Lent Focus 2024 - Sermon - 25 February 2024 – completely4giving, responding to God's love - #2 giving redeemer

Published On: 

Sun 25 Feb 2024 — 4:05 pm

Ephesians 2:1-10 / John 3:1-16

Questions that must be answered. Nicodemus had questions. His need for answers drove him to seek a night time meeting with Jesus.

For four centuries there had been silence. The last of the Old Testament prophets had given their words of the Lord to the people. Then just silence. Was God still at work among his chosen people Israel, or had he abandoned them forever? Their land was now a Roman colony whose rulers were just puppet kings. Would their religious leaders make some sense of this? The faithful in the land were praying and seeking the Lord and it seems that Nicodemus too was seeking. Seeking to know if Jesus was the saviour that faithful Jews were expecting.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and part of the ruling council of Jerusalem. But he was not visiting Jesus on official business.

If Nicodemus had been representing the council with questions for Jesus, why come at night? There were plenty of other occasions when Pharisees and teachers of the law questioned Jesus during the day.

This was personal. He needed to know if Jesus really did speak for God, and what God’s message would be.

But Nicodemus was not the only one who wanted to know more about Jesus, for he said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.”

So we have evidence that among the ruling council of Jerusalem there was a group of sincere inquirers who believed that Jesus was a teacher sent by God.

Nicodemus came because he wanted desperately to know what message from God Jesus had been sent to deliver. Nicodemus was hungry to know everything that God wanted to teach him.

There are people around us today who are asking questions and who are hungry for God. They are seeking answers to life's faith questions. We can show them they are not alone. Others like them also ask questions. We too have asked the faith questions of life. God has communicated with humanity by sending a redeemer.

Nicodemus' question is an unstated question. But Jesus realises that Nicodemus is a seeker and gets to the heart of the matter.

John 3:3

[3]Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. ”

For us the phrase ‘born again’ is familiar and carries connotations that would have been unknown to Nicodemus. He was hearing the phrase with fresh ears. If we are to receive Jesus teaching we must try to do the same.

Nicodemus took the phrase quite literally and questioned how a grown man could enter his mother's womb to be born again.

John 3:5

[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.

 The kind of birth that Jesus was referring to was not a birth by water, perhaps referring to the breaking of waters before childbirth, but a birth by the Spirit.

Birth is a change of state. The unborn child knows only the dark state of the womb. When it is born it is flooded by light, cool air, and strange tactile sensations it has never known. The world a child enters into is dramatically different from the world that it has left.

The spirit is as different from flesh as the inside of the womb is different from the operating theatre in which a child breathes it's first few independent breaths.

John 3:6-7

[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.’

In saying these words Jesus indicated that natural birth “by flesh” and spiritual birth “by spirit” are different. Spiritual birth is a change brought about by the Spirit of God.

It is the same change that Paul wrote about when he wrote:

Ephesians 2:4-5

[4]But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,

[5]made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Paul started this chapter of Ephesians by recollecting the spiritual condition of the Ephesians before Paul had visited Ephesus. But not only those Ephesians, for Paul wrote, ‘all of us’ meaning all the church, every Christian believer.

And that spiritual condition was death, caused by sin committed by following the ways of the world in disobedience to God.

Ephesians 2:3

[3]All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

Each Sunday we gather for worship, and in our services we confess our sins. That alone should give us pause to consider our situation in the absence of God's grace.

But in our services we also receive the forgiveness of God. Forgiveness is granted by God, purely by his grace. So much more is given with it. In this series we celebrate our ‘giving redeemer’.

‘in Jesus Christ God made himself known and acted to save the world.’

Redemption is to be bought back. God paid something, the suffering and death of his son, so that we may be restored to the state that he always intended for us. Dead in our sin is our natural state, a result of the fall. But before the fall, humans lived in a state of grace, fellowshiping with God. That is how he intends us to live. That is made possible by our giving redeemer.

Can you say as Job did:

Job 19:25-27

[25]I know that my redeemer lives,

    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

[26]And after my skin has been destroyed,

    yet in my flesh I will see God;

[27]I myself will see him

    with my own eyes—I, and not another.

    How my heart yearns within me!

Paul had this same hope:

Ephesians 2:6-7

[6]And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

[7]in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Our spiritual position now, if we have repented of our sins and put our faith in Jesus, is raised with Jesus and seated in the heavenly realms. In prayer we have an audience of one, attentive to our every word, whose grace knows no bounds. We are seated in the heavenly realms, so our prayers are heard in the throne room of God, who commands spiritual forces beyond our wildest imagining. At the right hand of the enthroned Father is Jesus who pleads our cause before him. What then, can stand in the way of God to give to us all good things?

That he will do this is evident because he has seated us in the heavenly realms in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

There is something that God wants to show, namely, the incomparable riches of his grace. He wants to show this because that's how others will come to know how good he is. Others will know how good he is because they see his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Jesus. That kindness is redemption, that our sins are forgiven and we are in a right relationship with God again.

We remind ourselves of the definition of grace - unmerited favour - we have done nothing to deserve it, so well expressed in Paul's words:

Ephesians 2:8-9

[8]For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

[9]not by works, so that no one can boast.

Even that faith which may rise in me at the moment I first acknowledge for myself that I believe in Jesus Christ, that he died for my sins, and has saved me - even that faith is the gift of God. Salvation is entirely his work.

And the gospel of good deeds is the opposite of the gospel of grace. One makes people feel inadequate and cut off from God, the other welcomes with open arms those that know they can never pay off the debt of their sins.

Since God has shown us this grace and given us this great gift, our sins forgiven, how can we hold back this same grace from others?

Although a gospel of good deeds stands in opposition to the gospel of grace, good deeds have their place.

Ephesians 2:10

[10]For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

One person says “I do good deeds so that God will forgive me.” Another says “I do good deeds because the Bible tells me that God has forgiven me”.

Good deeds are the appropriate response to the gospel of grace. The heart that has learnt to love the gracious saviour is motivated by gratitude to do good deeds.

And God has a purpose for us. The good deeds he wants us to perform are those that he has prepared in advance for us to do. So our task is to find out what those good deeds are and to do them.

As we turn from self orientation to other centredness, which is a continual battle, God will show us those who need our help, to whom there will be opportunities to share God's grace, and to invite to share in all the goodness of God's family.

Nicodemus struggled to understand Jesus words. Jesus used the metaphor of the uncontrollable wind to describe the action of the Holy Spirit.

John 3:8

[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.”

Upon whom the wind of the Spirit will blow next is something God alone knows. Nicodemus visited Jesus in the night, which is seen as an allusion to the spiritual darkness which characterised much of the ruling council of Jerusalem in Jesus day.

At the end of our gospel reading we hear possibly the best known verse of the Bible, one that seems to sum up the heart of the gospel message.

John 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.

Did Nicodemus find that saving faith?

From this gospel reading we just don't know. Jesus speaks of a wilful refusal to accept him.

John 3:11

[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.

The portrayal of the religious leaders of Jesus day in the gospels shows them as stubbornly continuing in their usual ways despite the preaching of Jesus and the testimony of the miracles he performed.

But in the case of Nicodemus there are some clues how his faith developed in the rest of the gospel.

In John chapter 7 the people of Jerusalem were discussing among themselves what they thought about Jesus. Some said he was a prophet, others said that he was the Messiah, and others said that the Messiah would be someone that no-one knew the origin of. And since they knew where Jesus was from, he couldn't be the Messiah.

In the ruling council of Jerusalem a similar discussion  took place in which Nicodemus said,

John 7:51 Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?

[52]They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

Nicodemus spoke up for Jesus to the extent that he risked the ill-opinion of his peers. He was brave enough when the time arose, to say a word in Jesus defence, of calling his peers to remember the laws and standards by which they self-regulated their own religious conduct, and by calling each back to their own conscience before God. In their response these religious leaders, by asking ‘are you from Galilee too?’, associated Nicodemus with our gentle Galilean saviour.

And in the final pages of John's gospel, we read that…

John 19:38-39 Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus body away. “He was accompanied by Nicodemus the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a 100 pounds weight.”

Nicodemus had followed the ministry of Jesus, and at the end when Jesus had been crucified, he put himself to personal cost to see that Jesus had a fitting burial.

100 pounds weight of myrrh and aloes. That's about 45kg. Imagine having to carry that. And although Nicodemus had first visited Jesus at night, after Jesus’ death he came in broad daylight and carrying a not inconspicuous amount of spice. There was someone who was willing to go public for Jesus.

And the cost of those spices expressed in today's money, we can't by fully sure, but would certainly have been a six figure sum. Now we also don't know how much wealth Nicodemus possessed and what proportion of his wealth these spices represented, but by anyone's standards this was a costly gift.

A normal burial would have used about 5 pounds of spices. 100 pounds was the kind of amount that was used to bury royalty. It seems that Nicodemus had understood that Jesus was King. But this act of preparing Jesus' body for burial was also an act of love.

Nicodemus, who could have gone with the crowd, who could have bowed to the pressure of his peers and superiors, followed the ministry of Jesus and discovered a respect, honour and love for him.

Since Nicodemus responded to Jesus grace by public testimony at the risk of ill-opinion, by generous giving and by genuine love, will we do the same?


Martin Brightman

25 Feb 24