Sermon on Nicodemus
Sunday 16th March 2014
by Rev Charmaine Braatvedt
John Chapter 3 : 1 – 17
When I first got into the texting thing I was a little behind my children in the whole of process of how to text. I noticed that sometimes I received texts from them that ended with lol. I thought this meant lots of love and was quite touched by this display of affection. I started routinely putting lol at the end of any of the texts I sent to them until one day my daughter explained to me that lol meant laugh out loud and that putting that next to the texts I sent her was not only confusing her but inappropriate.
Jargon is like a type of shorthand between members of a particular group of people. The words they use are often meaningless to those who are not part of the group and be very excluding.
Christians are as guilty of using jargon as any other group of people.
Come to faith; born again; personal savior and so forth.
Today we meet a man, called Nicodemus and we hear the story of how he came to faith in Christ.
So here is an example of Christian jargon which I think we should define. When we say someone has come to faith in Christ we mean they have arrived at a point in their lives where they are prepared to trust Christ with their life.
So today we hear the story of how Nicodemus came to trust Christ with his life.
St John uses the analogy of light and darkness to describe the process of coming to faith in Christ. When we accept Christ as our Lord and Saviour it is as though a light goes on in the darkness of our lives.
So St John tells us at the start of the chapter that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, when it is dark.
This is no chance remark because every time from here on that St John mentions Nicodemus, he identifies him as the one who came to Jesus by night see 7: 50 and 19 : 39.
The sermons in Lent are tracking loosely with the Alpha series and this last Alpha session we explored the topic of How can I have Faith?
I believe the seed of faith is a divine gift of grace planted in our hearts. With the right conditions it germinates.
As I was reflecting on seeds I did a bit of reading on seed germination and discovered that some seeds are able to lie dormant for 50 years. The longest recorded dormancy is over 2000 years and this was established with radio carbon dating.
So it is with the seed of faith in our hearts.It can lie dormant for many years before the right set of conditions encourages it to germinate. Then as it pops its head out of its pod it needs to be nurtured and watered so that it can grow into a strong plant,
Faith or trust is something that grows and deepens over time. The seed of faith is our hunger for God our holy longing for him. Faith is nurtured and strengthened by the word of God from the Father, discovered in the Scriptures; the relationship with God through the Son and the daily experience of God in the Holy Spirit.
There is no right order in which these three steps are taken but let’s see how this plays out in Nicodemus’ faith journey.
Nicodemus I was a middleclass man who seemed to have everything: education, status, money and power.
We are told that he was a Pharisee which means that he was highly educated. He was also a member of the Sanhedrin which meant that he was a teacher, a lecturer in biblical studies.
So he was a man who is very familiar with the word of God. He knew his Bible well enough to recognize in Jesus the signs of someone special from God. He says:
We know you are a teacher who has come from God.
That knowing came from a good understanding of the Law of Moses and the words of the Prophets.
Step one completed. Nicodemus knew God’s promises, and recognized them in Jesus.
This knowledge drew him to visit Jesus,
to meet Jesus face to face, to have a conversation with Jesus during which time he started to form a relationship with Jesus , got to know him.
Step two faith is a product of the relationship we have with God through Jesus.
So Jesus and Nicodemus had a deep spiritual discussion that night during which Jesus pointed to this matter of faith in God.
Jesus says to Nicodemus:
“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Another piece of jargon makes its appearance. It stops Nicodemus in his tracks.
Born again, what on earth do you mean by the term born againJesus?
Despite the fact that this phrase is commonly used in evangelical circles, this is the only occasion when Jesus uses the term and then it is found one more time in one of the Epistles. So it is only found three times in the whole Bible!
So what does it mean to be born again?
Discuss this with your neighbor for a few moments.
“I tell you the truth no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”
So Jesus identifies two kinds of birth:
There’s a physical birth and a spiritual birth.
Jesus called this second birth ‘born of the Spirit’.
This is what happens with a physical birth.
When a woman is pregnant she carries a live baby in her womb. This baby is alive but the life it has is limited. When the woman gives birth to her child, the child now experiences a totally different way of living, freed from the womb, from its confines and its darkness. It has come into the light and had its first taste of a kind of freedom that holds all kinds of possibilities for its new form of life.
Jesus uses this imagery of a physical birth, to help us understand the mystery of spiritual birth or the birth of faith in a human heart.
As we turn to Christ we have a spiritual awakening and the Holy Spirit enters into our lives in a new way and gives birth to a new way of living and a new perspective on life. We are “born of the Spirit”.
This brings us to step three. The seed of Faith is nurtured through our experience of God which comes to us in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
This new way of living is known as living by Faith.
This way of seeing the world, of relating to God and of experiencing his power in our lives is what makes us Christians, people of the light!
You see Faith in Christ is not a leap into the darkness of ignorance, rather it is stepping into the light of spiritual knowledge and truth and trusting God every day, in every way and every where.
The experience of God in our lives is difficult to define to pin down . We just know God is present and feel that presence as a force for good in our lives. It is a mystery which Jesus likens to the wind. No one knows where the wind comes from nor where it is going to. We feel it and experience its effect on our lives but we cannot see it or touch it.
“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.”
You can only experience the wonder of the Holy Spirit present in your life, you cannot fully comprehend it.
So what must we do for faith to geminate in us?
First like Nicodemus we must have a desire to come out of the darkness and into the light.
Light has come into the world but people love darkness instead.
There is a choice. For faith in Christ to germinate we must choose to go to Christ, we must choose to get to know Christ and we must choose to allow him into our hearts and lives.
Then having orientated ourselves in this direction we must nurture and deepen and grow that faith by :
- Studying the word of God in the Scriptures,
- Building our own personal relationship with Jesus through prayer
- And by sensitising ourselves to recognize and surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit as we go about our daily chores.
What Nicodemus came to understand on that night when he surreptitiously visited Jesus was that a whole new life was possible, one which brought him up close and personal with the God who created him, redeemed him and would empower and encourage him in a life that would last for all eternity.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have what? …..eternal life!
We enter the kingdom of heaven through faith. We become Christians through Faith.
Faith enables us to trust God with our lives and in so doing to receive the gift of eternal life which is being gracefully offered to us by the God who created us, who sent his son into the world not to judge or condemn us but to save us for a life which lasts for all eternity.
How will we respond?
Nicodemus chose in spite of the danger and the risk to come out of the darkness into the light of Jesus.
Will we do the same today?