Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Nicodemus Question


Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 3rd chapter of John, beginning with the 1st verse.

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.


“The Nicodemus Question”
by Pastor Carla Powell
United in Faith Lutheran Church
Chicago, Illinois

Many people attend sporting events carrying signs labeled JOHN 3:16, the promise that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. I heard of a sporting event recently, where the announcers began to snicker and gawk at a sign one of the spectators held that said JOHN 3:17. “He’s got it wrong! Doesn’t he know it’s JOHN 3:16, not JOHN 3:17! What an idiot.” But read the words from John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

John 3:16 is one of the most well-known Bible verses. Nearly all Christians (and many non-Christians) know John 3:16, but may not be able to recite the reference or tell that it comes from Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. But despite its popularity and familiarity, the world thirsts more and more daily to know that God loves us, to understand what it means that God loves us. When we go to church, to God, to the pastor, asking for direction, many of us bring this same question, and perhaps we might call it the Nicodemus question.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He is a respected man, a leader of the people, a religious authority and teacher who knew the Law. Maybe Nicodemus doesn’t even know how to tell Jesus that he hungers for the love of God, or that he thirsts for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or that he wants to find a merciful Lord. Nicodemus doesn’t come out and ask Jesus anything. He comes proclaiming knowledge of who Jesus is. And even though he doesn’t come right out and ask the Nicodemus Question, it is there. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus revolves around the simple question: “How can I be saved?”

Alone with Jesus in the dark of night, Nicodemus, a respected teacher of the Law, confessed to the young preacher-carpenter who sat before him. He said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Nicodemus’ approach to Jesus is very rational. He describes what he knows, that Jesus is from God, and how he knows it because no one could do this stuff outside of God. Nicodemus came to this conclusion through perfectly logical, rational deduction.

Nicodemus knew only one way to God, the way of logic and Law. And on this night, in the darkness, that is the way he approached Jesus. He came with a religion of the mind. But Jesus replied with, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Jesus responds, not by speaking to Nicodemus’ logic, but by telling Nicodemus that he needs to start over again if he really wants to understand. If you want to understand, if you really want to know the truth, if you want to see how it is that I have come to you from God, then you must start over from the beginning. But Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus’ words. “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Nicodemus was still arguing with his mind. His logic could not wrap around the truths that Jesus was telling him.

Many of us are like Nicodemus. We want proof. We live in an age that demands facts and ignores feelings. We see evidence, draw conclusions, and take action based on logical, rational thought. But God does not work rationally. Perhaps if we want to find that missing element in our walk with God, that hole which continually thirsts for meaning, then we must move beyond our intellect to our feelings, beyond our mind to our heart. Facts aren’t enough. Feelings must enhance the facts. Belief and experience must complement logic and reason.

Being born again is not something that happened on a Saturday afternoon when the Holy Spirit came upon you and revealed Jesus to you. Being born again is not something that happened on a cloudy day when the heavens opened, and God spoke to you. Being born again is a daily process of being recreated in God’s image. Each day, we have a new opportunity to live in the love of God. Each day, we face a new world with new possibilities. Being born again means that we recommit ourselves to our faith in God, so that no matter what happens, no matter what we have done, we can start anew with God’s help.

Jesus invites us to renew our faith every day by being born again. If you feel lost or alone, if all you do seems to be for naught, if you love God but feel that He is somehow distant from you, if your spiritual life isn’t what you want it to be, then ask God to come into your heart right now. Let God’s Spirit work in you to give you a new birth, a new life. Give your heart and your mind to God and be born again in the wonder of God’s love.

John 3:16-17 announces what has always been true of God, from the very beginning of time. There is no BC or AD on the love of God. God has always loved the world and always yearned to save the world. “For 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” What a gift of rebirth; what an offer of joy; what a promise of new life!

Let us pray: Lord, like the lawyer Nicodemus, we come to you in hidden ways. We have lots of questions and concerns. We aren’t sure that you will even listen to them or that you will think our queries are foolish. New life sounds wonderful. We have made messes in this life, some of which we have cleaned up. Still, there are others that we have swept under the rug, hidden away in the closet, hidden from ourselves, and we believe hidden from you. But you know us better than we want to be known. You know our thoughts and actions. Help us, Lord. How can we turn things around so that there are peace and hope? We offer to you concerns for family, community, and nation, and yet we don’t really expect that anything will change. We are unwilling to change ourselves, and so change for the world appears a wispy dream. Bring your presence powerfully to us. Convince us of the hope that rests in you alone. For we offer this prayer in Jesus’ Name. Amen.


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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Sermon contributed by Rev. Carla Powell.
What does it mean to be born again? How can we be saved?

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