Summary: A look at what the call meant to Nicodemus to be "born again"
A man was preaching to a church in Australia. The congregation had big black Bibles and severe expressions... And they knew their Bibles, and were proud of that. It was a smallish group, so he decided to engage them in dialogue:
’Who knows who the Pharisees were?’ They did. ’The Pharisees got a pretty nasty press in the New Testament - particularly Matthew.’
’Now tell me all the *good* things you can think of about the Pharisees:
The Pharisees knew their Bibles; were disciplined in prayer; fasted twice a week; gave about a third of their income to their church; were moral (very moral); many had been martyred for their faith; they attended ’church’ regularly; they were orthodox; and evangelistic.
There was a deep silence. Someone sitting at the front said ’That’s us!’ ’Is it?" the preacher responded. ’Then you’ve got a problem: Jesus said these sorts of people are children of the devil!’
I am still trying not to be vague! We are still thinking about describing the Kingdom. So let me summarise what we have seen so far about what the kingdom is in a very unvague, specific way.
Kingdom = God’s Rule, God’s will being done one earth as it is in heaven, God’s Shalom, it is God’s dreams being realised for the world, the poor being fed, the sick getting better, peace on earth, people knowing God, loving one another, God’s planet being looked after properly. This is what Jesus came to bring, this was his Gospel, this kingdom rule is available now through me, so change and believe it, be part of it. The message of Jesus was to a world ravaged by sin and evil that a revolutionary new way of living and acting that would bring healing and hope to world was at hand, so join the party. That message is so desperately needed again.
To get another angle I want us to look at what John records. He records very little about the Kingdom. One of the few places where John talks about the Kingdom is here in his conversation with Nicodemus.
1. Meet Nick the Pharisee
Nick is a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council, powerful, wealthy, clever, godly & deeply religious. The Pharisees were the dominant religious force at this time though they were no more than 10% of the population. Alarmingly shared many attributes of evangelical Christianity of today.
- Are you a student of the bible? Beware you could be a Pharisee, especially if you preach! Pharisees were professional teachers of the Law, the Bible.
- Are you zealous for God? Beware you could be a Pharisee? Pharisees were zealous for the Lord especially the Law of God. They tithed, some giving up to a third of their income to God. There must be no compromise. Adulterers should be stoned, sinners shunned. If only people could be more like us they believed. They looked for converts and would travel great distances to do so.
- Do you want to guard against Christians becoming too much like the world? Would you like Britain becoming a 100% Christian society? Beware you could be a Pharisee. They wanted zealously to guard against the nation becoming pagan and forsaking the Lord and sooner or later they would throwing off the pagan yoke and get rid of the Romans. That was their agenda, that was their vision of the kingdom of God. They tended to relate only to other Pharisees, wanting to avoid contact with “the world”. They were judgemental of those who didn’t follow. They excluded those who were sinners because they were the reason that the nation was oppressed. It was their fault; they were going to hell all right.
They were the religious right, the moral majority of their day. They shared many attributes of evangelical Christianity of today. “The trouble oftentimes with religious people is that they try to be more spiritual than God himself.” When we read the story of Nicodemus we see it in terms of Jesus telling a sinner how to get saved. He isn’t talking to us but someone else. When he may be talking to us, as respectable, moral, godly, bible believing, heaven bound people. What is the message of the Kingdom for us?
2. Becoming a Baby Again
Nick is a leader of this group. He is the crème de la crème. But he is curious about Jesus, he is clearly from God but his message is so different, disturbing, jarring, so out of sync with everyone else. He talks about the kingdom (doesn’t everyone, but not like everyone else). He is vague and he wants clarification. We’ll never know what was he about to ask Jesus – are you the one to sort out the Romans? Jesus cuts across him by telling him if he wants to see the Kingdom he has to be born again.