This blog will include the sermons I have preached as a lay minister with the Anglican Parish of South Queens in the Diocese of NS and PEI in the Anglican Church of Canada. Because my preaching schedule varies, the frequency of postings will vary.
I hope that these sermons will enrich your spiritual life as much as they have enriched mine.
Saturday, 14 January 2012
John 3:1-17 No Greater Love
A 14th century monk announced to the people of his village that he was going to preach the greatest sermon ever preached on the love of God. He urged everyone to attend. At the appropriate hour, the cathedral filed with young and old alike. Throughout the service, everyone anticipated the monk’s great discourse. However, when it was time for his sermon, the monk did not enter the pulpit. Instead, he went to the candelabra, drew a long burning candle from its stand, and walked to the highest part of the altar where there hung a sculptured form of Christ nailed to the cross.
The monk silently lifted the candle until the glow of its flame rested just below one of Christ’s pierced hands. He held the candle there with his back to the congregation. Then, shifting his weight, he moved the candle below Jesus’ other pierced hand. Slowly he moved the candle to Christ’s side where the spear had pierced it. Finally, the monk dropped to his knees in prayer, holding the glimmering light so that the glow fell on Christ’s nail-pierced feet.
After a moment, the monk stood up and turned toward the people. Holding the candle before him so that the people could see the gentle tears on his face, he said, “My beloved people---this is my sermon on the love of God for you.” And he dismissed them with a benediction!
John 3:1-17 is one of the most famous of all the Bible passages, and includes what is perhaps the most-quoted Bible verse. It all started at night when Nicodemus came to see Jesus. Nicodemus makes three appearances in John’s Gospel, and by the third time we see that the seed of truth Jesus planted in his heart had finally taken root. Although Jesus had been condemned by Nicodemus’ colleagues, it no longer made any difference to Nicodemus. He knew Jesus was the true Messiah-the hope of Israel and the world. But that’s in his future. To understand how this happened to him, and how it can happen to us, we need to step back and focus on how Jesus planted the seed of truth into Nicodemus’ heart.
Why did Jesus meet Nicodemus at night? Was it because Nicodemus had a busy schedule? Was it because the Pharisees often debated theology at night? Was it the way Nicodemus operated? The real reason was because of the feat of the consequences if the Pharisees found out that Nicodemus was talking to Jesus. After all, Jesus and the Pharisees did not see “eye to eye” regarding theology or the correct interpretation of the Law.
As a Pharisee, Nicodemus belonged to the most prominent religious group in Israel, and was a highly-respected teacher. He observed all the laws of cleanliness and piety, yet Jesus told him that it’s not enough for one to be physically clean-water is not enough for true purification. Rather, a person’s nature also needs to be cleansed-or sanctified-by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Background and upbringing are never enough to give anyone an extra push to get into heaven. A good example of this is Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham. Raised in the spiritual greenhouse of the Graham home, Franklin went through the right motions: baptism, regular church attendance, and exposure to a steady diet of the gospel. But deep inside, Franklin knew he was hollow.
One evening Billy Graham confronted him. “Your mother and I sense that you’re struggling in your heart, Franklin. You need to face the truth; you need to make your own decision. Until you do, you won’t have peace”. Franklin was so upset by these words that he ran from the truth. He ran to several Middle Eastern countries trying to fill his life without committing to Christ.
One night in Jerusalem-the very place where Jesus had his conversation with Nicodemus-Franklin decided Jesus was right. He prayed, received him into his life, and was born again. Now, he was more than the son of Billy and Ruth Graham. He was a child of the living God. (In fact, Franklin often refers to the story of Nicodemus when he issues his altar call during his festivals).
What does Jesus mean by being “born again?” The new birth is an instantaneous spiritual experience, which occurs when the Holy Spirit leads a person to understand what Jesus Christ did on the cross to provide forgiveness for their sins. We are born again the moment we accept that Jesus Christ is the only one who can redeem us and we confess him as our Saviour and Lord. When we are born of the spirit, we get a new father and a new nature. We don’t have to walk in the likeness of our earthly father any more. We can walk in God’s likeness and become more like him every day.
Sometimes our idea of heaven is distorted because we think of it in earthly terms. Yet heaven is a place for those who love the Lord-where everything revolves around his majesty, power and glory. Every person in heaven will praise and worship him. If someone refuses to honour and serve him on earth, they won’t like heaven. In fact, they will feel completely out of place.
Jesus refers to the account in Numbers chapter 21. The people of Israel faithlessly complained against the Lord, and he sent poisonous serpents among them. Many of the people died. When the people finally repented, God told Moses to set a serpent on a staff so that everyone who looked at it would live. In the same way, those who face the penalty of death for their sins can look upon Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and receive eternal life.
What does it mean to believe in Jesus? Does it mean that intellectually we agree with the fact that he was born in Bethlehem and that he was a great teacher? Yes, but there’s even more to it than that. To have faith in Jesus Christ means believing that he is God, and that fulfillsthe purpose of John’s Gospel (to prove that Jesus is the mind of God in human form). It also means believing that he saves us by his death and resurrection. If we continue to believe that we can earn our salvation, we have never been truly born again. However, when we truly place our faith in him, we receive his gift of eternal life.
When Jesus says that all judgment has been committed to him, he assures us that he did not come to earth to judge us, but to save us. What that means is that we are already forgiven. When we place our faith in Jesus, we are accepting that he has already fully and successfully taken our punishment upon himself. But those who reject Jesus also reject his provision and must bear the full penalty for their sins.
I mentioned earlier that by the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Nicodemus had accepted Jesus as the Messiah. How do we know he arrived at this decision? Well, it was the custom of the Romans to take the bodies of those who had been crucified and throw them on the city’s trash heap. Yet after Christ’s body was removed from the cross, Joseph of Arimathea claimed his body, prepared it for burial, and placed it in a new tomb. Nicodemus was there. He brought myrrh and aloes and spices and assisted in Christ’s burial. These spices were supposed to be saved for Nicodemus’ own burial, but he gave them to Jesus as an offering of love and devotion. John 19:39 tells us that these spices weighed about 100 pounds, which was enough for a great king. Nicodemus acknowledged that Jesus is the Son of God and treated him with great respect. We also know that according to the Law of Moses, no one could touch a dead body because that would make him unclean. That didn’t matter to Nicodemus because he knew that in his eternal life, he was completely unblemished.
We can learn from Nicodemus’ example. Jesus is always there for us, night or day. In his perfect timing, he will answer our most confounding questions. Regardless of our status, nothing is more important than the life of Christ within us. Finally, we learn that no matter how great our sacrifice, it can never compare to Christ’s sacrifice for us.
Jesus came into the world-fully God and fully man. He perfectly obeyed God’s law and perfectly fulfilled God’s will for his life. He died in our place and as our substitute, paying for our sins. He rose from the dead on the third day and ascended into heaven. He will return one day to establish his kingdom on earth. In the meantime, we are commissioned to preach the gospel to all people everywhere. There’s no one alive who doesn’t respond to the power of love. Letting go of someone you love is never easy, but it is necessary for them to grow into mature adults. Those of you who are parents know how difficult this can be.That’s what faith teaches and Christ demonstrates.
God takes us at any time. It doesn’t matter is we come to Christ as young people or on our deathbeds or at any other point in time. He loves us regardless of our feelings or what we have done or have failed to do-or what anyone has done to us. Reborn people humbly value others above themselves, are quick to forgive, patient, kind, gentle, faithful and good, self-controlled, have a peace that passes all understanding, and have an infectious joy and desire to share the good news of salvation.
Jesus was lifted up in shame before the world. But while the people of Moses’ time only had glimpses of God’s future plans to send Jesus to die on the cross, we today are blessed to be able to look back at that remarkable act of love. We must remember what it was like before Jesus came into our lives with his presence and power. We must never forget. We must never lose sight of where we were when he came and just how far he has brought us.