Scripture: John 3:1-17
There are not many days that go by that I do not spend some time speaking about faith in some way. If it is not here in the Meeting House, someone at work or random people I meet just walking around that take the time to talk with me, words about my faith are usually coming up. It is not something that I plan, or even something that is awkward in the conversation. Little things are being discussed and somehow there Jesus is right in the middle of the conversation.
I have been on a mission trip where we were told to bring faith into the discussion as often as we could, but when it was required it always seemed awkward. I had the four spiritual laws memorized and we would sit around rooms brainstorming how to introduce these in just about every conversation we would have. The problems is my conversations are random, I will be talking about one thing one moment and the next will take some trail down a totally different path until neither of us remembered what was being said. Trying to fit a scripted evangelism technique into my normal conversation is not something that would go well, I remember several times feeling obligated to try with the same result a look of shock and disgust.
For many people that is what speaking of faith is all about, forcing a canned presentation into a conversation at an awkward time. Many people have been turned away from this vital ministry because of embarrassment. On the other hand many have rejected Christ because all too often their only exposure to God has been a manipulative conversation where those they were speaking with were only listening for an opening to present something without actually caring about the conversation. The image of a salesman jumps into our minds and that is exactly how I felt. I never made a good salesman, because canned presentations are not the way I think or converse.
I mention this only because not everyone is gifted in this area, and not everyone responds to these. There are some people that can honestly present things like this in a natural way, but not me. There are people that can be very genuine in the conversation and naturally bring that conversation into presenting the gospel in a way that people respond to. That is great! That is a very important ministry. Do not get me wrong even though I could not do it well, groups like Campus Crusade for Christ and others have done incredible outreach to people that have not heard the Gospel.
But not everyone is wired that way. I mentioned before that nearly every day my faith is brought into a conversation, but it is very different than what I had attempted before. For me the process is much slower, step-by-step, moment-by-moment, encouraging those around me. As the relationship grows the conversations begin to have movement, gradually getting deeper and then going back out to something less spiritual. Letting the conversation just be what it is.
When I was in Ukraine as hard as I tried to present the four spiritual laws, I never once saw one person come to Christ through the presentation I had made. It was not because I didn’t try. But I did see over one hundred student’s lives change, they changed dramatically before my very eyes. I saw people take steps closer to God, and I saw people totally change the very course their lives were on. That is what started the journey that I have been on.
Today’s conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus remind me of those days I spent in Ukraine. Ukraine is filled with people that call themselves Christian. In fact, the largest Christian nations of the world are areas like Russia and Ukraine. Often we do not remember this when we think of that part of the world, our minds here in America tend to think first of enemies instead of Christian when we talk about then nations that made up the former Soviet Union.
The people that I spoke with in Ukraine where religious, many of them were more devoted to their faith than I was to mine. But often their faith was compartmentalized or just something they did out of rout. In the course of my conversations I would see the students eyes get wide and one of the most common statements I heard was, “so that’s why we do that.” At the time I knew very little about any expression of faith outside of the protestant branch of Christianity.
But this is similar to this conversation with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a very religious man, he was a Pharisee, and was a leader among this group. Often Jesus speaks negatively about the Pharisees but these men were very religious men. Over the course of Jesus’ ministry Nicodemus heard and saw many things from Jesus. Enough so that he wanted to know more. So we have Nicodemus and Jesus talking at night.
Many people have focused on the time of this conversation. That Nicodemus was seeking Jesus out at night often leads people to believe that Nicodemus was hiding. That very well may be the case, when the gospel writes mention terms around time it usually means that there was an important reason. Lets just say this, Nicodemus was a very busy man, a leader among the people, it could be that this was the only time that he could really talk with Jesus about the things that really mattered.
Nicodemus starts by praising the work that Jesus was doing and Jesus seems to interrupt. We do not know why this is, but seeming out of the blue Jesus say, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Many speculate that Jesus did this to hurry the conversation along, knowing that Nicodemus was going to ask something along the lines of, “what must I do to enter the Kingdom.” The answer there is we don’t know why Jesus the conversation went this way, but I would say that this probably was not the first conversation that happened between Jesus and Nicodemus.
“[N]o one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.” I want us all to clear our minds of the years of evangelical theology that we have heard in our lives about being born again and just contemplate this statement as if we heard it for the first time. The first thing that pops out to me is the word see. This is an active word, something that we do, it could also be translated as pay attention to, understand, visit, experience, or to learn about. In your minds replace the word see with one of those other possible translations. “No one can experience the kingdom, no one can understand, or visit, or experience the kingdom, without being born from above.”
Understanding was the number one things that I saw as I conversed with the students in Ukraine, they were hungry for something and were very open to talk about faith but they often times did not understand the very faith they claimed. They could not see, even though they had faith. But see is not the only word, Jesus says you no on can see without, that means that there is something that someone needs to be able to have the understanding or experience. That is where the words born from above come in.
You all know that six months ago Albert was added to our family. So the word born comes into mind, born from above though is something else entirely. What does that mean? When a child is being born only one person really did the work of giving birth, that person is the mother. The fathers of the child at best can only be encouragers. This observation is something I think I had missed for so many years; we do not save anyone and we do not give new life to anyone. We are at best like a father speaking words of encouragement through the process. The one that really does all the work is the one from above.
All the words I speak to you today are nothing more than words of encouragement; I do not have the power in myself to do more than speak. I cannot even show you the kingdom, but the Spirit of God can use those words of encouragement to push out new life within you.
Nicodemus did not understand. He was a leader among the most actively religious group of the Jewish people, yet he did not understand. Jesus then goes on to speak about the Spirit of God. He likens the Spirit to wind blowing. Wind is a force that cannot be seen in and of itself. We may see the force result of wind as dust particles are lifted into the air, but the wind itself is not something we can see. We can however sense the wind by other means like the sensation we get as the breeze blows across our skin, or we can hear the movement as it presses upon our ears. We only sense the movement. From that movement we can determine things, like at that moment it is blowing in a certain direction. We do not know how long it has been blowing, or how far that same movement will last, only that general direction. Of course with our technology today we can study the wind and gain greater understanding of it, but ultimately we do not know fully what the wind will do. That is like that spirit, and that is like the kingdom of God. It is something that we must learn about, experience, and pay attention to.
Nicodemus says, “We know you are a teacher who has come from God.” How does he know this? Because he was paying attention to what Jesus had said and done. He observed and studied and recognized that Jesus was not just some untrained speaker, but someone that was clearly sent from God, yet Nicodemus still sought Jesus to engage in conversation. Nicodemus was beginning to sense the wind, but in doing so the foundations of his faith were being shaken. They were required to do certain things, act certain ways, speak certain words, but Nicodemus was beginning to sense that that was not the total story; Nicodemus was beginning to sense that the wind was blowing a different direction than they were accustomed to.
Then Jesus speaks the most known words. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The wind was acting on Nicodemus’ life, something from above was beginning to act on his life that was changing the very course of faith. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Jesus came to love, Jesus came to save, and He came to do this for all people, the world system. The world is a pretty interesting word as well. This word is kosmos, which could be seen as universe, earth, world system, or people. He came to save the world system, the people, the earth and the universe. He did not come to condemn, but save. That is the kingdom. We cannot see that redemptive plan unless we are born from above, unless we are paying attention to the movement of the spirit of God in our lives and willing to provide encouragement to those the Spirit moves us to. But condemnation and salvation are not our jobs. That is God’s job. Our job is to hold a hand, walk the path with, to explain and build a relationship with those people the Spirit moves us to interact with. We do this through practicing the rhythm of life that Jesus showed his disciples, through making it our customer to Love God in worship, in embracing the Spirit in prayer, and in living the love of Christ with others as we provide encouragement and service to others. When we begin to see our place in this we will begin to see the kingdom of God around us, we will also begin to see small things happening within the lives of the people we meet, we begin to see new life being birth.
I started today by saying that nearly every day I share my faith with others, nearly every day conversations that I have are turned to topics of faith. I also mentioned that I am not comfortable with canned presentations but these do have their place. God loves each of us; He loves us right now, even though we may not be perfect. He loves us even though we may lie at times, even though we may get drunk on occasion, He loves us even though we may not be faithful in our relationships. He loves us so much that he sent his son, not to condemn us, but to save us, to redeem us, and the entire world system we live in. He did this by taking on our humanity for us, living for us, taking on the condemnation himself as he died on that cross, and proving to us that their really is hope by raising from the grave after laying in the depths of the earth for three days. He did this because it brought him joy, because through Jesus humanity was restored to where we should be in relationship with our creator. And our joy can be made complete if we turn from ourselves and believe in Him.