Saturday 15 March 2014

The gospel this morning is one of the outstanding passages in the whole Bible, sometimes called the golden verses.

In verse 1, we read of Nicodemus. He would have heard of the mighty acts of Jesus and was obviously impressed. Here was a man who recognized that he needed a change and wanted to go deeper, he wanted what Jesus offered. Sometimes we all recognize something is missing in our life and seek an answer; it may be difficult to admit this, but Nicodemus was ready to face up to it and decided to approach Jesus.

He was an important man in the community. He was a very rich and was most powerful in Jewish life. He was a Pharisee, one of an elite company never more than 6,000, who took a pledge to spend all their lives observing every details of the Jewish Law. To a Jew, that Law was the most sacred thing in the world. He was also on the ruling council called the Sanhedrin, a Court of 70 members, the Supreme Court of the Jews. All the people looked up to Nicodemus, for he was a teacher and answered questions. He tithed a tenth of all his income, fasted and prayed for two hours each day. He was a man many Churches would welcome. He had religion, but not Christ.

For Nicodemus to be seen going to Jesus could have had serious implications for him so one night he went to see Jesus, which meant he was taking a great risk, for if found doing so it would have meant losing his position, so he had to avoid being seen. There are many people who are in a like situation today who fear being seen going to Church lest they get mocked, and prefer to live a secret faith. No one need to be afraid of seeking Jesus, He will take you however you come.

The religion of Nicodemus was that of doing good works. The problem with a religion of good deeds is that we can never know when we have done enough, but that is the basic religion of the world. Jesus saw that Nicodemus had in his heart a great need for he could see the effect Jesus was having on the crowds and he wanted that experience. He sincerely believed he was doing what he thought God wanted from him, yet he realised something more was necessary; it was that feeling which led him to Jesus and risk incurring the wrath of his people.

So beneath an Eastern sky, on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, when it was dark, Nicodemus went to find and speak to Jesus. He told Jesus that he knew the works Jesus did were such that God must be with Him. and said, no one could help but be impressed by what Jesus had achieved.
Jesus answered that it was not the acts that were important, but it was the effects on a life that mattered. He told Nicodemus that unless a person was born anew, that is from above he cannot see the kingdom of God. Jesus answered him with that phrase, which has been immortalized by evangelical preachers, ‘you must be born again’. Jesus didn’t say ‘you must think about it’ or ‘you must consider it’. He said ‘you MUST be born again.’ This verse is so difficult for many within the Church to accept, for it means a change in their way of living; in other words, it condemns them.

This reply was puzzling to Nicodemus, but what Jesus was meaning that in order to see the kingdom of God, that is everlasting life, the Spirit of God must enter their heart.

Nicodemus could not understand the deep meaning of Jesus words, to him it was absurd that a man could again enter his mother’s womb and be re-born. Nicodemus took Jesus’ words literally and asked ‘how can a man be born when he is old. Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb’. Jesus was of course speaking figuratively.

If you think of a birth, the body exists before birth and can move and feel, but knows nothing of this world. It cannot see nor communicate yet the world is all around it. At the moment of birth, the embryo comes in to the world and can see, breathe and make contact. The baby is born of the flesh.

Jesus told Nicodemus he needed to be born again, that being to be changed in such a way that can only be described as a re-creation. To be born of the Spirit means to have the Spirit of Jesus Christ living inside of you, and you are ready to believe that Jesus Christ was Lord and is the Saviour of the World.

Jesus then said one has to be born of water and the Spirit. By this He was saying being baptized by water is important; the sign is important as a pictorial representation and seal, but that sign has to be accompanied by the thing signified, the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. Water may cleanse and may make you smell nicer, but that is not enough in God’s eyes. What it stands for is important, but you have to grasp the full meaning, which is repentance for sin, and the start of a new way of living. What Jesus calls for is a complete transformation in our lives. To lead a life in which we submit all willingly to the will of God. This means in our thoughts, words and actions.
All this seemed very strange to Nicodemus. He was used to pleasing God by the rule of law and works and a person cannot do anything about his birth.

Jesus then referred to the wind which no one can direct or see but it can be felt, and its effects can be witnessed. The relation of the wind to your body resembles that of the Spirit to the soul. Just as the wind does as it pleases so does the Spirit.

Nicodemus was totally confused and asked can all this be. Jesus pointed out he was a teacher of Israel and should know these things, he had the Old Testament and John the Baptist, but had not benefited from them

Jesus said that Nicodemus was not accepting His testimony so if he could not accept what was told of earthly things there was no point in him being told of heavenly things. The point Jesus is making is if all the things which take place within our own experience and are self evident yet we do not understand that by our own ability we are not able to please God, how can we expect to understand heavenly things.

Jesus referred to the wind blowing and being heard without it being seen or knowing where it came from or where it was going. When we are born again we feel the Spirit of God inside us. You don’t see God or control Him, but you see the effects when Jesus takes hold of your life. Your worship becomes more meaningful and necessary to you.

When we are born of the Spirit we have a new power within us. It may be asked how do I get it? Sometimes a man and a woman meet and immediately know they have met the person of their dreams, instantly they fall in love. The relationship may last for ever or indeed may fall apart after a while when they reconsider with the regularity of normal living. Another man and woman meet and meet again and again, and suddenly realize how deeply they have come to love each other and they live on happily. If you asked them at what point they actually fell in love, they could not tell you it just developed.

So it is with religion. Many thousands of people went to the Billy Graham Crusades in the latter half of the last century. Touched by rousing hymns, massed choirs, sermon by the world’s greatest preacher, they immediately had a Damascus road conversion. Quite a lot of men became clergy and even bishops, other went back to their parishes and in the more mundane atmosphere of 1662 Matins, poorly put together services and indifferent preaching, fell away; whilst others with regular worship and a desire to know the Lord just grew in grace over time.

In order to understand heavenly things Jesus said, one must have been present with God, but no one has ever gone up into heaven, but He (Jesus)had come down from heaven.
Like many people today, Nicodemus felt he was too old to change, to set in his ways, but we can begin anew at any age.
So many people are desperately unhappy and unsatisfied because they are missing out in their lives. They seek refuge in alcohol or drugs or gambling or whatever. The thought of seeking spiritual help is beyond their ability to think of such a move.

People come to a point in life when they feel that they are going through the motion of religion, of having the ritual without there being any sense of the real thing. If you come to that point in your relationship with God, and it happens to people all the time, you need to come before Jesus and ask Him to come into your life and give you that new life. The problem with so many people is that they think they are quite satisfactory and don’t need to change or do anything. They like a certain amount of religion, but not too much; having to attend Church is an unnecessary thing for them to do. Now people are fooled into thinking if their morality is in line with State law, they have a way of easing their conscience, failing to appreciate God’s law overrides State law.

We have the whole message of the gospel in verse 16, ‘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.’ Just as a mother suffers to give us physical birth, so Jesus suffered on the Cross that we should have spiritual birth. We see the immense love of God acting not for His own sake but for ours. We also see the breadth of God’s love it was not just for a nation, but for the whole world. Augustine once wrote,’ God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us’.

As a sequel to this story of Nicodemus, he was present at the burial of Jesus when he assisted in the laying of the body having brought to the tomb expensive aloes and myrrh

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