Friday 28 May 2021


John 3 v/1/16
The gospel this morning is one of the outstanding passages in the whole Bible. In it, Jesus is calling for an inner change in your life. So often we seek change in relationships or in other people, here Jesus seeks a change in us.

In verse 1, we read of Nicodemus. Here was a man who recognized that he needed a change 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.

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. 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 and want to live a secret faith. So many people now who do not want to be seen associating with the Church; I was regularly asked by men in hospitals not to visit them, especially if I was dressed as a clergyman

It might be however that Nicodemus wanted to speak at length with Jesus so that if he went by day,  crowds would be there and make personal contact impossible. Here was a Jewish aristocrat speaking with a carpenter, for who he must have had respect for Nicodemus called Jesus Rabbi, when Jesus had not had any Rabbinic training. In addition, Nicodemus would (sometime later), speak out to the Jewish leaders to listen to Jesus explanation before condemning him, (John 7.v30) He would also help Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus after the crucifixion when his own disciples had left him.

So, beneath a moonlit sky, on a hill overlooking Jerusalem when it was dark, Nicodemus went to find and speak to Jesus and say, 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.

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. 95% of the population today, believes that as long as you are honest, kind and helpful to others and do no harm, you are a fully-fledged Christian with a passport to heaven. What we need to ask ourselves is, if I stood before God to day and He asked me why I should be allowed into heaven, what would I say?

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.

Jesus answered him with that phrase, which has been immortalized by evangelical preachers,  Jesus said, ‘truly, truly I tell you no one enters the Kingdom of God unless they are born again’. Jesus was not saying   ‘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.

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 means 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 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 answered, ‘very truly I say to you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the spirit. Water is a symbol of cleansing, a spirit is a symbol of power. 

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 meaning, which is repentance for sin, and the start of a new way of living.

When we are born of the Spirit, we have a new power within us. It may be asked how do I get it? When born in the flesh we adopt the ways of the world, but when we accept Jesus as saviour, we are filled with his spirit and cleansed of all sin because Jesus paid our debts on the Cross.

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. It is like demolishing your present house, to build a new one where that previous one was, a whole new beginning.

A true Christian cannot live by society’s standards from Monday to Saturday and think a token statement of repentance on Sunday will be acceptable. Nor is infrequent attendance at Church, and/or a casual attitude to faith during the rest of the week

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.

Jesus reminded Nicodemus he was a teacher of Israel and should know these things. Nicodemus would know in Deuteronomy 30, and in Jeremiah 31, and Ezekiel 36, a kind of new birth is described there, whereby a person changing from a Gentile is baptised by cleansing in water, and in Ezekiel 37, God said, ‘I will sprinkle you with water and you shall be clean’.

When Jesus taught, he did so in simple terms, using images from Jewish culture which all would understand and be able to relate to.  Jesus told Nicodemus if he couldn’t understand the meaning of earthly things, he couldn’t expect to grasp heavenly things.

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.

But there is also a lesson and warning for many within the Church. It may be entertaining and give one a feeling of self-importance and learning, to justify writing books and taking part in profound discussions in academic circles, but all that is useless in practical terms, if unable to communicate the simple message of Christianity to ordinary people. The Apostles of Jesus were ordinary men without a degree among them. Well has it been said, ‘the Church is falling apart by degrees’.

If you go into hospital you don’t want the surgeon to give a lecture on the workings of the human body, you just want him to make you well. Christianity is something we accept by faith; we do not need a theological treatise.

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.

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 used the wind to illustrate the effect of the Holy Spirit. When the wind blows, we can hear and feel the effect and often see the result it has caused around us. We haven’t been able to visually see it, but we fully recognise its presence. When a person accepts Jesus as Saviour, their life is blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot see anything with our eyes, but it reveals God’s teaching, guards and guides our lives, supports and intercedes for us. Jesus stated when he left this earth, he would send the Holy Spirit who would be our helper.

Many thousands of people went to the Billy Graham Crusades in the latter half of the last century. Touched by rousing hymns, massed choirs, and sermons by the world’s greatest preacher, they immediately had a Damascus road conversion. Quite a lot of men became clergy and even bishops, others 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 used the term ‘Son of man’ as a title referring to himself, and claimed he must be lifted up. This was a reference to a time when in the Old Testament the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness and complained to Moses who was leading them, that they regretted leaving the captivity of Egypt. God sent as punishment serpents. The Jews believed this when they saw God as being ready to punish them for breaking the law

 God told Moses to make an image of a serpent and put it on a pole, and all who looked at it would be saved and healed.  The story became part of |Jewish history, as a sign that the healing lay not in the serpent, but of God’s healing power. All who look up to Jesus as a call for healing, would be heard.

We are to believe in Jesus with all our hearts, that he is who God declared him to be, and that Jesus and God love and care for us, and want to forgive us.  All who look to Jesus, who was lifted up on the Cross would be saved.  The Cross was God’s judgement for himself and was the supreme exaltation of Jesus.  He would draw people from every nationality and race.

We have the whole message of the gospel in verse 16.  Christianity is defined in this most famous verse. It was the truth that motivated God’s plan of salvation.

 ‘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.

This is a very well-known verse.  Salvation is all of God. God sent his Son because he wants to love all people of every nationality and race and status.  God is acting for us, not himself.  This verse tells of the love of God for the world.   Augustine said, ‘ God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love’

No comments:

Post a Comment