Sermon: Having the Faith to Follow
How much faith does it take to follow? How much trust in God must we have? What does it mean to be part of the kingdom? How can we be born again? Those are the questions that puzzled and haunted Nicodemus.
Those are the questions I would like to place before you this morning.
How much faith does it take to follow?
First, we need to look at Nicodemus.
- First, Nicodemus was a religious man. He clearly knew the Torah by heart and memorization. In John’s Gospel, he is referred to not just as teacher but “the teacher”, pointing to his religious pre-eminence.
If anyone knew the truth about God and God’s people, surely it would be this man. Yet, for all of his religiosity. Nicodemus was not a fulfilled man. There was an emptiness within him that religion had not filled. Master, I know all of the commandments, but there is something missing
- Secondly, Nicodemus was a powerful person. We are told that he was a ruler of the Jews.” He was a member of the powerful Sanhedrin.
Yet, for all of his power, Nicodemus did not have peace of mind. Power had not given him contentment; it had confused him. Power promises meaning and purpose in life but it does not deliver. Master, I am a powerful person, but something is missing.
III Third, I think that we can say of Nicodemus, that he was a man of pedigree. He came from the right family. You don’t become a powerful Jewish lawyer unless you are of a certain pedigree. It is not something that you work up from the ranks to attain. It is not like our country. There is only one way to get it. You are born into it. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible says of Nicodemus: “He was a very rich man.”
There is a reason that Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He skulks in the darkness because he does not want to be seen with Jesus. Nicodemus is drawn to him, he is curious. Yet, for all of his interest in Jesus, he is seen as a part of the religious establishment He must maintain his dignity. It is easy to become preoccupied with preserving privilege.
IV Forth, Nicodemus was an educated man. I am proud of my education. My education has opened countless doors for me that would otherwise have been closed. The apostle Paul was proud of his education. He writes that he studied under the great Gamliel, one of the premier scholars of his day. Nicodemus was an educated man, yet his education had not brought him ultimate fulfillment.
With that in mind, Jesus tells Nicodemus that being part of the kingdom of God is that he needs to discover a new and lasting way to relate to follow God. Jesus tells Nicodemus that following God takes on a different kind of commitment goes beyond his status, his education, and his pedigree.
To embrace the promise of the kingdom of God demands giving all that he has to God.
Remember what Jesus said? “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the kingdom of God.” In other words, no one can be a follower of God unless he is willing to take a risk. No one can be part of the kingdom of God unless he is ready for commitment. We must be willing to let the old life go and trust in God for a new birth.
“You must be born again” is the way Jesus put it. You must take the risk to start again. For taking risks is the only way we grow — not only in business, but in our personal and spiritual life, as well. Either we take a reasonable risk and expand the horizons of our life, or we become stagnant and, in the end, live a life of regret.
I believe deep inside Nicodemus was looking for something more, and in a way, he took a risk visiting Jesus, but it was a convenient risk. He went out in the evening not to be seen and judged by his peers. What Jesus wanted from Nicodemus wanted is his full commitment, not just a partial one.
The same is true for each of us.
God asks us to be risk-takers for Christ. God calls us to follow Jesus on paths that are unknown. God invites us to venture forth in faith beyond the ordinary and mundane.
How much faith does it take to follow? In Matthew 17, verse 20, Jesus answers that question. He says, “If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain: Move from here to there, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” The question is not how much faith does it take to follow; it is whether we will use the faith we have. It is whether we will put our faith into practice and (ad)venture forth with God.
Did Nicodemus ever come to that faith to be a follower of the Christ? Tradition says that he did, but we do not know for sure. It is certainly possible that he remained on the fringe. Unfortunately, the truth for millions who profess Jesus as Lord is that they too live the faith on fringes of convenience.
Jesus wanted Nicodemus to experience the fullness of faith as he does with you and me. It begins with looking spiritually in the eyes of Jesus and say I to want to be born again!
One of the best photographs from the WWII era is a photo of King George the VI inspecting a bombed-out section of London. He stops to talk with a little boy, who is sloppily dressed and has his cap on crooked. The King is bending on one knee and looking directly into the face of the child, and even though it is a profile shot of the king you can see that his is a look of compassionate.
Tell me that that child’s life was not changed. Tell me that if he lived to be a hundred he forgot that day? I would suggest that once one truly looks into the eyes of Jesus it’s difficult to turn away.
If you don’t believe that then ask a long parade of witnesses. Ask Mary Magdalene. Yes, it is true. I looked into his face and I became a pure woman.
Ask Matthew. I too looked into his face, and I became an honest man.
Ask Paul. When I met Jesus, I changed. My zeal for the law became a zeal for love.
Ask Peter. Change, you ask? Oh yes, I changed. After I met Jesus I had to wrestle with my prejudices against the gentiles.
Like all the saints who have gone before, we are all broken men and women and our need is to be healed, changed, repaired, forgiven. The true question for this morning is not, “What Nicodemus was searching for?” but what are you searching for? Do you have the faith to follow the Master?
Imagine that evening 2000 years ago when Nicodemus said; Rabbi, please tell me. I am a ruler. I am an educated man. I am a religious man. But Rabbi, I have this void in my heart and I am a broken man. I need to have something in my life that will transform my evil to good, darkness to light, haste to love, ugliness to beauty, stinginess to generosity, sin to salvation. Rabbi, please tell me. I am confused. What is it that I need?
Nicodemus . . . Whether educated or uneducated, Jew or Gentile, black or white, rich or poor, powerful or week, religious or sinner – You must be born again.
“For God so loved the world that He gave his only son, that whosoever, shall believe in him will not perish, but will have eternal life. For God didn’t send his son into the world to condemn the world but that the world, through him, might be saved.”