Night School for Nicodemus
Scripture: Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:1-21
Rev. Steven B. Miller, Mar 12, 2017
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God."
Will you pray with me?
Lord Jesus, we come again to your Word for an understanding of who you are, and how we are to be in this world. Draw us closer to you as we listen again to the Word of Life as we learn about the importance of being born again. Let the good Word come with power and grace along with the full assurance of faith. Give this preacher your words as he shares what you have laid upon his heart. Quiet the distractions of our lives and those negative voices that would seek take us away from what your Holy Spirit has for us in this moment. For we pray these things in Jesus' powerful name. Amen
I do not know about you but when I am watching sports especially football on TV I notice that every once in a while the program producers cut to the fans in the stadium. There are the half-naked guys in freezing weather that are painted with the color of their team; there is the crazy person with the cheese wedge on his head. And then there is the normal looking person holding the poster board sign behind the goal posts during the extra point that says John 3:16. And when I see that sign I think to myself, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in Him should no perish but have eternal life."
The first time I noticed the biblical reference during a football game I thought why would someone take the time and energy to bring a sign to an NFL game so that they hold it up during the extra point and millions of people could see their sign and maybe some people would wonder what does that "John 3:16" mean? At that point a few hundred of the millions of people would take out there smart phones and Google John 3:16. At that point those few hundred people would receive a message from the Lord about how the gift of eternal life is available to them. Who knew a dollar and fifty-cent investment in poster board and a black marker could be the beginning of a spiritual journey toward Jesus Christ?
Many years ago I used to watch a television show called "Behind the Music" which told the life stories of music legends and how they rose to stardom. Does anyone remember that show? Today we will do a different take on that theme called "behind the scripture passage." John 3:1-21 is the story of Jesus having a night meeting with a famous Pharisee named Nicodemus who was a religious Rock star of the 1st century.
Well, what do we know about this man named Nicodemus? We know he was one of the seventy men who were Israel's religious leaders who sat on the counsel know as the Sanhedrin. We know he was likely a wealthy guy given the fact that he donated expensive myrrh and aloes for Jesus' burial later on in John's Gospel. Nicodemus was also a voice of fairness on the Sanhedrin when Jesus was called to account for his teaching in the Temple arcades in John 7. But earlier in John chapter 3, Nicodemus is the one who came to Jesus in the night and addressed him as a "rabbi who has come from God." With all that we know many scholars would say that Nicodemus was also a secrete disciple of Jesus. Even though we do not have a great biography of Nicodemus we have strong indicators of his interest in the teaching of Jesus.
Even with all that fame in Israel, Jesus was still direct with this religious leader on faith issues - listen again to Jesus as he speaks to Nicodemus? "Jesus answered him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.'" With these words Jesus is challenging a powerful Jewish Leader with the thought that even though you were born into a Jewish family, that does not make you a follower of God! Rather, what makes you a true follower of God is choosing to be cleansed by the water of Baptism and believing in Jesus as your savior and Lord. This is what brings eternal life!
Lots of people may be "religious" or even "spiritual," even attending church on a regular basis, they may be doing good things in our community without realizing that they are the ones who need to repent and believe just like Nicodemus. In other words, maybe you are "lost spiritually" and not aware of your spiritual situation from Jesus point of view? Listen to this illustration:
During a tourist bus excursion to a volcanic canyon in Iceland, a woman was reported missing when she failed to return to the bus. The bus driver waited an hour before notifying the Icelandic police. Soon after the missing person's report, search and rescue teams and even a helicopter arrived to search for the missing woman. About 50 people also participated in the search on vehicles and by foot. But the search was called off within about 12 hours when it authorities discovered that the missing woman wasn't really missing. She was actually on the bus, and she had even been a part of the search party. Apparently, before reentering the bus after the stop to tour the canyon, she changed her clothes and "freshened up." The other passengers didn't recognize her. Chief of police Sveinn K. Runarsson told reporters that the woman was innocent of the mistake. She recognized the description of herself and "had no idea that she was missing."
Adapted from "Lost Woman Looks for Herself in Iceland's Highlands, " Iceland Review (8-27-13)
This is an amazing story of someone who had no idea that they were lost until they recognized their true identity. So it is very possible that there may be folks like this woman who are a part of the church but not believers yet. This is often the road of discipleship.
In this long Gospel narrative Jesus is getting at the real important aspect of what it means to be a real believer rather than what it means to tag along with an interest in religious things. The turning point for a believer is recognition of our own sin and need for forgiveness from God. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." There is power in the name of Jesus to start over and become a new person in Christ Jesus. When we recognize our need to believe and ask for forgiveness, we are changed and made a new member of the kingdom of God! Some times the story of our lives of faith are more ordinary and sometimes the story is a lot more interesting.
George's Wright's life of crime started in 1962. On that fateful night, George and a buddy walked into Walter Patterson's gas station and demanded money. When he objected they beat the older man, until Walter finally gave up all the cash he had - seventy dollars in crumpled bills. George's buddy shot Walter at point-blank range. After the robbery and shooting, George ate two cheeseburgers and played shuffleboard.
George Wright was arrested and eventually sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison. That was too long for this angry young man, so he connected with a few other cons and broke out, hot-wiring the warden's car as the means of escape. He stayed under the radar until July 31, 1972, when he hijacked a plane heading from Detroit to Miami, eventually escaping to Algeria. From there, he began a worldwide fugitive odyssey that took him to Germany, France, Guinea-Bissau, and finally Portugal. Along the way, George changed his name to Jorge, and somewhere in the years between then and now, miraculously, Jorge became a different man. "I've asked God to forgive me," he says now of his criminal past, "and I think God has forgiven me. But the law says other things." Jorge married, had children, joined a church, and got baptized.
He turned from crime, working with his hands to provide for his family. He cleaned graffiti in Lisbon and helped to renovate an outreach center for HIV-positive children. He served dinners for homeless people. He planted public flower gardens. He raised two healthy, happy kids. He grew into a senior citizen, and in the forty years of his hiding, he didn't do anything to add to his crimes - not even a parking violation.
On September 26, 2011, the law finally caught up with George Wright in the form of six Portuguese policemen acting on an Interpol warrant issued by the United States. They found George Wright, but they arrested Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos. Portugal eventually denied the United States' attempt to have Jorge extradited, but during the hearings the central issue was not whether they'd arrested the right man but whether they'd arrested the same man.
Adapted from Make Nappa, God in Slow Motion (Thomas Nelson, 2013), pp.35-37
There is power in the Gospel message because it is a force for goodness of God. We cannot stay the same if we are believers and the Holy Spirit is in us. And if we take this amazing grace from God to heart, how can we hold back from telling others about the positive change it has made in our lives. Some people share this great news by sharing their story in church and maybe on-line. Other people hold up signs at sporting events on national TV to share their thoughts about God - the ways of sharing our faith are endless. The question is how will you share the news of your salvation and the need to be born again as a believer in Jesus Christ?
Let us pray,
Lord Jesus you have come into this world to love us and to show us a different way of Life that leads to eternity. Help us to live as believers who are available to share what we know to be true about our Savior. Never let us forget the price that has been paid to allow us forgiveness and a wonderful life. Lord you are so good to us. For we pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
Westminster Presbyterian Church