Genesis Chapter 12 vs 1 – 4
John Chapter 3 vs 1 – 17
It is singularly obvious truth that the longest journey begins with a single step – any journey, whether long or short, to the kitchen or to Australia begins with a single step – the first step which you take in order to get towards where you want to go. To make a cup of tea, or to visit distant relatives, the first step indicates that you are changing your position, doing something new, making something happen, indicating that you plan to make your life different – either by creating a hot cup of tea, or by hugging your Australian cousins.
Our lives are a series or a tapestry of interwoven journeys taking us on to new experiences and new environments.
Our first reading was about Abram. He had been taken by his father from their home town of Ur, near the Persian Gulf, way north to Haran, in Syria near to the border with present day Turkey.
But Abram wasn’t settled, his journeying was not complete, he heard a leading, he sensed a call to do more, to go on, to develop his life further. He understood this as the call of God to move on to take another step, and he trusted that call, he responded to that call, and he understood that in this journey he would find a greater purpose and a blessing in his life.
Abram chose to step out – trusting in the call God had shown him. And God told him that from his descendents a great nation would be formed
Now, one of these descendents was Nicodemus – a true blooded Hebrew, a leader of the Jews, a Pharisee, an outstanding example as a descendent of Abraham. One of God’s chosen nation, one of Abraham’s blessings. A lot of history has passed by, possibly 20 centuries, and in this reading we hear of Nicodemus’ journey – not so far this time, Nicodemus sets out on a journey at night, from his home, through the dark streets, to a meeting with Jesus. It is not clear what prompted this journey, why he chose to go to talk with Jesus, but he was prompted by something – was it curiosity about this new preacher who worked miracles, and claimed to be God, – did he want to challenge Jesus about his blasphemous talk about being God, or did he want to trust Him and so be drawn closer to God?
Whatever drew him on his journey, Jesus knew the question really on Nicodemus heart. – “How can I enter the Kingdom of God?”
As a Jew, he would have assumed that his Hebrew lineage, his status as a Pharisee, his following of the Jewish traditions, the feasts and fasts of the Hebrew calendar, would have assured him of his place in God’s Kingdom. But he must have been unsettled, unsure, shaken by Jesus teaching and actions.
Jesus strikes right at the heart of the question – to enter the Kingdom you must be born again. Be born again, start again – All your life before, all your lineage, your following the rules, your sacred practices, your upright behaviour, your attendance each Sabbath, counts for nothing, forget it, all irrelevant – you need to start again in a new way.
Jesus says – Be born of water and spirit. – Water and spirit – now a good Pharisee like Nicodemus would immediately recognise that reference – EZ 36 vs 25 – 27, where God says:
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean, I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you, I will take the heart of stone out of you and give you a heart of flesh.
I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgements and do them”
Jesus is saying – to be a part of my Kingdom – you must allow God to cleanse you – to get rid of sin, get rid of all the false gods in your life, you must choose to allow God to wash you, and you have to choose to reject the idols in your life which you put in place of God.
Then – you will be transformed – the heart of stone – frozen and immobile, will become a heart of flesh – of life, of compassion for others in need, of concern for justice, in essence – of love for God, others and yourself.
And, you will receive the Holy Spirit, to give you the will to follow God’s way of life.
That is some promise: your sins forgiven, your life transformed, and you will want to follow God’s way of living.
Now stand in Nicodemus shoes for a moment he must have been absolutely shocked
Jesus words must have been like having a bucket of cold water thrown over them – a cold and sudden shock.
He was being told that his religious life, his legal obedience, his rules and regulations, his weekly worship – none of that brought him into the Kingdom of God. None of it. He needed to make a new start, a new life, a new way of living – a new journey to begin. He needed to choose a new life –
Jesus sets it all out simply before him:
“For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but will have everlasting life.”
Listen – God, the living God who you are trying to serve, the God of Abraham and Moses, has given His Son to live here with you, to teach and to demonstrate and to proclaim His Kingdom, and if you believe in Him – if you accept Him as God’s Son, if you listen to His teaching and follow his ways, if you choose to believe in Him – then you enter the Kingdom – you are given this gift of eternal life, starting now.
This phrase “believe in Him” is a bit empty I think as a translation – it sounds a bit glib – “Yes, I believe in Jesus”.
But behind this word “believe” in verse 16 – is a more challenging meaning – believe and listen to, trust in, hold on tightly to, depend on, lean on.
What Jesus is saying in this verse is:
Your life following laws, of attending weekly worship, of reading scriptures and living respectfully is past – it counts for nothing – that’s your old journey, to enter the Kingdom, to have eternal life with God, you need to set out on a new journey and the first step is to choose to follow God’s Son – and Jesus is the Son.
Nicodemus was face with a choice,
Trust in his history, his religious practices, his rules and activities as the way to enter God’s kingdom –
OR – believe this man Jesus – believe in Him. Choose to discard the religiosity, the rule keeping, the status,
and trust Jesus, listen to him, depend on him, hold on to Him follow Him – believe in Him
We don’t know which way Nicodemus chose – but we each one of us are also faced with that choice – we have to decide, – to trust in our selves, in our past behaviour, in our Sunday worship, in our being good citizens in the hope of entering God’s kingdom
Or choose to trust what Jesus says – believe in me – listen to me, follow me.
That is what he is saying to us now: Choose to believe in me and you will have eternal life:
Don’t depend on religious practices, on your nationality, or your moral lifestyle – that is past – you need to choose to start a new life to enter God’s kingdom – a life trusting in what Jesus says – a life accepting God’s gift of forgiveness, a life where the Holy Spirit gives us the will and the desire to follow Him.
Choose to believe in Him, trust, depend, cling to, listen to Him.
We have to tell Jesus that we choose to follow Him. That is our first step into our new life with Him.