Original post at http://dlollis.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/course-correction-week-2-changing-lanes/
Last week, we started a new series called “Course Correction.”
Don’t worry if you missed last week. We’re going to catch you up in a moment.
Here’s why this series is so important: Every life is on a journey and that journey leads to a destination. And we all have moments when things get sideways, when we end up in the ditch. In this series, we’re going to come back to the idea that if we want to reach a different destination, it’s not about quick fixes, it’s not about having great intentions. If you want to reach a different destination, you have to change the direction you’re heading.
Now before we begin this week’s piece of the journey, let’s pause for a moment and pray.
Sin is the problem. That’s where we left things last week. We are all directionally challenged because we have a common problem. Sin.
So if your mind works as my mind works, you know that if you have a problem, then you can move to next big question.
What can we do about the problem?
Parents throughout the centuries have tried to solve this problem of sin. It might have involved extra chores, maybe a belt, or time out or grounding.
All of those things are definitely reminders that sin has consequences. However, they fail miserably as a cure for sin. My parents punished me for mine and I still sinned again!
So what can we do about this problem?
I’ve tried in my life by affirming over and over again that I will not sin. I will not do this. And low and behold, I have those moments when I give into temptation, when I sin.
So what can we do about the sin problem?
Well, here’s the honest answer. Absolutely nothing.
We can’t be good enough, we can’t earn it, we can’t pay for it. We can’t talk your way out of it. We can’t solve.
We have a problem of sin and we’re stinking powerless to do anything about it.
That’s why what we’re going to talk about today is absolutely one of the most important things we’ll ever hear in our lives. In fact, what we’re about to talk about has changed directions in a lot of journeys. It has set a lot of people on the path to a new destination, an incredible destination.
So, let’s find out what it’s all about!
I don’t know about you, but last Sunday wore me out. What a tough, tough passage to work through. If you weren’t here, or if you were here and you were trying to make up that hour you lost in the time change, we talked about that passage from Genesis where it all ends up in a ditch. Sin enters the world and it is our problem.
To understand God’s answer, we’re going to meet someone who would have really known that passage from Genesis. He had studied it, he probably had it memorized.
And he is going to have a conversation with Jesus. Sometimes, we say that we wish we could ask Jesus about this situation in our life. Well, this guy we’re going to read about today does just that. He sits down with Jesus and has a face-to-face conversation.
At the heart of that conversation is the bigger question of “What do I do about this problem of sin in my life?”
So let’s turn today to John’s account of the ministry, the gospel of Jesus. We’re going to pick it up in Chapter 3.
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.
I won’t make you show your hands, but how many of you when you hear the word, “Pharisee,” in church start to get a less than warm and fuzzy feeling? Well, Nicodemus is a Pharisee. So before we write him off as one of those pharisees, let’s get a glimpse of a Pharisee.
A Pharisee was usually a lay member of the synagogue. Pharisees worked at a job during the day and then got together at night for religious debates and to study the law. They knew the law of God inside and out. They devoted their lives to following it and trying to be holy. They would defend the church as they knew it with their lives. And so remember when Pharisees got together to study? Night?
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.”
He’s throwing out a compliment to Jesus and Jesus responds in a way we don’t expect Jesus to respond.
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
The book of John often has double meanings. Here we’re talking about being born in the way that we’re thinking about being born. At the same time, Jesus is talking about being born from above. We’re sitting here in 2014 and it’s easy to look back and look down on Nicodemus. But let’s be honest, can you really explain how God does it? I mean really explain how it’s possible, what makes it happen, where it happens? That’s the boat that Nicodemus is in. This is a highly educated man and I think he thinks that Jesus is messing with him.
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!” What he left out is, “Jesus, that’s just freaky!” But Jesus is going to show him that he’s talking about something even bigger than Nicodemus’s original birth.
I would imagine that Nicodemus is laughing a little. This is absolutely unbelievable. This is about as plausible as Abraham and Sarah having a child in their very old age, as a man being swallowed by a big fish and spit up on dry land, of a couple of teen parents raising the child of God. It’s about as plausible as someone dying on the cross and getting back up again three days later.
But Jesus quickly cues him in that this is not a joke.
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.”
This new birth isn’t like your original birth. This new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s a spiritual birth and it changes everything.
And Nicodemus asks the obvious question.
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.
Jesus is pointing back to the fact that Nicodemus is a teacher, a respected religious leader. He knows the scripture and the prophecies. Yet, with all of that knowledge, he has failed, to this point, to see that the one sitting in front of him is the one he’s read about and studied about. Jesus continues:
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.
Last week, we talked about a serpent when we talked about sin being the problem. Jesus is going to talk about a serpent too:
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.”
God saved the Israelites in the wilderness from their own sin by having them look up at a bronze snake on a pole. Now, Jesus is saying that he has to be lifted up so that those who believe in him will live.
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
How do we take a passage such as this and sum it up? Especially in light of our problem of sin and the need for a course correction? I believe we can do it this way: God’s answer is new life.
I invite you to say that with me: God’s answer is new life.
That exchange that we just read is important. We love to skip forward to a verse in John 3 without wrestling with the conversation that comes before it.
But Nicodemus captures so much of our struggle with this idea of being born again and recognizing who Jesus really is. What’s interesting about this though is that this conversation leads the writer of John to start preaching a sermon. It follows right on the heels of this conversation.
Maybe to completely understand the impact of this conversation and the ways that God can change our course, our direction with new life, then maybe we have to step into John’s sermon.
It comes in the next couple of verses and it begins with probably the most famous single verse of scripture. John 3:16.
16 For God so loved the world
Do you get that God loves the world. In loves it in such an amazing way. Doesn’t that really fly in the face of some of the things we hear about how God hates this world. God loves a world that sometimes seems to even hate God. But he loved it and that love led him to do something.
that he gave his one and only Son,
You might have heard before that we are to be “cheerful givers.” You can give as cheerfully as you can but you simply can’t out-give God. To save a world that’s in a desperate place from the problem of sin, God goes big. God gives himself, God gives Jesus. God steps into this world to save us from ourselves. You simply can’t out-give God.
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Maybe one of the biggest challenges for us, one of the biggest challenges for a man such as Nicodemus, was accepting the simplicity of this statement. It’s beyond our ability to control. We don’t earn it. We don’t buy it. We don’t even deserve it. We simply get there by believing.
And we often stop there, but there’s something amazing in the next verse. Check this out.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
In other words, when Jesus shows up, he doesn’t step in the world, shake his head and say, you are beyond my help. He didn’t show up to kick it down, to bury it, to put the fork in it. No, no, no.
And this is why for all of us in this room, this idea of course correction is so important. If Jesus can step into this world and not condemn it to die, if Jesus can step into a world with a sin problem and still see the possibility of holiness, then Jesus can certainly step into that situation you’ve created for yourself, into that behavior you don’t want others to know about, he can walk with you through that mistake, he can help you through that problem of sin. Why? Because Jesus has a singular purpose and focus:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
God’s purpose in your life is not to condemn you as a miserable sinner with no chance. God’s great desire for you is that you’ll get to know his son, that you’ll experience that new birth, that you’ll have a change of direction in your journey and start to head in a new direction with amazing eternal implications.
God’s greatest desire for you is that your life will be saved from a problem you can not fix.
We are directionally challenged.
Sin is the problem.
We can’t do a thing on our own to fix it.
And the good news, the great news, the best news ever, is that God loves you so much that he’s willing to take care of it for you.
A course correction is possible. A new destination is in sight.
Will you simply and completely believe that Jesus came to give you, yes, even me, even you, new life.
God’s answer to the problem of sin is new life.