Roger's Postings

Saturday, June 02, 2012


John 3:1-17.                God alone!!                                         3/7/12

 (1)  Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. {2} He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." {3} In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." {4} "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" {5} Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. {6} Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. {7} You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You 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." {9} "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked. {10} "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? {11} 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. {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. {14} Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, {15} that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. {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.

 What a seemingly unusual reading for Trinity Sunday; talking about Nicodemus and being born again. Yet that is not the central focus of the text. Here God and what he does is the central point in the discussion. Jesus is seeking to lift Nicodemus’ eyes, and ours, beyond ourselves and this world to himself and the importance of who he is and what he does. I believe this is then, very much, an important issue for the Christian church today.

 My father-in-law used to have a saying, which he reminded me of from time to time, when we are discussing issues within the church. He would say in German, ‘der nasa ist zu dichte zu der erde.’ Which he translated as, ‘the nose is too close to the ground.’ What he meant with this saying was that, we are so strongly tied up with this world and its thinking, that we fail to look to God and what he says and does. Even in our Christian thinking, ‘the nose is too close to the ground below.’ We continually want to look at things in terms of our worldly point of view, and too often fail to think of God and his actions in it all. Sadly this is a problem for most, if not all of us, particularly in our day and age. We are the centre of the universe, and everything must revolve around us. ‘The nose is too close to the ground.’

 Here Jesus tells Nicodemus the same thing. ‘Your nose is too close to the ground.’ ‘You are looking for God’s kingdom in the signs and wonders; in earthly terms; in what you can do and see.’ Even when Jesus says that he must be born again from above, he tries to think of how he can possibly do it himself. He just doesn’t get it.

 So often we see and hear the same kind of thing in the church scene today. We must make our decision for Christ if we are to be saved. We must do this, and this and that, if we are going to bring people into and keep them, in the church. We must do all kinds of things if we are to be truly Christian; and the like. Now there are many good things said in this regard, but unfortunately, first and foremost, ‘the nose is too close to the ground.’ The emphasis is on us and what need to do for ourselves and the people around us, and not on our great and gracious God and who he is and what he says and does. In so doing, we short-change ourselves and the church’s work: We let so many people down in the process.

 Here however Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again,” which is to also be understood as being ‘born from above.’ “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” God is the giver and doer of all that is good, and all that is of God. He alone is the source of all that is truly Christian. God’s Kingdom – his rule – is and operates where he is; he is the centre – he is the all-important one. And he does what he wants, where he wants and when he wants. He determines it all by his criteria, the way he chooses.

 Yes, and it is God who brings us into his kingdom – his family, and he does it through baptism: even the baptism of infants. Through the water and the Spirit we all are washed clean from our sin and made acceptable to God, and there he gives us a new spirit; a new life; and a new way of thinking. There he gives us an alternative to thinking with our ‘noses too close to the ground.’ Our eyes are lifted to him: focussed on him. Now we are enabled to live for him rather than ourselves. Then despite what we see, we know that all is good and well. Because it is the Almighty God himself, who has determined that we are born again and that we are a part of his kingdom.

 Even when things look far from good, we know that despite what we see, God is in control: that it is for good. Just look at the snake in the desert: Look at Jesus on the cross. There God is in total control. There he has brought the ultimate good into the very worst of situations. There he has bought us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. And we did not even lift a finger to bring that about. Except in fact that we did the opposite; we put him there on the cross. We did the evil, but he was punished in our place, so now we do not perish, but have eternal life. Now we are not condemned, but through Jesus are saved.

 This is our wondrous and awesome God at work. This great God who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit: The Creator and preserver of all that is good; the Redeemer of a sinful and lost world: and the Sanctifier who leads us to faith and to this new life that is won for us. This God who loves and cares about us deeply, and comes to us in the midst of this world that is messed up by sin, is the One that we can now look to with confidence and a sure hope. We can trust that he is for us, even when everything is against us.

 Here I would like to relate to you, as best I can, a true story that I heard of some years ago, because I believe it brings this point out well for us here. This story was of a young couple who went to Africa as missionaries. Their names were mentioned and where they went to, but I cannot remember that. They, together with another couple, decided that God wanted them to go out to a village and work amongst the people, rather than stay in the mission compound. But the chief of the village would not allow them to stay in the village or have any contact with the people. So they went up the hill a little way out from the village and stayed there.

 The only contact they had with the village was a little boy that the chief allowed to come to them, to sell to them eggs and other foodstuffs. The other couple got discouraged and went back to the missionary compound, but this couple stayed on. Through the visits of this little boy, the wife shared something of the Christian message: Probably only simple stories about Jesus. But they had no other contact. In time the wife gave birth to a child, but the mother died through complications. The father could not cope with the situation, blamed God, turned to drink, and his life fell to pieces. He gave the little baby girl to the other missionary couple to take care of and went back to Norway, a shattered man. To him the whole missionary exercise was a disaster. The other couple too, gave up and went back to America.

 Years later that little girl, having grown up, happened to have come across an article in a magazine about how a whole village had become Christian through a little boy sharing the message about Jesus. And years later again this woman met that little boy, who had become a pastor of a very large church the God had established through his message and his ongoing study.

 Despite what was an absolute disaster from our human perspective, turned out to be a great blessing, because God was at work. He used that simple message and a little boy, to bring many people to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

 That is Jesus message here to Nicodemus and to us, God alone is the almighty One. He can do great things. He is the One who brings and makes things happen in our lives. He gives us new birth into his kingdom through water and the Spirit. He gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. He is Lord and saviour: the one and only who can be looked to with confidence and certainty.

 That being the case let us not be people whose ‘noses are too close to the ground,’ but people who look up to our great and gracious God and give him all the glory and honour. For he alone is our help and our salvation. To this God be the glory, great things he has done; and still does. AMEN.

 Pastor Roger Atze
Glandore/Underdale Lutheran Parish




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