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March 11, 2018

Sermon John 3:16  . . .“Bible places:  the house of Nicodemus”

“Bible places:  the house of Nicodemus”

John 3:16

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

John Phipps normally wouldn’t have taken that train that day, but he had been called into work early.  And since it was so early, he sat down, tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and dozed off to sleep.  Little did he or his fellow passengers know that another man, Juan Alvarez, had decided to commit suicide that day, and parked his car on the tracks.

That’s when, all of a sudden, in one blinding, screeching moment, his world was turned upside down.  Phipps doesn’t remember the impact, but he does remember waking up flat on his back and staring straight up into the sky—not a good thing when you’re riding on a train.

And as he began to regain consciousness, he looked around and saw two other passengers, just a few feet away.  He was alive and pinned beneath debris, but they weren’t so fortunate.  He touched the back of head and felt it covered with blood.  When he reached out to move the seat that was crushing his leg, he left a bloody handprint.  That’s when he decided to leave a message.

So what did he write?  What message do you leave for a wife, a daughter, and two sons?  Not knowing what else to say, he wrote, with his finger and his blood, “I love Leslie…I love my kids.”  Then he laid his head back down and waited for help to come.

When help finally did come, they saw the message.  Fire Captain Robert Rosario said, “I’ve seen some pretty gruesome things on this job, but that moved me.  My only thought was, I have to get that seat to his wife and kids.”

Later his wife said, “Hallmark is never going to top that.  It’s moving, it’s thoughtful, and it’s chilling all at the same time.”

The book of John tells of words that would also someday be written in blood.  In the words of Max Lucado, John 3:16 is, “a twenty-six-word parade of hope, a safe-deposit box of jewels, beginning with God and ending with life.  They’re brief enough to write on a napkin or memorize in a moment, yet solid enough to weather two thousand years of storms and questions.”  And he wrote, “If you know nothing of the Bible, start here.  If you know everything in the Bible, return here.  The heart of the human problem is the heart of the human.  And God’s treatment is prescribed in John 3:16.”

It’s the Crown Jewel, the Hope Diamond, of the Bible.

Surreptitious, apprehensive, clandestine—that’s how Nicodemus felt as he came to see Jesus that night.  Quietly he stared out his second-story window, watching the sunset, sipping a glass of wine.  And as he sat, he watched and waited for darkness to descend.  Only then could he safely go out.

You see, he was a holy man among holy men.  He was a rabbi and a scholar, a Pharisee of Pharisees, a man of high ethical and moral standards, highly respected in the community, knowledgeable in Scripture, and orthodox in belief.  He had dedicated his life to God and was privileged enough to hold one of the seventy-one seats of honor—the Sanhedrin, the Judean supreme court.  Take one look at his richly ornamented robe, and that small leather case bound around his head, and you’d know exactly who he was.

But for all the knowledge and wisdom and experience he had amassed over the years, nothing could have prepared him for this Man from Galilee.  He had no diploma, yet men called Him “Rabbi.”  He had no medical degree, yet hundreds felt His healing touch.  And while He had no time for religious leaders and teachers, He seemed to make it His mission to mingle with tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes.  “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor,” He said, “but the sick.”

And if that’s wasn’t enough, what happened in the Temple one day was completely out of line.  He made a whip out of cords, overturned tables, and scattered coins on the floor.  Like a deranged, crazy man, he shouted, “How dare you turn My Father’s house into a market!”

So he thought to himself, “If I can’t understand Him, then at least I’ll sit down and talk with Him.  If He is truly the Messiah, then He must work through proper channels.  No one should ever take the Law into their own hands.”

So ever so quietly and discreetly, he stepped out into the darkness.  His colleagues must never know of this meeting.  They would never understand.  And as he made his way through the cobbled, city streets, he came, at last, to the door of a small, simple home.  Jesus and His followers were staying there, he was told.

He knocked on the door.  A moment later, it opened with a creak.  And there, standing before him, was Jesus.

“So this is Jesus,” he thought, “the prophet from Galilee.  Doesn’t seem like much of a threat to me.”

And as the two men sat face-to-face, with the light of a flickering candle casting long, dark shadows across the room, Nicodemus spoke first.  He said, “Jesus, help me understand.  We know You’re a teacher who has come from God.  No one could do what You do unless God were with him.”

Jesus stopped him.  He could see the pain and uncertainty churning in his heart.  Sure he was a member of the Sanhedrin and one of the greatest teachers Israel had ever known.  On the outside, he looked so dignified.  But on the inside, everything was so wrong.  Inside was the real Nicodemus who sought the truth, who worshipped the one, true God.

And as Jesus spoke, He made no mention of Nicodemus’ status or credentials--not because they didn’t exist, but because they didn’t matter.  He said, “You must be born again.  And unless you are, you cannot see the kingdom of God.”

“Born again?” Nicodemus huffed.  “What do You think I am?  I’m a Jew, a Pharisee.  I uphold the Law of God.  Should I crawl back inside my mother’s womb?”

With a smile, Jesus said, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?  Do you feel the wind?  Do you know where it comes from or where it goes?  And Nicodemus, you speak of what you know.  But there is so much more.  And if you can’t understand the wind, how can you ever understand My Father in heaven?”

Then in the stillness and darkness, Jesus spoke the simplest and most profound truth he would ever know:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

It hit him like a ton of bricks.  Now it was all so clear.  His world had been a world of sincere efforts and good deeds.  Give God your best and God will do the rest, he thought.  But, in effect, Jesus said, “Nicodemus, your fine efforts mean nothing.  Your best will never do.  The only way you can be saved, the only way you will be saved, is because God sent His only Son.”

Your doubts and questions may not be the same as those Nicodemus once had.  Maybe you wonder if God really cares for you as much as the Bible says He does.  Maybe you question His ability and desire to intervene in the problems you face.  Maybe you’ve tried other sources of hope and comfort, like relationships, popularity, and prosperity, but you’ve come away so empty.  

But no matter who you are or what questions you bring, just like Nicodemus, come to Jesus.

And what do you find when you come?  You find rebirth, regeneration, and renewal.  You find hope instead of sorrow, strength instead of weakness, and grace for every need.  You find eternal life.

“For God,” the greatest Lover, “So loved,” the greatest degree, “The world,” the greatest number, “That He gave,” the greatest act, “His only-begotten Son,” the greatest gift, “That whosoever,” the greatest invitation, “Believeth,” the greatest simplicity, “In Him,” the greatest Person, “Should not perish,” the greatest deliverance, “But,” the greatest difference, “Have,” the greatest certainty, “Everlasting Life,” the greatest possession.

As Paul wrote to the Romans:  “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

It was late in September of 2013, and Dwayne and Dawna Johnson of Buena Vista, Colorado had planned the perfect day.  The electrician and high school football coach and his wife, an aspiring photographer, would take their two teenage daughters on a hike up a nearby mountain trail, to see the yellowing aspens and the Agnes Vaille waterfall.

But that’s when the unthinkable happened—a rockslide suddenly barreled toward them as they were looking up at the Falls.  At first, there was a loud crack, then a thundering sound as a chunk of the mountain began to slide down.  And just before cascading dirt and boulders, some as large as cars, swept Dwayne, Dawna, and their eldest daughter to their deaths, Dwayne made a decision that would save the life of his 13-year-old girl.  He pushed her out of the way, then covered her body with his own.

His life was taken, but her’s was spared.

Was anyone surprised by his act of sacrificial love?  They shouldn’t be.  As a family friend said, “He would have done the same for any of our children, absolutely.”

Is anyone surprised at Jesus’ act of sacrificial love?  They shouldn’t be.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son.


Almighty God, heavenly Father, we praise You for the gift of Your Son, who was born in the poverty and lowliness of a manger, that we might know the riches of Your grace.  Grant us the grace to know Jesus as our Savior that, by believing, we may have life in His name.  This we ask in His name.  Amen

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