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Sermon

Do You See the Kingdom? (Sermon May 27, 2018)

John 3:1–17 (NRSV)

Nicodemus Visits Jesus [1]

henry-ossawa-tanner-xx-study-for-nicodemus-visiting-jesus-xx-private-collection

3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “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.

17 “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.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that seems to have made a permanent location in your memory? I have had a few of them. Some are seemingly pointless, and others are quite profound. There was this one conversation I had with a three-year-old like maybe sixteen years ago, it was the first and as far as I remember the only time I spanked my son James. He said that the food I cooked was gross. I did not like too to cook, in fact I hated it. I had just spent all of ten minutes cooking and the kid said it was gross. In my amazing parenting skills, spanked the child, he then profoundly encouraged me to try my own cooking. I did, and I promptly apologize to my son for spanking him and asked if he would prefer Burger King or McDonalds. We concluded that Burger King was best because they had green ketchup in honor of Shrek. Why has this conversation etched itself in into my memory? Probably because it was the first time I recognized how easily a parent can act without listening to their children. That moment scared me. It scared me to the point that I tried my hardest to find an alternate way. If I was going to encourage this child to become a man of integrity, I would need to find a way, a better way, a way to promote strength and love.

I think back at conversations like that one. I think back at a conversation a dad and a three-year-old son. It baffles and yet in a moment that conversation changed the course of history. That conversation, the one where a sassy little boy told his dad the food was gross had changed me in ways I cannot even explain. It started me down a path of seeking, of listening, of trying something different. That conversation heightened my awareness of the fine line between people. And how that fragile little line can move parallel through time with my line, or it can be broken by good intentions spoken or presented improperly.

I think about those conversations I have had with people as I thought about this passage of scripture. I imagine that this conversation was one of those type of conversations. It was a conversation that caused an individual to reevaluate everything they thought they knew. A leader of one of the most influential religious orders in history, came to Jesus and said to him, “Rabbi.”

I want to stop right here for a moment. We do not really know what might be going through the mind of Nicodemus but imagine if you were one of the greatest thinkers of an age. You are a leader among one of the most ancient of civilizations, and you find yourself standing in front of a small-town preacher in a state of total and complete confusion. You feel the weight of history and a nation resting on your shoulders, you love and hate this teacher before you. Everything he says both attracts and repulses you. Yet here you are one night talking to this man.

Rabbi, you say to him. Are you being sarcastic or honest? The term rabbi is not something used lightly. One does not just claim to be a rabbi, it is a title bestowed on those that have earned the right. But you are one of those honored few, yet the man sitting there with you is a mystery. You know he does not have the proper credentials, yet his teaching staggers you. You know in your mind and heart that he is not wrong, yet there is something that causes you to pause, if you were to believe then everything about your life would have to change.

“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher that has come from God; for no one do these signs that you do apart from the prescience of God.” Interesting statement to make when you think about it. Because when you look at the timeline according to John there is only one sign prior to this conversation, the turning of water to wine at a wedding in Cana. Cana was in Galilee not in Judea, it was way off to the north. What else could there be that Nicodemus might be referring to?

Prior to the wedding there was yet another country preacher, a man named John. And Jesus walked through the crowds when John was teaching. And one day this man that would not stop talking, stopped for a moment. He looked out at the crowds and they noticed he was following one man, and John said almost to himself, “Look, here is the lamb of God.” John spoke these words and we are told that two of his disciples heard him and they chased after Jesus and began to follow him. What we are not told is how many others might have heard. Two days prior to this announcement by John something else was happening, there was a group of priests and Levites interviewing John. They though that maybe John might have been the one they were waiting for. And John basically laughed in their face. He said I am not the messiah, I am not the prophet. I am simply a voice calling from the wilderness. “Why are you baptizing if you are not the one we are waiting for?” they pressed. He answers, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”[2]

John the Baptist, we think of being someone of little significance but often we forget who he was. They knew John. He was the son of a priest. Not just any priest, he was the son of Zachariah. His father went into the temple to perform duties assigned to him according to their customs, and when he came out he could not speak. He remained silent through the announcement of his wife being with child, he remained silent up until the point nine months later when the child was born. He remained silent eight more days until the day of circumcision and naming. His wife yelled out during the ceremony that the baby will be named John. She spoke because the father would not, it caused a small scandal because women were not allowed to speak, so they brought something for Zachariah to write and he wrote, his name is John and instantly he could speak.

These priests knew John, they might have been annoyed by John, but they knew him. The next day the crowds were again around him and John suddenly stops what he is saying while he looks out at the crowd and says to the priests, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” At that moment Jesus was walking toward John. They were looking around, they saw Jesus and probably laughed, but John continued to make a big deal about him. Testifying that while he baptized Jesus he saw the spirit of God descend upon Jesus like a dove and he knew from that moment that Jesus was the one they should follow. These men looked at Jesus and probably laughed, Jesus the carpenter’s illegitimate son. Yet the next day, Jesus walked by and John stopped what he was doing and said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”

Nicodemus knew this story. He heard about the wedding. But what really struck him was when Jesus entered the temple that Passover and began to drive out the vendors and the money changers. He looked at their religious system and he called them a den of robbers. Every priest and teacher came to defend the cause from this seemingly crazy man. A man consumed with zeal for the house of God. The leaders cried out to him, what sign can you give that gives you this authority? Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days.”

Jesus left that scene, and we are told that many believed because of the signs he did before them, but the gospel writer does not speak of what those signs were. Yet this night, Nicodemus comes in the night and speaks to Jesus. All these things are playing in his mind. He hates this man because of the mockery he made of the temple, yet he is attracted to him. He knows that John the Baptist respects this crazy teacher and claims that he is the one, yet Nicodemus just can not grasp what that means.

“We know you have come from God, because no one can do the signs you do apart from the prescience of God.” Nicodemus says. Jesus answers him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.”

It is one of those conversations. At that moment Nicodemus knew that he would remember this conversation for the rest of his life. He knew it would haunt him. At random times throughout the day he would hear that statement in his ears and he would be baffled yet again. No on can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.

I have heard this my entire life. It is basically the motto of Evangelicals. But have we stopped to truly think about what it means. No one can see the kingdom without being born from above.

You cannot see the kingdom without being born from above. You cannot see. Jesus is speaking to a child of Israel, a pharisee, if anyone would be in the kingdom it would be him. Yet Jesus is saying you cannot even see it. Moses was denied entry into the land of promise because of his lack of obedience, yet even Moses was able to see the land before his end. But Jesus is saying that you cannot even see it.

That baffles me. It caused me to stop and consider things. As far as I am concerned I am a born-again Christian, at least by traditional understanding. I am religious. I am educated. I know what I believe, and I have reference books and writing on parchment to prove it. Yet what if I am like Nicodemus, what if I cannot see what Jesus is talking about?

What got Jesus so upset that day in the temple? What caused him to turn into the incredible hulk, turning over tables and whipping animal and mankind as he chased people out of the temple? It was a religion that was so focused on one thing that they could not see anything else. People are entering the courts of praise daily, purchasing converting their money so they can purchase a sacrifice, these sacrifices are then given to the priests who perform the necessary rites and announce that God has provided their request. From the rising to the setting of the sun these activities go on. Going through the motions, filling the treasury with riches enough to eventually fund iconic building projects in Rome. Yet Jesus says they cannot see the kingdom.

According to John the Gospel writer, Jesus would eventually go on to spend the next three years teaching, healing, feeding and enjoying the company of people. He would boldly announce that the kingdom of God is at hand, yet on that evening with Nicodemus, he says you cannot even see the kingdom unless you are born from above. Jesus says that the kingdom of God is at hand its right here all around you, and you are so disconnected and blind you cannot see it.

Can you get a feeling to just how perplexed Nicodemus might have felt? He knew everything there was to know about the Kingdom of God. He had studied it, he had taught about it, he had lived the lifestyle that would bring the kingdom, yet Jesus is saying you cannot even see it unless you are born again. Nicodemus is dead. He is a practitioner of a dead man’s religion.

Jesus goes on to tell him what this means. He teaches the teacher about Moses, their hero. He tells them that the people of Israel, because of their rejection of God were dead. They were bodies filled with the venom of a serpent, yet they were spared because of one thing. They looked up to the image of the serpent that caused their pain, and believed that God could deliver them, and he did. They entrusted every aspect of their life to that belief because if they did not they knew that they would perish, the only hope that they had was to look up to the bronze statue Moses lifted above them and believe fully that they would live because God promised them they would. They left their life in God’s hands and the venom did not take them.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that venom still courses through our veins, we are dead because of it. That venom is sin and condemnation. But God so loved the world that He sent his son not to condemn the world but to save it. And whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life. But those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed.

We each could probably summarize this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus to anyone we meet. We could probably even quote it word for word. But do we see? Who does God love in this passage? Who did God send his son to save in this passage? God sent his son to save the world. He loved the world. He loved the people of the world, and he died for them. Why, because God can see what we are often too distracted to see. Those people in the world are loved by God, because those people, each and every one of them, bear the image of their creator. And that bearer of God’s image was pronounced very good by the artist who created it. But do we see? Are we able to look at the person who is causing a scene in the store because their coupons are not working as a person loved by God and a bearer of God’s image? Are we able to look at the rebellious child sitting in the police car as a person loved by God and created in the image of God? Are we able to see the faces of the people of Syria, North Korea, Russia, Palestine on the news as people loved by God and bearers of the image of God? Do we see them? Those people are the very people loved by God so much that he sent his son not to condemn but to save. He loved them so much that he left everything, to come live among them in their neighborhoods. While he walked through their neighborhoods with them, he taught them what life with God was, He showed them what life with God looked like, and he proved it to them through his actions. The greatest example was that he carried the cross that should have been theirs up a hill and died for them and for us. He through his life, death, and resurrection provided a way for us to see the Kingdom if we only believe. But do we see?

The gospel message that Jesus taught is that the kingdom is all around us. When he taught his disciples to pray he said, “My Father in Heaven Holy is your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Those words mean something. God’s kingdom is here on earth as it is in heaven, and his will is to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Do we see it or are we too busy focusing on our will on Earth and his will in heaven?

You must be born from above on earth or we will not see the kingdom in heaven. You must be born from above in heaven or we will not see the kingdom on earth. If we do not fully reside with God, fully saturated with his spirit here right now, we are blind and will miss out on the very thing we hope for, because our hope is right here. It is experienced now and for eternity through our lives with God through Jesus. It is experienced as we allow the comforter of God, our Paraclete show us how to represent God on Earth as Jesus works on our behalf before the throne of the Father. Do we see?

As we enter this time of Open worship and communion as friends. I pray that God will open our eyes, that we will be reborn from above, and willing to live the lifestyle of Jesus. The lifestyle of prayer, service to others, and worship. The lifestyle that is available to each of us if we only believe.

[1] The-athenaeum.org. (2018). Study for Nicodemus Visiting Jesus – Henry Ossawa Tanner – The Athenaeum. [online] Available at: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=48767 [Accessed 27 May 2018].

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 1:26–27). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.

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