The Story, Chap. 23:  “Jesus’ Ministry Begins”

July 2, 2017

The Story, Chap. 23:  “Jesus’ Ministry Begins”

John 3:1-21


Children’s Sermon:  Stay on Track.

Ask kids to do a simple task.  Walk straight down the aisle and back. Hand aisle sitters a lollipop and ask them to distract kids from their walk.  Discuss how easy it is to get distracted from what we are supposed to do.  Do you think Jesus ever got distracted?  Do you think there were situations where he could have been distracted from following God’s will?  But he never did. His secret weapon was prayer - asking God for help.  And if Jesus could stay on track, do you know what that means? WE can overcome distraction too!  Try it this week.  Try calling on Jesus to help you stay focused on what you’re supposed to be doing!


Intro: Before we begin this week, I want to remind us of something that is key as we go through The Story.  And that is that in every chapter we are really reading two versions of events.  We are reading about the Upper Story - what God is doing in his master plan, and the Lower Story - what we are seeing evolve around the characters and events we are reading of.  


Chapter 23 of The Story tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth.  Things are buzzing with excitement since he began to publicly minister in the community he lived in.  Let me give you a run down of these events before we settle on just one story.  Are you ready?  

  • Jesus was publicly baptized by John The Baptist
  • He was led into the wilderness for 40 days of temptation by Satan
  • He called his first disciples
  • He performed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana - turning water into wine
  • He met with Nicodemus at night and taught about being born again
  • He encountered the Samaritan woman and through her many Samaritans believed
  • He went through Galilee teaching, healing, and casting out demons
  • Jesus confronted the teachers of the law
  • Had dinner with a tax collector
  • Officially calls his twelve disciples
  • Welcomes women to follow him and they, in turn, support him financially
  • John the Baptist both questions Jesus and testifies to the truth about who he is.

And those things happen in just the first few chapters of all the gospels!


But lets go back to the one story that has the most famous verse in the Bible in it.  John 3:16 is called “everyones verse” and it does have a universal truth.  But today let’s look at the whole context of that verse and catch a glimpse of God’s upper story and the lower story.  Let’s look at Jesus’ midnight conversation with Nicodemus.


John 1:1-21

1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 

Now Pharisees seem to always get a bad rap in the NT.  But lets shed some light on who they were.  They were a brotherhood of no more than 6,000 who pledged their entire lives to living out every aspect of the Law of God. They lived as examples of how to live a right life before God.  So here comes a man to Jesus who is sincerely trying to live in a right relationship with God.  That’s his story.


He came to Jesus at night Why?

It could have been out of secrecy, but bear in mind that it was at night, when the world was free of interruption, that the rabbis would study and discuss the Law.


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 acknowledges that there is something unique about Jesus.


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

Jesus doesn’t spend time on pleasantries, he gets right to the point.  Of course he knows what Nicodemus is really after, understands the soul searching going on, even if Nicodemus isn’t quite aware.  And Jesus makes a completely provocative statement that seems to come out of the blue!  “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”


But we have to stop right here for a little historical background.  The concept of being born again was not new, especially to a Pharisee.  In Jewish and Greek customs of the day, if one wanted to become part of a religion, Judaism or a cult, they went through a ceremony of rebirth which involved some sort of baptism ceremony in which it was acted out that the old life was gone and the new life had taken root.  Baptism in the Jewish world, the Greek world of cults and in Christianity has always been about transformation.


“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!” 

It sounds like Nicodemus is just confused, but what is probably really going on here is a longing for all of this to be true.  And because he is so well educated his knowledge is getting in the way of being able to believe that transformation is possible for someone like him.


Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 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 makes it clear that he is speaking of spiritual rebirth. William Barclay proposes that baptism as Jesus explains it here has three linked ideas:  the kingdom of heaven, sonship and eternal life.


He begins with the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Talk about a connection between the upper and lower story!  And while I’m not going to take time to explain it all, just think about this: Those two linked petitions tell us that “. . . the kingdom of heaven is a society where God’s will is as perfectly done on earth as it is in heaven. To be in the kingdom of heaven is therefore to lead a life in which we have willingly submitted everything tot he will of God; it is to have arrived at a stage when we perfectly and completely accept the will of God.”  I don’t know about you, but I fall short.  However, this is what I long and want to be part of  so I will continue to pray this with renewed vigor and desire for myself and the church of Jesus Christ.


Sonship is another idea.  When we are reborn our parentage shifts and we become children of God.  And while this is a great privilege (and many stop their relationship with the church and its people and its Head who is Christ right there!) it also comes with responsibility just as with any family.  We love our Father and because we love him we want to please Him and honor him with all that we do.  That’s called obedience. When we choose baptism or confirmation of our baptismal vows we are declaring our allegiance to follow Christ.


The final idea is “eternal life”.  This is not just life that goes on forever but a particular kind of life that goes on forever.  Barclay describes it 

To enter into eternal life is to enter into possession of that kind of life which is the life of God.  It is to be lifted up above merely human, transient things into that joy and peace which belong only to God.  Clearly a man can enter into this close fellowship with God only when he renders to him that love, that reverence, that devotion, that obedience which truly bring him into fellowship with him.


These things happen when our hearts are changed by God. The sacrament of baptism, the act of confirmation are outward signs of what God has done/is doing inside a person’s heart.


“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. 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? 



Nicodemus, a Pharisee, committed to understanding and interpreting what God was saying in the Law, was having a hard time grasping what Jesus was saying.  But he didn’t give up, he kept at it.  Did you know that Nicodemus followed Jesus’ career so that at Jesus’ death, he was the one who brought the things necessary for his embalming?  One thing we can learn from Nicodemus’ lower story is that we should not give up seeking to know God.  He had the first five books of the OT to seek God through. We have 66 books four of which - the gospels - give us a first hand look at God made flesh in Jesus Christ, but do we take advantage and seek God there? Ask yourself why or why not.  Are we truly seekers of God, living the kingdom life?


13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.

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.” 

So, Jesus has explained to Nicodemus that he is the Son of Man (a name for the Messiah) and we don’t know if Nic has quite grasped it yet. But because we know what happened and have the vantage point of the Upper Story we know that Jesus is talking about his own crucifixion.  And he makes this great promise of eternal life - God life - to all who will believe and then he sums up verses 13-15 in verse 16 which we all know.  Say it with me in whatever version you know:


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. 


According to this verse, who does initiates our salvation? God. It is part of his accomplishing his purpose and plan for humankind.  That is clear and we understand it but too often we stop there and don’t read what follows.


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 they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 


Along with the blessing of eternal life is the opposite result connected with rejecting Christ.  Condemnation.  But get this important twist.  It is not God the Father or Jesus the Son who condemns but the person making the choice not to believe that condemns themselves.  


Think of something you are really excited about and would love to pass on to your children or grandchildren.  Your love for poetry, art, music, the outdoors, hunting.  But what if they don’t get excited about it.  What if a walk in the woods just has them concerned about bug bites and when they might get back to the comfort of home.  They miss the joy that you know and love and condemn themselves and are miserable. (Grand Canyon with Wes)


So it is with the good news of Jesus Christ.  God extends it to all people but not everyone will want it.  Let’s wrap up with verses 19-21:


19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people 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 their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.


As we partake of the Lord’s Supper today, think about the life you are choosing to live.

Perhaps this is a good day to make sure that your story is lined up with God’s story.  God so loved the world, loved you that he gave his only son so that you might believe and have eternal life.  Come to the table.  (Straight to prayer of Thanksgiving)


Remember, People of God, you are the bearers of the good news to the world so it matters how you live your life... what you say and how you say it...what you do and how you do it... because someone is always watching wanting to know what it means to follow the risen Lord. So go out and love your neighbors and serve the Lord. And may the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you and abide in you both now and forevermore. Amen