John 1:1-18

            I once spent several months in Tacoma, Washington.  The first few weeks I was in that wonderful city it was overcast, cloudy, and dreary.  Then, one morning, I woke up to a bright sunshine and looked out my window.  Behold! It was as if someone had dropped mountains on the landscape overnight.  And there was Mount Rainier staring me right in the face!  But I had seen none of it for weeks.  It is rather amazing what the light can do for us.
 
            “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”  Seeing the light, becoming a child of God, and being born again is a precious gift.  We can neither make ourselves see in the dark, nor can we cause ourselves to be Christians; only God can do it.  Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and through the will of God, Jesus is made known to us.
 
            What this means is that salvation, deliverance from sin, death, and hell is solely the work of God.  It all comes through the willingness of God in Christ to rescue us.  We cannot earn it, work for it, or pay-off our debt of sin.  Just as I was in awe of the majestic mountains that were in front of me, so I am slack-jawed over the grace of God in Christ that saved a sinner like me.  In Christ, there is rest.  Praise and adoration is the appropriate response to such mercy.
 

 

            Saving God, you have sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, to be the light of the world.  Shine in the darkness so that many others might know that grace and truth comes through Christ.  Thank you for saving me.  Please deliver many more from their groping in the dark.  Amen.

Hebrews 10:10-18

            As I sit here at my computer easily keyboarding my thoughts, it is almost inconceivable to me that I made it through my undergraduate college days in the early 1980s with a manual typewriter and notetaking with the old-fashioned pen and spiral notebook.  No cell phone, no tablet, no electronic devices aiding me through my education.  Typewriters are now obsolete, along with corded telephones and wringer washers.
 
            But even more incredible is the complete replacement of an old mundane system of ritual sacrifice to a religion of the heart in which God would remember people’s sins no more.  This is such a radical change that it would be like having self-cleaning dishes or total speech-to-text “writing” of “papers.”  It is much more than a labor-saving device; it is a completely different system that leaves the old system obsolete forever.  That is what Jesus Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice did on our behalf.
 
            We live in a New Covenant era in which God has put his laws on our hearts and written them on our minds.  No typewriter, no computer, no keyboard necessary because the blood of Christ has introduced a seminal change in how we relate to God.  There is now a thorough forgiveness that no longer requires any labor, ritual, or work.  Indeed, it is finished.  Now, we live into the new reality provided for us.  It is an era of great peace, joy, and goodwill.  It is so good that it would be absolutely ridiculous to go back to the old way.
 
            Slow down enough in this season to connect or re-connect with the most wonderful of truths:  Jesus Christ came to save sinners. 
 

 

            Saving God, you have completely taken care of the sin issue once and for all through the blood of your Son.  Forgive me for my predilection to retreat into old obsolete ways of trying to earn peace and joy, instead of adopting the new, which sometimes seems almost too good to be true.  Thank you for deliverance and new life in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

John 3:16

 
 
John 3:16 is perhaps the greatest summary of the gospel we have in the Bible.  Maybe a closer look at the good news of Jesus will impel believers and churches to share him and pass on his life-giving message not because we have to but because we want to.  Maybe the great message will inspire a great mission impulse.
 
“God” is the greatest subject ever.
 
            The Bible certainly contains lots of messages, promises, and commands.  But those are not the primary purpose for having the Holy Scriptures.  The Bible has been given to us as a revelation or self-revealing of God to us.  In other words, we have this Book in order to know God.  Every time we use it, read it, quote it, pray from it, preach it, listen to it, and learn it, God’s Word is designed for us to know God.  Anything short of knowing God falls short of the Bible’s intended purpose.
 
“So” is the greatest extent ever.
 
            There is a great wideness to God.  That is, God is big, expansive, and huge.  Nothing is outside of his reach.  So, when God decides he is going to do something, there is nothing that can stop him.  We might be limited in our strength and abilities to accomplish things.  But God’s extent is limitless.  Our extent is temporary and small.  But God takes our human prayers and uses them to accomplish his purposes on this earth.
 
“Loved” is the greatest demonstration ever.
 
            There is no greater demonstration of love than our triune God, who loved us with a sacrificial self-emptying love that saw our great need for deliverance and went to the greatest lengths possible to accomplish it.  Where there is a lack of love there is an absence of God.  Every single human on planet earth needs the love of God in Christ and without it we are all lost.  The greatest thing that could ever be said of you is that you are “loved.”  And it is the truth!  Whatever has happened, is happening, and will happen that tears you down, belittles you, hurts you, or causes you to feel like the north end of a southbound cow, is not what defines you.  All may be going to hell around you, but nothing will change the unalterable reality that in Christ you are “loved!”
 
“The world” is the greatest object ever.
 
            The Jews of Jesus’ day could easily understand that God loved the nation of Israel; they readily bought into the knowledge that God loved his chosen people; but to say that God loved the world was going too far.  It meant that God loved Gentiles, specifically, Romans who occupied their land and oppressed their rights.  To capture the punch of this, it would be like Jesus showing up among us and saying that God so loved I.S.I.S.  Certainly God hates evil and is opposed to all that destroys.  But God loves people for whom he placed his image and likeness within.  For God to love the world is an incredible and scandalous thought because there are so many unlovely people in the world.
 
“That he gave his one and only Son” is the greatest gift ever.
 
            God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  God did not give his leftovers.  He did not give his second-hand items.  God gave what was dearest to him.  God gave his best and most beloved gift he could ever give.  So, if it takes cajoling and exhortation for us to give the gift of Jesus, then the problem lies in our hearts.  It takes coming back to God’s Word and knowing the love of God in Christ through the Scriptures.  If you lack love, pray earnestly for it.
 
“That whoever” is the greatest opportunity ever.
 
            If the greatest gift a person could ever receive is Jesus, then the best opportunity one could take advantage of is Jesus.  If you only know Jesus as someone you hear about once in a while, then you have the opportunity today to know him as Lord, Savior, teacher, healer, and friend.  If you have been familiar with the name of Jesus all your life but it has not really gone much further than that, then the next point is vitally important….
 
“Believes in him” is the greatest commitment ever.
 
            Jesus does not want only your acknowledgment of him; he wants you.  Faith is not only recognition of certain truths; it demands action.  Whenever I go home, our dog, Max Power, gets extremely excited.  He is not really my dog, so I don’t really get excited about him.  Everyone in the family knows what I am going to probably say to him: “Yes, Max, I acknowledge your existence.”  I say it in hopes that he will just kind of leave me alone and let me go about my business.  But Max wants more.  He wants my affection, my love, and my commitment.  He wants a pet, a walk, food and water, and all the stuff dogs need.
 
            God does not want to be treated like an annoying puppy.  God wants our commitment.  He does not want us to show up for church once in a while and say to him, “I acknowledge your existence.”  The most common response I get from people when sharing the gift of Jesus is “Yes, I believe in Jesus.”  It is their way of saying that they acknowledge his existence.  It is their way of saying that they are not much interested in giving their lives to him because they just want to go about their business without God pestering them about anything.  But God does demand something from us – our very souls.
 
“Shall not perish” is the greatest rescue ever.
 
            We either believe or perish.  Those are the only two options.  People perish not because God is unloving but because we like our sin and we have no intention of changing to accommodate a holy God in our lives.  The Titanic lost so many hundreds of people not because there was not enough room on the lifeboats.  In fact, most of the lifeboats went into the water only about three-fourths full.  A good many people simply did not believe they were perishing.  They trusted in the “unsinkable” ship.  Only Jesus can save.
 
“But have eternal life” is the greatest promise ever.
 

 

            The promise actually begins now, not someday.  Life is having a life-saving and life-giving relationship with Jesus.  It can be had today.  If you have ever had the feeling that there is something more to life than what you are experiencing; if you have ever wished that you could start over; if you have ever felt that you just can’t do this on your own; then, I have the greatest news for you that you could ever hear.  God has made a way to take care of all your guilt, shame, and lack of direction.  He loves you deeply in the person of Jesus Christ.  You can have new life in Jesus.  The way to have real life is to give up your old one and follow Jesus….

You Must Be Born Again

 
 
It could be that being “born again” is a settled thing for you.  You are saved, sanctified, and redeemed by the blood; you have seen the one way track to on high and are on the Jesus train to heaven!   But consider this:  In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), Nicodemus considered his relation to God as a settled matter.  Nicodemus was a good guy; an upstanding Jewish citizen; a devout and pious man; he had Old Testament Scripture quotes all over his Facebook page; a Fiddler on the Roof ringtone on his cell phone; he was a faithful Temple worship attender; and, a member of the most prestigious religious group around.  Nicodemus was not a bad guy; he was not a religious huckster; not a shady politician; and, not any kind of unsavory character.  And, yet, it was this very guy, Nicodemus, whom Jesus said:  “You must be born again.” 
 
            Why in the world would Jesus say this to such a good egg as Nicodemus?  He told Nicodemus that he must be born again because Nicodemus was a big fan of Jesus, but not really a committed follower of Jesus.  The Lord Jesus Christ is not looking for adoring admirers; he does not want thousands of fans sitting in the stands of life giving him cheers and props for being a godly teacher and performing some really cool miracles.  Jesus is looking for people to move from being cheerleaders and admirers to taking up their cross and following him no matter the cost.  For all his good deeds, Nicodemus needed to have a totally new life in following Jesus.
 
            The further away we are from birth, the easier it is to take God for granted and to have such a spiritually settled way of life that the mystery, wonder, and awe of life is slowly drained from us.  That’s why I think two-year-olds probably know more about God than anyone around – since they can articulate the wonder of life being only a few short years from their birth.  One night I came home and walked into the kitchen to find my four-year old grandson unashamedly crawling on all fours with his face barely off the floor.  I said, “Kolten, what in the world are you doing?”  He looked up at me with a twinkle in his eye and a serious tone in his voice and said, “I’m sniffing for clues.”  None of us will likely be found on our kitchen floors sniffing for clues, but would any of us be found by another sniffing for clues of God and doggedly pursuing him and following hard after him? 
 
            The problem with Nicodemus is that, because he was such a good guy, he did not see himself as in need of a new life.  Meeting Jesus at night was deeply symbolic of the fact that Nicodemus was literally “in the dark” about his true spiritual condition and the true reality of God’s ways and how the world works in God’s kingdom.  He was not willing to step into the light of the day and stand up for Jesus as a devoted follower.  Nicodemus was quite content to maintain his position as only a fan of Jesus.
 
 
 
            So, how do we move from being merely a fan to being a follower of Jesus?  We must believe in Jesus.  To truly believe in Jesus means that we must move from a mere intellectual faith that the teachings of Jesus are wise, just, right, and good.  To truly believe in Jesus means that we must move from having only a heartfelt faith that is warmed and cheered when seeing Jesus perform a miracle.  To truly believe in Jesus means we move to an actual spiritual life of complete and total trust in Jesus as a dedicated follower.  This is more than simply asking Jesus to help us get out of a jam or a bad situation; it is more than simply asking Jesus into my heart; it is telling Jesus that at last we are putting ourselves in his gracious hands so completely that we want Jesus to decide what to do with us and remove any and all shortcomings, character defects, and sins from us.  It is to be cleansed, like being born again and having a new life. 
 
            We cannot be deceived into thinking that all we need is a little spiritual elbow grease to have eternal life.  Instead, we must intentionally and deliberately relinquish control of our lives and of everything to Jesus and become his faithful followers.  Information is not transformation; and, observing transformation in another person’s life is not a substitute for transformation in my own life.
 
            Jesus does not want to have a bunch of groupies admiring him in the dark; he wants to save the world – which is why God sent his Son to be lifted up on a cross.  Maybe the biggest threat to Christ’s church today are fans who call themselves Christians but are not actually interested in following Jesus.  They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.  Fans, like Nicodemus, often confuse their admiration for devotion.  They mistake their knowledge of Jesus for an actual relationship with Jesus.  Fans assume that their good works and their good intentions make up for any need of being a full-time follower and living a new life.
 

 

            What does moving from being a fan to being a follower mean for us?  For some, it means taking the step of making a public profession of faith; for others it means believing in Jesus for the very first time, trusting that God has not only forgiven others of their sin, but forgives me as well through the cross; for some it means taking up the mantle of service in the church; for others it means becoming part of a small group or a bible study; for us all it means moving from hiding in the shadows to coming into the light of God’s truth and openly living for God in every facet of our lives.  May it be so.  Soli Deo Gloria.