Summary: if you believe in the resurrection and its power for our lives then you have to be open to the fact that fundamental change can happen in people’s lives. But “How?” As followers of Christ, we’re called to be people who center themselves on the resurrectio
Do you believe people can change? Do you believe that people can become fundamentally different people? If we’re honest, the majority of us are practicing cynics. We don’t think people can really change. Our skepticism is captured in sayings like, “A leopard can’t change its spots.” Those of us who have tried to change and failed think, “This is how it’s always been, and so this is how it’s always going to be. It’s just who I am.” The older you get, the more familiar you are with failure and disappointment in the face of change, the more resistant you become to change and the harder it is to believe that things can be different.
But if you believe in the resurrection and its power for our lives then you have to be open to the fact that fundamental change can happen in people’s lives. But “How?” As followers of Christ, we’re called to be people who center themselves on the resurrection and at the heart of our faith is an insistence that things and people can change, that today doesn’t have to be like yesterday, that there can, in fact, be new life. It starts first with repentance. In our Scripture today, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was esteemed and respected for his knowledge of the Scriptures and the Greek wisdom of the day, for his faith and the life he lived, comes to Jesus to engage him in conversation. He calls Jesus rabbi or teacher, not Messiah, meaning he thinks that Jesus is probably another of a long line of ‘Hasidim’ or righteous ones from the North in Galilee. Hasidim’ were prayer warriors and miracle working Pharisee rabbis and so Nicodemus engages Jesus in conversation. But Jesus, as only he can do, sees past that to Nicodemus’ heart and says, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Jesus knows that Nicodemus’ can’t see (discern) the Kingdom of God even when it is standing directly in front of him. He is spiritually blind because he is spiritually dead.
John the Baptist’s call to repentance was for the religious leaders of the day as much as the people. When we hear the word “repent” it usually means something akin to falling on your knees, telling God you are sorry for what you did, and promising not to do it again. For the Jews, it was much more than that. Repentance is not just confessing and turning from your ways, it’s “fundamentally changing the way you see and understand everything.” It’s radical change in the mind as well as the heart. It’s a transformation of the entire person.
Second, change involves death. The imagery of baptism is a powerful picture of the work the Holy Spirit in our lives. It starts first with death. When someone is baptized, they enter the water and is fully immersed, like when a body is lowered into the ground. And so you are buried with Christ. Paul writes, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Romans 6:3 To understand this, we have to realize that sin is more than just bad behavior or a mistake. It’s a brokenness that goes far deeper. Sin affects everything in our lives: our desires, our motivations and even the way we see life. Sin isn’t a list of all the wrong things we do, it is a state of being from which we need to be delivered. In Romans 6:6 Paul states that we can be enslaved to sin. The problem with the world isn’t that we don’t know right from wrong or how we’re supposed to live, it’s that there is a power which is influencing us to choose our way and the world’s way over God’s way to live. And even if we try to do our very best to avoid sin, it still isn’t enough.
Paul knows this struggle himself. In Romans 7, he share his struggle with sin, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do…it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” Can you relate? There’s that thing in your life you know isn’t healthy or God’s will and you can’t seem to let it go. But the Good News is this: we don’t have to be a slave to sin for Paul says, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 7:25