Sermon:         Not to Condemn Scripture:       John 3:1-17 Preacher:       Rev. Michael Bodger Location:        First Presbyterian, DeLand Date:               May 27, 2018   Today signals a number of things, not least of which is the entry gate into the Summer as school lets out this week. It’s a day that we acknowledge the Trinity, the understanding that God is three and yet one and we struggle with the concept, even as we acknowledge the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We recognize that this weekend is Memorial Day Weekend and we lift up and remember those who have paid the ultimate price for the values of this Nation, which allows us to gather here today in safety.   Ironic then, or maybe not, that our text today has elements of all these things wrapped up in it, as it exposes a struggle to understand, it identifies an entry gate into a life lived in the light and not in darkness, and it recognizes the sacrifice that the living God made for humanity as a whole. The text draws us to a conclusion about how we go about living life.   It’s a very long text, it includes the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus, so that the implications of the choice placed before the world are understood. We often rush to John 3:16 and lift it up in isolation, but it comes as part of our text today.   So listen then to what the Spirit is telling the church this day.   Nicodemus, he represents one who is struggling to understand who Jesus is and it’s a struggle that many who hear the Good News of Jesus Christ have!   Is Jesus who he claims to be? For some it’s not a struggle at all and they come to believe straight away, for others it happens during their lifetime, a wrestling too and fro and for others it doesn’t happen at all – Jesus proves too much to accept and they are like those we read about in John 6:66, Jesus has been telling those around him of who he is and the consequence is that Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. They fail to believe.   Nicodemus though is struggling, and his questioning reveals many things.   He comes in the night. This leader of the Jews so he comes under the cover of darkness so that he would not be seen, but the word night in John’s gospel is also synonymous with not knowing or accepting whom Jesus is. Verse 19 says, the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.    Although Nicodemus does not yet believe, he affirms Jesus in three positive ways. Firstly, he calls him ‘Rabbi.’ Secondly, Nicodemus reveals that he speaks not just for himself, but others too – Nicodemus says ‘we know,’ and so he is not alone in his search for understanding. Thirdly, he says for himself and others to Jesus we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.       However, Nicodemus’ and so the others, base their understanding not on a revelation of the Holy Spirit, but because “no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”   Back in Chapter 2:23-24 we are told - many believed in Jesus’ name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them. Jesus was not just a doer of signs.   Nicodemus makes the erroneous assumption that he is the determiner of what is and what isn’t possible with God.   Jesus makes no comment on Nicodemus’ words, instead Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”   The Greek word from which from above is translated is ‘anOthen.’ It has a dual meaning, which is not only from above, but also again. Nicodemus focus’ on the born again. He interprets Jesus’ response to him with earthly realities, and again, as with the signs, he has made himself the determiner of what is and what isn’t possible with God, and he is closed to the sense of being born ‘from above,’ hence his resulting interaction with Jesus.   What is required however is to understand both meanings. Jesus offers Nicodemus a radical new birth – to be born again, not literally as determined by earthly understanding, but a new birth only made possible if it is at one and the same time, a birth that comes from above – ‘anOthen.’ Yet Nicodemus cannot embrace what he is being told. He cannot let go of his earthly understanding of birth. Yet Jesus doesn’t leave Nicodemus in that state of not knowing.   So Jesus tries again to lead Nicodemus to this new understanding. This time he uses the imagery of water and Spirit to break the bonds that hold Nicodemus.   Jesus repeats the words once again, You must be born anOthen, born again and born from above. This time when Jesus speaks, the You he uses is in the second person plural.  Jesus is not only speaking to Nicodemus and the other leaders, but also all those reading the gospel text – Jesus is talking to us. Y’all must be born again and born from above.   It’s why we must continue to share the good news with others, even though they may to our eyes and ears, have rejected it in the past.   Share it in our words and in our deeds. Living into what Jesus did for the ‘least of these.’ If God showed God’s love for the world by giving us God’s son, then we must likewise also show God ‘in love’ to others. It’s about putting into practice a love that comes not from us, but from God. We can try our best, but it will never be good enough, unless we overcome earthly expectations, earthly understandings like those Nicodemus clung on to and replace them by being born again and born from above.   [1]Herbert Vander Lugt, told the following story in 1997. He said, Years ago I heard a politician portray himself as a religious man. He admitted he was not part of any church, and he said nothing about a personal relationship with Jesus, but he said he tried to live by the words of Micah 6:8, “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.” His comments prompted me to take another look at this intriguing verse. In the preceding verses, the prophet condemned empty formalism (vv.6-7). He said the people’s religious activities were to be accompanied by a lifestyle marked by integrity, kindness, and humility before the Lord. Herbert went on to say, Micah 6:8 still applies to God’s people today. We may have put our trust in Jesus as our Savior, and we may attend church faithfully, give sacrificially, read our Bibles, and pray. But we must be careful that our good activities do not degenerate into empty formalism. Our faith must make a difference in how we live and how we treat others. We are to be people who walk humbly with God, who love to show mercy, and who uphold justice for His sake. Some people try to be good without knowing God. But it’s also wrong to say we know God if we don’t care about doing good. It takes both to share the good news, so that others too might be born again and born from above. Jesus also explains that the working of the Holy Spirit cannot be determined - The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   We are not the ones to determine the movement of the Spirit. The Spirit will do what the Spirit does, just like the wind blows, as it will.   It’s all too much for Nicodemus, he throws up his hands and say, “How can these things be?”   It’s simply too much for him. A situation we have to be aware of with those we interact with. As much as we might want others to accept Jesus Christ, we are not the determiners of when that will be, yet like Jesus we are to continue to try.   Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel. He knows the scriptures, but he is constrained by the earthly idea that everything is explainable and Jesus says, yet you do not understand these things?   Then Jesus explains, “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.”   Jesus conveys words of witness – we know, we see, we speak, we testify. It contrasts the actions of those who believe and those who do not believe. We read in the books of Acts, about when Peter is told to be silent by the very same folk that Nicodemus is a part of,   So the priests and Sadducees called Peter and John and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”   Keep witnessing and the words find their meaning in Jesus making the statement that the Son of Man must be lifted up,  – it’s in the crucifixion that the witness find its fulfillment.   Then come those very familiar words of John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. The last words of verse 15 say whoever believes in him may have eternal life. They are repeated in 16, but they now include the words may not perish. It emphasizes the magnitude of the decision that is at hand.   [2]David Enger and his wife were driving east on a remote ribbon of Canadian highway stretching between Wawa, Ontario, and neighboring Chapleau. The scenic northern road cuts through a forest of red pine, jack pine, aspen, and poplar. In the wooded terrain are lynx, wolves, moose, and lots of rocks. It’s an absolutely beautiful part of God’s creation. As they crested a gradual rise they saw a sign that read: Watershed line. All waters falling south of here flow to the Atlantic Ocean. All waters falling north of here flow to the Arctic Ocean. Unbeknown to them, they were right at the dividing line. The point at which a drop of rain fell made all the difference as to its final destination. Accepting or rejecting Christ is a kind of “watershed line.” It makes all the difference to our final destination. The moment we receive Him, we begin to enjoy a new life. As new creations of Christ, we are on the path that our text tells us that we may not perish. If however, we continue to reject Jesus, then the reverse is true. Unknowingly, many come to the point of either accepting or rejecting Jesus Christ without the understanding of the implications that our text of today speaks about. In truth, there is therefore a consequence of not accepting the love of God, given by God’s gift of Jesus Christ. That if there is belief then the ones who believe may not perish, but if the gift is rejected then, by implication those who reject Jesus, perish.   Verses 17-21 shed light on what this looks like. It mixes the belief and the unbelief and those you have come to the light and those who stay in the darkness. Remember, Nicodemus came at night, he had not yet believed, but later in Chapter 7:50, he stands up for Jesus in front of his peers and then in Chapter 19, he comes with Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body to the tomb. He comes in the light.   Verse 17 tells us, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”   Jesus came, Not to Condemn! But to save!   Words echoed by Paul to the Romans in 8:1, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The operative words are those who are in Christ Jesus.   With Jesus there comes a critical decision, a watershed, a decision for the world, for that is who Jesus came to save, as an expression of God’s love to all. Led by the Holy Spirit, the decision is that we might be born again and born from above, and in that moment we are in the light and have come to believe in Jesus Christ.   The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is that just like Jesus we are here not to condemn. We are here not to condemn, but to accept and tell all, and at one and the same time we are not to give up on anyone, but instead have a hope for all, by sharing all that it means to believe in Jesus Christ. We are thankfully not the arbiters of God’s love and not the determiners of what is and is not possible for God. We are not the ones to determine who will perish or who will not. In coming to believe, we are commanded to simply do two things, love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds, and with all our strength.’ The second is this, ‘We shall love our neighbor as ourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”   If we do these two things, then verse 21 is lived into, “those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”   May we condemn no one, may our lives open to others the possibility of being born again and born from above, and may all our deeds be done in God and all of God’s people said – Amen.       Michael D. Bodger, M.Div. Pastor & Teaching Elder First Presbyterian Church 724 North Woodland Blvd. DeLand, Florida 32720  © 2018 Michael D. Bodger. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.       [1] https://odb.org/1997/10/02/what-god-requires/ [2] https://odb.org/1995/09/22/watershed-line/