Are We Ready to Move on With Christ?

I have a friend who left a large medical practice at the peak of his career. I couldn’t believe it. “Why did you quit?” I asked him.

“Many have asked me the same question,” he answered. “When I entered medical school, I only had a partial picture of what being a physician was like. I was acquainted with the positive sides of a doctor’s life. Financially, in my case, it was very lucrative. We had money to buy houses, cars, travel, and do just about anything that came to mind. I was a respected person in the community and sought out by people who needed my services. All of this was attractive to a young man wanting to make his mark in life. But there is another side to the doctor’s life which I had not considered as thoroughly as I should have done. The demands on your time are unreal. Night and day you live with a telephone by your side. While the majority of patients thank you for your work, others can be very cruel in their criticisms of you. The responsibility is also overwhelming. I had the life of a father or mother in my hand. Their kids needed their parent. What if I goofed up? So it finally got to be too much for me and I decided to do something else.”

“Didn’t anyone take the time to tell you the whole story about the doctor’s life?” I asked.

“Of course they did. Besides, during the years of training, I was around doctors and saw what their lifestyle was like. I heard their complaints about the profession, but I was so emotionally thrilled about becoming a doctor, I didn’t give these negative aspects of the profession, and how I would respond to them, much serious thought.”

So it is with being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we are so enamored at being one of God’s children that we forget Jesus’ words, “If you want to be my disciple, you must take up your cross and follow me.” Some parts of the Christian life will be very difficult. That’s what our text is teaching us.

Jesus was having His last personal talk with Peter about being His disciple. “Are you ready to move on, Peter?” was the Savior’s question. Are you ready to move on from being a believer to becoming a disciple? This question has to be faced by every Christian.

Let’s do a quick summary of the last three years of Peter’s life, which climaxed one day at a breakfast meeting by the sea of Tiberias. He had listened to Jesus teach. He had watched Him perform miracles. He had confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Savior of the world. He had received the highest praises from Christ and the most severe criticisms. Peter had said he would never deny nor leave Christ, and yet he denied the Lord in a very critical hour. It had been a period in his life where there were ups and downs. There were times of great maturity and other times of great immaturity.

Now Jesus had his third post-resurrection meeting with the disciples. It was during this time that He called Peter aside and asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” Each time Peter had confessed that he did love Jesus. Each time Jesus answered, “Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” Someone has interpreted Jesus’ questions to be: Do you love me enough to care for my little ones, to discipline the stubborn ones, and to watch over the older ones?

Jesus did not question that Peter believed He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He had a place for Peter in building the Kingdom, but he wanted him to face the question, “Are you ready to move on to be not just a believer, but a disciple willing to lay down his life for Christ if necessary?”

Peter’s experiences had taught him that there were many blessings in being a disciple of Jesus. During the three years of training with Jesus, he was proud to be one of those called by the Savior. There was the opportunity of living with Jesus and being taught by Him. He witnessed Jesus’ miraculous power of doing that which was beyond human ability, like healing the sick, raising the dead, quieting the sea, and feeding five thousand people with fives loaves of bread and two fish. He dreamed of having a place of great importance in Jesus’ Kingdom. He was like the doctor in my introduction who had spent so much time thinking about all the positive aspects of being a physician that he had not realized there would be difficult times too.

When those tough times came, Peter turned from Christ. He denied the Savior in the court yard, and he was nowhere to be found when Jesus was being crucified. He feared for his own life. Now Jesus was telling Peter that if you want to take that next step and be my disciple, you will have tough experiences. In fact, Jesus assured Peter that his discipleship would cost him his life, and so the Lord asked, “Are you up to it, Peter?”

History shows Peter was ready to give his life for Christ. Tradition tells us that he was martyred around 64 A.D. and requested to be crucified head down, for he did not consider himself worthy to be crucified in the same position as Jesus was.

Did Peter ever fall after that time with Jesus? Yes, many times. Daily we sin, and daily our Lord forgives us. He continues to strengthen and use us, in spite of our imperfections as ambassadors, making His appeal to the world through us.

There are many who are Christians. They trust Christ for their salvation, but are not disciples in the Biblical sense of the word. That’s why we talk about “making disciples” which means taking the next step toward becoming a mature witness for Christ. Christ calls for disciples in the great commission, “Go and make disciples.” He is asking for people who will carry the faith and not count the cost of doing it. Therefore, He is continually asking the Christian, “Isn’t it time to move onto a deeper relationship with Him? Isn’t it time to not only enjoy all the blessings we receive from Him, but to become a blessing to others who do not know Christ by sharing Him with them?”

The Biblical writers are sounding this note when they say, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” (I Corinthians 3:2) “By this time, you ought to be teachers, but you need someone to teach you the elementary teachings of God’s Word.” (Hebrews 5:12) We need not only to be comforted by His grace and forgiveness, but we need to experience some uncomfortable times when we take a firm stand for Christ, no matter what the cost may be.

Dietrich Bonhoffer had reached this maturity in his relationship to Christ. He was living a very comfortable life as one of the world’s great theologians. Though a German by birth and training, he was a member of the faculty at Union Theological Seminary in New York. No one would hurt Bonhoffer there. But in the midst of all of these comforts, he chose to return to Germany and stand with his Christian brothers and sisters as they resisted the Nazi attack on the Church. Eventually, he was arrested and executed only days before the war ended in Europe. God, in His Word, had led this man to a maturity in his faith.

Apply this to our lives. The Christian moves on in his or her relationship with the Lord. Christians are no longer content to talk about the days when they were converted. There is more to their Christianity than attending worship services and Bible studies. They are involved in a spiritual war as soldiers of the Lord Jesus. And believe me, it is a spiritual war, for society is no more ready to follow Christ today than they were in the early days of Christ’s Church on earth.

Are we ready to move on in our relationship with Christ? This was the question Jesus was discussing with Peter, and it is the question He is asking us today. Amen.

Do You Enjoy Going to Church?

Do you enjoy going to church? Ask that question in a mixed group, and you will receive a variety of answers. Here are a few of them:

“No, I never attend church. I did not come from a family who went to church.”

“It is not one of my favorite places to go. My needs are met elsewhere.”

“I don’t mind going to church, provided the service is Ôupbeat’ and not too long.”

“Yes, especially since I am retired. I have more time now.”

These are common answers, but many of you have a different answer. You join with the Psalmist who said, “I was glad when they said, ÔLet us go into the house of the Lord . . . I’d rather be a door keeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.'” For the majority of Christians, going to church is a highlight in their lives.

For the Jewish people, the Temple was very important. When you visit Jerusalem, you see the Dome of the Rock. Today it is a Moslem Mosque, and that is one of the sore points in the hearts of the faithful Jews. This was the site of the Jewish Temple at one time; and for many of them, it is still the most sacred spot on earth. The temple was built during the reign of King Solomon, and in his dedicatory prayer, he prayed, “Will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less the temple I have built! Yet, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his pleas for mercy, O Lord my God. May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ÔMy name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.”

Commenting on Solomon’s prayer, John Stott, an English preacher, says, “God’s presence was not limited to the Temple, but He was there in a special way. As a result, every Israelite loved the Temple and looked forward eagerly to visiting it.”

The Psalmist expressed his love for the Temple when he wrote, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty. My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” (Psalm 84:1-2) Isn’t that the feeling of the committed Christian today? Whether it is the cathedral in the city, or the small wooden building in the country, this place, known as the church, is precious to the believer. It plays a major role in his or her life. It is God’s house. He is present.

The sanctuary has been set aside for sacred use. It is filled with symbols. The pulpit is the place where God’s Word is read and proclaimed. The Lord’s Supper is served from the altar. The baptismal font is where God enters into a covenant relationship with us. It is in that sanctuary that our youth are married, and the dead are buried. It is no ordinary building. In a noisy old world, it is important for the Christian to have a place of quietness where he or she can sense God’s presence in a special way.

Is it any wonder that congregations are reluctant to close their churches? No matter how small the group becomes, and from a practical point of view, how much more efficient it would be to close the doors and join with another congregation a few miles away, people resist the thought. It was in that building God spoke to them. From a practical point of view, it just makes sense to say farewell to the past, but there are times in life when we choose not to be practical. From a financial point of view, it would save money to unite with another congregation, but there are times when money is not the issue.

In our area, the evening news showed a congregation participating in a ground-breaking ceremony for a new church. The old building had been destroyed by fire. There are only a few more than one hundred members in the congregation, and the opportunity for growth is nil, but they will construct a new house of worship and continue on that site.

Why do Christians enjoy going to church? There are many answers to that question, but let me share three reasons why attending worship services is the number one activity of the week in the lives of many Christians.

First, we are spiritually fed. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” From His Word, I hear the Lord saying, “In Christ, your sins are forgiven.” In His Word, He does a bit of correcting in my life, pointing out that my attitude is wrong, my actions are not Christlike, and my words are often not to His liking. How good to know that He is willing to forgive my sins and send me on my way rejoicing! In His Word, He brings me comfort and encouragement, and gives me new direction as to where I can serve Him. Without this spiritual feeding, I die.

Secondly, we thank Him for His blessings to us. In the privacy of my home, I thank Him for His goodness and mercy. This is important. But at the worship service, I join with the Body of Christ to praise His holy name. What an emotional experience it can be to join voices with others and sing the doxology,

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

Thirdly, we fellowship with other Christians. Here we gather as one Ð rich or poor, educated or uneducated, young or old, black or white. Here we can share our joys and sorrows with others who will understand. Here we can meet new friends. I am fully aware that this is not always the case. Many times people leave the church without a single person saying good morning. If this is the case in your congregation, you need to put forth a strong effort to correct it, because the Scriptures speak about the needs of believers gathering for fellowship. A cold, self-centered church is not pleasing to the Lord.

Realizing the congregation is not always what it should be, wouldn’t you agree that some of the finest friends you have, you met at church? Don’t you have something in common that cannot be duplicated in other organizations? Wouldn’t you like to have your son or daughter meet his or her future husband or wife at the church or one of its related institutions? We sent our three children to church-related colleges. They met their spouses while in college, and what a blessing those marriages have been to our family. I realize that it doesn’t always work out that way, but when it does, there is a stability in those homes, because Christ is there to feed them with His Word through His Church.

The Psalmist says it well, “I was glad when they said, ÔLet us go into the house of the Lord.'” I believe the Church is top priority in the life of the Christian. If that is not true in your life, ask yourself why, because you are missing much by not being involved in Christ’s Church. Amen.

Because of Easter

Three weeks ago, I delivered a message to two elderly people that their 13-year-old great-granddaughter was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I knew this message would be devastating to these friends. Life would not be the same for them again. Time would heal, but there would always be that empty spot for the child who had died.

But today, the message I am privileged to deliver is different. It is the message of hope. Christ is risen! He has won the victory for us over sin, death, and the devil. When our lives are based on this Easter message, it is never the same again. We might be given the bad news that something tragic has happened in our lives, but Christ lives, and He is with us in a personal way.

It’s Easter. Let’s review the story, since it never grows old:

It was early on Sunday morning when the women went to Jesus’ tomb. They were going to anoint His body. When they arrived, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. This excited Mary Magdalene, and she went running to Peter and John. With great emotion she shouted, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Receiving this message, Peter and John ran to the tomb, and sure enough, the body was gone, but the linens that had wrapped His body were there. Utterly confused, because they still did not understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead, they went back to their homes, but Mary stayed outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels. They asked her, “Why are you crying?” Mary had a quick response. “They have taken the body of my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.” Right then, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but Mary thought he was the gardener. She pleaded, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Then Jesus spoke, “Mary.” Now Mary knew it was Jesus, and she cried out, “Teacher!” As she reached out to embrace Jesus, He said, “Don’t touch me, because I have not yet returned to my Father. Rather, go and tell the disciples that I am returning to my Father, and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary obediently went to the disciples with the news, “I have seen the Lord!”

What a story! Jesus had been raised physically from the dead.

On this story, Christianity stands or falls. Without the resurrection, Jesus is not a living Lord, but a dead martyr. This message is not enough to satisfy our needs and solve our deepest problems, but because Jesus lives, He has given us many promises, and I share three of them with you on this Easter Day.

Because He lives, we can live with confidence today.

There are problems too big for us to handle. Over spring break, five St. Olaf College students were on their way south to assist in some educational work. On the way, three of them were killed when their car was involved in a head-on collision with another car, driven by a man who is reported to have been drunk and driving on the wrong side of the road. We can’t even imagine how the families of these young people reacted when given this news. Now, to some extent, they had to face it. Arrangements had to be made for burial. Adjustments had to be made in their lifestyle as a family. They were not alone. Their family came to help out. Friends were extremely kind, both with words and actions, and we hear people who go through these tough experiences say, “I don’t know what I would have done without my family and friends.”

But then come those times when the mourner is alone. The lights are out, and it is night. It all becomes so real. In those times, the Christian, whose life is built on the resurrection, finds comfort and strength in the Easter message – “He lives!” Death has taken my son or daughter from this earth, but he or she lives. There are a thousand and one questions about the heavenly home, but one question has been answered. Christ Jesus, who died for our sins and was raised, has provided for us an eternal home, if we trust Him. As the months go by, this promise becomes more real and meaningful. It alone is our comfort and strength.

It is God’s Word that brings us strength for today. You stand beside a sick person and ask, “Is there a portion of Scripture that is meaningful for you that I could read?” Countless times the person has told me, “Please read me the 23rd Psalm.” It is a beautiful psalm, and the verse, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me,” is one of its capturing thoughts. But what gives meaning to these words? It is the Easter story of Christ’s resurrection. He lives and walks with me. Without the resurrection, Christ is dead, and the poem has no objective basis, but only moves us into fantasy land. But when Christ has been raised, we know this is no sentimental thought, but an objective truth that God is God, and He uses this verse to comfort His children.

Because He lives, we can face tomorrow with confidence.

Tomorrow can be frightening and challenging. If we accept how inadequate we are to meet the temptations of life, the future can be frightening. Who of us do not face the future with some anxiety when we are raising children? I asked a university student after he had completed his first semester, “What were some of your feelings the first days at the university?” He replied, “I was frightened in many ways. Academically, the university was more difficult and demanding. Could I do as well in this setting as I did in high school? Socially, I began to realize how diverse our society is. From my point of view, some of these people were weird in their thinking and values. Spiritually, my Christian faith is strong, and I attend an excellent church where I am spiritually fed each Sunday and once during the week. But I knew that my relationship with Christ would be tested both in the classroom and on campus. I can easily see how someone, who has big questions regarding the Christian faith, could become very confused.”

As a family, we pray that nothing will harm these kids, but God gives us a promise. “God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (I Corinthians 10:13). The strength of this promise is based on the resurrection. If Christ had not been raised, this promise would not hold water.

It is the resurrection which can change our fears into challenges. One of the women in our church’s preschool is retiring after 20 years as a teacher. She has done an excellent job and blessed many little children. “Well,” she said, “I am a little nervous about how I am going to adjust to retirement, but God has shown me that there will be something for me to do.” She is confident that retirement will be more than just entertaining herself. There will be a less stressful schedule. She and her husband will travel and have time to enjoy the family, but God will present her with new opportunities. He is living and wants to use her. It’s all tied to Easter.

Because He lives, we have assurance for eternity.

Listen to these promises, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25). “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:56-57). These promises are ours because of Christ’s resurrection. The future is uncertain, but eternity is sure.

We can walk away from the grave feeling broken-hearted, but with peace in our souls, and say with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand up on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25).

Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, is no blowhard. He delivers what He promises to those who trust Him.

He lives and wants to live in our hearts. Amen.s

Compelled to Act

When we become a part of an event or a person’s life, our emotions are easily moved. We go to a movie and become a part of the plot. We are moved to weep when something bad happens to a person with whom we can identify. We receive word that something tragic has happened to a good friend, and we become angry. I received a letter that a man, whom I confirmed many years ago, had died of a heart attack. As I read on in the letter, I learned that in later years he had become a drug addict. George was a brilliant kid who had done well as an architect. Then personal problems became heavy, and he turned to alcohol and drugs for relief. His friends told me that he died with a “fried brain.”

I was angry at the drug lords, who are nurturing the growth of this multi-billion-dollar business that is killing so many of our people and leaving so much sorrow behind. I was emotionally upset. Finally, I asked myself, “But where did George fit into this picture? Was he not responsible for his own act? Why did he not turn to Christ rather than drugs, when the problems of life became too heavy for him?” I agonized over these questions for a couple of days, and then set it aside as another tragic story and went on with life.

But this is not always the case. Sometimes our emotions compel us to act to correct a horrible situation. We not only ventilate verbally, but we act on those emotions. Mothers Against Drunk Driving have lost loved ones because of people driving while drunk. They are trying in many ways to stop this irresponsible behavior. Their emotions are compelling them to act.

Such was the case with the two men who watched Jesus die. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were members of the Jewish Ruling Council who, over time, had become followers of Jesus, but in secret, because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Had these leaders known that Christ had captured the hearts of these two men, they would have been dismissed from the council. However, seeing Jesus die was too much for them! It was time to come out of the closet and let the world know about their relationship with Jesus.

Joseph went to Pilate, after Jesus was declared dead, and asked for His body. Pilate granted the request, and Joseph, assisted by Nicodemus, began to prepare the body for burial. Nicodemus brought linen cloths and seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes to anoint the body. Then they wrapped the body and placed it in Joseph’s new tomb. This act of burial was a clear demonstration that these two men were followers of Jesus.

What motivated this action? At the foot of the cross, Nicodemus and Joseph experienced Christ’s love for them, and they in turn were moved to show their love for Him. John has said it well, “We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:9).

But we must remember that this relationship with Jesus had been building over a period of time. We first met Nicodemus in John 3, when he came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a great teacher sent from God. No one could do the signs you do apart from God.”

Jesus replied, “Unless you are born again, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”

This statement, “born again,” puzzled Nicodemus as it has millions of others through the years. He asked Jesus, “How can a person be Ôborn again’ after he is old? Can you enter again your mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus replied, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” In other words, we must have a spiritual birth, if we want to be born of God’s Kingdom. This spiritual birth comes in knowing Christ as Savior and Lord.

When Nicodemus left Jesus, the seed of God’s Word had been planted in his heart. This man gave a lot of thought to Jesus’ words, “born again.” Nicodemus was convinced that Jesus had a lot to offer him and his people. He had kept the laws of his religion. He had faithfully participated in the religious rituals, but there was no peace and no power in his life. Could Jesus be the answer to his spiritual emptiness?

As the Holy Spirit continued to work in Nicodemus’ heart, he resented the hatred shown for Jesus by the Ruling Council. When they talked about having Him crucified, Nicodemus reacted and asked, “Doesn’t He deserve a fair trial?” Justice must be done.

This caused the religious leaders to become suspicious of Nicodemus, and they asked, “Are you one of His followers?” Nicodemus said no more. Trouble would have been brewing if he had identified himself with Jesus more than he had already done. But when he stood beneath the cross watching Jesus die, Nicodemus confessed Him as the Messiah and was convinced that he could no longer be Jesus’ secret disciple. He had to identify with Him.

While God was working in Nicodemus’ heart, He was creating faith in Joseph’s soul. Joseph too was a member of the Ruling Council. He was a good man. One could wonder if he might have become a friend of Nicodemus before the day of the burial. The elders were also wondering about Joseph’s relationship with Jesus. They knew Joseph was opposed to Jesus being crucified. Seeing Jesus die touched Joseph’s emotions. See how he loved us. He was willing to die for us. He was angry. Enough is enough! This true man of God deserved to be buried in a respectable way. It was the least that could be done for Him. St. Paul later said, “The love of Christ compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (II Corinthians 5:14). Joseph was compelled to act out of love for Christ.

Let me depart from the text just a bit and throw in another thought. Isn’t this a great stewardship text? It has never once occurred to me that this would be a great text for Stewardship Sunday. But what does it say? Two men had come into a personal relationship with Christ and wanted to express their love for Him. So they gave themselves as tangible evidence of this relationship that existed between them and the Lord Jesus. That’s what stewardship is. It is more than singing, “Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee.” It is action. I speak now of the stewardship of our lives, which is far more than giving money. It is the giving of ourselves for the cause of Christ.

The opening statement in this sermon is, “When we become a part of an event or a person’s life, we are moved to act.” Two people go to a movie. One weeps. The other sleeps. The plot captures the one person’s mind and soul. The other couldn’t care less and is bored by what is happening. Two people learn about the drug problem among youth. The one is angry, because it is her child who is incarcerated for selling cocaine. The other deplores the drug traffic, but does not become too excited because it has not yet come to her family. It is not personal.

Two people look at the cross. The one can tell the story and have great respect for Jesus and what He did for the world. The other turns his or her life over to Christ. Christ is more than a Biblical character described on the pages of the Bible. His suffering, death, and resurrection is more than a dogma to which he gives lip service when confessing his faith in the words of the Apostle’s Creed. Christ is a living person who raps at my heart’s door and offers me the forgiveness of my sins. I receive Him. He is mine and I am His for all eternity. We live in a personal relationship with Him.

The person, who is personified in Joseph and Nicodemus, says, Here I am Ñ take my tomb, my ointment, my linens. These are only symbolic of something bigger. Take my life, Lord, for as I look at the cross I see your love for me. It is that love which compels me to give myself to you.

Remember that it is at the foot of the cross where we see His love. It is at the foot of the cross where we hear His voice calling us to follow Him.

Two Religious Men Spiritually Awakened

If I were to fault preaching, it would be that too many sermons assume all people sitting in the congregation are Christians. It is true that many people who attend church are not Christian, by their own admission. It is not for humans to make judgments of others, but they make this judgment themselves. Those who are acquainted with the biblical teachings would say that if you define a Christian as one who attempts to practice good moral principles, then yes, by this definition I am a Christian. However, if you use the biblical definition of a Christian, many of these same people would say they are not a Christian.

One biblical definition of a Christian is this: “If you confess with your mouth, ÔJesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10).

Our text introduces us to two religious men who were spiritually awakened. The first man we meet in our text is Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one can perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

This puzzled Nicodemus, and he asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:1-6).

When Nicodemus left Jesus that night, a seed had been planted in his soul that would bear fruit one day. Through the months, Nicodemus became a defender of Jesus and asked his co-workers in the ruling council, “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” Hearing this, the council began to wonder if Nicodemus believed in Jesus. He was giving signs that the Holy Spirit was at work in this religious man’s heart.

Whatever his relationship with Jesus was, it became evident when Jesus died that Nicodemus had been spiritually awakened. He could say with the centurion, “Truly, He was the Son of God.”

At Jesus’ burial, Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes to anoint the body. He also wrapped Jesus’ body in linen, and through these acts he told those around him that he was one of Jesus’ followers. A religious man had been awakened.

The second religious man we meet in our text is Joseph of Arimathea. He was a prominent member of the council and another silent believer in Jesus. Whenever a prisoner who had been crucified was declared dead, his body was thrown to the vultures and wild dogs to eat unless family or friends made plans for the burial.

This was not going to happen to Jesus’ body if Joseph could help it. So he asked Pilate for the body. He would bury Jesus in his new tomb cut out of rock. Pilate granted Joseph’s request and the burial took place.

Another religious man was spiritually awakened, and his actions bore testimony to the fact that Joseph was one of Jesus’ followers.

This story brings joy and sorrow to the reader. Their confession of faith in Christ would have been comforting to Jesus in His difficult hours. So it is with us. It is so easy to be silent believers, but what Christ asks from us is to witness to our world that we belong to Him. Think of the difference it would make if the silent believers today would tell others of their faith in Christ!

We might add parenthetically how this also applies to our relationship with people. When one is dead, we often speak nice words of the person. We give our memorials and flowers and show many kindnesses to the dead person’s family. How much better it would have been had we shown these kind deeds when the person was alive.

But there is also joy in the story of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. God finally had his way in their lives. They came out of the closet and identified themselves publically with Jesus. It gives us new hope as we learn that Jesus is never done with us. Religious people can be spiritually awakened.

As I preach this sermon, I have in mind three groups of listeners.

The first are those friends who seem confused regarding what Christianity is. They believe that a good moral life makes one a Christian. You hear them say of a man who has never claimed Jesus as his Savior that he was such a good Christian man.

But a moral life does not make one a Christian. Some of my friends live wonderful lives. They are sinners to be sure, but they are the first on the scene to help those in need. They are liberal in giving of their time and money to help lift the burden from someone who is in need. However, they are ignorant of the teaching that Jesus is the Son of God who suffered, died, and was raised for the sins of the world.

Also in this group are those people who have been well trained in the teachings of Christianity. They have been active in Sunday school, had good confirmation instruction, and attend church faithfully. They have intellectualized the Christian faith. They know about Christ, but do not know Him personally. This is where I believe some preaching takes too much for granted in assuming those who can quote the Scriptures have met Him. This is not necessarily true. Biblical preaching must confront the listener with the difference between being religious and being a Christian, between knowing about Jesus and knowing Him personally.

The Bible defines Christians not only as those who have experienced the fact that they are sinners, but have also been redeemed through faith in Jesus Christ. They know him as the one who suffered and died on the cross as a payment for their sins and was raised to give them victory over sin, death, and the devil.

In my own case, I can say that for the first seventeen years of my life, I was a religious person. I knew the basics of the faith, but then came that day when I met Him. Like Nicodemus and Joseph, the seed had been planted in my heart. The Holy Spirit was at work, and then I was awakened. Jesus was no longer a character on the pages of the Bible, nor a doctrine that I learned from the catechism. He was the living Lord Jesus who assured me that my sins were forgiven, and I was His forever.

Awakenings come in different forms. However, one thing is certain: the life of that person shows much evidence of their awakening when he or she has met the Savior.

The second group are closet Christians. They are Christians, but they are afraid to identify themselves with Christ in certain groups. Many of us fall back into this category from time to time. Christ needs us. He needs us to give a clear, verbal testimony of our faith, and a willingness to take up our cross and follow Him. Would it be fair to say that this is where a goodly number of the worshiping congregations find themselves on a Sunday morning? They trust Christ, but it is so difficult to identify with Him in a world that is so opposed to what He teaches.

The third group are those who are spiritually awakened and confess this in word and deed, not only on Sunday, but throughout the week. They are the people in the congregation who can be counted on to carry the message of Christ to the world. Nicodemus and Joseph make a strong witness for Christ before an unbelieving world. John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, really describes these Nicodemus and Joseph well when he said that they loved Christ because they experienced that Jesus first loved them. We will pursue that thought further in next Sunday’s sermon.

What we saw happen in our text today is what we need to see happen in our congregations on a regular basis Ñ Religious People Being Spiritually Awakened.