God tells you today, "Ye must be born again!"


     "How," I hope you are asking, "can I be blessed by the new birth and become a new creature?" David Livingstone tells us that an African chief named Sekomi approached him one day with the request: "I wish you would change my heart. Give me some medicine to change it, for it is proud and angry, always angry!" When Livingstone began to show him God's way of remaking the heart, the chief objected, "Nay, I want to have a change by medicine. I want to drink and have it changed at once." Today, likewise, men recognize that the human soul has to be ennobled, that the morals of mankind must be lifted if the world is not to destroy itself. But what are the means by which the race is to be rescued from the appalling doom which experts predict? Dr. Arthur H. Compton, Nobel prize winner, who a few days ago warned that the United States is engaged in the next war, 10 per cent of our population will be destroyed on the first day, and cities like Chicago and Saint Louis wiped out immediately, asserted that the one means of averting this danger is a world union, an international federation. Military leaders, who draw equally ghastly pictures of the next conflict, hold that our hope lies in the conscription of our youth. Other authorities have told us that huge military and naval forces policing the world must enforce the four freedoms and save humanity. Still others, however, just as strongly support exactly opposite claims. Christians gladly accept every human proposal directed to help humanity, but they know that the best laws, international agreements, financial programs, cannot touch or improve man's heart, which is the fountain from which flow all actions and ambitions; and until this source of evil is purified, there can be no guarantee of real betterment for the individual or for the race.

     This means, of course, that the most popular of proposals for a new and better day, education, more enlightenment, holds no real promise. We cannot educate ourselves into eternal blessings, especially because the trends of modern culture are often pagan or atheistic. I have with me a copy of a national magazine which caters to American high school and college students, offering them special rates, and their teachers free desk copies. On the page opposite its appeal for student subscriptions it features an advertisement of a book which presents the history of commercialized vice, written, as the advertisement specifically emphasizes, "with humor, wit, and charm," to be read, as the publishers point out, for amusement and enjoyment. Do you wonder why, when magazines introduced into our secondary schools with official approval, openly proclaim that the story of immorality amuses and entertains, more of our American youth go wrong than ever before, according to F.B.I. statements from Washington? An Indiana mother complains that her fourteen-year-old daughter, a sophomore in high school, came home from her first day's instruction with a textbook which on its first pages teaches that the earth came into existence several billion years ago by sheer accident, when a huge star happened to pass close to the sun. The same book tells American teen-age students that faith means "a belief in yourself and the goodness of the universe" - a statement every infidel would heartily endorse. Now draw your own conclusions as to why we have a destructive wave of juvenile delinquency! If America's young men and women are told that God has nothing to do with the beginning of this world, how can they believe that He has anything to do with the next? While atheists are excited about released-time instruction in religion given to public school children who wish it, Christians are often unconcerned or uninformed about the deep inroads that atheism and the denial of Bible truths have made in many schools where God is systematically opposed.

     No, culture, college training, research, science, alone cannot make the world better nor grant anyone the necessary rebirth in righteousness. Cunning minds can invent such horrifying modes of destruction that they can wipe out masses of their fellow men, but they cannot build spiritually, raise the race morally from its ruin, nor bring a single soul from darkness to light.

     President Truman was right; the world, including our country, needs a change of heart; and today Christ tells us how our hearts can be changed. We "must be born again," he says, by faith. We must come to Him, God's Son and the world's Redeemer, admitting that because of our sins we are hopeless, helpless, damned; but grasping His grace, clinging to the cross, trusting the Gospel truth that at Calvary he was crucified for us, as He there suffered the pain, penalty, guilt, curse, torture, and terror of all our transgressions, we not only receive pardon for our iniquity, but by the Holy Spirit's mighty miracle of regeneration we are also born again into a new life. Scripture's pledge is fulfilled in us: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Hear and believe this divine truth. We have the promise, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Through this marvel of mercy, their unbelief banished, their sins removed, drunkards have become devout followers of Christ; slaves of lust, servants of God; children of wrath, children of divine love.

     "Marvel not," Jesus declares, "that I said unto you, Ye must be born again"; and we repeat: Don't argue, debate, or contradict the truth! Accept it, believe it, rely on it, even though you cannot understand it! See its proof throughout the history of the Christian missions! The people of Toro in east equatorial Africa were devil worshipers, who offered human sacrifices to evil spirits. They mutilated their bodies with fire, cut long wounds into their faces, knocked teeth out of their lower jaw, all to please their demon gods. They disfigured their children, bound their parents when too old to work with banana thongs and threw them into the swamp to die. Finally the Gospel found its way into Toro, and in 1896, only fifty years ago, these former savages, reborn in Christ, held a council in which the terrifying practices of the past were disavowed and discarded. From that day the former devil worshipers took on a different appearance. Mutilations stopped. Babies born since 1896 were called "Jesus children" because no scars disfigured their bodies. How different, too, our world would look today if millions steeped in hatred and sin would come to the Savior and receive this rebirth! The wounds of war, the marks of human madness in a thousand destroyed cities, the signs of horror in millions sick and starving, would disappear. -Do you really want to do your part in restricting the ravages of bloodshed, in avoiding a third and terrifying world war which experts forsee? Then help spread the Gospel of peace in Jesus Christ!

     For your own peace, come to Christ, "be born again" in Him! As you triumph over your sins, you will learn to forget yourself, turn your afflictions into advantages, and live for others. Dr. Vanderkamp, distinguished physician, was without Christ, a restless, peace-robbed skeptic; but he learned to love the Lord Jesus; and when he was born again, he gave up position, honor, income, to work among South African natives. Missionary Moffat writes of him: "He came from a university to teach the alphabet to the poor, naked Hottentot; from the society of nobles to associate with beings of the lowest grade of humanity; from stately mansions to the filthy hovel of the greasy African; from the study of medicine to become a guide to the Balm of Gilead and the Physician there; and, finally, from a life of earthly honor and ease to be exposed to perils of waters, of robbers, of his own countrymen, of the heathen, in the city and in the wilderness."

     My beloved, do you want that peace and joy? Then believe Christ when He says, "Except a man be born OF WATER and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Accept the blessing of baptism, the "water" Jesus means here! Because the Son of God Himself promises, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved"; because His Word pledges, "Baptism doth also now save us," acclaim the Lord Jesus now as your Savior and prepare to receive this "washing of regeneration"! Richard Fletcher, former judge of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, declared: "At last I have found rest. I was permitted to be buried with Christ in Baptism." If that noted justice, daily occupied with questions of right and wrong, found spiritual strength in Baptism, certainly you who have lived without Christ and against Him should not despise this heavenly cleansing. Thousands of pastors associated with me throughout the country would thank God on bended knees if I could write to tell them that you, and perhaps your family with you, want to welcome Jesus as the Savior and receive instruction for Baptism. Don't hesitate, delay, postpone or forget your answer to this personal appeal! Why live an unnecessary moment longer in the old life of sin and sorrow, suspicion and distrust, selfishness and misery? Write us at once, phone us, wire us! Make this Sunday your spiritual birthday, as by faith you are born again into a new existence, with new thoughts, new hopes, new ambitions, new courage, new contentment, new calm in Christ, new assurance of heaven's beauty, bliss, and blessing! Jesus wants you, as His own, to have these and many more heavenly treasures by rebirth. Will you refuse? Dare you? For the salvation of your soul you cannot! You "must be born again"! God grant that you will be! Amen!
The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon by Dr. Walter A. Maier first aired in October 1945.