Sermon, Sunday September 18, 2016, St Petri
Story week 23, Jesus begins his Ministry
Isaiah 61:1-3, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-39a
3 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “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 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] 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.”[d]
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[e] 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]
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.
As he begins his ministry, you know that it is not about the rules. He breaks a few of them. Life is not in the complicated keeping of expectations and rules. Life is in his freedom and love. Love saves us not rules. Jesus confronts people with their own foolish reliance on themselves for living. He just forces response from people.
We hear today that Jesus is not here to merely inform us. He is here to completely transform us by his love. He is here to restore real families and communities. He is here to heal broken minds and bodies. He is here to find us and shape us into his likeness. He is here to resurrect dead sinners lost to God’s grace and bring us all back to God’s gracious love and acceptance.
That eccentric fiery man, John, embodied the promises of God. He is the completion of all the prophets of whom we have heard in this greatest story ever told; Jeremiah, Amos, Ezekiel, and especially Elijah. John is the last of them and yet the forerunner to the best of them. He is like the boxing ring announcer announcing the entry of the champ. He is like MCG announcer who gets everyone ready for the real game to begin. He is the man God sends to cross the ages – from the old covenant of love to the new super version.
The One who comes up out of that Jordan stream with thunderous words for all to hear resounds around the valley, “This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him”.
Ah. Finally the Lord is speaking again – after 400 years of silence! God is speaking and calling them all to listen again.
Some did. Plenty did not.
Whether you are a teacher looking for new perspective like Nicodemus, or a person with huge health issues looking for relief, like many, or a shonky money man just curious as to what he is saying, like Matthew, or a lawyer concerned to guard the people from false teaching or dangerous people, like the Pharisees, Jesus calls you to himself – he forces a response.
But many seem to constantly seek to avoid a response. We would rather stay in the rules. If we keep them we can congratulate ourselves and judge those who are not keeping up! We have this besetting problem of fearing and resisting God’s transformational word of love spoken by this Jesus.
We can avoid a response, in several ways.
We can settle for Jesus the guru to emulate. We can receive him only as a Ghandi or Nelson Mandela or some other courageous person who showed us a glimpse of what it is to be courageously human. But he does not settle here. Jesus is not a merely a guru who gives us a set of spiritual laws to follow.
We can settle for Jesus the wise moral teacher who provides us with key principals for living life well. But he does not allow us to reduce his words, blood, pain, love, death and rising again to be reduced to a set of principles to live by that we choose or deny.
We can settle for Jesus the man of reason who provides an approach to life, a philosophy, or a set of wise foundations upon which to build the life we choose. He is not even merely a giver of values that if we could all just adopt into our lives, would change the world.
No, you hear those accounts of life-changing challenge, disappointment, real conflict over his words and even threat of murder and you just know that Jesus is not some ‘theory of everything’ we put together to make sense of our experience.
We can settle for a Jesus as the powerful leader type who demands our all. Hard work, saving money, long hours, busy lives, so that we stay number one in the family, in the community and in the world in terms of wealth and prosperity – as if the marks of faith in him are only these kind of visible things. Surely in his tough words, his gentle comfort, his welcome of children, his protection of people shamed by the community we see that Jesus is not a nasty dictator that uses guilt, shame a fear to drive us into his will.
We can settle for Jesus the travelling surfer man who just wants us to live life freely as we do what we want to cut loose from the community with all its expectations and work, and free ourselves from people’s demands, sanctioning our never ending pleasure seeking and partying, free from all responsibility.
So, if he is not merely a guru to copy, a sage to seek advice from, a philosopher to understand, a doctor to physically heal, a power leader to fall into line with, the kind slave driver who calls us to give our lives up in business and serving until we drop, then who is he and what is he saying?
Ask Nicodemus, the teacher who knew he was dealing with something all-together outside his understanding.
Ask that woman form Samaria who felt the presence of God at the well that day and it changed her whole being. Ask that wild-man, John the Baptiser. Ask Satan high up on the temple roof overlooking all the kingdoms of the world.
Ask the have “have nots”, like Blind Bartimaeus, and the “haves”, like Matthew the tax collector, or a young woman Maria, miraculously with child and very confused husband to be!
Ask that shamed woman about to be stoned by angry self- righteous bearded men whom the other bearded man protected from shame and injury, even death. Hear him call her to live freely as he wrote whatever he wrote in the sand that day.
Ask the angels and demons; angels who sang his arrival into the world and demons who cried in horror as they were sent into the pigs and over the cliff.
Ask the young girl who was dead, rising from her death bed and her amazed family so overjoyed.
Ask a best mate, Lazarus who walked out of his smelly tomb of death.
Ask those who schemed and plotted his end with real hate and violent intent.
Ask Pilate who did not know what to do with man – he is innocent, wrongly condemned, loved by the marginalised, hated by the elite, but dangerous to my position.
Surely they will say this Jesus is not guru but Saviour of their very bodies- their very being as a person.
Surely they will tell us that he is “the Son of the living God”, as Peter did that day up north.
And then see their lives.
See Peter, simple fisherman not of many words now a man of powerful words of life used to found the holy gathering of Jesus’ church.
See Nicodemus taking down the body of the Saviour and placing it in Joseph’s tomb long after that night with the Saviour.
See the young Timothy, serving, pastoring, preaching Jesus promises to his community.
See Saul being totally transformed from a man of hate and fear to a man of fearless love and witness to Jesus whom he knows personally now.
And now hear him from people you may know now – John Obst, Bob Hanckel (Stella Rohrlach), who have stayed the course, trusted him for decades through thick and thin, and by his grace now enjoy the joy of rest in him beyond their graves.
Ask yourself – who is this man? Who is this God who has called me by my name and set me on his course to give my life to him as I love others.
He is still calling, serving, accepting and forgiving you – not just giving you some intellectual options or values to choose from.
He is giving you sustained transformation of your very being in the suffering and the joy he allows.
Friend, whoever you are and whatever it is for you to day, hear this;
Your life does not depend on your ability to fulfil holy expectations. The Holy one has exceeded all expectations for you.
It is his love that saved you.
Love is now the only law.
It is for love that you live, and in love that you love.
Chapter 23, jesus’ ministry begins
Timeless Truth: Jesus: The Messiah you’d never expect.
Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)
If God’s prophets were meant to be peculiar, John the Baptist did not disappoint. Eccentric is too mild a description for this wilderness dwelling preacher who wore odd clothes and lacked both a sense of tact and a balanced diet. His message, though, was right in step with a long line of prophetic predecessors. He called for Israel’s repentance and baptized the penitent in the Jordan River.
John was awestruck when Jesus came to be baptized by him. Then he watched in amazement as heaven opened wide and the Spirit of God came to rest on Jesus. John and those with him were astonished to hear the voice of the Father Himself broadcasting His divine approval. The community of God had gathered to bear witness to their incarnation. The Spirit then led Jesus to a lonely wilderness, where he spent the next 40 days in one-on-one combat with Satan, the enemy of God. He confronted Satan’s evil allurements and proved Himself obedient to the Father and triumphant over sin.
John the Baptist denied claims that he was Messiah, pointing to Jesus and announcing, “Look, the Lamb of God.” Andrew heard John’s message and rushed to tell his brother, Simon Peter, and others that Messiah had come. Jesus gathered His band of followers and began training them with marvelous words and miraculous ways. His first miracle took place when He went to a wedding in Cana with his mother, Mary, and his disciples. The wine ran out, so Mary turned to Jesus to remedy the embarrassing state of affairs. Jesus simply instructed the servants to fill six jars with water and serve the guests. When they did, the guests marveled that finest wine had been kept such a secret until now and Jesus’ disciples caught their earliest glimpse of the One who shared creative power with His Father.
The disciples became increasingly aware that Jesus was indeed their long-expected Messiah, but others were not so sure. A religious leader called Nicodemus had a clandestine encounter with Jesus to find some answers. Jesus’ simple reply was, “You must be ‘born again’….of the Spirit. 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.” Jesus had a similar conversation with a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water from a well. With her, he spoke of ‘living water,’ but the message was the same: accept His gift and be saved. When she mentioned the Messiah, Jesus confirmed His identity. She believed and shared the news with her entire village, as the second missionary of the new Messiah.
Jesus traveled the area, taught in the synagogues and healed the people. He ousted demons and cleansed socially exiled lepers. The crowds grew and so did His critics. On one occasion, four men dug through the roof of a house so they could bring their paralytic friend to Him. Before he healed him, Jesus forgave the man, while the religious teachers grew indignant over such claims. But Jesus validated His authority by commanding the paralytic to get up and walk. The Pharisees missed the miracle and were incensed that Jesus had violated tradition by healing on the Sabbath.
This Sabbath infringement, coupled with his absurd claim to be the Messiah Himself, on top of his questionable social circles, quickly turned the establishment against Him. And so the conspiracy to kill Jesus began. While many debated, questioned, and wondered about Jesus’ identity, one thing was certain: Jesus was controversial. Some saw hope, but others hated Him and wanted only to be rid of Him. John the Baptist had loved Him from the beginning but now, languishing in prison, he began to doubt as well, demonstrating that even the best of us have our faith tested under difficult circumstances. But throughout this chapter, His baptism, His triumph over temptation, His miracles, and His message confirm Him as the long expected One who confounds expectations, is drawn to the least and the lost, and whose message is indeed for all, from the graduate professor to the immoral woman to the leper – the Anointed One indeed.
Icebreaker Question: When did you first begin to understand the message of Jesus as your Savior and Lord? Who helped you understand?
- Identify the ways in which the God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit appear at Jesus’ baptism (p. 322). Look up Isaiah 11:1-2 and 42:1 and Psalm 2:1-7.
- What does Jesus’ example teach us about how to resist temptation (p. 322)? (See Ephesians 6:10-17 for further insight.)
- Upon what did the original disciples base their belief in Jesus (p. 324)?
- Nicodemus and the woman at the well both had conversations with Jesus (p. 326-329). Why do they represent such a contrast?
- How do the biblical Satan and other evil spirits compare to popular depictions of demons in films, television, literature, or art?
- Jesus was constantly interacting with different types of people: curious Jews, antagonistic Pharisees, tax collectors, and society’s castoffs. What can you learn about how to respond to different types of people from observing Jesus?
- The faithful friends of the paralytic carried him to Jesus (p. 330-331). If you are comfortable, share with your group a time in your own life that you had to totally depend of the faith of a Christian friend to get you through.
- Jesus clashed with the Pharisees who hoped to catch Him violating the Sabbath (p. 332). Doing work was punishable by death according to the Law (Exodus 31:14, Isaiah 56:1-2). Who is actually guilty of violating the Sabbath in this encounter?
- John the Baptist who had earlier proclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God,” was now languishing in prison where he began to wonder about this Jesus (p. 333-334). Look up Isaiah 35:5-6 and 61:1. Why did Jesus answer John the way He did?
- John has his moment of doubt. Can doubts and faith co-exist? Do our circumstances today affect our view of Jesus’ credibility, as it did with John?
In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights from their journal entries.
Chapter 24, no ordinary man
Journal your answers to these questions as you read through the chapter this week. You may wish to read one day and journal the next, or spread the questions over the whole week.
- Review the story of the soils (p. 335-336). Which best fits your faith walk?
- Who do the shepherd and the woman in the lost sheep and lost coin parables represent? What do they value (p. 337)? Compare what God values in these parables to what the Pharisees value (see Luke 11:42-43 and 16:14.) Has your heart aligned more with God’s or with the Pharisees’ in the past week?
- What does the Sermon on the Mount (p. 342, Matt. 6:25-34) teach you about worry and anxiety? In light of Jesus’ teaching, what should be your relationship to wealth and material possessions?
- Describe the Gerasene demoniac before and after his encounter with Jesus (p. 343-344). Compare this with Paul’s description of every believer in Ephesians 2:1-10. What can you learn from this man about gratitude?
- Review the healing of the woman with the bleeding disorder (p. 344-345) and then look up Leviticus 15:25-30. What do you suppose her life had been like for the past twelve years? How do you treat social outcasts and the infirm?
- Jesus said to the crowd who followed Him, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (p. 349). Have you ever looked to Jesus to take care of your Lower Story needs? What is the right balance between Lower Story needs and an Upper Story perspective?
- Jesus’ miracles were not random; they showed his power over different forces in this world. What forces did He conquer? What areas of your life do you need to show more trust?
- If you could go back in time and be an eyewitness to the Sermon on the Mount or experience any one of His miracles firsthand which would you choose and why?