Saturday 11 March 2017

The majority of people in this country consider themselves both religious and Christian. This is often based on the fact of having been born here, baptised as a child, of British parentage. But thee is a fundamental difference between being a religious person and being a real Christian. So as we turn to one of the outstanding passages of the Bible, ponder which category you think is you. Look with me at the 3rd Chapter of John.

The passage begins by introducing Nicodemus. He was an important man in the community. 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, but he had religion, but not Christ.

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. No one need to be afraid of seeking Jesus, He will take you however you come.

There are people now who don’t like to acknowledge that they are identified with the Church of Jesus for fear of embarrassment through being mocked. There are many who are too proud to seek Jesus. Here was a man who recognized that there was something missing from his life and wanted to go deeper, he wanted what Jesus offered. Sometimes it may be difficult to admit this, but Nicodemus was ready to face up to it. In his heart there was a great longing. He could see the effect Jesus was having on crowds and longed to have that ability. He knew it was beyond him.

So beneath a moonlit sky, on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, Nicodemus spoke to Jesus and said no one could help but be impressed by what Jesus had achieved. Jesus replied that it was not the acts that were important, but it was the effects on a life that mattered.
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.’ 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.
When we are born into this world our mothers endure great pain and heartache, but do so that we may have life. 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 an experience analogous to his physical birth. So that we may have eternal life in heaven with Him, Jesus endured great pain on the Cross so we may have spiritual life. So to be born again is 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. It means that God’s gracious love comes and lives inside of your heart when you are ready to believe that Jesus Christ was Lord and is the Saviour of the World.

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. Billy Graham tells the story of a lady on a bus in America sitting next to a Bishop. She asked him, ‘have you been born again.’ The man answered, ‘I am a Bishop’. The lady said, ‘I didn’t ask you that. I asked if you were born again’. The bishop later said he went home read this chapter and realized his life had been missing something real and he realized what the lady meant.

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 minds.
Jesus then said, ‘no one can enter the kingdom of God unless born of water and the spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’

Jesus is meaning we are imperfect and rebellious against God because our parents were. Jesus coming into our lives by his Spirit can break that chain and give birth to a new you. No one can be a perfect you or me this side of heaven. We become in the process of being changed from the inside out because deep down we now want to live for God.

The Kingdom of God is a society in which the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven. To lead a life in which we submit all willingly to the will of God. What Jesus calls for is a complete transformation in our lives. This means in our thoughts, words and actions. Something which goes beyond irregular attendance at Church, and a casual attitude to faith during the rest of the week.
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.

At this time John had been baptizing and it was a sensational event. Many people now superstitiously think that if they have their babies baptized that will ensure their entrance into heaven, a sort of once and for life matter irrespective of a life in between, which is pure superstition. 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 symbolism, which is repentance for sin, and the start of a new way of living.

Most people don’t want to admit there is anything to repent of, they are perfectly good and God should recognize that. A Vicar put a notice outside his Church which read, ‘this church is here for sinners.’ The next week two thirds of his congregation was absent.
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. You get that missing motivation; worship becomes more meaningful and necessary to you. You don’t find so many excuses for not coming to Church.

When we are born of the Spirit we have a new power within us which enables us to be what by ourselves we could not be.
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.

Jesus referred to an event in the Old Testament when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and complained about God who in His wrath sent snakes which killed people. When Moses prayed the Lord told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole and when anyone was attached they would be healed if they looked up at the pole.

God said, ‘ my son will be lifted up on a cross and those who look to Him will be saved from their sins’.
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.’ God’s love is limitless; He SO loved the world, in other words He loved the world very much, and just as a mother will forgive her child no matter how badly behaved they have been, so will God forgive those who turn to Him in repentance and accept that the death of His Son Jesus on the Cross was for the forgiveness of their sins.

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