Summary: We must remember what it was like before Jesus came into our lives with his presence and power. We must never forget. We must never lose sight of where we were when he came and just how far he has brought us.
A 14th century monk announced to the people of his village that he was going to preach the greatest sermon ever preached on the love of God. He urged everyone to attend. At the appropriate hour, the cathedral filed with young and old alike. Throughout the service, everyone anticipated the monk’s great discourse. However, when it was time for his sermon, the monk did not enter the pulpit. Instead, he went to the candelabra, drew a long burning candle from its stand, and walked to the highest part of the altar where there hung a sculptured form of Christ nailed to the cross.
The monk silently lifted the candle until the glow of its flame rested just below one of Christ’s pierced hands. He held the candle there with his back to the congregation. Then, shifting his weight, he moved the candle below Jesus’ other pierced hand. Slowly he moved the candle to Christ’s side where the spear had pierced it. Finally, the monk dropped to his knees in prayer, holding the glimmering light so that the glow fell on Christ’s nail-pierced feet.
After a moment, the monk stood up and turned toward the people. Holding the candle before him so that the people could see the gentle tears on his face, he said, “My beloved people---this is my sermon on the love of God for you.” And he dismissed them with a benediction!
Today’s Gospel reading is one of the most famous of all the Bible passages, and includes what is perhaps the most-quoted Bible verse. It all started at night when Nicodemus came to see Jesus. Nicodemus makes three appearances in John’s Gospel, and by the third time we see that the seed of truth Jesus planted in his heart had finally taken root. Although Jesus had been condemned by Nicodemus’ colleagues, it no longer made any difference to Nicodemus. He knew Jesus was the true Messiah-the hope of Israel and the world. But that’s in his future. To understand how this happened to him, and how it can happen to us, we need to step back and focus on how Jesus planted the seed of truth into Nicodemus’ heart.
Why did Jesus meet Nicodemus at night? Was it because Nicodemus had a busy schedule? Was it because the Pharisees often debated theology at night? Was it the way Nicodemus operated? The real reason was because of the feat of the consequences if the Pharisees found out that Nicodemus was talking to Jesus. After all, Jesus and the Pharisees did not see “eye to eye” regarding theology or the correct interpretation of the Law.
As a Pharisee, Nicodemus belonged to the most prominent religious group in Israel, and was a highly-respected teacher. He observed all the laws of cleanliness and piety, yet Jesus told him that it’s not enough for one to be physically clean-water is not enough for true purification. Rather, a person’s nature also needs to be cleansed-or sanctified-by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Background and upbringing are never enough to give anyone an extra push to get into heaven. A good example of this is Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham. Raised in the spiritual greenhouse of the Graham home, Franklin went through the right motions: baptism, regular church attendance, and exposure to a steady diet of the gospel. But deep inside, Franklin knew he was hollow.
One evening Billy Graham confronted him. “Your mother and I sense that you’re struggling in your heart, Franklin. You need to face the truth; you need to make your own decision. Until you do, you won’t have peace”. Franklin was so upset by these words that he ran from the truth. He ran to several Middle Eastern countries trying to fill his life without committing to Christ.
One night in Jerusalem-the very place where Jesus had his conversation with Nicodemus-Franklin decided Jesus was right. He prayed, received him into his life, and was born again. Now, he was more than the son of Billy and Ruth Graham. He was a child of the living God. (In fact, Franklin often refers to the story of Nicodemus when he issues his altar call during his festivals).
What does Jesus mean by being “born again?” The new birth is an instantaneous spiritual experience, which occurs when the Holy Spirit leads a person to understand what Jesus Christ did on the cross to provide forgiveness for their sins. We are born again the moment we accept that Jesus Christ is the only one who can redeem us and we confess him as our Saviour and Lord. When we are born of the spirit, we get a new father and a new nature. We don’t have to walk in the likeness of our earthly father any more. We can walk in God’s likeness and become more like him every day.