Summary: John sermon series--8th sermon
Turning Religion into Relationship
“Nick at Night”
3 men died and were standing at the pearly gates. What have you done to deserve Heaven? 1st—police officer, enforced law, fought crime. Peter, “OK, go on in.” 2nd—very wealthy and gave lots of money to charitable causes. Peter, “OK, go on in.” 3rd—director of an HMO organization. He had helped save millions of dollars for health care and insurance companies. He had helped cut down on waste, fraud, and abuse in the system. Peter, “OK come on in, but you can only stay for 3 days.”
Joke—climbing ladder. Tie up your donkey and come on in).
We have all heard jokes about people showing up at the pearly gates seeking entrance into Heaven. While many of these jokes bring a smile to our faces, behind most of them is the false assumption that we must do something to get into Heaven. It is shocking to people to hear that they can’t do anything to earn entrance into Heaven. Grace goes beyond human comprehension. By our nature, we want to merit God’s favor. The scandal of grace challenges our normal way of thinking.
In our text today, we come across one of those persons who had a difficult time understanding the truth of free grace salvation. His name was Nicodemus, and as we move through our text, we will discover that Nicodemus was a very religious man who had a hard time realizing the difference between religion and relationship. Let’s listen in on his conversation with Jesus in John 3. Read text.
It was at night that this ruler of the Jews, Nicodemus, decided to pay the teacher Jesus a visit. There has been a lot of speculation as to why he came at night.
- rabbis studied at night
- to avoid the crowd
- so their conversation would not be limited
- b/c he feared being seen with Jesus
In John’s gospel, darkness opposes light. Perhaps the mention of the fact it was night symbolizes the darkness that shrouded Nicodemus’ heart and soul. But for whatever reason, Nick comes at night in hopes that this miracle worker can answer some of his spiritual questions. He was a seeker.
Now, it must be said up front that Nicodemus was no ordinary citizen. He was rich. He was respected. He was religious (Pharisee, 1 of 70, gave his life to studying and obeying the Law and traditions). He was a ruler. Nicodemus was deacon material. He was committee chair potential. He had it all. He was a well-respected, admired Jewish citizen that people would have considered a role model.
He also has a deep respect and interest in Jesus. His designation of Jesus as Rabbi shows great admiration for Jesus. After all, he is a trained religious ruler and Jesus is only a commoner. To address Jesus with the title “Teacher” reveals Nicodemus’ deep admiration for Jesus. Nicodemus makes Jesus an equal.
He even recognizes Jesus’ ministry as blessed by God. “No one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him,” he asserts. He acknowledges the divine blessing of God upon Jesus. Nicodemus falls into the category of the believers described at the end of chapter 2, he believes in Jesus, but strictly b/c of the miracles. He is an admirer but not a genuine believer.
Of course, Jesus knows Nick’s heart (2.24), so he cuts straight to the heart of the matter: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (from above).” Jesus knows why Nicodemus is really there, so he immediately challenges him. “If you want to enter God’s kingdom, you must be born again.”
“Born again” is a common expression today (especially made popular when then Presidential candidate J. Carter announced he was a born-again Christian). To say you are born-again has become somewhat trite. It is a familiar term.
But what Jesus is talking about here is a supernatural event. It is perhaps best translated born “from above.” It is a spiritual new birth, a divine regeneration, a spiritual transformation. To be born again is to be made new by the Spirit of God.
Such language and teaching confuses Nicodemus. Predominant religious thought in that day affirmed that all Jews would be admitted to God’s kingdom apart from those guilty of deliberate apostasy or gross wickedness. But here Jesus is telling Nicodemus, a respected scholar, that he cannot enter God’s kingdom unless he is born again.
Nicodemus responds, “How can a person be born when he is old? Are we to enter our mother’s wombs a second time?” Jesus is speaking on a spiritual level and Nick is hearing on a physical level. How can I be born again?
*Are there any women here who want to give birth to 200-pound men?