Mar 12, 2017 – Darkness is Daylight when Jesus is there.
What we just sang is up on the screen, Christ be my leader by night as by day – safe through the darkness for He is the way. That song could have been written by Nicodemus, the chief actor in today’s gospel. I say Nicodemus is the chief actor because it’s Nicodemus that took a risk and came, by night, to see Jesus. That was a dangerous and risky thing to do.
But Nicodemus steps out into the dangers of the night because Truth is what matters for him. That’s what drives him to take the risk to go to Jesus. Besides the danger of being attacked at night and the risk to his reputation and standing in the community, Nicodemus takes another chance. There’s risk in seeking the truth. There’s danger in seeking the truth. The danger is you won’t like what the truth is and the risk is that the truth will change you. Fortunately, that risk has come true for Nicodemus and for you and I.
The truth that Nicodemus risked his night-journey to Jesus for, changed Nicodemus. The change began right there when Jesus brightened the night for Nicodemus with the truth that ‘God so loved the world… ’ So also for you and I; our change happened when Jesus entered our lives through the gift of faith. We are living a risky life because we are living by the truth of Jesus Christ.
We also are in danger as Nicodemus was. It was a danger for Nicodemus to come and ask his questions and he was not happy with the answer as the tone of his response tells us. Look at verse 4, Nicodemus says, ‘how can this be, surely a man cannot enter as second time into his mother’s womb and be born again’!
So often times we also are not happy with God’s answer to our questions. We want the truth but, like at burger king, we want it our way. A fisherman had spent the entire day on a lake and had no luck. Not wanting to go home empty-handed, he stopped at the local fish shop and asked for three large trout. “Shall I wrap them for you?” asked the clerk. “No!” replied the fisherman. “Just toss them over the counter to me… carefully, one at a time!” The clerk was puzzled. “Why do you want me to throw them to you? You might drop them on the floor.” The fisherman explained, “I’ve been fishing all day and I haven’t caught a thing. Now I may not be a very good fisherman, but I’m an even worse liar. When I get home my wife is going to ask me if I ‘caught’ anything. I want to be able to tell her the truth.”
The danger about truth is, unlike the fisherman, we don’t get to decide what truth is or how God should put ‘it’ in our hands. All truth is God’s truth. That, by the way, is why science is not a scary thing to Christians. Science helps us to understand the truth of God’s creation. But science does not define for us the whole of the experience of God’s creation. God is not confined to His creation nor is He confined to what scientists say He should be.
Truth changes you. That is inevitable. You may want to hide from it, as Nicodemus seemed to want to do at first, but later we know he didn’t. Later he embraced the truth that Jesus is the One sent from God to restore and reconcile this world to God. And that was because of God’s compassion for His creation. That’s what John 3:16 is all about. For God so loved the world… that! That He sent Jesus Christ His only Son to redeem creation. And the truth is that anyone, anyone who trusts in Jesus as the One sent to do that will of God, has taken the risk, and suffered the danger of being changed by that truth. And they are made children of God by His gift of faith.
The truth of God coming to earth in the form of a man, this man, Jesus Christ, was what compelled Nicodemus to come to see Him and ask Him his questions. Nicodemus had to know if this man was indeed the Promised One of God.
Now, Jesus honors Nicodemus’ coming to Him by being up-front with him. Jesus didn’t pull His punches in order to curry favor with a high muckety muck. In fact, Jesus put Nicodemus in his place when He said, ‘still you people do not accept our testimony.’ That was like saying ‘you ignorant simpleton’! Nicodemus was a member of the Pharisees! He was, as Jesus acknowledged, a teacher of the people. But Jesus needed this teacher to understand the lesson Jesus was teaching.
This was a man who was feared in the society of his day. Nic could make life difficult for a Jew. But Jesus wasn’t afraid of the difficulties that might arise from offending this man and Jesus needed the disciples, and you and I, to see that.
We need to understand that the truth of Jesus Christ stands up to any scrutiny. And that we contend not for a mere intellectual proposition, nor some vague spiritual understanding or superficial awakening, no! We contend for the explosive truth that Jesus is the living Son of God. It’s dangerous, what we believe. It’s dangerous to us and it’s dangerous to those around us.
When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again of water and the Spirit and that it is, of the Spirit, that man must be born again, Nicodemus finds himself again, in the darkness, but rather than the darkness of night, it is the darkness of his own limited, human, reasoning. He is in no different a position than you and I when we try to reduce the truth of God to something that we can get reduced down into our own comfortable mental grasp.
I heard of a man who came up to a preacher one time after the preacher had talked about the truth of the holy trinity and told him that, while he understood the words, the idea of the trinity just didn’t make sense to him. The preacher asked the man, ‘what’s your hat size?’ The man said, ‘7 and ¾, why?’ The preacher said, ‘I was wondering how you expected to fit the knowledge and understanding of the God of the universe inside such a small amount of space?’
The truth of God, that we are loved by Him so much that He would sacrifice His own Son to die for us on the cross to pay for our sinful, dark ways and rise to new life again from the grave to put us on the path of light, that is not something that fits into a person’s natural conception of God. That natural conception of God is how a person without the gift of God’s grace sees Him.
And we must remember that, as we seek to share Christ with others. We must be patient with them and remember they are in the dark, as we were before the light of Christ was given to us, by grace through faith alone. It’s only as we are born again, as we are born of water and the Spirit, as Jesus told Nicodemus, that we have the light of truth dawn on us – and in us.
The Hindus have a festival that literally lights up their cities and homes. Oil lamps line every windowsill and fireworks explode in the sky through the night. The festival is in honor of the idol Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of good fortune and wealth. Hindus light up their homes and explode fireworks into the sky to attract this goddess so that she will bring them wealth and good fortune for the coming year. But our God, the only true God, at Christmas sent His Light and Truth to us, shining with divine glory, to attract us to His grace and gifts. We can do nothing to attract God to us.
That explosive truth is what Nicodemus came to understand that night. And explosives, like the truth, when handled right, can do great good. And that’s what we’re called to do, great good. We’re to do great good, in Jesus name. Great good is done by properly handling God’s word. That means laying hold of what Jesus is doing in this gospel lesson today with Nicodemus. We understand that Jesus came because of the love of God for us and for this whole world. That’s the lesson Jesus is trying to teach this teacher of Israel.
When people are not given the truth, they live in darkness. ‘Darkness is Daylight when Jesus is There’ is the truth we sang in the hymn a few minutes ago. That’s true because Jesus is the light of truth Who has come to us in this world – we didn’t or couldn’t do anything to try and entice Him to bring His light of truth to us.
When we’re left to ourselves and to our own limited human reasoning we are in the dangerous-dark as Nicodemus was when he tried to sort out Jesus words in the gospel lesson today. We’ve had the capacity for reason given to us by a reasonable and rational God. But God, as we said earlier, is not limited to our understanding of Him. If He was… He would not be God.
And so we can appreciate Nicodemus’ confusion at Jesus’ words on this night. But like Nicodemus, Jesus does not leave us alone in our darkness. The light of God’s love that explodes in the words of John 3:16 give us hope, assurance and security through the darkness around us.
These words are useful for us in bringing light to those around us in our lives as we see them struggling alone in the darkness of their own soul. These words of truth are the risky words that changed Nicodemus, and you and I. Say these words with me as we close, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. In the light of Jesus, we pray, amen.
Sermon #875 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Old Testament Reading Genesis 12:1-9
12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.
Epistle Reading Romans 4:1-8, 13-17
4 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
Holy Gospel John 3:1-17
3 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 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.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “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!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.