8th March 2020
Kids Talk – Jesus gives us Power to Change
Michael introduced his presentation to the children with this question
" Is there anything that you ever do or say that’s wrong that you wish you could change?"
He showed them the principle using a torch and its requirements as examples.
In conclusion he asked them that:
The next time you find something that you know you should do but are finding it really difficult to do – pray and ask God to help you.
Dear God, when I find it hard to do what’s right, give me your power to obey. Help me to live more like you every day. Amen.
MAIN SERVICE FOLLOWED -
Encounters with Christ- Nicodemus
Spring is in the air. The daffodils and crocuses are beginning to show their faces. The nights are getting longer and the mornings getting brighter. St Patrick’s day and Easter are fast approaching. We are moving from the rugby to the GAA season. It’s a time of change.
There are many other examples of change in our lives. Change can be exciting. But it can also be stressful. The older we get, the more we like things to stay the same. Even in the church we can find the prospect of change too scary to even contemplate.
Nicodemus was a man who was both excited and fearful about the prospect of change. He was a Pharisee. That means that he was someone who for years had spent many hours each day just reading the law- the Old Testament Scriptures with a particular focus on the first 5 books. Not only were the Pharisees experts in God’s law, they also believed that God’s law contained everything that we need to know to please God in all areas of life.
When we read God’s law we find that it gives us general principles to live in ways that will benefit ourselves and other people and in so doing please God. So we are told, “Do not steal.” God then gives us the freedom to work that principle out in the practical details of life.
The Pharisees were so determined to obey God’s laws in every detail of life that they spent years figuring out exactly what it would mean to keep God’s law in the tiniest detail of every day life. Their pursuit of perfection became so obsessive that they ended up turning the great guiding principles of God’s law into a huge list of rules and regulations which made life an impossible burden.
Let me give you an example-
In God’s law we are simply told not to do non-essential work on the day we worship God, for a Jew that was a Saturday. Not content with this simple principle the Pharisees tried to define what ‘work’ would mean in every detail. So they asked things like- “Would it be work to tie a knot on the Sabbath?” In answer they said it if camel drivers and sailors tied knots it would be work but if a woman tied a knot to repair a tear in her dress or the straps in her shoes that would be ok. So if you tied a knot in a rope and attached a bucket to get water from a well that would be ‘work’ and you would have sinned. But if you took a pair of tights, tied a knot in them attached a bucket and drew up water that would be ok. Although you’d have to have pretty long legs for that to work!
This all seems nonsense to us but it was not nonsense for the 6,000 people in the world like Nicodemus who had attained the honour of becoming a Pharisee. He had publicly vowed to spend his life studying every detail of God’s law and trying to obey it in every tiny detail of everyday life. Literally this meant reading, memorising and obeying thousands of intricate details.
Nicodemus was no fool. He was someone who had sincerely dedicated his life to following God.
Over the course of the last few years Nicodemus had listened to Jesus. As he sat in the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, he and the other 74 members had listened to reports about the teaching of Jesus. Perhaps he had heard Jesus telling people that He was God’s chosen King, the one who had come to help people live in obedience to God in a much more effective way. He had certainly seen him do things that were miraculous like healing people who were sick or bringing dead people back to life.
As a religious leader with the responsibility for guiding the whole nation of Israel in the right path, Nicodemus probably felt uneasy about this new message! He was fearful of allowing Jesus to make change! What if He was really just a showman like so many others who was really only interested in money or popularity and who would actually lead the people away from God? Nicodemus was fearful of change.
But at the same time I think he was a person who would have been interested in change. Although I’m reading between the lines here, I think that deep down despite his sincere desire to live a life in perfect obedience to God, I think Nicodemus must have been frustrated that despite all his efforts there were many times when he failed to live up to those standards. I’m sure at times he must have cried out to God, “Why can’t I be the person I want to be?”
I wonder are there things in your life that you’d love to change?
I wonder are you frustrated about things in your life that you know are wrong but despite all your efforts you still can’t seem to shake off?
Perhaps it’s a habit of drinking too much. Perhaps it’s an addiction to pornography. Maybe it’s an inability to control your temper or a tendency to gossip about others. Perhaps you can’t motivate yourself to study or you can’t bring yourself to forgive someone who has hurt you.
If that’s the case, then I have good news for you this morning- Jesus Christ the Son of God can give you the power to change…
I can’t be certain, but that’s one reason why I think that Nicodemus asked Jesus to meet up with him. He met him secretly and under the cover of darkness. He was fearful of being associated with a possible maverick whose changes might be bad. Yet he had heard Jesus teach and seen the miracles. This excited him. Here was someone who obviously had been sent by God. Could Jesus’ message bring him the ability to change, not only in his own life but also in the lives of everyone who was a Jew so that they could consistently please God?
“Rabbi,” he said. “I know you are a teacher who has come from God for no-one could do the miracles you do unless God was with them.”
Nicodemus only understood a little about who Jesus was. From the miracles he had performed he realised he must be a person who was close to God, someone through whom God’s healing power flowed to others. On the other hand, Jesus understood everything about Nicodemus. Because He is God, Jesus knew that Nicodemus was someone who sincerely wanted to love and obey God in every detail of his life. He also knew that Nicodemus must have been frustrated at his personal failure to always live up to those standards. He knew there was a part of the jigsaw that Nicodemus failed to understand. But He loved him and wanted to help him. So in response he says, “I tell you the truth, unless a person is born again they cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
In a nutshell, what Jesus was trying to tell him was, “If you want to be a friend of God, if you want to live a life pleasing to God, if you want to go to be with God forever one day, then you need to be changed from the inside out.”
Nicodemus didn’t understand this. He thought Jesus was saying that for this change to happen in his life he would somehow have to get back inside his mother’s body so that she could give birth to him a second time. “How can a man be born when he is already old?” said Nicodemus. “Surely he can’t enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time?”
You can hear the desperation in his voice. You can feel the frustration in his enquiry. Nicodemus wanted so much to be God’s friend, to please God in every detail of his life and to be sure of going to be with God when he died. He was frustrated by the failures in his life, an inability to change in certain areas. But he still believed that all he had to do was try harder or find another rule to obey. Surely eventually this would enable him to live perfectly before God.
I wonder is that what you believe? Do you sincerely think that the way to knowing God and living a good life is by reading and memorising a list of rules and regulations? Do you believe that once you’ve done this the only way to be a better person is to read these rules every day and try even harder to put them into practice? If you do, I want to tell you that God respects your sincerity. But I also want to tell you that God wants to help you to realise that, like Nicodemus, unfortunately that belief system will not solve your problem. Trying really hard to learn a list of rules and trying really hard to put them into practice is admirable, but at the end of the day, like Nicodemus, it will leave you frustrated because it will not enable you to consistently live the sort of life that God wants or that you will be pleased with.
So how can we become God’s friend? Where can we find the power in our lives to change the things we don’t like about ourselves? Jesus is about to tell Nicodemus the answer.
He turns to Nicodemus and says, “I tell you the truth, unless a person is born of water and the Spirit, they cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. Do not be surprised that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it will and you hear the sound of it but you don’t know where it came from or where it is going. That’s how it is with every person that is born of the Spirit.”
In a nutshell, what Jesus says to Nicodemus is “This change I am talking about isn’t a physical one. It’s a spiritual one. It’s a change that has to happen from the inside. It’s a change that only God can bring about in your life. It’s a change that can only happen when a person finds forgiveness for their guilt and when God’s Spirit comes to live inside them. We can’t see God’s Spirit. We don’t know which person in our street he is going to come to. But when he comes to live in someone he will give them the power to change! He’ll enable them to control their anger, and to stop getting drunk. He’ll enable them to gossip less and not to cheat on their wife any more. It’s just like the wind. You can’t see it but you see the change it makes like causing the branches on a tree to bend. That’s what it’s like when God’s Spirit comes to live inside someone. You can’t see God’s Spirit but you will be able to see the positive changes that he makes in a person’s life.”
You know like Nicodemus, there are things in all of our lives that need to change and that we want to change. Maybe you want to be a better husband or a better parent. Maybe you want to be able to control your tongue a bit more. Maybe you want to be able to be more generous to others and less focused on yourself. But maybe like Nicodemus you also know the frustration of knowing that no matter how hard you try, in your own strength you can’t change. At least, not consistently, in a way that you want. Maybe like Nicodemus you know the awful feeling of guilt that goes along with every time you fail. If that’s how you feel this morning, then let me say to you what Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Only God can take away that guilt. Only having God’s Spirit in your life will give you the power to change consistently so that you can live in a way that pleases God and that you are satisfied with.”
And if you don’t believe me, then let me encourage you to look at the lives of someone you know who is a Christian. Let me encourage you to ask them about how Jesus has enabled them to change and become a better person.
The story is told of a man who was constantly getting drunk and whose family had nothing because he spent most of his weekly wages on alcohol. Then one day he asked Jesus to enter his life and help him to change. His work mates made fun of him and said things like, “Surely you don’t believe in miracles and things like that. Surely you don’t believe Jesus turned water into wine and all that rubbish?!”
“I don’t know whether Jesus turned water into wine when he was in Palestine” said the man. “All I know is that in my house he has turned beer into furniture!”
That is my experience and it is the experience of billions of people who believe in Jesus all over the world. Our experience is that Jesus Christ has the power to take away our guilt and to give us the power to change for the better.
By this stage in the conversation, it seems as if Nicodemus is in two minds. On the one hand he may be thinking “that sounds exactly what I need but how do I get it, how do I receive God’s Spirit inside me so that I will have the power to change?” On the other hand he may be thinking, “That sounds far too good to be true.”
So he turns to Jesus and says, “How can these things happen?”
Jesus answers, “You’re the teacher of Israel, don’t you understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak what we know and we bear witness to what we have seen, but you don’t accept our witness. If I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe me, how will you believe me if I tell you about heavenly things?
Jesus seems frustrated with Nicodemus that despite all his study of the Old Testament bible he still doesn’t understand the principle that He’s been trying to teach him. He knows that Nicodemus would be familiar with Chapters 36 and 37 in Ezekiel for example. There the prophet says that a day will come when God will put His Spirit inside people. When that happens, those people will be able to obey God in a new and better way. They will be able to live more consistently doing good by relying on God’s spirit and power rather than just trying to keep a list of rules and regulations, good as those may be.
But despite his frustration with this old Pharisee, in grace and mercy Jesus gives Nicodemus one final insight. He tells him how he can receive God’s Spirit and how he can know God and live a life pleasing to God that will bring eventually into God’s very presence forever.
Jesus says, “No one has gone up to heaven except He who came from heaven, I mean the Son of Man who is in heaven. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”
This may not make much sense to us if we haven’t read certain parts of the Old Testament. But Nicodemus would have known those parts of the bible inside out. Here Jesus reminds him of a time in the history of the nation of Israel when they were travelling across the desert with Moses as their leader. Along the way, the people forgot about God and started to do their own thing and rebel against God. As a punishment God sent a plague of snakes. Anyone who was bitten by these poisonous snakes could be healed by obeying God’s command to look at a bronze snake statue that Moses held up in the air. It was all very dramatic for a good reason. God wanted the people to realise that they needed to listen to him and to follow his appointed leader if they wanted to live life happily and in harmony with each other.
Just like that story, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “the Son of Man will be lifted up into the air and every person who looks up and believes in him will receive God’s Spirit.” In telling Nicodemus this, Jesus was hinting that in the future He would be lifted up into the air and be crucified by the Romans on a cross of wood. Spiritually when that happened Jesus would die taking the punishment for all the wrong things that people ever think and do.
If people understood that through His death on the cross Jesus had taken the punishment they deserved for all the wrong things they had done then they could be forgiven by God and find His power to live good lives. If people had faith to talk to Jesus asking him to forgive them and trusting that He died to take the punishment they deserved, then God would forgive them and put His Spirit inside them. Then they would know freedom from their guilt. Then they would have God living inside them to help them to live better lives pleasing to God.
To be fair to Nicodemus, he could not have understood all that I’ve just said at this point. As we leave this part of the story we are left wondering if Nicodemus was changed in any way by this encounter with Jesus. The good news that in chapter 7 and chapter 19 of John’s gospel we realise this encounter did change him. We hear Nicodemus defending Jesus’ integrity at a meeting of the Jewish leaders. But most amazingly of all is where we read that after Jesus had died on the cross, Nicodemus publicly and unashamedly identified himself as someone who believed and followed Jesus by helping to carry his body to the tomb. We’ll never know, but perhaps it was as he watched Jesus die on the cross that the words of his conversation with Jesus came back- And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” And in that moment Nicodemus understood- Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He has died to forgive me for all the wrong things in my life. I believe in Him. I want to follow Him. And in that moment a miracle happened- The Spirit of God entered the heart of Nicodemus and he was changed from the inside out. He was born again!
Perhaps you are here this morning and you long to be free from your guilt. Perhaps you are here today and you want to be able to change and become a person who is able to consistently live in ways that are good, ways that will please God.
Then let me encourage you to learn the lessons of Nicodemus. Don’t think that just trying your hardest to follow a set of rules will help you to change or take away your guilt.
Instead look to Jesus. Believe that when He died on the cross He was dying to take the judgement you deserve for all the wrong things you can ever say or think or do. Ask Him to forgive you and to take away your guilt. Ask Him to send His Spirit, the Holy Spirit,. The Spirit of God into your life, to come and live within you so that through His help each day you will be able to live a consistently good life. Not a perfect life. Not a life without struggle. But a life where you will have the power to change….
Maybe you’re here and you’ve wandered away from God like the Israelites in the desert. Then let me encourage you to come again to the cross. Confess what you know to be wrong. Jesus stands with open arms ready to forgive you and to restore your relationship.
Maybe there is an area of your life that you are still finding it hard to obey God in. Then come to Him again and ask Him to give you the power to change.
Alison is going to play some music now. During that time I want to give you time to bow your head and talk to God about any of these things. The great thing is that Jesus is here by His Spirit, you can have an encounter with Him…
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