When we read a biblical text it is helpful to keep three things in mind.
The first is to find the Gospel or the Good News that rises from the reading.
Find what is life-giving in the text.
“In this Bible reading where do I find God’s grace and love?”
Secondly ask: What stands out for me? What speaks to me?
Then ask this question… from this Bible reading where is God convicting me of my need for God and for God’s grace?
How is this scripture passage revealing to me the ways that I need to change?
This is the application part where we take a hard look at ourselves and how we are living.
Then, by God’s grace and help, we put God’s Word into practice in our lives.
We let it sink in so that the Word changes us.
On this day we hear from the Bible a very important teaching on being born again with water and with the Spirit.
Now before I go any further with my sermon let’s not lose the irony here in Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus is speaking to a respected religious leader in Nicodemus.
And Nicodemus does not understand what Jesus is saying.
In response to Jesus telling him that he must be born from above he replies with a silly answer.
He asks Jesus about being born again from one’s mother.
Either Nicodemus really does not know what Jesus is speaking about, which is hard to believe because remember he is a respected, educated, religious teacher, or… just maybe he knows exactly what Jesus is saying but he does not what to admit it.
He is not ready to be changed by Jesus.
It is similar to when someone tells you to do something you might now want to do and so you reply with a sarcastic response.
I wonder if that is what Nicodemus is doing here because he is not ready to do what Jesus is requiring of him.
Remember what I said earlier in my sermon.
When we read Scripture and really read it with our hearts we are being willing, with the help of God’s grace, to be changed by God’s Word.
Here Jesus is speaking about a total change, a complete transformation so that the person is like a newborn child, reborn in a way.
Jesus’ words to Nicodemus suggest that he too needs to make this kind of a dramatic faith conversion.
And Nicodemus is not ready to make the jump.
But the good news here is that Jesus does not give up on people.
Jesus continues to love and to pursue us with an undying grace.
Even this religious leader, who could not or chose not to understand Jesus, is being called by Jesus to receive his love.
In this short exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus we receive one of the most quoted and loved verses in all of scripture.
This verse is sometimes referred to as the Gospel in miniature:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but will have eternal life.”
The life that Jesus freely offers us is to know and to experience the very life of God which not even death can destroy.
On the cross Jesus said to the world I will not fight violence with violence.
What did he say instead?
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing…”
And then God chooses to use the cross…
the hideous cross as the place where God forgives everyone tax collector, sinner, religious leader alike.
We are thankful this day to believe in God’s forgiving, healing, and restoring powers.
Jesus said, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
This is our hope, this is the word of grace and the good news that I leave with you this day.
Let us keep this Word in our hearts this coming week.
God’s law is like a mirror, showing us, convicting us of our sin and for our need for God.
Jesus held up the mirror before Nicodemus and showed him his need for God and for his need to be reborn in the Spirit.
The Gospel is God’s word of love for us and for all believers who come together in his name.
Remember this day and each day your baptism and how through Water and the Word you were born again from above.
Why does this work?
Why does this way of thinking about our faith help us in our day to day lives?
It is because this is what Jesus was trying to teach Nicodemus.
The name Nicodemus means “victory of the people.”
If you think of the sports brand Nike, Nike in Greek means victory.
Maybe not right away but as time went on Nicodemus discovered that in Jesus there is victory – victory for all people.
Scholars believe that Nicodemus later became a true disciple of Jesus.
Later in the Gospel of John Nicodemus stands up for Jesus before a group of religious leaders who are trying to take Jesus down.
And in chapter 19 of the Gospel of John Nicodemus joins Joseph of Arimathea in providing a proper burial for Jesus after Jesus is crucified.
Nicodemus while at first he seems reluctant to trust Jesus eventually, from what we can see from Scripture, he does have that spiritual transformation where he is born from above and becomes a follower of Jesus.
He is victorious through the presence of Jesus working in his heart.
Now how does Nicodemus’ life and story apply to our lives right now?
I would like to leave us with two thoughts here:
First, Jesus can move us from unbelief to belief.
If you feel that your faith is weak know that Jesus can make it strong.
And secondly, Jesus can help us to understand things about God that we cannot understand through our own understanding.
The main thing that Jesus is always trying to help us to understand in the Gospels is that God desires and wants to give us life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that we might have life.”
Today and then into this coming week lighten your load a bit.
Receive Jesus’ love, let go of old habits that hold you back from fully receiving God’s grace, receive God’s forgiveness, turn off your inner critic that says that you are worthless and instead claim God’s truth that God loves you, and finally pray and believe in God’s power to create a new heart within you.
When we live in Christ we become more open and the light becomes brighter.
No more do we need to come to Jesus in the night as Nicodemus did but we can come to him in the day.
We can dwell with Christ often and regularly as he dwells with us.
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
May this verse from Scripture stand out for us and speak to us.
May it tell us the truth about our lives – that we are God’s people who are saved and who are blessed.
Thanks be to God.