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26th August 2001
THE CRUCIAL COMMITMENT.
The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jenson, last weekend told a packed Homebush sports stadium, that Australia might be a multicultural nation, but there is still only one God. He urged Sydney's Christians to "spread the Word of the Lord" by turning their daily lives into opportunities for evangelising whether they be at work or at the hairdressers or wherever. This brought an immediate response from the unimpressed.
Rabbi Raymond Apple called his comments "religious harassment." The Rabbi said that in an era where "we respect religious difference and accept we are all entitled to our own conscience and convictions." The spokesperson for the Buddhist Council of NSW said, "There is no way any Buddhist could be swayed by the superstitious ravings of a fundamentalist Christian." The Islamic Council said that Christians should not assume they had the right to proselytise others here or in Islamic countries where they have prohibitive laws. We are all too familiar with imprisoned Christians in Afghanistan, in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Indonesia and a dozen other Islamic countries. The editorial writer in "The Sydney Morning Herald" in his usual humanist viewpoint, opined, "In Australia, one's religion is largely a private matter. It should remain that way." It always sounds nice for everyone to have his or her private religion and for noone to discuss it. How immature that is for intelligent people to remain silent on what is for many people, the most determinative factor in the way they live. To respect other beliefs - YES - but to remain silent? CHILDISH! Jesus met our editorial writer late one night. He came in the guise of a religious leader of the Jews.
1. NICODEMUS, THE NIGHT VISITOR.
Nicodemus is introduced, not with pride as a leader coming to talk with Jesus, but as a spiritually ignorant man. "Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night." 3:1-2. The spiritual leaders of Jerusalem could not think of a spiritual relationship with God outside of the Temple. They rejected anyone who questioned the role of the Temple. Their vindictiveness was such that "Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for He knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man." John 2:24-5 Jesus said unless a person was spiritually born by God, they were not right with God even though they were religious.
Jesus stressed the need of spiritual rebirth. Nicodemus was wealthy but to God he was spiritually poor. Nicodemus was educated but to God he was spiritually ignorant. Nicodemus was the ruler of the Jews but to God he was a nobody. Nicodemus was a religious leader but to God he was lost. John 3:1, 4, 9; 7:50; 19:39 He was a member of the Sanhedrin and wealthy, 19:39 Jesus calls him the preeminent teacher of Israel. 3:10 Nicodemus first appears John 3:1-12 when he visits Jesus and hears about being born-again. Later, about six months before the crucifixion the "chief Priests and Pharisees" seek to have Jesus arrested 7:32-52 but Nicodemus protests. Nicodemus argues that the law required them to give Jesus a fair hearing. 7:51-2 He is accused, in response, of having become a follower of Jesus. Nicodemus last appears after Jesus' death, bringing a large quantity of spices to anoint Jesus' body. 19:38-42
2. SECRET DISCIPLESHIP.
He admired Jesus but the problem was that he kept his discipleship secret. Jesus did not ask for admiration but commitment! Secret discipleship is not a complementary designation in John's Gospel. 12:42,43 The extravagance his gifts at Jesus' burial may have been an act of respect, but it was also a failure to understand the Cross. Nicodemus remained on the fence throughout, never making the crucial commitment to Jesus.
Jesus went straight to the point of Nicodemus' need: "I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again." v3. Nicodemus thought that matter was beneath him. He was a well known and respected leader: "the" leader is the phrase used. Yet Jesus used the phrase that was used to introduce an important teaching: "I am telling you the truth" and the truth was that spiritual life begins with spiritual birth. "No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again." Here is the utterly radical nature of Christianity. You are not born a Christian. You cannot grow up a Christian. You cannot be educated a Christian. You cannot reform to be a Christian. There is no evolution from the physical to the spiritual. You cannot become a Christian by joining a church or by being baptised or by making a vow or by paying a fee. "No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again". Only spiritual rebirth enables a person to see Jesus as God's Son. Jesus called this theologian to believe He is God's Son. There is no difference today. All the other answers given by those who see Jesus only as a Jewish rabbi, a moral teacher, an ideal figure, a religious genius, a revolutionary, or a deluded fanatic, are wrong.
The essence of Christian faith is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This is the uniqueness of Jesus. Christians believe not merely that God acted in Jesus. This would mean Jesus is different from us only in the degree of His holiness. But He is different in kind. Jesus Christ is more than the finest man of God; He is the Son of God. There is more than divine action in Him. There is divine being. That is what the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald does not understand! Alone of all beliefs, whether religious, political or philosophical, Christianity is based upon historical fact. Other religions centre on the ethical and religious teachings of the founders, but Christianity is built on the resurrection of Jesus. Islam is based on teachings of Muhammad. Buddhism on teachings of Buddha. Confucianism on teachings of Confucius. Marxism is based on teachings of Karl Marx. Not one is based on historical facts, but on the teachings and theories of men. Christianity, however, is founded, not on what Jesus taught but on Who Jesus is and what Jesus did. We learn from Christ's teachings. But His significance lies in the Cross and in His resurrection from the tomb.
Christianity alone is based on historical, objective facts. It is based upon Jesus being the Son of God and God proving it by raising Jesus from the dead. That belief is essential to being a Christian. That belief is not something that can be kept hidden. It is to be proclaimed! That is what the word "Gospel" means - proclaiming that Jesus Christ is God's Son and urging all people to believe! That is not an optional extra for a Christian. It is the heart of being one. There can be no secret discipleship. There must be a public commitment to the way of Jesus.
3. THE NECESSITY OF RE-BIRTH.
New people are welcome in God's kingdom. People are spiritually born, not as a result of human effort, but as a result of God's intervention into our otherwise spiritual sterile state. So many people are spiritually sterile. They cannot do anything about their situation by their own effort. Their education does not help for it is irrelevant to their spiritual lives. Well educated people can be spiritual illiterates. Frantic effort does not help because our works are inconsequential. Social standing makes no difference for status is immaterial. Spiritually sterile people are spiritually fruitless, spiritually ignorant, and spiritually frustrated. They don't even know what they don't know!
Jesus said: "You must all be born again" 3:3 A father is responsible for fertilizing an ova to produce a baby. So our heavenly Father is needed to produce spiritual life. Spiritual birth comes not from the efforts of man, but by the intervention of God. "Born again" really means "born from above". When President Jimmy Carter was elected as the U.S.A. President, it was amusing to see spiritually ignorant newspaper journalists, guided by equally ignorant newspaper editors, trying to explain to their readers what the President meant by saying he was "born again". They knew little of the transformed life of believers. Spiritual regeneration - a transformation of a person's life, attitudes, will, directions, relationships - is the result of being "born again"! This being "born again" is not a option that we can chose. It is not a requirement for only bad people. Neither is it available only for the poor and ignorant. Jesus said "No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again." It is the result of a crucial commitment!
Jesus is clearly stating that the only way into God's kingdom is through the action of God in making us not only His physical creatures, but by rebirth His spiritual children. This radical change to our natures can only be described as a second birth and the mover behind our spiritual regeneration is the Holy Spirit. "Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit." v8 The basic requirement for being "born again", is our committed faith, or belief, in Jesus as God's Son.
But this was the one thing Nicodemus could not do completely: believe in Jesus. He admired Jesus as a great teacher sent from God, as many modern people do. He believed Jesus was a miracle worker as many do today. But like many moderns, he would not allow himself to believe in Jesus as God's Son and Messiah. So Jesus says to him: ""You are Israel's teacher and do you not understand these things?I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?" v10-12 That is the key requirement for spiritual life, for new birth, for entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet Jesus must say to many moderns today like Nicodemus: "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?"
Jesus sums up the focus of belief: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life." v14-15 We need to believe that Jesus is God's Son who came from heaven to die for us on the Cross to forgive our sin. Everyone who believes in Him is born again and enters His Kingdom. John said: "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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. v16-17
There is no clearer statement of the Gospel. That is the belief that alone enables you to be born again and so enter the Kingdom of God as a child of God forever. Without that belief, regardless of your status, education, or religious practises, you are lost! With that belief you will be born again and enter the Kingdom of God. Everybody who is born once will die twice. Those who are born twice will die only once. Those who are born physically will die twice - physically and spiritually. But those who are born twice - physically and reborn spiritually, will only die physically. Spiritually they will live forever!
There are many people who think that all belief is the same, that all religions are equal, that all roads lead to God and that all founders of religion are true. That is logically not possible. Christianity invites you to believe in Jesus Christ, as God's one and only Son who died for you to save you from your sins. Belief in Him is the crucial commitment. That makes you radically different. You will be born again and enter His Kingdom. Born again!
Bultmann, R. 1971. The Gospel of John. Trans G. R. Beasley-Murray, R. W. N. Hoare, and J. K. Riches. Philadelphia.
Cotterell, F. P. 1985.
The Nicodemus Conversation: A Fresh Appraisal. ExpTim 96: 237-42. King, J. S. 1986.
Nicodemus and the Pharisees. ExpTim 98: 45. Schnackenburg, R. 1980-82. The Gospel According to St. John. 3 vols. New York.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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