As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Enter the Impossible Love of God, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 16 March, 2014. The Bible reading was John 2:23-3:21.
Did you know that it was impossible for Jesus to be a Christian? Think about it – a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ, and if you follow yourself you’ll just end up going around in circles. It was impossible for Jesus to follow himself and to be a Christian.
The reading today is one that is probably fairly familiar to those that have been in the church for a while, and I expanded it out a bit to get some context into what we normally read. It deals a lot with what is possible, and what is impossible.
So we’re asking some big questions this morning. What is your big, impossible dreams? On arriving here in Devonport, one of Liesl and my early impossible dreams is to buy the old abandoned hospital and turn it into emergency housing for the homeless. Is it impossible? With our current funding – yes. But we’ll keep praying, because we know God has a funny way of making the impossible possible.
Another big question for you – do you limit God to the possible?
We are limited by our knowledge of God
Nicodemus came to Jesus, thinking he knew who Jesus was. He had seen the signs – the miracles – that Jesus had performed. And, being a teacher and leader of the Jews, he came to Jesus and said “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Nicodemus knew because of the signs that he had seen. But because of this, it actually limited Nicodemus’ faith. He believed in what he had seen.
The little passage we read from the end of chapter 2 is saying that while many people were believing, Jesus didn’t go to them, because their faith was solely on what they had seen. And while what they had seen may have been the impossible, when you believe only in the things you can see, you are actually limiting God to the possible – for once the impossible has been done, it is no longer impossible, but possible.
So Jesus uses the opportunity to teach Nicodemus. “Truly I tell you, no-one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.” Or Born from above. Jesus uses a greek word here with purpose. The word, ανωθεν (anothen), can actually mean two things – like the image one the screen (bass playing bass) or the sentence (buffalo buffalo etc) where the words are spelt the same, but mean completely different things. In this case, anothen can mean Born again, but it can also mean born from above. But Nicodemus doesn’t see the double meaning – he is stuck in the things that he knows. The only way someone can be born is to come out of the womb as a baby. His understanding of Jesus’ teaching is blocked by his knowledge.
I understand Nicodemus. I’m a bit of an academic – I’m in the middle of a Masters degree, and I love getting in and discovering things that I find interesting, but many people probably don’t. And I get that he wants to understand by the things that he can see. It’s a very scientific approach – if I can’t observe it with one of my senses, then it cannot be. But we’re dealing with a God that is not of our world, that is not of our senses – because he made our senses. In order to understand Jesus, we need to release some of our physical understanding. Jesus talks about the need for us to release our physical understanding – “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” There’s a quote from the band DC Talk, who asked, “Can you see God? Can you see the wind? You can see the effects of the wind, but you cannot see the wind. It’s a mystery to me.” When dealing with God, who is not of our world, we need a fresh start.
Through Faith in God, we can start again
Thankfully, that is what God is offering us. By being Born again, or born from above, by welcoming in the spirit of God into our lives, we have that opportunity to start again. We can start with the fresh understanding that Jesus gives us and start to understand what God can do through us.
John talks a lot about light and dark. It takes a bit of understanding to pick up his clues, but he gives a big one here – “everyone who does evil hates the light” and “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light”. So when we see Nicodemus come to Jesus by night – even though he says all these wonderful things about Jesus, we understand that because he came at night, when it was dark, he didn’t really believe.
Before we came to know God, to accept Jesus as Lord, we all were in the dark. We did things that weren’t righteous – things that weren’t of God. We sinned. Big time. There’s a T-shirt that was going around a few years ago in church circles – I’m the wretch the song talks about – which references Amazing Grace “Amazing Grace, how sweet a sound that saved a wretch like me.” It is through Grace – and the love of God – that all of us wretches are saved. When we accept that gift of grace, we come out of the darkness, we leave it behind, and we step into the light.
But what is Grace? It’s a bit of a tough concept.
There’s a prisoner, on death row. It’s the day of his execution. He has had his last meal, and is waiting to be taken to the place of his death. The warden comes in, sits down next to him, with an envelope in his hands. He says “You’ve been pardoned, son. You’re free to go.” The warden puts the envelope down on the table, and leaves the cell, leaving the cell door wide open.
That prisoner now has a choice. He can remain there in the cell, remain imprisoned in his own life. Or he can pick up that pardon, walk out of the dark cell and into the light. That’s what grace is.
We are welcomed in by the impossible love of God
And when we pick up that envelope, when we accept that gift of Grace, we are welcomed into the impossible love of God. We all are sinners. There is no-one here who is not a sinner, who is not in need of the grace of God. And the fact is that no matter how hard we try, we never meet the blameless standard that God expects. Although I try as best I can to live a holy life, I am just as much a sinner as every one of you, and I am just as in need of God’s grace as the next person. And though it’s impossible to understand, when we accept that gift of Grace, we are welcomed into the impossible love of God. “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.” Jesus paid the punishment so that we would not perish, but that we would live with Christ for eternity.
Now that comes with responsibilities. As I said, I try as much as I can to live a holy and blameless life. Yes, I fail and I do sin, but I spend every effort that I can in trying to live that blameless life. Why? Because I live in the light. “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it maybe clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” If I am living as a sinner, quite often we do things that we don’t want people to see. Whenever I hear statistics of alcoholism, gambling addictions, domestic violence, and other problems of our society, I know that the rate is always higher than quoted, due to the number of people who have those problems but manage to hide them, who don’t admit them. But when I accepted that gift of grace, I left that prison cell, I left the darkness, and I chose to live in the light. As such, what I do – that’s for the glory of God, for all to see. Do I want God to be represented by the good work that I do, the blameless sinless life that I attempt to live? Or do I want God to be represented by someone who takes the gift of grace, and throws it back in his face?
Just like the prisoner has the choice to remain in the cell or to leave, if that prisoner chooses to leave then they have another choice – to change their ways, so as to not end up back in that cell, or to go on living the life that they had before, and end up in that same situation – having had their last meal and awaiting to be taken to their doom.
Be continually reborn into the impossible love of God and declare I believe in Jesus, who died for me.
So take the choice to accept that gift of grace. It’s there, waiting for you. And when you step up to accept it, declare it loudly that Jesus is Lord, declare it loudly that I believe in Jesus. Don’t hide or shy away from what God has done for you. Proclaim it from your seat, shout it out from the rooftops, write it loudly in capital letter on your Facebook and your Twitter, and however you connect. Let Jesus infuse every part of your life. It’s a process of continually being reborn into God’s impossible love, and living in the light.
Here at the mercy seat, is your pardon. Will you pick up your pardon, or will you remain in your cell?
After we watch this video, which declares strongly that Jesus is lord, we will sing, and you are invited – at any time – to come, and to pick up your pardon. What you do with it… that’s what counts.