Lent 4 Made Again – 10 March 2024

John 3:14-21

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

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

Often, I get sick of feeling a bit old. The body does not do what it used to do so easily. But more importantly, the love, forgiveness, joy, zest and vision for living are sometimes in short supply.

I still want to be a ‘better man’. I want to be a better friend, pastor, husband, colleague and leader. But like you I live with that little voice inside telling me that I am failing at some or all of these on any given day.

I find there is always a million things that seem to loom too large for anything to really change for the better, change the view, change me.

So, I live between two ways – the way of resignation: give up on being better, changing, being transformed to new things and curve in on myself and just follow my own nose.

Or the way of trying harder: strive on trying to be at my best, being seen to be the best, the wisest … But this also does not lead anywhere good. I end up either angry at myself, God or other people or ‘out of puff’ as I resign to any possibility of real change for the better.

Resonating with you?

I wonder whether Nicodemus knew the cycle and sensed a break in the cycle in this Rabbi Jesus? Is that why he is there at night with his questions of Jesus?

Nicodemus has spent his whole life trying to be a ‘better man’; to be God’s better man; God’s leader in his community trying to help people improve in the holy things of God.

Seems to me that Nicodemus even doing this shows that he is already on a journey to somewhere new. Normally he is the one who is asked about being holy and living right. He does not do the asking, just the answering! He already knows how to be holy and live right before God  ,,, Keep the Law of God perfectly!

But, he is here now. And doesn’t he get confronted and confused!

‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’

3 …‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’

4 ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’

5 …‘ I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6…. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” 8 The 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?

So much for what Nicodemus has invested his life in so far!

Ever been in a moment when you are a bit undone like Nicodemus?

You know lots of things about a thing/trade, business, education, study, the game, only to be told that there is way more than you currently know about it, and by some person who seems to have some integrity and understanding in your area, but he says you have got is mostly wrong!

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ we say. Nicodemus, the older dog, really struggles.

Luther says that Nicodemus is like a person scared of heights hiking through the high mountains being asked by the group leader to cross that swing bridge hundreds of metres above the raging river. He cannot follow without help. He can’t get over this ‘bridge too far’ to behold the grand new sight he would see if he was able to get across. Luther puts it this way.

‘… Nicodemus could not understand how he was to become a new man. He assumes that he is to be born anew of his mother. He cannot understand that he must give his reason a vacation and accept faith.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 22 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 317.

When is the last time you put your reason, your feelings, your vision, your need on holiday and accepted faith in this teacher?

When it comes to living life well in the face of all the evil at work around us, all the struggle to trust within and the pain and suffering we experience, we are right there with Nicodemus. We have our questions. We are afraid to show anyone we have them, but we know we need to know.

And just our intellect or feeling or logic or world-view won’t help us know. Jesus is pushing this man who has all of these gifts further – into the territory of trust.

To get across that fearful swinging bridge we would normally need a blindfold, be tied on with a rope … Jesus is saying, “Forget the blindfold. Forget the tied-on rope. Don’t even try and feel your way by hand or foot. Don’t try and sense anything else than the wind – just follow my voice. That is how you will see the new vista up ahead”.

Jesus likens trust as that strange snake on the pole in the camp of the wandering Israel. God inflicts some discipline on his doubting, complaining untrusting people in the form of poisonous snake plague, but then, because of Moses’ plea, allows healing and life to return to the community. All they have to do when bitten is to look from wherever they are at the large bronze snake and God’s new promised life will continue to its right end.

That’s me, says Jesus. Look to me. Listen to my words and you will live full and free.

But how can I trust like this?

There is a list …

His voice is love.

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. 

His voice is his love. In love he gets you through and makes you new. Jesus says he is his Father’s love with you – sacrificial, self-giving acceptance and affection for you:

The suffering, the struggle, the guilt that goes with them are not the end of you. They can be transformed by this love. I Nicodemus getting this? Are you?

The voice is not speaking to lead you up the garden path.

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 

These words of this Saviour are intended to guide you to that new scene over this wildly swinging bridge called ‘the promised life’; a life that is lived free of condemnation and shame; a life given, life forged by the One who will go on to walk through that suffering road through a deadly cross into deadly death and rise from it.

18 Whoever believes in him [the Son] is not condemned, … [by God].

Nicodemus has spent his life weighing up who is acceptable to God and who is not. He is right as are the people who do right, think right, dress right, understand right. They stave off condemnation and shame by being very, very good. Those who live wrong, look wrong, believe wrong are not accepted by God can’t.

Nicodemus is confronted with Jesus’ gospel truth that being right or wrong, good or bad morally, is not the deciding factor in living in the promised life. Jesus’ goodness is. And his goodness in his voice, his Word, his Spirit leading you through. He speaks again to you now.

You can feeling as old as the hills or a fresh as a daisy. You can think your a pretty good person or lament that you are not at all that good. You can feel like your body is falling apart and that your love, forgiveness, joy, zest and vision for living are in very short supply.

There is a bigger and stronger and solid and true voice of love still making you a ‘better man’, a ‘better woman’ who does not ask you work the changes to get over the bridge yourself. He knows you will fall. He simple says,

God has loved the world by the giving of himself into dark trouble and death, that whoever trusts his voice shall not fall over the edge but make it to that promised life because God did not send Me to push you over, but get you across as you trust me.  

John does know what he is talking about. He saw that Messiah crucified and then resurrected and ascended to rule, and then in AD70, in his lifetime most probably saw or at least heard about the raising of the Jerusalem temple to the ground by an angry Roman Caesar Nero by the hand of his top general Vespasian in response to those annoying Jewish revolutionaries.

If we need a building in which to gather, we can have one. The Lord seems to allow this. We can enjoy it, look after it, change it any way we want because it could be here today and gone tomorrow and we would be none the worse for it because it is not the temple, not the dwelling place of the Lord. Jesus is – his living word is, his grace to forgive me is, his gift in my baptism is, his holy meal of life and love I share with you is; the love he gives to share between us is.

And with him we are the dwelling place of God in this town

“ … the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 

Friend, no need for resignation or ever harder working to make it.

The judge’s verdict for you today.

19  … light has come into the world … 21 … whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

 

Words on this from Luther to end:

These are living words which Christ addresses to us, to you and to me, when He says that he who accepts the Son shall be saved and that death, devil, and hell shall be disposed of for him. These words comfort us when we are frightened and troubled ……. They extinguish the flaming darts of the devil (Eph. 6:16). They assure us that we retain the glory that God’s Son is our Gift and our Treasure.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 22 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 369–370.

 

LATEST BULLETIN

WORSHIP SMALL

PASTOR’S SERMONS

WORSHIP TIMES

Sunday 8:45am
10:30am
Wednesday
(1st + 3rd of Month)
10:00am