Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

Text: John 3:5
Jesus answered (Nicodemus), "I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again."
 

Born from above

There are some very confusing things in our world. For example,
Why is it that people say they "slept like a baby" when a baby wakes up every three or four hours?
If olive oil is made from olives, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from?
Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride; he sticks his head out the window and enjoys the breeze?

Nicodemus was a man looking for answers. He was a good man. He was an extremely good man. He was a Pharisee and Pharisees were very enthusiastic about being good. Nicodemus was a very religious man and spent a great deal of time trying to do the right thing.

Nicodemus was not only a good man but was also a confused man. He was confused about Jesus, who he was, how he could do miracles and why people like John the Baptist called him "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world".

So one night Nicodemus went to visit Jesus.
Why did he go to see Jesus at night? Remember there was no street lighting or bright lights shining from house windows. So when night fell it could be very, very dark and all kinds of things could happen to an elderly man in the dark.
Did he go at night because he couldnít sleep? The questions he had about Jesus kept rolling around in his head and he couldnít settle until he did something about them.
Was he afraid that his fellow Pharisees would not think highly of him for meeting with such a troublemaker as Jesus of Nazareth?
To be honest, we donít know why he went at night?

Maybe there is some symbolism in the fact that he came in the dark. We could say that here is man who is caught up in the darkness and he comes to the one who is light in the darkness of this world. John the Baptist said this of Jesus just a couple of chapters before, "This was the real light - the light that comes into the world and shines on all people" (John 1:9) and the Gospel writer adds, "The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people" (John 1:4). The darkness of night might be seen as a symbol of the darkness that was in the heart of Nicodemus.

Nicodemus is fascinated in Jesus and begins his conversation with Jesus in this way, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God" and we know that "no one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him." You might not think much of us Pharisees but we aren't stupid. "We knowÖ" There is a smugness here. He and his Pharisee colleagues know all there is to know about God and how to live a godly life.
They go to Bible study everyday and worship every week.
They fast,
they give more than a tenth of their income to the church,
they spend hour after hour in prayer.

Before Nicodemus is able to say anything else, Jesus says, "I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again."

No mention of being good or religious. No one gets into the Kingdom of God by being a "good person"! Nicodemus had devoted his life to being good, committed to being faithful to God, devout in his worship and prayer. The Pharisees had something like 10,633 rules they had to keep to live a truly godly life. No doubt Nicodemus was a good Pharisee and a good man but Jesus blows a hole in this idea of goodness. No amount of goodness is good enough to establish a relationship with God or to get us into the kingdom of heaven!

Let's look at it this way. Eight year old Peter went to Dreamworld with his two older brothers and mum and dad. He wanted to be able to ride all the rides that his older brothers could ride. But thereís only one problem: heís too short. He is about 5 cm too short, only a mere 5 cm. At the entrance to the rides there is a sign with a line drawn across at a certain height from the ground indicating that only those so high or above could get on the ride.

Now Peter was tall for an 8-year-old, he was taller than 95% of all eight years olds, but he was still 5 cm too short to ride those rides. And no matter how he strained and tried to "act taller" he just couldn't measure up!

He tried begging the ride operator. But he would not let Peter get on to that ride.
The operator didnít say, "Well, because you are taller than 95% of all the other 8 year olds in your class at school, you can ride".
He didn't say, "You are almost tall enough, I'll let you on to the ride." The plain and simple truth is that if you donít measure up, you donít get on to the ride.

No matter how hard we stretch and act "good", our goodness is never good enough to get into the Kingdom of God. That's quite a blow. Like Nicodemus weíre good people!
We think of ourselves as upright, moral, decent kind of people.
We worship on Sundays, we pray, we give generously to the offering, we support the church's programs.
We aren't unfaithful to our spouse.
We treat our kids well.
We pay our taxes.
We don't lie... very often.
We don't steal from our employers... much.
We try to be kind, gentle and caring people Ö most of the time.
We try not to hurt people Ö as best as we can.

And all of that may be true - up to a point. But no matter how much we strain and try to "act taller" we just canít measure up! As I said before - no amount of goodness is good enough to establish a relationship with God or to get us into the kingdom of heaven! The goodness that God is looking for is not just our best efforts, but perfection. When measured against Godís absolute perfect standard, not one of us measures up. We all fall short. And not just by a few centimetres, we fall short by miles and miles. And deep down we all know it. Paul gives this diagnosis of our human condition from God's perspective:

"There is no one who is righteous. Ö No one does what is right, not even one" (Romans 3:10-12).

Like the operator of the rides at Dreamworld there can be no compromising of the rules. No one can get to heaven by being good because no one can ever be good enough! You are going to have to go about it another way! And there is another way!

Jesus says that it's not a matter of being "good", it's a matter of "being born anew", or perhaps better "being born from above" (both meanings are possible). Jesus said that means "being born of water and the Spirit." Just as Nicodemus contributed nothing to his own birth into the world, likewise he contributes nothing to his birth into the Kingdom of God. Life is a pure gift in each case! But the new birth into the kingdom of God is a gift by God's power.

In other words, Jesus is saying, "You canít do it, Nicodemus, but God can! He can transform you from the inside out and make you good enough!"

It's as though you are lying on a hospital bed in the final stages of a terminal disease and Jesus walks into the room.
You look at him and say, "Jesus, am I good enough to make it out of here?"
And Jesus says, "No, you're not good enough! But I will do something for you. I will take out of your body the disease that is killing you, and I will put it into my own body. I will make the swap at no cost to you but at great cost to me. The result will be: I will die... you will live!"

What a gift! Jesus, God of the universe, says to us, "I will give you my goodness as a gift and take your badness into myself. Iíll take your sin and in its place Iíll give you my righteousness. I'll die on the cross and you will live forever." At the end of todayís reading from Johnís Gospel we heard, "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Out of love for us, God gave us his Son. He is God's gift to each of us. Forgiveness and eternal life are ours through his Son's death and resurrection.

When a person is baptised we hear what is about to happen through those drops of water, and the Spirit working through that water,

"God washes us clean in the waters of baptism, and we are born again as his children. Through baptism our heavenly forgives us our sins and unites us with our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we share in his resurrection" (From the baptismal service of the LCA).

Or to use the words of Jesus, we have been "born again through the water and the Spirit", "born from above" and made holy, fresh and clean.
Forgiveness for all sin,
promised a place in heaven,
made members of his church, given a fresh start.
He has promised to be our refuge and strength, our comforter and helper, our friend and saviour even when we are led astray into a far country (as in the Lost Son parable) fall into all kinds of evil and trouble, even when we feel as if life has taken us down a rough road, the covenant that God established with us at baptism assures us that Jesusí love and forgiveness is certain and sure. We have been new and holy with another personís holiness.

Born again Ė born from above Ė new life in Christ Ė a new relationship with God and the people in our lives - this is the way the New Testament talks about what Christ has achieved for us through his death and resurrection. But the New Testament doesnít stop there. We hear the apostle Paul say, "Get rid of your old self. Ö Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, and you must put on the new self, which is created in God's likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy" (Ephesians 4:22-24).

We have been given a new life; making this new life a reality in our everyday interaction with other people is the challenge that is ahead of us. The New Testament often says, "You have been made new through Christ so then every day you must put off the old self and put on the new life in Christ". This newness that you have received from God should impact on everything we do and say -
the way we love and serve others,
the way we put God and his will first in our lives.

This is not just about being religious Ė this is about a new life that arises out of our relationship with God Ė this is about reconciliation, in fact, daily reconciliation with God as we repent of the wrong we have done and ask God to forgive us, and then strive to live as God's holy people who with the help of the Holy Spirit, want to be the light of Christ in the lives of the people around them..

Nicodemus was confused and asked, "How can this be?" Simply, this is God at his most mysterious and amazing best. This is grace! This is God's gift to you through Jesus. Celebrate it and live it!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
17th February 2008
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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