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The world might be saved through him

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I have watched every Pink Panther movie with Peter Sellers in it at least 3 or 4 times. There is one scene in which Chief Inspector Clouseau is trying to register for a hotel room in Austria.

After a rather awkward exchange with the innkeeper, Clouseau looks at a dog lying on the floor and asks, “Does your dog bite?”

The innkeeper replies, “No.”

So Clouseau reaches down to pet the dog saying, “Nice doggie.”

The dog turns vicious and bites Clouseau on the hand.

Angry and indignant, Clouseau turns to the innkeeper and says, “I thought you said that your dog does not bite.”

The innkeeper replies, “That’s not my dog.”

Sometimes it is important to ask the right question.

The Gospel of Matthew begins with genealogy.

Mark jumps right to the John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus.

Luke gives us the Christmas story that we enjoy so much.

These 3 though different, generally tell the same story. They compose the synoptic gospels. That is the synopsis or the summary is generally the same.

Then comes the Gospel according to John. John begins in the beginning—not just the beginning of God with us, but the beginning.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Soon after this compact creation account, John gives us the condensed version of the Christmas Story.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Before the end of this first chapter, John gives us insight into the mission of this man called Jesus.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Men begin to follow Jesus and become his disciples. Jesus turned water into wine, cleared the temple courts, and then responded to the Jews demand for a sign by saying, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

And so by the end of this second chapter we find Jesus in Jerusalem and people are beginning to believe in him.

But there were many questions about this Jesus, especially from the religious leaders. These leaders had sent priests and Levites out to investigate what John the Baptist was doing. While John told them he was not the Messiah; he reminded them that the Messiah was on his way and they should get ready to receive him.

And on one night, presumably of his own accord, a single Pharisee comes to see Jesus. He comes acknowledging that Jesus must have come from God.

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.

And without so much as a hello or a howdy-do, Jesus challenges this Pharisee who has come and only complemented Jesus on his mighty works.

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

From what we have of this account, it seems that Jesus was a little short with his guest. You might think that he would enjoy this recognition from a Pharisee. This Pharisee had come to him with what seemed to be good intentions.

Why did Jesus challenge this man named Nicodemus as he did?

We can only speculate what was behind the rather terse dialogue that unfolded, but perhaps Nicodemus suffered from the same disease as most of the Pharisees—blindness.

Nicodemus saw the mighty acts of God in Jesus but he was blind to his purpose. The religious leaders were hopeful that a powerful man would come and rescue them from their immediate circumstances. The Messiah that all hoped for would come swinging a sword and it would soon be covered with Roman blood.

But Nicodemus was blind to the purposes of God and Jesus was not very happy that one who claimed to be a teacher could not see God’s purpose. He did not know God’s heart.

The dialogue that unfolded baffled this educated man. Nicodemus had searched the scriptures, memorized most of them, and surely espoused a midrash or explanatory commentary on many; but he was blind to the love of God for his creation.

A good Pharisee knew the rules. He could recite them. He could hold others accountable for complying with them. He probably had a keen eye and could discern how far one could walk on the Sabbath without violating the law just by looking.

But he had missed the message of love that God had been sending. He was blind to Jesus being the Messiah because he did not understand the heart of the law.

When Jesus said that he must be born again, born anew, born from above, born of water and the Spirit, Nicodemus could only get his mind wrapped around the physical logistics of this world.

How can a grown man be born again?

Even a teenager can’t climb back into his mother’s womb. It’s bad enough when the kids want to move back home, but to go back inside mom’s womb is just crazy.

And Nicodemus is hung up on the question, “How can this be?”

Nicodemus is stuck on the how. Jesus came to earth with the why. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he is asking the wrong questions.

Jesus is telling this teacher the same thing he told a Samaritan woman in the next chapter, that God is Spirit.

Jesus is telling this teacher what John revealed to us all in his first letter, that God is love.

Flesh cannot be made into Spirit. We are born into this world in the flesh but we must be born into real life in the Spirit.

Jesus is God in the flesh.

Jesus is love manifested in the flesh.

Jesus is Truth manifested for humankind in the flesh.

God came to us in the flesh but we must go to him in Spirit and in Truth.

To truly know God we must let his Spirit live and reign in us.

Flesh gives birth to flesh but Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Jesus was a little harsh on Nicodemus for being blind and being a teacher. He should have been able to understand what Jesus was saying.

Blindness and the Pharisees would be a recurring theme in the ministry of Jesus. Those who should have seen and understood the best were blind to the truth and did their best to best Jesus and cling to their status.

But in the case of Nicodemus, Jesus explained the “why”. Jesus revealed God’s purpose. Nicodemus got a firsthand explanation of why Jesus came into 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.

Nicodemus came to see Jesus, perhaps in hope of some religious discussion. Perhaps they would talk about something controversial, maybe even healing on the Sabbath. That surely would have been a hot topic for this time.

Maybe Nicodemus thought he might joke with Jesus about his rough-around-the-edges disciples who followed him around.

Perhaps there was some fine point of the law for which Jesus might offer a new perspective. The two men could spend a little intellectual time straining out a few gnats in the law, perhaps over a cup of wine and a late dinner.

But Jesus turned Nicodemus’s neatly ordered world upside down.

He must be born again, born of the Spirit, born from above.

This new birth was not something to be examined logistically but spiritually. It was not something to figure out how to do but why.

Why must he be born again?

Because Light came into the world and the world did not understand it.

Light came into the world and the world did not overcome it, but many chose darkness.

Why must we be born again?

Because without Jesus we stand condemned. We don’t have to keep up with what rules we did or did not break. Without Jesus, we are already condemned.

We who live only in the flesh are condemned. None of us are righteous of our own accord. Our efforts to do what is right will always come up short.

But this sad state of affairs is not the end of the story but only the place where we begin our story. For God desires that we be born of his Spirit.

We do this by believing on the name and the person and the sacrifice of Jesus.

We do this by making Jesus the Lord of our lives.

We do this by proclaiming that Jesus is Lord!

We do this by accepting that there is no formula, no set of rules, no religious righteousness that can do what God’s love has done for us in Jesus.

We don’t know how Nicodemus responded. Did he make Jesus the Lord of his life? Was he born again? Was he born from above? Was he born of the Spirit?

We read the rest of John’s gospel and are hopeful that Nicodemus came to know the Lord. He spoke up for him before the Sanhedrin and was ridiculed for it.

We read that he helped prepare the body of Jesus, but this was Jewish custom and nobody—even those who wanted Jesus dead—wanted him hanging on the cross for the Sabbath.

We don’t know if Nicodemus was ever able to move from his world that involved a faith of rules and deeds to one in which God’s own Spirit lived within him.

We don’t know if Nicodemus left behind his world of well ordered religion for the freedom of living and worshiping in Sprit and in Truth.

We don’t know.

We do know that the words that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus are words of life for us.

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.

Over two thousand years after Jesus spoke these words to this one Pharisee that came to see him, albeit at night, these words are still words of life. They speak not just to the lost sheep of Israel, but to the world.

We memorize these words. We teach them to our children. We recite them a few times every year.

But do we understand them?

Do we understand what it is to be born again?

Flesh cannot be made into spirit. Being right with God is not just a continuation of our lives. Flesh gives birth to flesh and to the desires of the flesh.

Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Is God’s Spirit alive in you?

Have you been born again?

Have you been born anew?

Much like Nicodemus, we might ask a how question: “How can I tell?”

How can we tell?

The answers will be so familiar to you that you will wonder why you even wonder about it. They both come from John: One from his gospel and one from a letter.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Have we been born again?

Have we?

Does God’s love live in us?

Does God’s love exude from us?

Does God’s love govern our lives?

Are we content anywhere else besides in the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus?

Nicodemus only got a glimpse of what God’s love was all about. Few if any could wrap their minds around what Jesus was talking about until after his sacrificial death and his miraculous resurrection.

But we have the whole story before us.

The story is that God loves us.

He loves us so much that he took away our sin with the blood of Jesus.

He loves us so much that while these bodies will die, our spirit is joined forever with God’s Holy Spirit.

We know a God who says that love trumps judgment.

We know a God who desires mercy more than sacrifice.

I feel sorry for the person who says, “I guess I will believe in Jesus so I don’t go to hell.”

I rejoice for the person who says, “I know that God loves me so much that he gave his son so that I could truly live and truly be loved.”

Sometimes we just need to ask the right question. Why did God send Jesus into the world?

Because he loves you more than you can imagine.

We may know hurt.

We may know pain.

We may even know sorrow.

But because of God sending his son into the world, we will never know despair.

We always have hope even in hopeless circumstances because we know that God chose to love us and not to condemn us.

We have passed from death to life.

We have called upon the name of the Lord.

We have been saved by the One whom God sent into the world, not to condemn us but to save us through him.

We must ask the right question. It is not how can I be born again, but why must I be born again?

Because God loved you so much he would not let you live apart from him.

God loves you so much!

You are loved by Love himself and you are loved for all eternity.

In a verse that most of our children already know is the heart of our God. He desires to save you because he loves you.

It is just that simple.

It is just that straightforward.

It is just that pure.

God loves you and we know this in Christ Jesus.

Being born again is not a question of “how” but “why” and the “why” is love pure and simple.

God loves you!

We think we know who God is. We say we believe in and follow Jesus. Now let's give birth to the Spirit in our lives.

If we will put aside all of our excuses and arguments and just see the love of God that we know in Jesus, we will be born of his Spirit.

It will change the way we live and forevermore nothing can separate us from his love!

Amen.

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