Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him." Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. "How can someone be born when they are old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' 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." -John 3:1-8 Read the whole chapter.
John Chapter 3, Verses 1 to 8, it has a lot packed into this. Towards the end of that section was the phrase that Jesus said, “What is of the flesh is flesh, and what is of the Spirit is spirit. You must be born from above, you must be born anew. And what is born of the flesh is flesh, and what's born of the Spirit is spirit.” I have to tell you that over my years of ministry, and even in these latter years, I have never understood, I wish flesh was a different word, because it doesn't compute. We don't have a good feeling for what that really means today, flesh, it's the body. And I think Jesus here is talking about flesh in the terms of a physical birth, that's the first time, and then a spiritual birth, that's the second time. But Paul uses the word flesh a lot. When he uses the word, the NIV calls it sinful nature, the King James Version says it's carnal-minded. Those that are carnal-minded, the sinful nature, we carry out the feelings of the flesh. In other words, it's kind of like our lust and desires go wild. I don't know if Jesus was meaning that or what?
About a week and a half ago, in the car, I was listening to Christian radio. I like to listen to Star 88.3. There was a song that came on, and I thought, ‘Wow, that's what I need for this message.’ And it was by a guy named Zach Williams, and the title of it is “Less like me.” And this is one of the verses here where Zach says: “A little more like mercy, a little more like grace, a little more like kindness, goodness, love and faith. A little more like patience, a little more like peace, just a little more like Jesus and a little less like me.” And I thought, ‘What those words describe is what the spirit is, love, mercy, grace, kindness, goodness, love, faith, patience, more like Jesus.’ And then I thought, ‘You know what, the flesh is the opposite of that.’ You want to talk about flesh, it's being unmerciful. Mercy on mercy, have ever been around somebody who was unmerciful? Doesn't cut any slack? Draws a hard line?
A little more like grace. How many of you grew up with parents that weren't very graceful or one of them wasn't? ‘Oh, you got a “B”, you can get an “A”, a “B” is not good enough.’ No, grace. A little more like kindness, a little more like goodness: sometimes you come away from the situation, so you say to yourself, ‘He's just not a good person. In fact, sometimes they're cruel, down right ugly and cruel. A little more to love. When's the last time you found yourself to be very unloving? When was the last time you had a strong judgmental attitude towards somebody who didn't deserve it? A little more love. A little more patience. And a little more peace. How’s your patience level? Do you find yourself running into situations and times where you just wish you could stop and be patient and let it work itself out? But nope. You have to get in there. You have to control it. You have to make sure it turns out a certain way. You got the agenda with it, and this is the way it's gonna end up to be, right? Peace. I prayed my whole life for inside peace. Just that sense of peace that Jesus talks about, “Come unto me all you who labor and heavy-laden and I'll give you rest.”
Now, over the years, you know what I have found strange. The flesh is easy. The Spirit is hard, and I often wonder, ‘Why did God make us to have flesh so easy?’ For example, if I have an issue with Bill Johnson, I can go over his house and I can just blast Bill. It doesn't take much to do that. But if I have an issue or a grievance with Bill Johnson, it takes work, it takes prayer to be able to love Bill through that grievance, right? Why is the flesh so easy and so simple off the cuff? We can just get so angry and upset over the little things, and sometimes feel so slighted over hardly over nothing.
But the spirit, I think Jesus did it this way, because when you take that situation and you give it over to God, what happens? You'll lose control. We don't want to be out of control. We don't want to feel helpless. We don't want to feel weak. Love feels weak, but love takes strength to give. Be easier the other way around wouldn’t it? But the reason is, when we can't love, when we are impatient and we want patience, when we're unmerciful, when we're so hard on one of our kids, or you see one of your grandkids and the parents being so hard on them you yearn for that spirit to come and to make things right. But this goes a little bit deeper too. Because sometimes there are people that have grown up in a home where the mother or father is very distant and they find themselves later in life realizing, ‘I spent all my young years trying to seek significance in my father's eyes or in my mother's eyes, and they never gave it to me. I felt like I was invisible with them. Where were they?’ And the wound is there, and so what happens is the flesh takes over and that woundedness of seeking significance and you end up becoming busy. Because when you feel busy, you don't feel the wound and the pain so you end up achieving. Achieving because as long as I don't stop then I don't have to feel the pain. Or you say, ‘I'm not going to make another mistake ever.’ And then you put this standard over your head of being perfect. You say to yourself, ‘I can't mess up. Because I know what happened when I used to mess up and what would happen to me.’ And then when we do mess up, we find ourselves worn out, beat down, it's then when we find the guilt and the shame that's there. We find ourselves in a pit. Not feeling valuable, worthless, with all those old reminders of the way mom treated me, or the way dad treated me, or my uncle treated me, or my aunt treated me, and we find all those old family feelings that rise up when we fail ourselves in the midst of all of that.
One of the Bixler ladies agreed to help me out here this morning. Anybody want this? It's a $100 bill. Anybody want this this morning? Marty does. She knew I was coming. Yeah, it's a $100 bill. It’s crisp, I went to the bank and told them I wanted a crisp $100 bill. I didn't tell them why. So if I take this $100 bill, and wad it up. Does anybody still want it? It doesn't lose its value, right? The outside if it gets all crumbled up, but it doesn't lose its value. Even if I step on it and twist it into the ground, it doesn’t lose it’s value. Does anybody still want it? Even though it's been crumbled up? Even though it's been stepped on? Even though it's been smashed? Do you still want this bill? Because it doesn't lose its value. So no matter how your parents treated you, or no matter what you struggle with, you never lose your value.
We never lose our value: the essence of God's love, created in the image of God, being a child of God. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the creation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless in His sight, in love, He predestined us to adoption as His children. No matter what mistakes we make, no matter how we may ruin our lives, no matter how bad we may feel about what we've done in the past, you are still worth what God has made you to be in His love, and that can never get lost. Never, ever, ever. No matter how down and out you may feel, you can always count on that wonderful love of God, that doesn't end. If you take nothing else away this morning, when you have a moment where you're beating yourself up for what you did or didn't do...
Remember the $100 bill.
Remember your value.
Remember how much God loves you.
You are His created child.
And as much as you may not like and be upset about somebody else that you're having a problem with, remember they are as much loved by God as you are. And that's the place to start. With forgiveness. So Bill, I love you, okay? We could have grievances, but I still love you, right? Bill and I don't have grievances.
I want you to do something you maybe haven't done in awhile. We never did this during Derek's years. We never did it in Jacob's years. I want you to pull out your pew Bible for those who want to, you don't have to, but for those who want to grab a pew Bible. Please turn it to page 100 in the New Testament, John Chapter 7, Page 100. So we see that Nicodemus is coming to Jesus. It's a coming to Jesus moment. Alright, Nicodemus comes to Jesus, and what time of day does he come? At night. Why night? Because Nicodemus is in spiritual darkness. The reason I say that is, remember when Jesus was in the Upper Room? John records that the person sitting next to Jesus in the Upper Room is Judas. And throughout that meal in John's gospel, Jesus keeps reaching out to Judas. He just keeps reaching out to Judas. But Judas finally gets so uncomfortable that he up and leaves. And the gospel writer of John says, “And for Judas it was night.” He was in the darkness with what he was about to do.
So Nicodemus comes as a seeker: curious, who is this guy? We see the signs that you do and so all of a sudden here in chapter seven, a year or two later, if you look at verse 45, “Then the temple police went back to the chief priest and Pharisees who asked him, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this.’ And the Pharisees replied, ‘surely you have not been deceived too, have you by this Jesus? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees has any one of the authorities or the Pharisees, believed in Him, but this crowd which does not know the law, they are accursed.” And who shows up here? Who shows up in the middle of this judgmental group towards Jesus? Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before and who was one of them.
Nicodemus in Chapter 3 is simply curious and searching, here in Chapter 7 he’s already become a follower of Jesus. And not only a follower, but then asks, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” So he moves from a seeker to a defender. And they replied, “Surely, you are not also from Galilee are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee. He defends Jesus. He’s moved from being a seeker of Jesus, to learning of Jesus, to being a defender of Jesus, but that's not all.
In chapter 19, verse 38: “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
From seeker to defender to what? Caregiver. Nicodemus wanted to be a part of taking care of Jesus’ burial. You see, the transformation? These are gonna be my sermons in the five that I do this summer. I'm going to be talking about the transformed life. That's what Nicodemus is here today. He moves from seeking and searching to defending, to caregiving, loving Jesus, so that he wants to be a part of his burial. The transformation of him. And so for you and myself, we want to experience that same transformation from transforming from flesh to spirit, from transforming from hatred and ugliness to love and care, from moving from a grudge to reconciliation.
I think we misunderstand miracles. Jesus says here, ‘You have to be born again.’ I don't believe that's a one-time event. I know there are Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who do, they can tell you the minute, the day, the hour of when they came to believe in Christ. I don't agree with that. There may be a moment that you have that. But you know what, I have probably 10-15 born again experiences every day. I have 10 to 15 miracles every day because my mind goes off on something that is of the flesh that I don't like, I start thinking about certain people in my life, in my past, and then all of a sudden I catch myself and then I say, ‘Hey, they are as much a child of God as I am. They are as much loved by God as I am.’ That's a miracle: that change of perspective.
You've been struggling with something for so long and you're stubborn about how this is going to turn out. It has follow what you want. And then all of a sudden you say, ‘Alright, enough. It doesn't matter anymore. It's okay. Here, Holy Spirit, take this.’ There's nothing wrong about asking the Holy Spirit for help. That's why it's impossible for us to live the life of the Spirit, because it takes us to our knees and humble towards the loss of ourselves. We can't do it, but God can.
I've discovered that there are two essential things in life. One is George is either loving or George is calling for love. And by that I mean if I'm in the spirit, just basically feeling good about the day, I'm loving. If I start feeling like I'm slighted or having needs then I start thinking along the dark path. It's simply a call for love. Behind the whole thing is somewhere there are holes in our lives that were never filled. And what we do is we act out all kinds of things, but behind that is a simple call for love. When I worked at Instacopy, we had a graphic artist department that wasn't much bigger than this whole area. And there was Maureen, Danielle, Susan, and Liz. And there was a guy, one man who did graphic artwork. His name was Michael. And there was a wall and my desk was on the other side. In the afternoon, it would just be quiet as they'd be working away with tight setting and graphic arts. And all of a sudden you'd hear this: “Love me!” Michael would just say it out loud, “Love me!” He did it almost every day. And I thought, ‘Wow, it's kind of neat, because deep down, we all feel that, but we don't ever say it.’ I go home today with the assurance of God's love, God's deep abiding love. I don't care what you've done in your life. God doesn't care either, because that's the whole form of life, but the essence of who you are is God's love. Don't ever lose sight of that.