In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos (1917-1989) was elected President of the Philippines, which made his wife, Imelda (born 1929), First Lady. They held those positions until 1986, when the entire family fled to Hawaii. The international news was fascinated with what she left behind. After having ruled a poor country for decades, the inventory was impressive: 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1,000 handbags and approximately 7,500 pairs of shoes. (However, Time magazine reported she only owned 1,060 pairs of shoes.) For your information, I only own four pairs of shoes; one is an old pair of sneakers for yardwork. Through the years, Hundreds of criminal charges have been filed against Imelda, who is now 94 years old, but she has never been incarcerated, because her children, Imee (born 1955) and Bongbong (born 1957), hold powerful positions within the federal government. Still today, many consider Imelda Marcos the most selfish person in the world. In other words, the center of Imelda Marco’s universe is Imelda Marcos. That leads us to an interesting question. Who is the center of your universe? That leads us to our scripture lesson.
We find ourselves in the third chapter of John, verses one through fifteen. Any Bible student will tell you the storyline of this gospel is different than the synoptic gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke have Jesus cleansing the temple at the end of his ministry; it is part of the climax. John is different. He has Jesus cleansing the temple at the beginning of his ministry (John 2). That fact is important for one reason; Jesus had the attention of some very powerful influential people from the very beginning.
One of those powerful influential people was Nicodemus. It is a Greek name meaning “People’s Victory.” According to the second half of verse one, he was a member of the Jewish ruling council. That means he had climbed to the very top of his profession. It is safe to say Nicodemus spent his days answering the questions of others. This story is unique because he is the one with the questions. With everything that has been written about this passage through the ages, one thing is important to remember. This story is nothing more than a private discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus. It is John, the author and editor of this gospel, who promotes their private discussion to the public’s attention.
In one way the story is simple to understand, in other ways the story is hard to understand. It is simple to understand what happened. It is hard to understand what was being said – in other words, the meaning behind the words between Jesus and Nicodemus. According to verse two, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. That fact alone is confusing. Some say Nicodemus went at night to see Jesus so the darkness could help hide his identity. How would it look for a trusted member of the clergy to go to Jesus, a man with no credentials? Others say he went to Jesus at night so the two had time to talk. The business of the day was done. Regardless, Nicodemus went to Jesus because he was impressed by the Master. No ordinary man could have performed such miracles; he must have come from God. Jesus hears through these kind words and knows the real topic, salvation!
Jesus says in verse three, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born again. Two thousand years later, the world is still wrestling with those words, so we should not be surprised that Nicodemus wrestled with them that night. He thinks Jesus is speaking of physical birth, reentering your mother’s womb. Jesus is speaking of spiritual birth. The two are as different as night and day. From the moment you were physically born, you struggled to survive. The goal of life is to survive, so the most important person in your universe is you. That is Imelda Marcos’s story. Spiritual rebirth is different. From the moment you are reborn, the most important being in your life is God. For example, that is the story of John the Baptist, who lived for God. His personal agenda meant nothing to him. The only thing that mattered to him was God. Spiritually immature people live for themselves; spiritually mature people live for God. Which is more important to you? Are you the center of your universe, or is God the center of your universe? Don’t worry about your answer. We all have some work to do.
Let me take you a little deeper. One of our primary understandings of God is that God believes in free will. In other words, God may be directing history, but you are directing your own life. The choices you make are yours, so the burden of responsibility rests on you. So many things in life distill down to a choice. I hope you are choosing wisely. Last week, I wrote about the decision to follow Jesus. The primary text was the calling of Andrew, John and Peter. It was not forced upon them; they decided to follow Jesus freely. If you are reading this blog, I assume at some point in your life you decided to follow Jesus. That choice was yours. The same thing is true this week. The choice is yours. Are you going to live a life where you are the center of your own universe? Or have you been born again spiritually, where God is the center of your universe? How influential has God been on your life?
Annually during my time in the ministry, I promoted stewardship. If you think steward is just about money, then you don’t understand true Christian stewardship. True Christian stewardship understands your life is a testimony. The Westminster Confession of Faith says the purpose of life is to glorify God. Take an inventory of your life to this point. Are you using all your resources to being glory to God? Are you spending your time in a way that is bringing glory to God? Are you using your natural talents in a way that is bring glory to God? Are you spending financial resources in a way that is bringing glory to God? Is God influencing the way you live, or are you living for yourself? In other words, is God the center of your universe, or are you the center of your universe? If God is the center of your universe, then you have been born again.
On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. I grieved at the news because I have been to Ukraine several times. It is a beautiful country filled with wonderful people. It was reported Russian soldiers were told they would be welcomed as liberators, but that never happened. The fighting has been fierce, and thousands have died on both sides. According to the United Nations, over eight million Ukrainians have fled their country. That represents 18% of the population. During March of 2022, over three million crossed the border. Each refugee has a heart-breaking story.
One of those stories came from a young Ukrainian woman crossing into Poland. Holding an infant in her arms and struggling with a toddler, she spoke to a reporter through a translator. She was alone with her children because her husband went to eastern Ukraine to fight the invaders. With his blessing, she headed to western Europe. She left everything. She left her home. She left her friends and family, including her aging parents. She left everything she knew and was familiar. The reporter asked the obvious question, “Why?” She responded by holding her children close and said, “To give them a future!” The report ended with tears running down the young woman’s face. I still think about that young woman. I do not know is now, but I do know one thing. I know that young Ukrainian woman loves her children. She sacrificed everything for them. They are the center of her universe.
Your life is a testimony. What is your life saying about your relationship with God? Is God influencing the way you live, or are you living for yourself? In other words, is God the center of your universe, or are you the center of your universe? If God is the center of your universe, then you have been born again. American New Testament scholar and Baptist theologian John Piper (born 1946) once said, “Faith is the evidence of new birth, not the cause of it.” Are you born again?