It Can't Be That Simple

How is it that the Gospel message can seem so simple but living the Christian life can seem so complicated?  This Sunday we will revisit Jesus' late night encounter with Nicodemus and let Him explain it all to us.

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2016-07-17 RP

 

With the number of people we’ve had out on mission trips, I wasn’t sure we’d have people here today. Every week we’ve had 10-20 people out to Michigan, Honduras, and some going to China. There are people out ministering on a week-to-week basis over the summer.

 

When I looked up here on stage during the worship, and see young people leading worship the way God is raising them up, that gives me hope and excitement looking forward. I want to encourage you to continue to let God use you.

 

It’s exciting to see how God works in different places and people. The message in song was the amazing gift of the love of God in His sacrifice.

 

I want to start us off with what may be a sensitive subject. By a show of hands, how many of you have had a family member, friend, loved one who lived in a leper colony. C’mon. You don’t have to be ashamed. No one?

 

Did you even realize that leprosy still occurs? According to the World Health Organization, there were 200,000 new cases of leprosy across the globe. For the last 30 years, 150-200 new case in the US, mostly in the southeast: TX, AR to FL.

 

Armadillos are natural carriers of leprosy. When you see one, don’t mess with it. With all this leprosy around, why don’t people live in leper colonies any more? Because we have medicines. And the doctor will hand you prescriptions, and you’ll have a 99% chance of a cure within a month.

 

But it wasn’t that way in Jesus’ time. It was a devastating disease. They wouldn’t have believed you that you could take pills for it. It can’t be that simple.

 

And a leper in Jesus day wouldn’t have any understanding of modern medicine. Of how the pills would work. Yet understanding isn’t necessary to be cured. Even today, you may not understand how they work. [technical language]

 

All that matters is that you have faith that it works and that you take the medication. But if you think about the decades of work that led up to the cure. It might be simple, but it wasn’t easy.

 

John 3 details a late-night conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. It contains the most commonly recognized verse in the Bible. Pay attention to how God structures His Word. He gives us truths and understandings when we understand verses in context. May God reveal His truths to us so that we can apply them in our daily lives.

 

Prayer: God, we pray we would recognize your love for us and that we would go from that to being the people you want us to be. Use your Spirit to speak your word to our hearts and let us see the truths you want us to see.

 

John 3:1-3 NIV

 3:1* ¶ Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.

 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know 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.”

 3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

 

Notice things John tells us about Nicodemus. Not only a Jew, but a Pharisee. Religious leader of his day. A strict follower of Torah, God’s Law. Historians believe Nicodemus was one of the most prominent teachers of his time, second only to the high priest.

Also, he was part of the ruling counsel, the Sanhedrin. The equivalent of the Jewish Supreme Court. When it comes to prestige and authority, there was almost no one higher than Nicodemus.

 

He came at night. Maybe sent by the Sanhedrin in response to what Jesus did in John 2? To investigate to learn more about Jesus. Came at night so it wouldn’t give Jesus credibility to the people.

Or, he came on his own, because others didn’t know he was there. A personal journey.

 

Nicodemus compliments Jesus. But Jesus knew Nicodemus’s heart and cuts through his intro with a strange statement: “You must be born again.”

 

3:4- 4* “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

 

Nicodemus knows that Jesus statement about needing to be born again is directed at Nicodemus. “How can a man be born when he’s old?”

 

Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus is a teacher. From God. But what Jesus requires is IMPOSSIBLE.

 

Even though Nic initiated the encounter, Jesus knows Nic’s heart and know how to go about doing his mission.

 

 5* Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is 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.”

 

Jesus lays out the duality of the world we live in. Physical and spiritual. Our physical bodies are born of flesh. The spiritual is just as real and important as the physical.

 

 9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

 

I used to gloss over this question. Nic was admitting he had no idea how spiritual birth took place. He was a prominent religious leader and had NO CLUE how spiritual life comes about.

 

 10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

 11 I tell you the truth, 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.

 

From the start, Jesus knew Nic’s real problem. What Nic was really seeking, even if Nic didn’t. Nic didn’t fathom what God was doing by sending Jesus. He acknowledge God sent Jesus, but he couldn’t comprehend it. Nic’s whole construct was physical. A physical Torah. He could physically obey. And if Torah didn’t cover something, he could go to the leaders to get clarification.

 

That’s why in 3:3, Jesus told Nic, “If all you have is the physical, you can never see or understand the Kingdom of God.” You have to experience spiritual life.

 

Jesus knew Nic wasn’t ready to accept 3:16. Nic was going to struggle with another aspect of the gospel. Torah is hard. Religion takes disciple. Spiritual birth can’t be simple. So Jesus reminded him of a familiar story.

 

 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,

 15* that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

 

Nic probably studied and taught this numerous times. It’s Numbers 21:1ff (NIV)

 

 21:1 ¶ When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them.

 2 Then Israel made this vow to the LORD: “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.”

 3 The LORD listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.

 4 ¶ They travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go round Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;

 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

 6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.

 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

 

Nic was familiar with the pattern: Israelites in predicament, God gives deliverance and they are delivered. They become complacent. They complain. God sends punishment. They cry out to God.

 

In John 3, Jesus refers to v8.

 

 8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

 

Jesus was setting up an analogy of the physical salvation with the snake as a lesson about spiritual salvation.

 

Physical snakes represent Satan. Death represents spiritual death. People cry out for salvation. He provides a way.

 

How do they get saved? Look upon the snake and live. Big question for Nic: Why did this work? because God said so.

 

You could ask, “Nic, why are there sun, moon, stars?” because God said, and it was so.

“Why are there plants and animals?” because God said, and it was so.

Genesis 1:

v6 - Let there be sky, and it was so.

v9 - let there be land

v11 - let there be plants

v20,24,26 - God said, and it was so. Nic could point to that for everything he knew in the physical world.

 

In v28, he made the case that no matter how impossible or simple it seems, it’s true.

 

That brings us to 3:16

 

 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.

 

God SAID, whoever believes in Jesus an his sacrifice.

 

Jesus needed to prep Nic for 2 truths:

1. spiritual salvation and a completely new life.

2. the birth process for attaining the new birth is as easy as the Israelites looking at the bronze serpent.

 

So, if it’s so simple, why isn’t everyone a Christian?

 

3:17ff

 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

 

“verdict” = “judgment”. The judgment of a judge or jury at the end of trial to reach a conclusion based n the evidence.

Many don’t believe in the evidence of God’s love. The verdict: they love the darkness. their sin. Jesus tells us, as long as they live in the darkness, they don’t have to

 

Rom 3:23, 6:23

 23* for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Pastor Michael addressed a prominent sin in our society a few weeks ago. Not that it’s worse, but more prominent. All have sinned.

 

There’s a spiritual death from which we must be born again.

 

Luckily for us—or rather gracefully for us—there’s Romans 6:23 - the wages of sin is death BUT the gift of God is e-life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

John 3:21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

 

They don’t care if God exposes them for what they really are. because the light also reveals the truth of John 3:16, which gives us the assurance, “God loves you.”

 

The gospel really is that simple, but it’s not easy.

 

What’d God give? His one and only son. I’ve warned you that if your salvation requires me to give one of my sons to pay for your sins, you’re in trouble.

 

But luckily for you, it doesn’t rely on me or my sons, it relies on God.

 

What does it mean, “he gave”? Look at 3:13 -  13* No-one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man.

 

You aren’t just a physical being intended to live on this earth. You’re also a spiritual being intended to live with God in heaven.

 

 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,

 

God gave his son to pay the required sacrifice for everyone’s sin. He was literally lifted up for everyone. Before that, he was betrayed, beaten, ridiculed, taunted, paraded through the streets, nailed to a cross. Then, after all that, he was lifted up where we slowly suffocated and bled to death.

 

The two truths of John 3:16

a. Jesus lifted up is definitive truth - Rom 5:8

b. If you believe in Jesus, who he is, where he’s from, what he did, you SHALL NOT PERISH but have ETERNAL LIFE.

 

How do we know this is true? because God said so, and it was so.

 

It was a late-night conversation between two people. But it wasn’t meant just for Nic. Nic wasn’t the first to trust in his religion, hoping his efforts would be enough to earn him salvation. He wasn’t the only one to think it can’t be simple, especially for certain sins.

 

The church is and always has been full of people struggling with these things. This concept of us struggling “This can’t be that simple.” It’s ok to consider people who’re about as bad as we are. But if we look out at ISIS, Jefrey Daumer, people who mow down people celebrating July 4.

 

The gospel seems simple and powerful enough for Mother Theresa. But for all those others, it’s a stretch to believe that gospel is enough for this.

 

Realize, though, that Mother Theresa wasn’t saved because she was Mother Teresa. She was Mother Teresa because she was saved.

 

Now that Jesus has explained all this to you, YOU have to decide. will you come into the light? Seeing Jesus lifted up, will you accept God loves you, despite your background? Will you believe God is God and his word is true?

 

If you have, you are born again. The gospel isn’t easy but it is that simple.

 

Sam’ll lead us as we close.

 

I want to appeal to two kinds of people:

1. Some who may not have looked upon God in the way Nic was taught by Jesus. Nic got it because Jesus is a pretty good teacher. The evidence later is that Nic was with Joseph of Arimathea when they were claiming the body of Jesus. He understood what happened when Jesus was lifted up. If you’ve never made the step of looking upon Jesus for the sin in your life that causes eternal death, i pray you’ll come down and share with the counselors.

 

2. If you don’t have a consistent fellowship with a church: I hope our church is about the simplicity and power of the gospel message. And that we encourage one another in fellowship so we can take the message out to the world. That’s what the folks in Honduras are doing today.

 

If you’re in one of those categories, talk to a counselor and let God lead you.

 

11:12

 

Will prays, “May the truth You’ve spoken through Rip saturate our minds.”