Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent

‘How can these things be?’

We only hear about Nicodemus is John’s Gospel.

We meet him here, in which is the first real dialogue in John.
We meet him again in chapter 7, when he defends Jesus to his Pharisee brothers when they are discussing how to arrest Jesus, saying:
‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’
And we meet him a third time, after Jesus’ death.
Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

This coming by night must be significant, for John mentions this fact twice.

Many ideas have been bought forth as to why Nicodemus came to Jesus by night.
The first and most obvious one is that as he was a Pharisee,
Nicodemus did not want to be seen talking to this dangerous man.

But John uses ideas of dark and light throughout his Gospel.
Jesus will say in chapter 8:
‘I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’

Nicodemus come to Jesus in the night, the dark.
He is coming from the dark, to the light.
He is not in the light as he is not a follower of Jesus.

‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God;
for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 

Nicodemus recognises Jesus works are from God.
But he doesn’t recognise him as the Son of God, but rather
a teacher who has come from God

Jesus answer is not a thankyou.
Nicodemus starts with pleasantries. Jesus replies with a challenge.

‘Very truly, I tell you,
no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 
Poor Nicodemus.
He making his first tentative steps toward the light, and it seems he gets rebuffed.

Jesus’ first answer to Nicodemus is telling him he will remain in the dark unless he is born from above, or again.
This is the idea of regeneration.
Being born of the Spirit.

Nicodemus fumbles.
This is unlike anything he has ever heard. Jesus is speaking the impossible.

Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?
Nicodemus knows this cannot be what Jesus means.
Jesus does not really answer, yet goes even deeper.

no one can enter the kingdom of God
without being born of water and Spirit. 

Jesus first says
no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.

Now he says
no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

In John’s Gospel, seeing is equated with believing, remember ‘Come and see’.

Now Jesus has changed it to enter.

Nicodemus may now be able to see the Kingdom, indeed it is right in front of him. From the darkness, into the light.

But he can’t enter into this way of being because he is not born of water and spirit.

What is born of the flesh is flesh,
and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 

Flesh is the weakness and mortality of man.
Spirit is the principle of divine power and life operating among and within us.

This contrast between flesh and spirit is that of normal child, and a child of God. It is man as he is  and man as Jesus can make him by giving him the Spirit.

Natural life is because God gave his spirit to men.
Eternal life begins when God gives his Holy Spirit to men.

To God giving his Holy Spirit to us,
there must be an acceptance in faith and a new way of life on our behalf.
The gift of the Spirit is primary,
for it is the Spirit of truth that enables us to know and believe in Jesus revelation.

To enter the Kingdom of God, to have eternal life,
one must be born of the Holy Spirit.

Nicodemus said to him,
‘How can these things be?’

Nicodemus is a Pharisee, not only that, he is a leader.
He knows his Scriptures.
His whole life has been about learning the scriptures, the law, the prophets,
reading deeply, praying on their meaning.
He believes that they are the word of God.
He recognises that Jesus
a teacher who has come from God;
for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God

Yet, in all his knowledge and experience, he cannot work out what Jesus is saying. None of this makes any sense.
There is nothing in whole entire knowledge of the scriptures that this relates to.
There is nothing in his normal existence that this relates to.

From the darkness, he cannot see.
From the darkness, he cannot enter.

Jesus recognises Nicodemus’ struggle.

‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

He cannot understand these things because he has no reference at all for them to fit into.

He can’t understand because he remains in the darkness, not yet able to see that Jesus is the Son of God. He is unable to enter because he is not born of the Spirit.

A step from darkness to light is not an easy thing.
It requires a realisation that all that has come before doesn’t matter.
It requires all that we think we have been and done doesn’t matter.
Being born from above, or again

In Nicodemus’ case, all his learning and status count for nothing.
If anything, they hinder him in being able to see Jesus for who he is.

Again, it all comes down to identity.
If we hold onto old ideas of who we are, or who we were,
we are unable to see who Jesus really is,
and more importantly, what he requires of us.

All of us are here because we have been born from above.
We are here because we have been born of water and the Holy Spirit.
We are in the light.

It is to those who are in the dark that all our focus needs to be with.
It is to those who cannot see the Kingdom that we need to be like Christ.
It is to those who feel they cannot enter the Kingdom that we need to walk alongside.
They will need to believe our earthly things before they can believe our heavenly things.
If we get stuck on earthly things, we will have missed the point.

We will meet many Nicodemus, those who think they know everything, and that what we proclaim makes no sense at all.

They will say to us, ‘How can these things be?’

And like John tells us this morning, we can tell them:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

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