From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
There's two more weeks to Palm Sunday, it's St Patrick's Day Sunday - St Patrick's Day is March 17th.
"...I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God...for the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline..." 2 Timothy 1:6a,7
DOING THINGS FOR GOD - SEEING BEYOND GETTING WHAT WE WANT
"...when Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him..." Numbers 24:2
A SONG SUNG BY GOD'S PEOPLE RETURNING FROM BONDAGE IN BABYLON
"...Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good...His love endures forever..." Psalm 107:1
DEAD IN TRANSGRESSIONS, MADE ALIVE WITH CHRIST
"...God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions---it is by grace you have been saved..." Ephesians 2:1-10
FROM ONE OF THE GREATEST DIALOGUES IN THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE
"...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..." John 3:16
Good morning, God! All praise to you, in these challenging days! We give you hearty thanks for life!
Definitely, Lord, we are in the Season of Lent, meditatively, seeking your will and doing things your way, like a seasoned runner under direction of a coach, to discover the prize for being a triumphant spiritual athlete. We run to win a spiritual trophy. We have our good days. We have our bad days. It's all in the game. For us, it's one day at a time, and we must not waste it. It's all so much a part of fullness in life. We are ready to "take this day on" in Jesus.
We train ourselves with a divine confidence we have within, given by your Word. We are not afraid of failure in our lives. We are safe in your undeserved grace. There is no failure in our Lord Jesus. We are led by your Holy Spirit. Thus, we commend ourselves into your tender, encouraging Call to be the best we can be.
Be with those who have suffered because of the pandemic. Be with our troops overseas and at home. Be with those who have suffered in their businesses and at their work. Allow us to be joyful day by day, but bring us through this time of trial and great loss to millions and billions around the world. In Jesus' name, Amen!
The Gospel Lesson for today from John 3:1-21 is not only "Heart of the Gospel" material from the New Testament, but it's also a world-class masterpiece of literature. It provides the same kind of direction the reader needs in order to grab onto and hold on tight to the fundamental essence of true spirituality. It involves two great Spiritual masters of the first century of the common era. One is the greatest of the religious teachers (rabbis) of his day, the Jew with the Greek name (which alerts us to something), Nicodemus ... and the young, impressive rabbi from Galilee, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (in the original, Joshua Ben Josef).
The great Nicodemus, the renowned teacher of all Israel, (we learn from the text) is keenly interested in meeting this "Phenomenon" from the North, now in Judea. The text says that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel. He was for his time, "the renowned one". He was the scholar of his day in Israel...the one everybody came to. Nicodemus didn't come to people. People came to Nicodemus.
BUT...it was Nicodemus who came to Jesus...at night...Why?
He didn't want to be recognized as "going out of his way" to meet this Jesus of Nazareth. Pharisees and Jesus were always seemingly at odds with each other, it is true, but wouldn't people be asking, why is this great man purposely stepping out to talk to the Nazarene? It was because Nicodemus sensed something deep within. Was it the healing
of the sick and the insane? Nicodemus was embarrassed because he was supposed to have "all the answers", but most likely, thought that Jesus had something to teach him. Therefore, Nicodemus came at night.
The text makes it clear that Nicodemus was impressed with the works Jesus was known to perform. He was convinced that Jesus was doing what He was doing with power from on high.
Jesus flips the conversation. I can imagine him looking directly at Nicodemus in such a way of dispensing with useless, needless conversation. I hope Jesus never looks upon me the way he looked upon Nicodemus.
"Very truly I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."
Okay. We've arrived at a breaking-point in the conversation. From here on in, either Nicodemus will disengage, or he will give heed to something Jesus has said...that...will...indeed...transform his life.
Nicodemus pauses ever so briefly and indicates his interest in continuing the conversation..."How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born?"
Nicodemus is "fishing". This was the typical conversational retort from a Pharisee...
Jesus lays things on the line. Both men are intently focused upon dialogue. I sense that Nicodemus will remember Jesus' words the rest of his life...
"...Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit..." This spiritual thing is not (bottom-line) about robes and stoles, candles and wooden altars, food-fellowship after worship,or how well the choir sings, or what kind of hat the pastor has purchased...
It's about dying to self. Letting go of living to satisfy "me". It's about opening up my human heart and letting God in. (God is a gentleman...He would never force His way into our lives.) It's about finding myself in my compassion for
others...It's about the assurance that God is going to be worthy of the trust we place in Him...It's about the knowledge that there is no failure in the Lord...
It's about dying...and being raised up by the power of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It's about being freed from guilt, and shame, and regret...by the power of God in Christ to forgive us, to renew our spirits, and to restore the human spirit so that it no longer wages war on itself...
Other points of our interest and focus this morning are these masterpieces:
THE NATURE OF BIBLICAL SPIRITUALITY WILL BE POWERFULLY PERSONAL AND DIRECT
"...I will put my law in their minds...and write it upon their hearts...I will be their God...and they will be my people...no longer will their teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord', because they will all know me, from the least of them...to the greatest...declares the Lord" Jeremiah 31:34
WE WILL SEE THE WISDOM OF DYING TO SELF AND BEING REBORN
"...I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me..."Galatians 2:20
FINALLY HABAKKUK'S FEELINGS ARE NOT DOMINATED BY EVENTS AROUND HIM, BUT RATHER,
IN GOD'S ABILITY BY FAITH TO GIVE HIM STRENGTH AND ASSURE HIM THAT ALL IS AND WILL BE WELL
"...I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound...decay crept into my bones...and my legs trembled...though the fig tree does not bud and though there are no grapes on the vines...though the olive crop fails...and the fields produce no food...though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls...yet, I will rejoice in the Lord...I will be joyful in God, my Savior!" Habakkuk 3:16a, 17
The story of the great life-changing conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus is...
No matter how intelligent and well-educated you are, you must come to Jesus with an open mind & heart so He can teach you the truth about God.
There is much more to the dialogue, but for today, we'll leave things at this.
Let me tell you something. For years, after your confirmation of faith when you were a teenager (way back when) and the years following, I've sensed there was a need for you to progress in your spiritual life...being the judgmental person may be, I sensed you were into religion, but you hadn't progressed from religion into faith. You want to kill yourself and die, but you want to do it, your way. I sense that God has allowed your present depression and thoughts of suicide in order bring it to your attention to do things His way. For that reason, I am so glad you decided to trust me enough to talk it over.
God wants you to die, but He wants you to do it His way, not your way. You need to die to yourself, and to your selfishness, and to your addictions. As Jesus said, and I know you remember the third chapter of John's Gospel, you need to die to yourself and be born again." There was a pause. There was a response on the other end of the line..."I understand. I am willing to do that." I responded with asking if he'd be willing to pray...especially about dying to self and accepting his new life in Christ. He was willing. We prayed together. I could feel the Holy Spirit come upon him and me. Since that time things have gone well for him.
In the Season of Lent with just two weeks remaining prior to Palm Sunday, Passion Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, we sometimes keep the Spiritual impact of this incredible week for granted. We go through the motions. We may even have a Spiritual lift, but miss out on the message of "new life" in Christ Jesus. We need to be born again. We need to die to self. We need to be raised up, with each new morning, to meet the new day with the full impact of the Holy Spirit upon us. Maybe this year you've been feeling down in the dumps. Maybe you've wondered if God even exists in our twenty-first century pandemic world.
Maybe, like my father-in-law, you have asked the question, "...Is that all there is to religion?..." He left his religious tradition to follow Christ Jesus. You know, religion is a good thing, but it really must transition into Christ-centered, selfless, faith in Him. Gracious God, grant your abundant blessing on my friends who have chosen to place their confidence in today's message and allow them to surrender and receive Christ.
Until next week, may the blessing of Almighty God, strengthen and uplift you...
"Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord!" Ephesians 5:19b
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