Today we heard from John’s Gospel the story of Nicodemus coming to meet with Jesus.
Nicodemus is a sort of Jewish official and so he comes to Jesus at night,…in secret.
He doesn’t seem to understand all that Jesus is saying as Jesus tries to explain.
At the end of our reading is this passage that is maybe the most frequently noted from the New Testament and maybe the entire bible; John 3:16.
You see it lifted up all the time at sports events as well as on bridges and billboards.
It says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”.
The biggest proponents of displaying this bible citation are our evangelical cousins who also like to point to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus about being “born again”. Many Christians who are not in their camp, especially mainline traditional Protestants as well as most Roman Catholics, scratch their heads and say ‘what do they mean?’ Always asking ‘Are you born again?’ and ‘Are you saved?’ or ‘When were you saved?’
Maybe today is a good time for us to learn, like Nicodemus was trying to learn.
So for being “born again” let’s go back to that conversation when Jesus says that one must be “born from above” through “water and the Spirit”.
Denominational and Roman Catholic Christians are taught that this refers to Baptism.
We call Baptism a Sacrament, which means God does something special to/for us.
Lutherans and Catholic churches teach we are “born from above” or ‘born again’ in the waters of Baptism when God bonds us to Jesus Christ and claims us to be his children.
Evangelical Christians believe that first one must make a conscious choice to believe in Jesus Christ and so the moment of that decision is when they say they’re ‘born again’. They say that one is ‘born again’ when that commitment is made in your heart.
Baptism for them is not a Sacrament (a concept they dismiss) but a symbolic thing.
Lutherans and Catholics teach that the believing part is something that can come first but otherwise comes after infant Baptism and continues to grow throughout our lives. Evangelicals teach that faith comes first and that belief is what prompts the conversion.
They too will say faith can (or should) grow, but serious adult belief must be first.
But whenever you think that one is ‘re-born in Christ’ the key word in all this is “believe”. Being born from above leads to the quote of 3:16 that says “whosoever believes in him”. So whether you think faith precedes or follows Baptism, the question is ‘what is faith?’
When it says if you believe in him….you shall not perish, what does “believe” mean?
I think it simplifies things too much to equate that with a mere mental acquiescence to the idea of who and what Jesus is said to have been and is.
Thus, “believe” does not just mean you factually agree with the claim of Jesus’ divinity.
The idea of ‘faith’ and what it means to “believe” has more to do with heart than head.
Let me give you an example -
You know, baseball season will soon be here and its true that the game is often like life.
There are games that go along smoothly for a team and they win comfortably.
But then there are those games when things get tight and trouble starts to brew.
Like when the other team rallies and gets two guys on base in the bottom of the ninth.
When that occurs, a manager has lots of pitchers sitting in their bullpen to chose from
But there is generally one whom they can trust and ‘believe in’ to use in tight spots.
Those pitchers are called ‘closers’ and when they finish out a game it’s called a ‘save’.
That pitcher is who the manager might call his ‘go to guy’.
The guy he can confidently go to when he needs the best results delivered in a game.
Because he “believes” in that guy he trusts him more than other options at his disposal.
And that guy,..that pitcher,...really wants the manager to choose him and give him the ball.
When we have trouble or tight spots in our lives, we have lots of options to choose from.
We have a ‘bullpen of people and options’ at our disposal to choose from.
We have our wits and wisdom and material resources available to rescue us.
We have experts who are trained to help fix our woes in various difficult situations.
We have political leaders who we want to fix the problems of our lives or the world’s.
And we have family and friends who can give us advice towards a good resolution.
So as we look into our bullpen of these and other choices sitting there ready to help,….
who do we go to when financial troubles befall us,….
when job or career problems or troubles in school crop up to afflict us,…
when problems in personal relationship arise and cause us pain,…
when someone we love dies or when we ourselves face death?
When we need to be ‘saved’ from hardship, adversity or death, who is our ‘go to guy’?
Its fine if we choose some of the other options at points along the way in life’s ‘game’.
Nothing wrong with using our smarts and our funds to help.
Nothing wrong with wishing a doctor, or a Donald Trump, or Hilary Clinton can fix things.
Nothing wrong with relying on family and friends when the odds are stacked against us.
But if we fail to see Jesus as our ‘go to guy’ then we are not believing persons.
If we put our ultimate hope in those other options, then we do not “believe in him”
And, like the go to guy pitcher, Jesus too wants us to call upon him and go to him.
Because, as we said, to “believe in him” is not just an accepting factually who he is.
Believing in Jesus is having an active and living confidence and trust in him as your ‘go to guy’.
Go to Jesus to see what he has said about the situation in scripture.
Go to Jesus to reflect on what he did in similar cases, or what he would do.
Go to Jesus in prayer and then patiently wait for an answer and for him to help.
When the chips are down or the game is on the line, in life and death, who do we go to?
Go to Jesus Christ and “believe in him”,…for he will most assuredly “save” us.
Now in the things of everyday life,….as well as at the end of our life.