Lent II

  • 8 March 2023
  • Stuart Robinson

St. Peter’s Lent II

March 5th, 2023.

John 3:1-21

This morning I want to speak briefly about three huge issues.

Spiritual re-birth (3:1-15).

Freedom from punishment (3:16-18).

Choosing life or death (3:19-21).

  1. Spiritual re- birth: 3:1-15.

Now here is the context:  When Jesus taught and performed great miracles, he did so publicly.

Deeply impressed by Jesus’ ministry, Nicodemus – a high ranking religious leader, comes to Jesus by night (v.2) and is told by Jesus that no-one can ‘see the Kingdom of God unless he or she is born again’ (v.3).

Translation: A person cannot understand or experience the rule of God – the king – in their life until such times as they are inwardly renewed.

Jesus is speaking about a spiritual transformation.

Now our generation likes that kind of language.

Sir Mick Jagger, responding to a journalist from Rolling Stone Magazine, said, “Of course I have a spiritual side. Everyone has one. It’s whether they’re going to lock it up or not. Our lives are so busy that we never get any time to be first reflective, and then afterward, to let some sort of spiritual light into your life”

Or this from actress Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as quoted in Scotland’s Daily Record. “I consider myself a spiritual person. I believe in an idea of God, although it’s my own personal ideal”.

Now, the kind of transformation – or new birth – that Jesus has in mind will come about as a result of the work of the Spirit of God – not through getting in touch with our spiritual sides or through pick and mix religion.

Read vv.5-8.

By ourselves, we are unable to bring about spiritual transformation: that’s what ‘flesh gives birth to flesh means’ v.6.

We need to be born again of water and the Spirit.

It means we need to be washed, or cleansed, or forgiven, and given a fresh start.

The Spirit of God will do this.

Note the emphasis: It is not something that we can do ourselves.

Like the wind (v.8), the spirit of God is not under our control.

Well Nicodemus doesn’t get it.

Jesus assures him that he’s speaking the truth.

Not only is Jesus (who has come from heaven v.13) qualified to speak on such matters, he is the key or the centrepiece of this whole spiritual renewal process.

Though people have turned their backs on God – he still longs for them to be in a right relationship with them – to live with him as their friend and king.

And that has always been the case.

In times past God rescued his people (and v.14 is a reference to this; Moses cast and lifted up a bronze serpent in the desert and all who looked to it [and more importantly to the God who commanded the action], would be kept safe from venomous snakes) –

And now, the Son of Man (Jesus’ way of speaking about himself) must be lifted up (like Moses holding up the pole with the brass snake) so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (v.14 and15).

It is a reference to the means by which he will die.

He will be lifted up on a cross.

Let me recap;

  •   Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order for him to live rightly under God’s rule, he will need to be born again. He needs to be washed and cleansed and forgiven.
  •   Jesus then says that this renewing, this coming to new birth has nothing to do with human effort. It is not a ‘fleshly’ enterprise.
  •   Jesus explains that only the Spirit of God can bring about such a transformation.
  •   And the key to all is Jesus. In trusting Jesus, Nicodemus will experience eternal life (the net end result of being born again).
  • Freedom from punishment.

Read 16-18.

Shortly before his death, former Beatle George Harrison spoke about his search for a meaningful spiritual life. To journalist Anthony De Curtis, Harrison stated, “Everything in life can wait, but the search for God cannot wait”.

Now people, the very good news are this; God is not hiding. Indeed he wants to be found.

And what is more he has gone to great lengths to reveal himself to us.

How so?

God’s love for us is so intense that he comes into our world in the person of Jesus, and gives himself over to death and condemnation.

And the earlier reference in v.14 to Jesus being lifted up is again, a description of the means by which he would die. Jesus was ‘lifted up’ on a Roman cross.

The reason that we ourselves cannot bring about any real spiritual change is because we are suffering from a serious and utterly debilitating illness.

The illness, sin, stems from having turned our backs on God. As a race we have become dysfunctional.

Gossip, greed, betrayal, corruption, abuse……terrorism are symptoms of our illness. They are evidence of the dysfunction.

You see turning out backs on God – godlessness, wrecks relationships.

And if left unchecked, godless people (like me – indeed like all of us) will close our eyes in death and open them to an eternity of regret and hopelessness.

How are we to escape the condemnation, the consequences of the sickness?

This is how: In coming into our world Jesus is electing to “trade places with us”.

Let me try and illustrate this with a story that some of you are familiar with:

In July 1941, a prisoner escaped from Auschwitz death camp in Poland. The next day all 600 men from Block 14 were lined up before the deputy commander.

His instructions were clear and cruel. Ten men would be selected. They would be starved to death in reprisal.

One of the ten, Francis Gajowniczek began to sob, ‘my wife, my children….”.

At that point a Polish clergyman, Max Kolbe, pushed his way to the front as SS guards sighted their rifles on his chest.

“I wish to die in place of this prisoner” declared Kolbe (pointing to Francis).

Following a stunned silence, Kolbe’s request was granted.

He was placed in a starvation bunker for two weeks before being finally put to death by lethal injection on August 14, 1941.

Kolbe went to death row – not because he had to, but because he chose to.

Kolbe traded places with his friend.

Jesus trades places with us.

Jesus willingly and lovingly stands in our stead. Not because he had to but because he chose to.

The innocent, sin-free Jesus comes into our world not to point his finger in condemnation (v.17) but to open wide his arms in love (v.16).

He embraces fully the alienation and the death which our sin merits.

And the promise of God is that all who acknowledge his sacrifice will be set free from condemnation; they will perish (v.16).

The price has been paid, so to speak.

And that is the link with what Jesus said in vv.1-15. The washing or the cleansing or the forgiving comes only because of what God has done for us in Jesus – and our willingness to take it seriously. We need to believe v. 15, v.16, v.17.

Being ‘born again’ is Jesus’ way of describing what happens when a person takes his work on the cross seriously.

With risk of being simplistic it works something like this;

  •   With a heart full of love, God the Father breaks into our world in the person of Jesus Christ. With intent he makes himself known. He is not hiding.
  •   Jesus, God the son, trades places with us. He embraces the consequences of our sin sickness.
  •   God the Spirit re-animates and cleanses all who believe. He gives us new birth and puts us right with God.

God takes all the initiative – without which (like those who refuse to believe v.18)) we would go to our graves, and the eternity which follows, as condemned men and women.

  •  Choosing life or death (vv.19-21)

Read. 19-21.

Soren Kierkegaard the Danish philosopher once told a story about a goose who was wounded and who landed in a barnyard with some chickens.

He played with the chickens and ate with the chickens. After a while that goose thought he was a chicken. One day a flight of geese came over, migrating to their home. They gave a honk, up there in the sky, and he heard it.

Kierkegaard said, ‘Something stirred within the breast of that goose. Something called him to the skies. He began to flap the wings he hadn’t used, and he rose a few feet into the air. Then he stopped, and he settled back again into the mud of the barnyard. He heard the cry but he settled for less”.

God is calling us to know him and to receive the life which he has for us in Christ.

And yet all about us people are in fact settling for less. They are all too readily flopping back into the mud of the barnyard.

Part of it is our reluctance to acknowledge that we are sinful – we don’t want our evil deeds exposed (v.20) or we really are comfortable in living apart from God, we are unmoved by Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf – the darkness (19) (as opposed to the light and the truth which is Jesus), holds us fast.

God is loving and just. 

  •  Loving – he gives up his life that we might have life – not because he has to but because he wants to.
  •  Just – he deals with the sin problem – either on our behalf through Jesus (for all who take his work seriously, who come into the light v.21) – or for those who elect to remain under condemnation and in darkness, God deals with the sin problem by allowing them to remain apart from him for an eternity of alienation and hopelessness and regret (the very opposite of eternal life).

So what’s it going to be?

Obediently respond to the call…or settle for something less?


Latest Sermons