Thursday 23 March 2023

The Reverend Eric

JOHN 3. V3.

Jesus said, Truly truly, I tell you the truth. Unless you are born again you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.

If I were to go and ask people I met passing in the street, ‘are you a Christian, and if so why do you think so? I would in most cases get a reply such as, ‘of course,  I live in this country’ or ‘I am because I believe in God.’  Perhaps a variation on those two.

Billy Graham relates how at one of his meetings a member of his team asked a man, ‘sir are you a Christian, and the man replied I have been a member of the Church of England all my life, and I am not changing now.

But not all people who attend Church are in fact Christians in the biblical understanding, either by belief or living.  The gospel this morning is one of the outstanding passages in the whole Bible, and helps define the difference between a true Christian and a make-believe one.  I hope our study of it, will help you whichever you are, and bring you to a close relationship with Jesus, which is what God wants from all of us. 

Jesus knew and understood all people, it was part of His divine omniscience, knowing the hearts of people.  He was in Jerusalem for the Passover feast and many people were there who knew of the wonderful deeds, especially the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  He understood how fickle people could be, so He took care they did not place Him in a disadvantage.

The Chapter begins by referring to Nicodemus. He was a member of the Jewish Government, a Pharisee, a Professor of Theology. Rich and religious, he tithed part of all his income, he was the sort of man many a Minister would welcome to be in his Church.

One evening under a mid-Eastern moonlit sky, he went to see Jesus. We are not told the reason for going st night. Perhaps he did not want to be seen, as it would have been an embarrassment for him, or perhaps the best time to be alone with the Lord.

He addressed Jesus as ‘Rabbi’, showing respect and courtesy to Jesus, for it was an honourable Office to Jews, and Jesus was not entitled to be called Rabbi, for He had not had any Rabbinical training.

 There are people now who don’t like to acknowledge that they are identified with the Church of Jesus, for fear of embarrassment or through being mocked.  There are many who are too proud to seek Jesus. 

 Nicodemus spoke highly of the work of Jesus, and conceded that God must have been with Him in order to do what Jesus had done. There is no need for anyone fearing to see Jesus, He is there for any person to call on Him at any time.

 Nicodemus recognized that he needed a change in 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. 

How many of you might feel you are nice and friendly, honest and do your best to help others, you have attended Church most of your life, but apart from not attending Church, there are many people who have all those qualities who belong to other faiths, or are in fact atheists, more sincere than may Church members.

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. 

Of the hundreds of funerals I have taken over the years, there has never been any doubt that the deceased had gone to heaven. The sad and cruel factor is the Church has encouraged people to believe so; if you doubt me, look at the liturgy in the funeral services.

Think for a moment, if you stood before Jesus to day and He asked you why should you be allowed into heaven, what would you say. Is there enough evidence in your life, to justify your admission?

Jesus sensed in Nicodemus a deep hunger and emptiness.  He sincerely believed he was doing what he thought God wanted from him, yet he had an unsatisfied heart that led him to Jesus and risk incurring the wrath of his people. 

There are many lovely people now, I personally know some of them, who if only the Church would stop pandering to noisy activists, and got down to spell out in simple terms what Jesus and the Bible is calling for, would turn to Christ and be a valuable asset to the Church and Christian faith.

Jesus answered Nicodemus 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.  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.

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.

I get so much pleasure and inspiration from watching the services from American Churches, where the people seem to be so much more God centered than in this country, and when you see how the people are dressed as if they were going to meet the Lord, and it is a joy to see them with Bibles in their hands and the joy in their faces. Christianity is a joyful faith and we should enjoy praising the Lord and following in our Bibles.

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 minds.

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. Women go through agony to give birth and enabling us to live, and continue to give care to their children after birth.

Jesus went through agony being beaten 39 times with a leather studded belt, collapsed after being made to carry his own Cross, to die on it after nails had been driven through his hands and feet; and still cares for his children of all ages still.

Jesus told Nicodemus he needed an experience analogous to his physical birth.  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. That He died to take upon Himself the sins we have committed so that we may be forgiven and made righteous before God.

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.’

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 were 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. We see what a mighty change our Lord declares as being necessary for salvation. No one could be His disciple unless the inner person be cleansed. The change is not a superficial one, it is a change of heart and character, it is a complete resurrection of being.

Jesus gave a good illustration by talking of wind. We may not know where it came from or where going to, but we feel it even though we could not see it, but we may see the effects of it.

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.

A person may attend Church regularly and love God and Jesus, but are deprived of the true gospel through  poor preaching by clergy, who are reluctant to be positive in their sermons lest they upset someone in the congregation. If a preacher does not receive a complaint these days, he/she should start to examine what they are preaching.

Having someone objecting to what you have said in  sermon, is like having a badge of honour.

Some times after a person has gone to Church for years regularly and felt nothing im particular, and then one day hears a word from he gospel, and it touched their heart, and all worship became more personal and profound.

I attended Church from school days, and it wasn’t until I was living in Mombasa in Kenya, and during a bible study, there learned what born in the Spirit means.

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 attracted, 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,     ’

If you have ever lost a son (or daughter) you will know the sense of loss and pain which goes with it. This is what was sacrificed for you and me.

 You are invited to make a comment

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