“Heavenly Minded”  John 3:1-17

Jesus wasn’t looking for admirers – He was seeking believers and followers. 

The Holy Trinity  May 25-26, 2024

“Heavenly Minded”  John 3:1-17

Rev. John R. Larson  Ascension Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado

            Have you ever met a famous person?  A celebrity?  An actor? Singer?  Politician?  Athlete?  Have you ever been in the same room with a person who is known to turn heads?  A model?  An artist?  Educator?  Writer?

            Did you leave that meeting or encounter different than when you started it?  Maybe you were disappointed.  They didn’t live up to what you thought they were.  They were much more ordinary than you expected.  Or, maybe, you were elated.  They exceeded your expectations.  They were wiser, more talented, they had greater qualities of leadership or knowledge or generosity than you had expected. 

            Today I’m going to speak about the interaction that Jesus had with Nicodemus.  You know the account.  It is found in John 3, one of the better-known chapters in the Bible.  This is a man who didn’t know how great this man, Jesus, was – but later he would understand.

            Before I talk about Nicodemus I want to ask you to give an evaluation of yourself.  Where are you in your Christian walk?  Are you just starting?  A baby?  Everything you experience you are experiencing for the first time.  Everything you read in the Bible is new knowledge.  Things you hear in a sermon or on a podcast are new and exciting.  It is good to be a baby.  Peter writes, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”  (I Peter 2:2)

            Maybe you are like a teenager.  You are growing but you can be inconsistent in your walk as a believer in Jesus.  Maybe you’ve reached middle age.  Things now are comfortable and steady.  Maybe, you, as a Christian, are mature – developed in your faith.  You live in humble faith and your Christian walk, your life every day, exhibits wisdom and faith and joy.  Where are you?  Maybe you jump between the baby, the teenager, the middle age and the mature.

            Nicodemus?  He was an admirer of Jesus, initially.  But Jesus wanted to take him from admiration to the transformation of faith.  “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, 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 miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’”  (John 3:1-2)  He admired Jesus.  Nicodemus, himself, was a person people admired.  He was a Pharisee, he held an important place in Jewish society.  He was part of the Sanhedrin – one of 70 in all of Israel who helped rule that country in various ways.  You might think that he was timid – coming to Jesus at night.  But I read that the evening would have allowed him to sit with Jesus and spend more time in this conversation.

            But one thing I do know – Jesus wanted to change him from an admirer to a believer.  After hearing Nicodemus’ words, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  (John 3:3)  Those words translated “born again” can also be understood as “born from above”.  Clearly, Nicodemus understands this phrase as a physical second birth.  “How can a man be born when he is old?  Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”  (John 3:4)  But Jesus used these words to speak about “being born from above.”  “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is 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.’”  (John 3:5-7)

            Becoming a Christian is God’s work in us.  It is not a human work.  It didn’t come about because we brought it to fruition.  It is radical rebirth from God’s Holy Spirit.  God is the one who must remake us.  “You must be born from above”.

            Nicodemus just didn’t understand.  How could new life come to him?  Jesus said to him, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”  (John 3:12)  But Jesus is persistent with Nicodemus.  He wants to make him heavenly minded.  He wants him to see the fullness of His work creating a full spiritual life in the soul of that man.  Jesus was going to take Nicodemus from a simple admirer to a believer, fully a follower.  He would see that Jesus exceeded his initial understanding.  That is true for him and that is true for us.

            This new life of faith was shown in a miracle that God did in the Old Testament.  Jesus showed Nicodemus that a new life begins when one is born from above.  He reminds him of what God did for the people of Israel as they lived in the desert, prior to entering the Promised Land, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”  (John 3:14-15)  Do you remember that account from Numbers 21?  The people were hot and tired and hungry and thirsty.  They had been on their feet for too long.  And they complained against God and against Moses who was leading them nowhere.  So God sent snakes, poisonous snakes, and they bit them.  And many of them died.  Then the people changed their tune.  They moaned, “We sinned against the Lord and against you (Moses).  Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.”  (Numbers 21:7)  This was God’s answer, “Make a snake and put it on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on up on a pole.  Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived. ”  (Numbers 21:8-9)  How could a bronze snake lifted on a pole save people from poison?  It was God’s way.  

            How can the Son of God, Jesus Christ, when lifted on a pole – a cross – save people from their sins of grumbling and moaning and taking His name in vain?  It is God’s way.  It is “being born from above.”  Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”  (John 12:32)

            Jesus goes on, in His conversation with His admirer, Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  (John 3:16-17)  How does that work?  God gives His Son, He allows Him to be lifted up on the cross, and people, like Nicodemus, and like us, look at Him, believe in His atoning death for our sins, and find that we are born again, that we are born from above.  Amazing.  That takes a person from being an admirer to a solid, certain believer.

            In Matthew 16 Jesus asks His followers what people were saying about Him.  “Some say (you are) John the Baptist; others say (you are) Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  Do you know what those answers were?  They were answers from admirers.  Just like Nicodemus’ answer.  “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God.”  So, Jesus is direct with Peter, “What about you, who do you say I am?”  His answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  (See Matthew 16:13-16)

            Jesus wasn’t looking for admirers – He was seeking believers and followers.  He is seeking the lost sheep, the sinner desiring a new life, the one who wants assurance that forgiveness of sins and eternal life will be theirs.  Look to our God for big things – great things.  In the Book of Acts these words are given, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12) 

            Jesus exceeds our expectations.  Listen to these words of praise and wonder about our great God:

            I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.  (Ephesians 3:17-21)

 Nicodemus began his encounter with Jesus as an admirer.  Sometime after that day he became a believer.  When Jesus died Nicodemus was present.  He became bold enough to ask for the body of his Lord.  Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  He became heavenly minded.  He was born from above.  Born from God.  And so are you.  Amen!!        





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