Defining Our Relationship
Let me do a little quiz with you:
- Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?
- Do you believe that Christ died and arose again?
- Do you believe that Jesus is Lord?
- Are you following Him?
One of my favorite books I have read recently is entitled Not A Fan: Becoming A Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idelman. One of the things that caught my eye was he doesn’t even capitalize his name. When I read the cover I immediately wondered about the reason he did that. I knew it was intentionally done. The book is clear that he was doing that to define his relationship with Jesus Christ – his Lord. In the beginning of the book he takes a close look at Nicodemus. This Pharisee came to Jesus at night, he wants to get to know Jesus better.
Listen as Michael reads the first 15 verses of John 3.
John 3:1-15 (NASB)
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." 3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said* to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" 5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 8 "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." 9 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?" 10 Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
- Let’s examine what is going on here:
- Nicodemus is a Pharisee, an interpreter of the law, and a member of the Sanhedrin. He was a well known and well respected religious leader in the community and the synagogue. Listening to Jesus teach he was inspired and watching the miracles it became evident to him that Jesus was more than just a man. His compassion and love for the people was from God. There was something about Jesus that drew him to talk to Jesus. Nicodemus was at a crossroads in his life.
- Notice it was at night that he came – two reasons he came at night: that is normally when scholars did their studying and secondly no one would notice him. In other words he came secretively.
- He could have stopped Jesus in the temple or in the marketplace. He figured this was better he could spend time with Jesus when no one was around. His fellow community leaders, his family, and especially the other Pharisees would not have known he was there.
- He could talk to Jesus at night and quietly make a decision without any negative implications. Most admirers or fans of Christ would rather do this quietly behind closes doors. They don’t want too much recognition and definitely less attention the better.
- Nicodemus had made a decision about Jesus, but that is not the same as following Him. Jesus did not accept a relationship with Nicodemus where he just simply believed; Jesus wanted him to follow. Jesus didn’t just want Nicodemus just at night; He wanted during the day as well – 24 / 7.
- The question that Jesus is challenging Nicodemus is the same question that we have to answer. Let’s diagnosis where we are at – “have we made decision for Jesus or have we committed ourselves to Jesus.
- There is a difference between believing in or deciding for Jesus and being committed to Jesus. Just like marriage – you can decide that you want to get married but it is not marriage until you make the commitment to be married.
- Many believers have raised their hands and said yes to Christ but raising your hand and being committed to Jesus are not the same. We define belief as the acceptance of something as real or true. Belief is more than just an intellectual acceptance or heartfelt acknowledgement it must be a commitment to follow.
- Believing and following are part of being committed. We have to have both. One can’t really live without the other. Following is part of believing and to truly believe one needs to follow.
- We are reluctant to emphasize commitment in fear that we might lose a possible pre-Christian. We want don’t want to make it so hard to become a Christian that we never lead anyone to believe. The Bible is full of tough choices:
- Noah couldn’t follow God without building an ark
- Moses couldn’t follow God without facing Pharaoh
- Daniel couldn’t follow God without his prayer time and that placed him in a den of lions
- Peter couldn’t follow Jesus without feeding His sheep and he was crucified for that
- Paul couldn’t have written a big portion of the New Testament without giving up his life as a Pharisee and then eventually being beheaded
- Following Jesus isn’t something that can be done just at night or on Sunday morning. In case you haven’t heard this or need a reminder, let me be clear:
- There is no forgiveness without repentance
- There is no salvation without surrender
- There is no life without death
- There is no believing without commitment
- When Nicodemus meets with Jesus in John 3 we’re left wondering what he’s going to do. The silence seemed to identify him as fan, one who wasn’t even an enthusiastic admirer, more like a secret admirer who couldn’t manage the next step from believing to being totally committed.
- But this is not the last that we read of Nicodemus. The next time we meet up with him is in John 7. The popularity of Jesus has grown and the religious leaders are furious. They are jealous and fearful of His popularity. The Sanhedrin decide to meet to figure out a plan to silence Christ.
- Part of their role was to judge false preaching and prophets. They needed to drum up some kind of accusation or charge that would indict Jesus as a false teacher.
- Nicodemus is sitting among his peers as they plot against Jesus.
- He is just one of 72 religious leaders that were part of this ruling body. What could he do – he is just one guy in this body of theologians.
- Nicodemus believes that Jesus is from God, but what could he say and would he have the courage to say anything. Would his belief translate into any kind of commitment?
- I am sure he is hoping someone else would say something in defense of Jesus. He is sitting there thinking surely someone else is going to say something.
- Surely he isn’t the only one that believes that Jesus is from God – that Jesus is the long expected Messiah. He is now admitting that Jesus is the Messiah. “Come on someone else speak up.”
- What is this going to cost if he speaks up? So here goes sticking his neck out 51"Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?" John 7:51 (NIV) He stops short of saying what he believes; but he does risk his career and reputation when he does speak out publically on behalf of Jesus. This is no small risk.
- This is no longer a private conversation with Jesus. I get the feeling he has some other evening conversations with Jesus.
- He allows what he believes to interfere with his work, his relationships, and his financial future.
- He is no longer being a casual believer that admired Jesus, as Idelman writes “… he stops being just a fan, and begins the journey of following.” The Sanhedrin responds, “ "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (John 7:52 NIV)
- I realize that doesn’t seem too bad, but they are trying to embarrass him. Galilee was a small insignificant town that no one was proud of. They had a saying back then “can anything good come out of Galilee?”
- And the Old Testament prophets never mentioned anything about the Messiah being from Galilee. In fact the Sanhedrin laughed at Jesus because of where he was from and now they used it to attack Nicodemus.
- It was meant to be a shot to Nicodemus’ ego. It was a reality check for Nicodemus.
- Any hope that Nicodemus had that he could follow Jesus without interfering with his life was shot down with that one question, are you from Galilee too? What they were asking “are following him?”
- I have discovered that there is always a moment like this in a Christians life. Someone calls into question about your beliefs that transports us from being just part of the audience to being on stage with Christ.
- Somewhere we have to make a choice to follow or just believe.
- In the end of John’s gospel there I one brief reference to Nicodemus. After Jesus’ death Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate if he could bury Jesus and was granted permission – Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloe – somewhere around 100 lbs – that was what a person of royalty would be buried with. Believe this not only cost him money. There was no doubt where his allegiance was.
- In fact Jesus’ own disciples had run – but here were 2 guys risking everything. Joseph’s secret belief was no longer hidden and Nicodemus was showing his affection and devotion.
- He probably understood that Jesus had to suffer because he knew the prophecies that talked about the Messiah had to suffer and die.
- He was no longer a secret, enthusiastic admirer – he was a follower.
- That is the last time we read about Nicodemus in the Scripture. Early church tradition asserts that he was martyred sometime in the first century.
Are we willing to follow? Not just believe, but actually follow.
Two Horses ~ Author Unknown
I read this story not long ago. There were 2 horses in a field and from a distance, each looks like every other horse. But if you stop your car, or are walking by, you will notice something quite amazing. Looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that he is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him put down, but has made a good home for him. This alone is amazing.
If you are nearby and listening, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to her halter is a small bell. It lets her blind friend know where she is, so he can follow her.
As you stand and watch these two friends, you’ll see how she is always checking on him, and that he will listen for her bell and then slowly walk to where she is and he trusts that she will not lead him astray. When she returns to the shelter of the barn each evening, she stops occasionally and looks back, making sure her friend isn’t too far behind to hear the bell. It is hard to become the follower but that is what God is calling us to do and be.
Like the owner of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we have problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.
Please click here for slides to accompany the sermon.