We continued our series called Chosen at Gateway in Austin.
When Jesus showed up in people’s lives in the Gospels, something shifted. The same is true today. When we radically encounter who God really is, in the greatest way possible, nothing is ever the same. God will stop at nothing to show you that you are chosen like he did with a religious leader at the end of his religious rope. God cares more about heart transformation than behavior modification.
Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Notes from John Burke:
Leading up to Easter, we’re doing this series CHOSEN – which looks at the lives of people Jesus encountered, and how they were chosen by him, and their lives were changed. Because, whether you realize it yet or not, God chooses you—and if you respond and stay open to learn from God, you’ll be amazed. But sometimes where God wants to lead us is not where we expected.
That’s especially true if you grew up religious and you thought you had it all buttoned up and in control. Or you just get in religious habits, but God wants to change it up so you keep growing—and that’s uncomfortable—and that’s the story of Nicodemus.
Growing up in church. Grateful for the foundation of faith, but I had to deconstruct some things and reconstruct my faith based on what the Bible actually says. Not churchianity.
God doesn’t always do things that fit in my religious/spiritual box—doing all the right things religiously, checking the right boxes.
God cares about our hearts, and who we are becoming in relationship to God.
And he uses things that sometimes don’t fit our religious boxes to stretch us spiritually.
He chose you, and loves you, and wants to lead you to become fully you—unshackled from all the chains that hold you back—including religious chains you might not even know are holding you back.
But you have to be willing to let God test your religious / spiritual assumptions.
Can you do that? No really—especially if you’ve already got all this Christianity stuff down, you’re a super great Christian—can you test your assumptions of what God might want to do in your life?
Because that’s the story of Nicodemus
In John chapter 3 it says:
There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. (John 3:1-2)
This is a really big deal that’s easy to read right over—Nicodemus was a member of the religious elite, the Sanhedrin, the group of Pharisees that would conspire to have Jesus crucified by the Romans.
- So the fact that Nicodemus even wants to meet with Jesus is fascinating, and that Jesus would say “yes” to this cloak and dagger, meeting with the enemy is insightful.
- This is why it says “After dark” they met.
- Nicodemus was under cover—he could not be seen talking to Jesus or he’d be kicked out of the Sanhedrin. He could lose everything—and he had a lot.
- See religion and politics were very intermingled back then, and the Sanhedrin were not only the most religiously upright, pious, well respected in the religion of Judaism, they had power, money, the ear of Rome.
- They are the pastors, Supreme Court, and Congress.
- And you can imagine what all that power does to you.
- And this background helps us understand what’s about to unfold.
Nicodemus no doubt grew up in “church” in synagogue—maybe like some of us.
- He did all the right religious things, he learned the Bible—the Pharisees knew the Bible well (as another Pharisee, the apostle Paul, would later show us).
- They were moral and upright and respected (but it was just a show).
- They were keeping Israel pure, unstained from the immoral, pagan Roman culture that had invaded and oppressed them.
- They hated the Romans, and Samaritans (who intermarried gentiles and had wrong theological beliefs)
- They kind of hated the Sadducees (the liberal religious leaders who didn’t believe in the Resurrection, but Pharisees did)
- Of course, they really hated the Tax collectors (Jewish money-grubbing sell-outs to the Romans)
- And they super hated the “sinners”—all those immoral drunkards, promiscuous people—they were the cause that God allowed the Romans to conquer them—come to think of it, they hated a lot of people.
- They saw their God-given job as morally shoe horning people back into right behavior and correct doctrine.
- That was the mindset of the religious pharisee (maybe sound a little too familiar to your religious upbringing—or one’s you’ve seen—it’s why we need to learn from Nicodemus’s story).
Translate that to today’s implications- Cultural christianity, conservatism, and being religious are not synonymous with following Jesus.
So then, along comes Jesus. And he clashes with the Religious Leaders. He didn’t follow the traditions that they’d developed because they were man-made rules, not God’s law. And they prided themselves in keeping their own rules, but didn’t follow God’s law of love.
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the Scriptures. So practice and obey whatever they say to you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush you with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to help ease the burden. Matthew 23:1-4
Sometimes it’s not our sins of commission that keep us stuck (what we do wrong), it’s our sins of omission (what we fail to do right).
They had religion down, but it was missing the compassion and mercy of God for a hurting world.
And this is a really important thing to note—religion often develops traditions or “ways” that are not necessarily God’s ways, but they get co-opted as God’s ways.
And that’s when Religion gets in the way of following God’s Spirit.
So Nicodemus has seen Jesus’ miracles, and he knows the Pharisees are feeling their power and security threatened as more and more flock to Jesus.
Nicodemus has this clandestine meeting with Jesus and says,
“Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” 3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,[a] you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” 4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” (John 3:1-4)
This sounds absurd to Nicodemus—he’s offended.
What do you mean?
That’s Stupid—crawl back into your mom’s womb?
But Jesus is subtly testing his religious assumptions—seeing how humble and willing to learn from God Nic really is.
Jesus knows Nic has religion down pat, but Jesus came to lead a revolution—an overthrow of Self as King on the Throne to letting God, the rightful King be on the Throne of every life—following God’s Spirit—that’s how God’s Kingdom comes.
Jesus does it the shock jock way, “Hey Nic, Unless you’re born again, you cannot see God’s Kingdom.”
It starts with a full surrender of Control that can only be likened to being born all over again—starting over completely.
He disrupts all Nicodemuse’s assumptions about what God might be up to.
Here’s the point he was teaching NIcodemus and the big idea we want to hammer home today-
God cares more about heart transformation than behavior modification.
Have you ever noticed how Jesus’ way is the way of Disruption?
If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you don’t understand it yet.
Jesus, who is God, loves to disrupt our safe, secure, comfortable, “I’ve got it all figured out” ways.
And God is subtly invasive—intrusive—he has a very subliminal way of pointing out what we don’t see.
Think about the Rich Young Ruler who comes to Jesus asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Keep the 10 Commandments, Jesus said—which are summed up as Love God and love people. The guy says, “Check—done that.”
But he’s totally deceived.
He’s playing a religious game of “Look everyone at how good I follow the rules” yet he was missing the heart of the whole thing—Love for God as his motive.
That was the first commandment—Don’t love anything above God.
So Jesus simply says, “Go sell all you have, give to the poor, and follow me—and you’ll have riches eternally.”
The guy walked away upset. He missed what Jesus was putting his finger on—his first love was not God, but stuff, money. Jesus subtly puts his finger in the wound and says—let me heal this.
He often points things out in very parabolic ways. Remember, he taught in parables. So let me ask you, where might God be subtly pointing out a place you’re stuck, or blind to, you can’t see it like the Rich Guy thought he loved God first, until Jesus disrupted his assumptions.
What assumptions might God want to test with you?
Is God subtly pointing something out, but maybe you’re not really willing to consider it.
Sell all—forget you!
Don’t walk away, He wants to heal something.
Will you ask him?
“God, Is there something you’re trying to show me that I’m not seeing? Give me eyes to see and a humble heart to trust you.”
Jesus continues with Nicodemus:
Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.[b] 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.[c] 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” 9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked. 10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? (John 3:5-10)
Jesus is testing all Nic’s assumptions about what it means to be a “good Jewish boy” or a “good Christian.”
It’s not about keeping the rules or looking a certain way, or jumping through religious hoops to prove you’re doing the right things.
Remember, God cares more about heart transformation than behavior modification.
It’s about a life of following God’s Spirit, and that has a certain uncomfortable, out of my control, mystery to it.
Jesus explains that God’s Holy Spirit gives New Life to the Spirit of a person who surrender’s control to the King of the eternal Kingdom.
Just like people are brought to physical life through water—mom’s water breaks and you were physically born into earthlife.
But when you give your life back to God, God’s Spirit gives birth to your eternal Spirit connected to God forever—you are born into a New Life that is never ending with God.
But Jesus is also referring to how we live with God, by His Spirit.
Nicodemus doesn’t understand, he’s getting frustrated, this is insulting his intelligence.
Ever felt that way—this is beneath me. “I know this already God!”
I know too much for this?
Usually a good sign God has something deeper to teach you about his ways.
Jesus says, think about the Wind—you don’t see the wind, it’s mysterious to you—where does it come from, where will it go—you can’t control it Nicodemus.
So it is with God’s Spirit.
But…you can utilize the Power of the Wind.
Walking by God’s Spirit is what I believe Jesus is parabolically referring to.
Following God’s Spirit is kind of like sailing a sailboat.
Good sailors can watch the water and tell you when gusts or wind shifts are coming, and then the key is to position the sails and adjust the angle of the boat to align with the power of the wind.
You don’t change the wind, you change your direction and sails to align with where the wind is going.
That’s what it’s like to follow the Spirit of God too.
I can’t see God, I don’t often “feel” anything out of the ordinary, but I have learned to “read” the signs of where the Wind of the Spirit is blowing.
I’ll get a prompting thought in my mind, often not something I was thinking about, and it will repeat 2 or 3 times.
“Help that person.” Or “Call Mike” and when I act in faith, I find out many times there was a reason, like Mike just got a bad diagnosis and needed prayer and to know God was with him. The more you respond to the Spirit in obedience, the more of these “coincidences” you will see happen.
You’re empowered by the Wind of the Spirit.
Nicodemus is frustrated, “How is this possible—what are you saying Jesus?”
Sometimes when God doesn’t just tell you straight up, it’s because he wants to go deeper—He wants you to seek His wisdom at a deeper level.
You and I and Nic, we just want the easy 3 steps to a better life, and if it’s not easily accessible in 5 minutes, I have better things to do.
And God says, “Okay, walk away, but I had so much deeper, better, more fulfilling and healing things to show you.”
When you’re frustrated with God, look deeper. What’s he trying to show you? He honors that patient, deeper, waiting on His wisdom.
Jesus says to Nicodemus, here’s how this is possible Nic. It’s not about the religious traditions you thought—it’s about so much more:
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave[g] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17).
It’s about relationship NOT Relgionship, Nic, not religious box-checking.
That’s why I’ve come—so that all people, the religious good, the immoral corrupt, the Pharisees and the prostitutes and Tax collectors, all can know the Love of God, the forgiveness of God, and Life with God by His Spirit—starting now, lasting forever.
Religion says- “I have to”…. A life in the Spirit says “I get to”
Maybe you’ve been struggling with the thoughts and overwhelming nature of “I have to”. Jesus wants to show you it’s so much more than your checklists and boxes.
See, rules in the hands of religion can be burdensome, heavy, and shame-inducing. But rules in the hands of Jesus become a breath of fresh air and freedom from the slavery of sin.
A new way to be human.
A full reset.
So cool little twist to the story.
We don’t hear again about Nicodemus until the Pharisees send to have Jesus arrested to kill him, and Nic says “Is it legal to convict a man without a hearing?”
They ridicule and threaten him, but Nicodemus appears to be following a New King now. When they went against Nicodemus’s appeals and crucified Jesus, it was 2 Pharisees, Joseph and Nicodemus who took Jesus’ body from the cross, cleaned his body, wrapped him in burial clothes and put him in the tomb of a rich man (Joseph’s tomb).
Just as Isaiah the prophet foretold. Nicodemus went from secretly meeting Jesus at night to boldly asking for his body in broad daylight.
He must have been born of the Spirit.
What we realize from NIcodemus is that You are not chosen BECAUSE you follow the rules. It’s when you realize what God has done for you, that it becomes the fuel for transformational living.
Nicodemus goes from a place of status and esteem to choosing humility.
He’s doing a task that would have made him ceremoniously unclean washing a dead body of someone that wasn’t even his family.
Pharisee – washing the body of Jesus … we find an esteemed man cleaning the wounds, removing the splinters from the Cross, and washing Jesus’ dead body.
Something in him changed.
As scholar and historian N.T. Wright explains in his book Luke for Everyone:
“True faith is when someone looks at Jesus and discovers God’s forgiveness; and the sign and proof of this faith is love.”
And something in us can too.
All it takes is humility to say “God i don’t have all the answers, I need you.”
Do you have that life—a life of loving Relationship with God by His Spirit?
If you’ve never put your trust (your faith or belief) in Christ, do so today.
See God chose you!
- And You are not chosen BECAUSE you follow the rules. It’s when you realize what God has done for you, that it becomes the fuel for transformational living.
- He takes you as is, no prerequisites required—just come to the love of God, trust in Him, then follow His Spirit.
- And if you’re here and you’ve “been there, done that” got all the Christian T-shirts, bible badges, good-girl or boy religious check marks…great.
- But how’s your heart with God?
- Do you love God and do you know how He loves you, even when you aren’t so “good.”
- Is love your motive for the things you do—will you let him test your religious assumptions and help you find more freedom in following His Spirit instead of legalistic rules?
He’s so good, he’s so kind, so wanting good things for you. He cares so much more about your heart. God cares more about heart transformation than behavior modification.
We want to create a moment for you to connect with God. The band is going to play a song called ‘Let My Life Be Worship.’ This song is a prayer asking God to help us focus on Him and His goodness in our lives so that how we live honors him.
There’s a spiritual principle that Jesus introduced when He said: ‘If you lose your life serving Him, you will find your life.’
In other words, if your relationship with God becomes your priority even moreso than your job, your kids, your marriage, you will actually become a better employee or employer, parent, or spouse.
So as the band sings, let this be a holy moment, which simply means a moment ‘set apart’ that you connect with God and let Him reorient your heart towards His love for you and those you love.