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John

God Makes the Necessary Easy

John 3:1-21

This passage contains the most beloved verse of the Bible. It is a passage frequently commented upon, and in one lesson there is not space enough to contain all that might be said. My readers will therefore pardon me if I have not accepted the most obvious course of study, for such is readily available elsewhere. You are encouraged to read all you can by those who love the Lord.

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.£

4“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit£ gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You£ must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

9“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.£ 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.£

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,£ that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.£ 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”£

22After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.

Nicodemus

We know very little of Nicodemus in the Bible. History abounds with legend concerning him, but we shall stick to what has been revealed.

Comes by night

What can we learn from this fact?

  • He is a cautious man, not anxious for confrontation like the more querulous members of the Pharisees. He is a man of peace and sense.
  • He is one who likes to work discreetly. Behind the scenes is just fine with him. So he is not likely to be the one to get his name on the front of the building.
  • He’s not afraid to work the night shift – to put in a little overtime, if you will. He goes the extra mile to do things right.
Challenges the council

In John 7:50-53, we see that Nicodemus calls for Jesus to receive a fair hearing by the council of the Pharisees, in accordance with the Old Testament Law. What can we learn from this?

  • He has a sense of fairness, of justice. In simple terms, he is anxious to do what is right.
  • He has courage – among the familiar. When he’s on his own debating ground he is courageous enough; but perhaps not overly bold.
  • He is a man who is reliant upon the Law – the best thing he knew from God. He trusts the commands of God, and obeys them. But he is not one gifted with supernatural wisdom to know when the Law stops.
Embalms Jesus’ body

What do we learn from this?

  • First, that he is a charitable man – one who is willing (at risk) to do a favor for a man who (as far as he knows) can never repay him. In his culture, this would be thought of as a high degree of charity.
  • Just as clearly, this is a man who expects his rewards to come from God. I suspect that long practice at this had taught him that God rewards those who seek him.
  • He is willing to take some risk – even when there seems no point. Deep down inside, this man has courage which comes out in extraordinary times.

This is a man who walks the high, hard road to God, and willingly. He has come to this new teacher to ask for directions on the last few steps of that road. This man sounds like so many of us who have been born and raised in the church. Indeed, I suspect that in our day he would be nominated to become an elder. It is the best he knows; the teacher honors that – but not in the way he expects. He asked for a few steps; he got a revolution.

The Three Responses

Nicodemus was looking for the last few hard, high steps on the road. He felt he was almost there, and now comes a rabbi with power from God. His life has been committed to God; he must go and find those steps. But he does not know that this rabbi has come for a purpose: to change completely the relationship between God and man. Nicodemus knows the road is hard. He is willing to walk the hard, high road. God is about to teach him a lesson: what God calls necessary, he makes easy.

Easy?

How can anyone conclude that? Listen carefully.

Jesus, when he meets those who are truly seeking God, replies to them with one of three answers. We shall examine all three and see how God has made it easy for each of them to come into the kingdom.

Repent

The most common response Jesus gives is the simple command, “repent.” How is this easy?

  • First, the directions are not at all complicated. You know what you’ve been doing wrong; stop doing it and begin to do what you know is right. No need for the theology textbook on this one.
  • Next, Jesus condemns the sin – but came to give life to the sinner. So it is to “the vilest offender who truly believes” – God loves him. It’s the sin that separates; it is that separation Christ will bridge. That’s why he came.
  • He offers the one thing the sinner considers impossible: forgiveness. Is it not the case that many sinners continue in the same, dreary sin because they see no way out? But here God offers forgiveness, a clean slate.

You see the point? God could have sent the sinner on a crusade, a search for the Holy Grail to prove his worthiness. Instead, he makes it easy: repent.

You lack one thing

There is another person we must consider, the one shown best by the rich young ruler. In his life there is no great sin. Indeed, he has kept the commandments all his life. But Jesus looks upon the heart of the man and tells him there is one thing he has not yet done. He has not rid himself of the roadblock on the road with God. Is his way easy, too?

  • Consider this: all his training tells him of the evils of the love of money. God’s command simply builds upon what he already knows is right.
  • It also gives him a clear decision point. There is no subtlety to it; no nuance of theology; not even the rote memorization of a complicated prayer. It’s a “do it” decision.
  • If he does “do it”, it lifts a burden from his shoulders. If money is your chain, he will break it – if you will let him.
Be born again

It is the curious fact that Jesus never told anyone but Nicodemus to be born again. To the man who was a straight arrow he gives a radical turn of direction. This is the man without a problem to solve – and that is a huge problem. It requires a radical solution. How can this be easy?

  • First, there is the pure joy of abandonment. No longer must he look over his shoulder to see if some regulation has been let slip. He can now move in the Spirit.
  • He is free. Understand that to “be free” in God’s kingdom means to be free to do what you are designed to do. An eagle is free when it is flying. Swimming at the bottom of the lake, the eagle is not free – it’s in trouble. Nicodemus is free now to do what he is designed to do: love God and enjoy him forever.

It is a curious thing: the shackles of the Law, which keep Nicodemus from sin, also keep him from flying. But now the shackles are broken, and the eagle may now fly. As Augustine said, “Love God – and do as you please.”

The Necessary, Easy

God made entry into the kingdom of heaven to be easy. Why? Because he wills that all would be saved.

Too easy

For some of us, it seems too easy. We were born into the church, raised by loving, Christian parents. You can imagine that Nicodemus had parents who loved him and raised him in the highest traditions of the Jewish Law. Many who will read this are like this man.

Indeed, we often have a secret envy of those who came to Christ after a life of spectacular wickedness. After all, we say, looking at St. Paul we can see that great sinners make great saints. In a curious way, we never had the opportunity to be a spectacular sinner – therefore we don’t know how to be a spectacular saint.

How do I know I’m saved, then?

Have you ever been through this drill? Since you were never a spectacular sinner, how can you know that you are indeed saved? What possible evidence could you produce which would convince anyone of this – especially noting that “anyone” includes “me.” Try these on for size:

·         Does your life exhibit faith in Christ? The just are saved by faith.

·         Do you have power over sin – can you look back and see how you’ve grown in the faith, becoming more like your Lord?

·         Do you have the peace that surpasses understanding, or do you worry about everything?

·         When you’re at the funeral of a Christian, do you share in the hope of the Resurrection?

·         Is your life marked by obedience to what God commands?

·         Does love flow out of your life, bringing the love of God to others?

By their fruits you will know them. Look at the fruits in your life; let self examination keep you from this worry.

The wind of the Spirit

The wind blows where it will, and so it is with the Spirit. If you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, you will begin to notice that this Spirit within you affects your life every day.

  • Like wind, the Spirit can’t be hindered. If he encounters an obstacle, it simply flows around and over it.
  • Like wind, the Spirit brings good or disaster, as God chooses.
  • Like wind, the Spirit comes in power.

The Verdict

Perhaps these words have caused you to examine yourself, and you have found yourself wanting. There is a severe word of warning in this passage: the Light has arrived.

“Never lose your ignorance – it’s irreplaceable.” (Attributed to Erich Maria Remarque’s father). Many cherish their ignorance of God on the theory that God would not condemn them for what they didn’t know. But he tells us here: the Light has come. The Light has come to save; there is no chance for those who choose ignorance – because to choose ignorance is to choose to live in darkness. Darkness is where the evil hide, for they fear the Light.

He came two thousand years ago to light the world; his light yet shines in his church. There is no chance to choose ignorance, and no time to waste. He is coming again; he tells us “soon.” He came so that all might be saved; he will come again to judge the living and the dead. The time is short; the consequences grave. Look for the light while there is still time.

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