Opening Remarks and Introduction
For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at some difficult questions that many people ask about God. This weekend, we’ll celebrate Mother’s Day which is based on one of the most lasting relationships we’ll ever have. So, it’s only fitting that tonight we continue the sermon series with the question “How do I relate to God.” This is an important question that hinges on our understanding of who we are, and who God is.
Our lesson tonight looked at a story about Nicodemus as he tried to figure out who Jesus was and the message He came to deliver. Tonight, we’re going to take a closer look at that conversation and dig deeper into how God intended our relationship to be with Him.
To do that, we’re going to look at:
- God’s Relationship with Creation
- Nicodemus’ Search for Jesus
- Building our Relationship with God
1. Man as God’s Special Creation
Every story has a beginning, and this one is no different. But, it starts much earlier than Nicodemus’ conversation. In the beginning, God created the heavens, the earth, the fish, animals and birds. Then on the sixth day, He created man in a very special act of creation. Man was the ultimate purpose of creation. He was the Crown Jewel of everything that God had created. God took the dust from the ground, formed a body, and breathed a living soul into this lifeless body. And man became a living being.
Adam was the first man and he was created perfect, in the image of God, without any sin. God spent time with Adam, gave him the task to name all of the animals, and put him in charge of the earth. God was a sort of partner with man as He talked with Adam and brought each of the animals to have man name them. This simple task showed a connection with this special creation.
Man was pure and innocent, but that didn’t last. Deceived by the serpent, Eve sinned first, followed by Adam. They ate the forbidden fruit, trying to make themselves like God.
Man was still God’s creation, but no longer worthy to be in his presence. No longer pure and innocent. God drove the couple out from the Garden of Eden, and placed cherubim and a flaming sword to keep them out.
With that first sin, creation fell and was condemned to be separated from God. His nature demanded justice. But He also had compassion on His creation. So, God made a promise to restore the relationship between Creator and creation, and that price required a savior to redeem the world.
2. Nicodemus seeking Jesus
Nicodemus didn’t quite understand the world this way. He was a member of the Pharisees who were conservative Jewish teachers who valued their obedience of the law. But, Nicodemus was also a member of the Jewish ruling class of 70 rabbis, known as the Sanhedren, who were there to decide on religious matters.
As such, Nicodemus was called a “Teacher of Israel” and was well versed in the scriptures to include understanding that a messiah was coming and knowing about the prophets, such as Elijah, who had performed miracles.
Nicodemus recognized that only someone who was from God could perform the signs and wonders that Jesus doing. Nicodemus wasn’t a believer. At least not yet. But, He had questions and wanted to know more.
Nicodemus wants to understand the message that Jesus is delivering to the Jewish people. He even addresses Jesus with the respectful title of Rabbi. Jesus answers Nicodemus by saying:
“Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, ESV)
This little message is quite confusing to Nicodemus because he only considers actual, physical birth. He recognizes the Jewish birthright that comes through Abraham’s line. A spiritual conversion isn’t something he thinks about. The people that he spent a lot of his time with wouldn’t have been much help either. Much of his Pharisee culture was concerned about outward appearances. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites and
“whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27, ESV)
If you’re surrounded by those who are only pure on the outside, appearances may be all you can see. Where the Pharisees were concerned about passing down spoken laws from one generation to the next, and finding ways to look clean and upright, God was concerned about the inward hearts of His creation with pure motives, not just pure appearances. That conversion from outward looks to inward attitudes requires a spiritual re-birth.
Birth is the beginning of a new life and one that Jesus was trying to communicate.
Being born is moving from living inside mom where its warm, safe and care-free, into something different. Although the child may not know it yet, the delivery begins a life that is filled with more joy, more experiences, and establishes a more full relationship with parents and the world around.
The idea of being ‘born again’ was much like that, but not in a physical sense of re-entering the womb, but of a spiritual sense where we are born into a new life through the waters of baptism. When we’re born again, we experience the love of God our father in a much fuller way because we learn to recognize who God is and how much He loves, and cares for us.
Baptism moves from the old, sinful life to a new connection to God. It’s the beginning of a new person as the old dies away and is replaced and reborn by a person free from the confines of sin and death. God establishes a new and loving relationship with us that we didn’t previously experience. We learn that our creator is our heavenly Father, and we are his children.
It’s in this same conversation with Nicodemus, where Jesus explains why He’s come into the world. He delivers the central gospel we know so well. In this very familiar passage, Jesus establishes a very different relationship as our redeemer, our rescuer and our savior. Jesus said:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17, ESV)
This passage is one of a loving Father giving everything He can to save His children, and bringing them back to His loving arms. We gain access to God through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross, and continue that relationship through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We gain a closeness to God that we can’t earn on our own.
3. Getting Closer to God
In the creation story, we can see that God wants to have a relationship with us. When the fall takes place, He shows us how important we are to Him, by sending Jesus to pay the price of our sins. He continues to demonstrate, that He still wants us to be connected to Him, even when we can’t seem to get away from the temptations that pull us into sin. But like other relationships with our family and friends, there are some things that we may consider doing to strengthen our connection to God, and bring us closer to His side.
Every relationship requires some combination of love, trust, and communication. For friends and family, we often make time in our lives to enjoy a meal or activity together, or find an event to go to. We find ways to share time, share stories, and listen to each other. Building relationships is a commitment of time, energy and emotions. Building our relationship with God isn’t all that different.
In the remaining time we have to share tonight, I’d like to look at three things that we can do to help bring us closer to God and build up the relationship that starts with our baptism. We all have some sort of relationship with God. But, is it as good as it could be?
One way that can help us get closer in our relationship with God is to prioritize prayer. Jesus was the role model for prayer and prayed at every major event, every crisis and every ministry in His life. He prayed when He was baptized. He prayed when He chose His disciples. He prayed when He was alone and He prayed when He was with others. He even prayed when He was suffering on the cross.
The greatest model that Jesus could’ve given us was when He taught us how to pray the Lord’s prayer which starts out with a direct and clear relationship…. Our Father, which art in heaven. With the Lord’s prayer, we have a direct and intimate relationship with God. It’s one of many ways that we can remember the connection we have.
In prayer, we turn away from ourselves and have a conversation with our creator. It’s a way to praise Him, to thank Him, to acknowledge His sovereignty over us, and to draw on His strength, and to ask forgiveness when we haven’t been so faithful to His will. God always hears our prayers, and like a good conversation, He answers every prayer too.
A second way that we can improve our relationship with God is to spend time in His Word. Jesus is at the core of scripture and is revealed in both the Old and New Testaments. Reading the Word is a way for the Holy Spirit to work through us and help us understand not just what happened in the past, but what will happen in the future too. It can encourage us when we’re facing challenging times, strengthen us when we’re weak, and point us to the truth for a better understanding.
God uses scripture to show His will to us. It’s a means of communication as He points us to something to help us understand. Every relationship requires us to dedicate time with one another, listen to what others have to say, and contribute to the conversation. As a way to listen and talk to God, prayer and scripture seem to go hand-in-hand. Just like we spend time with friends and family to see what’s on their mind, perhaps spending some time in scripture is a way to see what’s on God’s mind too.
Which brings me to my third point tonight, making time for God. It’s something that society around us seems to be neglecting. It seems that many are unable or unwilling to make room in their schedules to spend a few moments with God. Many churches across the country are seeing less people each year attending services.
By focusing on God by attending a worship service, fasting, going to a Bible study or reading a devotion. Any number of activities, can dedicate a few moments of our time to step away from the busy world, (put down our phones,) and spend some quiet moments to listen to what God says. Sometimes, God is in our most quiet moments, reaching out to say something to us. Elijah experienced something like this:
“And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11b-13, ESV)
Now, we may not be as privileged to have God speak to us like Elijah. But then again, sometimes God is in the quiet moments.
How can we relate to God? By looking all the way back at the beginning of creation, God made men and women to have a relationship with Him.
When we’re born into Christianity, through the waters of baptism, it’s a new beginning for us. It’s a new relationship with God.
Just like the relationships that we work on with our friends and family, we can work on our relationship with God too. Spending a few moments in prayer connects us with God in a way nothing else can. Spending a few moments in scripture helps us understand who God is, what He wants for us, and the love that He has for us. Dedicating a small portion of our time to leave the busy and noisy world behind us, and immerse ourselves in worship and study can improve our connection to Him.
Prayer, scripture and time. God is looking forward to our continued relationship with Him. Amen