Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he 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 marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ” (John 3:1–17, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Everyone wants to make sense out of life. As we live and work and play we want there to be meaning. The problem is it isn’t always clear; meaning isn’t all that easy to find. It’s difficult to find meaning in watching people swept away with their houses by a giant wave. It’s difficult to find meaning in a struggle against nuclear power gone haywire. There just isn’t an easy answer. No one can say they know exactly how the death of those thousands of people fits into the over all plan for life on earth.
Gas prices continue to climb as revolution erupts in the Middle East and Africa. Are the rebels good guys seeking democracy or are they bad guys looking for an in for Sharia Law? Why can’t world leaders take a stand while hundreds die? What does all this unrest in that eternally unstable part of the world mean for us? It’s difficult not to be frightened and confused when with all this going on all over the world. What is it all about? No one can really answer the question. But many people try.
With all these questions about why floating around, this entire struggle, it’s easy to feel lost and in the dark. If only I could find the key to understanding these problems… If I watch just one more hour news coverage, I’ll understand what it’s all about. Just one more expose about mad dictator … Just one more interview with Japanese woman who saw her whole life swept away in angry muddy water… then I’d be able to make sense out of it all. And everything would fall into place. But it never happens. It’s like wandering around in the dark hoping to find the path. It is very danger dangerous to bump around in the dark. We so easily stumble into dangerous places. But we can’t see where we are going; the way is hidden from us. The key to understand the whole thing is hidden from us in the darkness.
There was another man who felt this way. He was trying to understand the struggles that were going on around him. Something unexpected was happening and he was in the dark, groping for answers. Nicodemus wanted to know who Jesus really was. He was looking for the key to understanding Him. We hear about him in the verses immediately preceding the Gospel for today, in fact Chapter 3 is all about a discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus.
Nicodemus came to Jesus, at night, in the dark, to talk, to understand, to shine light on the darkness in his mind. “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who comes from God, no one does the things you have done without having God with him.” What he was asking, what he dare not really say was, “Jesus, who are you really? What makes you tick? What makes you do things like driving all the sacrifices out of the temple? What makes you say things like ‘destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it in three days’? I’m in the dark and I want to know what all of this means.”
But, Jesus gives and interesting answer. He tells Nicodemus that it is not that he lacks the key to understanding. “If you are not born again you can’t understand the things of God.” It’s not a matter of knowledge; it’s not figuring out the puzzle, it’s not finding the light switch. What is born of the flesh is flesh.” The flesh only gives birth to evil things. Human beings are sinful. You feel like you are lost because you are lost. You feel in the dark and dead because you are dead.”
That’s were we find ourselves, too. The bible tells us that we are evil. It’s not just criminals and the mad dictators. There’s more than enough evil and sin in even our hearts. We can try all we want to shield ourselves from the light God’s law and hide our evil from Him, but it penetrates us and shows our most secret sins… the lust, the greed, the self-service… It sends us cowering back into the cover of darkness.
We don’t need just some secret knowledge to help us. It isn’t knowing some key to life that brings light to our darkness. The key is looking to the one who is the Light. All the knowledge in the world won’t help us make sense out of the darkness, and trouble in our nature and war torn world. If we are missing the foundation, the One and True Light, we will stumble around in the darkness all our lives.
Light has come into the world.
That’s what Jesus told Nicodemus. “Light has come into the world.” He said. That’s the Good News. We blindly search for meaning, and God has provided what we need to survive, to avoid the dangers in the darkness. We don’t have to crawl up a high mountain to get knowledge from some guru, to find the secret to life. Jesus was lifted up for us to plainly see.
Just like Moses lifted up the snake for the Israelites to be saved from their snake venom. Jesus saves us from the darkness in our hearts. He is lifted up on the cross for our sins. He dies our death there, he dies because of sin, the evil in us goes into the darkness of death with him, and when he comes to life again darkness is changed into light.
Our attempts to make sense of life find completion in Jesus Christ. He is the light of the world, the way the truth and the life. We have seen Jesus lifted up, we have seen God’s answer to all the questions of sin, death and destruction in life. God gave us this light not by taking us out of it but by coming into the darkness himself. He came, in Jesus, and was enveloped in the darkness of our death. He was oppressed by the darkness of our evil, and lived among the darkness of our ignorance.
We look to Jesus Christ, lifted up and crucified. He shines the light of forgiveness from the cross into your dark heart and makes it light again. He dies for you, goes into death’s darkness where you should go, but don’t have go to anymore. When the light of day, shined into the dark tomb on Easter morning, Jesus ended the reign of death in your life. The brightness of Easter, the Light of the promise of life is yours, through Baptism, in the name of Jesus.
We don’t live in the darkness anymore. The light of Jesus, lifted up, still shines on us to bring light to our darkness. Even though darkness is all around us, even though we struggle to understand what’s going on in the world. What does it mean that there is war in Iraq? Why do people want to kill us? All of that darkness threatens us every day, but we live as “children of the light.” We know the answer for a world that is still groping around in darkness, looking for meaning. We have seen the Way. We have seen the Light. It is Jesus Christ. Amen.
The peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.