Fairhaven Sermon 3-5-2023

Transcript

He’s doing the same way as well.

Even in his hesitation, he’s still doing a really incredible work.

It’s striking whenever he shows up to meet Jesus in the middle of the night, how he introduces

himself.

He says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who comes from God.”

“We.”

There’s this strong implication that though Nicodemus comes alone, he is not alone in

what he’s thinking and feeling. This isn’t something he’s just realized on

his own. We know. Other leaders, other Pharisees must know too that Jesus is

someone special, that Jesus is coming from God. And yet pretty much every time

we meet them in the Gospels, we find the Pharisees pushing back on Jesus,

challenging him, oftentimes trying to catch him in some kind of trap, whether

that’s legal or theological. They’re always trying to get him. It’s as if

If they’d rather be secure and in control, then risk the truth coming in.

They’d rather keep hold of the familiar rather than let go and see what God might be doing.

Again, sound familiar at all?

So even if Nicodemus is coming to Jesus at night, fearful and under cover of darkness,

it’s hard to hold that against him.

At least he has come, right?

others have chosen to stay home, they know who he is and he’d have chosen to stay home,

or even worse, actively work against Jesus and his ministry.

That Nicodemus is coming at all is a big deal.

As I read through this Gospel reading a few times, I found myself really puzzled by the

way John chooses to continue with the story after Nicodemus introduces himself, with what

is I’m sure a very intentional set of words if you listen closely.

I checked a couple versions, it’s always like this.

Jesus answered.

I assure you, unless someone is born anew,

it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.

Jesus answered, John writes.

You know, as if Jesus is responding to a question

that Nicodemus asked.

You answer a question, right?

You don’t usually answer an introduction.

But Jesus answers.

And it’s as if he’s responding to a question

Nicodemus has asked, when Nicodemus has not asked a question at all, but affirmed

that he knows that Jesus was sent from God. Maybe Jesus is responding to a

question that Nicodemus doesn’t even know he’s asking, and he offers his first

bit of teaching. Unless someone is born anew, it’s impossible to see God’s

kingdom. And Nicodemus bites, you know, he’s there looking for answers, he bites

on this one and he’s really hooked. This man is a Pharisee. He’s a scholar, a

teacher of the law of the Jewish faith and here he finally has Jesus face to

face to talk to. And so he wants to come away with an understanding. He wants to

know what’s going on. He really wants to grasp what Jesus is about. And so he asks

questions and he asks first a very logical question, which you feel like

doing a lot whenever Jesus is speaking in metaphors. What are you talking about?

How can someone be born for the second time?

Enough with the metaphors, enough with the cryptic sayings,

please just tell us what you mean.

And that’s what Nicodemus is asking.

Jesus naturally does not just tell us what he means

because he very rarely does, especially in John’s gospel.

Instead, he digs in deeper, he broadens what he said,

he goes into more detail,

even as that doesn’t necessarily make it easier

to understand.

He continues on, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not

possible to enter God’s kingdom.

Whoever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Don’t be surprised that I’m saying to you, ‘You must be born anew.'”

And Nicodemus obviously is still confused because not a single question has been answered

here.

And he asks again, “How are these things possible?”

just totally confounded, he’s getting frustrated. He knows that Jesus has come

from God. He believes in the miracles that he has seen. He can’t not believe in

them. He believes in Jesus. He just desperately wants to get it, too. He wants

to understand the guy he’s taken and put his faith in. And so Jesus’s response

here kind of stings. He says, “You’re a teacher of Israel and yet you don’t know

these things?” He sounds harsh here, I think. You know, like he’s purposely being

difficult to someone who’s genuinely seeking him, who’s genuinely looking for

answers, who wants to get it. But I’d suggest that maybe, after reading this

again a couple times too, maybe he’s playing with Nicodemus in a way. He’s inviting him

further to think for himself, to really explore what’s going on in that moment.

We might take Jesus just a little bit too seriously sometimes. This happens in the Bible

often. You know, it’s like whenever you get a text message or email and you can’t really tell

the tone that someone intends by it. I think we might be seeing that with Jesus here. And so you

So you can almost imagine these words being said, you know, through a smile with some

sarcasm.

You’re a teacher of Israel and yet you don’t know these things?

It’s as if he’s acknowledging, you know, yes, of course Jesus knows he’s saying something

new and different and challenging.

And so he says a bit more.

He ties in the Exodus story, you know, whenever he says that he must be lifted up as the serpent

and the wilderness must have been lifted up.

He’s tying into an Exodus story.

The Israelites had all gotten bitten

by poisonous snakes in the Sinai,

and God sends healing in the form of a bronze serpent

that whenever Moses lifts it up

and the people look at it, they’re healed.

And he compares that to what will happen

whenever the world sees him lifted up on the cross.

And his message to Nicodemus culminates in a message

that many have used to sum up the entire gospel.

John 3, 16, of course.

God so loved the world that he gave his only son,

so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish,

but will have eternal life.

And then further, he goes a little bit further,

he says, God didn’t send his son into the world

to judge the world,

but that the world might be saved through him.

As if he’s emphasizing the purpose of this conversation

with Nicodemus is not to be a burden on him,

It’s not to judge him, it’s not to be a negative thing,

but this is opening a door.

In all that Jesus is saying to Nicodemus,

he’s offering this deep hope for renewal,

for transformation, that the whole world might be saved.

That’s what he’s talking to Nicodemus about.

And apparently his strategy with Nicodemus works,

this sort of confusing, playful, baffling invitation

propels Nicodemus on his new journey in faith.

Nicodemus, I think we can be sure, remains extremely confused.

You know, we don’t see in the end of this chapter in John, Nicodemus is like, “Oh, okay.”

And then he goes and does it.

That doesn’t happen.

He still has no idea what specifically to believe.

He just knows that he believes in Jesus.

And so he picks up what Jesus has to say to him.

He cherishes it.

He wrestles with it.

Nicodemus disappears out of sight for a few chapters.

And we don’t see him until chapter seven.

And in the meantime, he’s quietly cultivating the seed

that Jesus plants within him.

And he shows up again, just briefly in chapter seven,

defending Jesus before his fellow Jewish leaders

in the Sanhedrin.

They want to persecute Jesus.

They want to try him as a heretic, essentially.

But he demands that Jesus be treated fairly under the law.

Nicodemus stands up before the Jewish authorities

and says, “This man should be treated fairly.”

He disappears again for a few more chapters.

And he resurfaces for the final time in John’s gospel

in chapter 19 after the crucifixion.

Jesus has been taken down from the cross,

and Nicodemus is there,

one of two people with Joseph of Arimathea.

They’re there to receive and embalm Jesus’ crucified body.

And Nicodemus brings 100 pounds of priceless incense

to lay with him in the tomb.

That was not a normal amount of gifts

for a body to be buried with.

Nicodemus comes not just to take Jesus’ body

and quietly put it away,

but to give him a royal burial.

And so Nicodemus’ faith that he once expressed

under cover of darkness, quietly,

only for himself to know about,

has become a witness visible to the whole world around him.

It’s more dangerous than it’s ever been,

definitely more dangerous than it is

here at the beginning of John, and he claims it.

He really becomes a public, faithful witness in Jesus.

And who knows if he ever really ends up understanding

what Jesus meant that night,

but he certainly believes in him.

Belief is not about understanding

or affirming the right things necessarily.

Believing in Jesus doesn’t mean we have to know

exactly what Jesus means whenever he says,

“You must be born again,”

or “You must be born by water and the Spirit,”

or any of these things that Jesus says in the Gospels.

That helps, but belief is fundamentally about doing,

and in his doing we see that Nicodemus has been born again into a new life

that he couldn’t have otherwise imagined. And in hindsight I think we can conclude

that the process of renewal that Jesus is describing in their nighttime meeting

has already begun in Nicodemus whenever he’s talking to him. And yes Jesus is

describing the great mystery of being born again to him, but in doing so he’s

holding up a mirror to Nicodemus so Nicodemus can understand what he feels

already going on inside him. Spiritual transformation, this rebirth that he

promises, is not a future event for Nicodemus to aspire to. It’s happening as

they speak. Jesus talks about the Spirit blowing where it wishes like the wind,

And it is right there, it already is, including in such a way that it brought

Nicodemus to Jesus’ door that night. The Spirit is already blowing in Nicodemus’

life. And you’ll notice, as I mentioned earlier, from the very beginning of their

encounter, Jesus isn’t answering a question Nicodemus asked, but the

statement of faith that he already brings. And maybe that’s why Jesus

answered. He’s responding to Nicodemus’

bold leap of faith. Nicodemus has

already made the leap. And I wonder,

whenever they talk that night, has

Nicodemus already been born again?

I wonder if we’re seeing him, you know,

like a newborn deer, knees wobbling under

his weight. He’s trying to walk in faith

and he’s slowly strengthening. He’s not

not there yet but he’s ready to take his first step soon. Are we seeing Nicodemus

here born again as an infant in the Spirit wobbling out into the world? These

are his first steps. He’s already defying the cowardice, the reluctance of his

flesh. He’s already beginning to live by the bold movement of the Spirit. He’s

taken the first steps. You know being born is obviously not something we’re

able to do to ourselves. We have zero control over being born. It happens to us.

You know, it’s a miracle that every single person in the world experiences

in their life. And maybe we should be thinking about being born again in the

same way. This is not something that Nicodemus chose. He did not choose to be

born again because he rationally chose Jesus. Because he understands the gospel

promise and chooses that this is what I’m going to devote my life to. That’s

That’s not how it happens here.

Instead he’s cooperating with this mysterious push that God lays on him towards a new life.

This by the way is a major reason I think baptizing babies is the right thing to do.

It’s controversial sometimes, but in the Methodist Church we baptize babies because none of us

really chooses God.

It’s not something we do unilaterally.

And so we don’t have to wait for a child to do it themselves.

we respond to God’s movement in our lives. God’s already chosen and called us

and we respond to that like contractions pushing us into the new birth. And if

we’re honest, and I think we should be about this, none of us is here, none of us

is a believer in Jesus because we made some calculated, rational choice that

Christianity is the best way of life for us. That’s not how faith works. It is by

grace of God alone that we’re able to start to overcome our inner obstacles

and draw near to Jesus in faith. The Spirit blows where it wishes, and those

who are born again by water in the Spirit. And we, like Nicodemus, have

chosen to quit resisting that wind at least a little bit, right? You are here,

you are hearing the Word of God, and hopefully we find that one day it

it carries us away completely.

And that is what we see in Nicodemus.

He’s born again. He lays aside his objections, his hesitation, his uncertainty, his fear,

and chooses to believe in Jesus, wherever that takes him.

The blowing of the spirit ends up in the end taking him to Jesus’ tomb,

and we can be sure that it takes him to see him resurrected three days later.

The man who once whispered to Jesus in the darkness becomes a witness, a friend of Jesus that everybody knows,

careless of what it might cost him because it’s worth everything.

And this is the invitation that we are given to. How many of us

live right now like early Nicodemus? You’re keeping in the shadows,

uncertain,

scared to see where God really wants to take us.

Even if we don’t understand the details,

and Nicodemus doesn’t,

that’s really not altogether important.

Jesus is offering us new life in him.

And so we’re given the chance

to let the wind of the Spirit carry us

to places we can’t imagine on our own.

May we accept the wind that blows

and be born anew in Jesus.

In the name of the Father, and the Son,

and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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