We find ourselves in the third chapter of John, verses one through eight. The storyline of John is different than the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They 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 to us for only one reason; Jesus had the attention of some very powerful influential people from the very beginning. If you want to get someone’s attention, then touch their money. It is still true today.
One of those powerful influential people was Nicodemus. 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 question. 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, who promotes this private discussion to the public’s attention.
According to verse two, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. There is some debate about that fact. Some say Nicodemus went at night so the darkness could help hide his identity. How would it look for a trusted member of society to go to Jesus, a man with no credentials? Others say he went to Jesus at night so the two could talk privately. There was time to talk. The business of the day was done. Maybe it is a combination of the two? However, this point is crystal clear. 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! That takes us to the key verse in the reading.
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. Nicodemus thinks Jesus is speaking of physical birth, reentering your mother’s womb. That sounds painful for everyone involved. However, Jesus is speaking of spiritual birth. The two are as different as night and day. This is the plain truth. From the moment you were physically born, you struggled to survive. Babies cry to fill their lungs with oxygen. The goal of life is survival, so the most important person in your universe is you. Spiritual rebirth is different. From the moment you are reborn, the most important person is 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?
Let me take you a little deeper. One of our primary understandings of God is that God practices 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. It has been reported the average person makes 35,000 choices in a single day. That figure seems high to me. (I know that figure is true because it came from the internet.) Some of our choices are simple choices. What are you going to have for lunch? Some of choices are harder? They will affect the rest of your life. Some choices have eternal consequences. That is what we find in the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus is telling Nicodemus he must be born again. So, this is the question of the day.
Are you born again? Do not answer too quickly. Your answer has eternal consequences. If you are born again then Jesus should be affecting every corner of your life. Remember, those who have experienced a physical birth live for themselves. Those who have experienced a second spiritual birth live for God. To answer the question of the day correctly, let me ask you three secondary questions. This is question number one.
Is God pleased with the way you are spending your time?
One of the great stories in the Bible is the story of Mary and Martha. It is found in Luke 10:38-42. You know the story. Mary and Martha were sisters of Lazarus, the one who Jesus resurrected from the dead. The Master stops there on his way home to Jerusalem. For you see, their town, Bethany, was only two miles from the Golden City. When Jesus arrives, Mary sat at Jesus’s feet and hung on every word he spoke. Martha, on the other hand, slaved away doing the necessary duties, cooking and entertaining. That was the traditional role of women at that time. In time, Martha resents doing all the work and goes to Jesus to enlist some help. Instead of a helping hand, she receives some divine truth. Do you remember that divine truth? Jesus applauds Mary for her priorities. Martha filled her time doing good things, cooking, cleaning, entertaining. Mary filled her time with the best thing in life, Jesus. How do you fill your time?
Is God pleased with the way you are spending your time? I am not talking about spending your time in sinister ways, selling drugs or embezzling funds. However, I am talking about spending your time just doing good things, work, family, friends, church committees and fundraisers? How much time do you spend on the best thing, Jesus? That question challenges your priorities. Perhaps, this is a better question. How are you spending your time? Is God pleased with the way you are spending your time? If you are born again then God is the center of your universe. Are you born again? This is question number two.
Is God pleased with the way you are spending your money?
In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos (1917-1989) was elected President of the Philippines, which made his wife, Imelda (born 1929), first lady. They held those posts until 1986, when the entire family fled to Hawaii. The international news was fascinated with what was 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 when I work on the lawn. Within a short time, Imelda Marcos was labeled the most selfish person in the world. One can only imagine how the world would have benefitted had she shared her wealth. Do the people in your world consider you selfish? In 2018, Imelda Marcos at age 89 was sentenced to forty-two years in prison for corruption.
Is God pleased with the way you are spending your money? Money is limited, so we only spend our money on things that are important to us. So, money is revealing. How much money do you spend on yourself? How much money do you spend on your family? How much money do you spend supporting the ministry of the church, the bride of Christ? How much money do you spend responding to human need? Imelda Marcos spent a fortune on shoes because shoes were important to her. What is important to you? Is God pleased with the way you are spending your money? If you are born again then God is the center of your universe. Are you born again? This is question number three.
Is God pleased with your personal witness?
We are only in this world for a short time. How will you be remembered? Will you be remembered as a kind person? Will you be remembered as a generous person? Will you be remembered as a loving person? Will you be remembered as a selfish person? Will you be remembered as a person who was passionate about your favorite team? Will you be remembered as a person who was passionate for God? Imelda Marcos owned 7,500 pairs of shoes. How do you think she will be remembered? How will you be remembered? Is God pleased with your personal witness? If you are born again then God is the center of your universe. Are you born again, or do you have some work to do?
It is like watching history. On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin (born 1952) announced in a prerecorded television broadcast he had ordered a special military action inside of Ukraine. It was not a complete surprise. I am not an expert on Eastern European history, but there has been tension between Moscow and Kiev for years. Some believe it can be traced back to the Bolshevik Revolution (1917-1923). The Ukrainians did not support Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) and the Bolsheviks. The Ukrainians were punished for their lack of support. The Soviets starved the Ukrainians. When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Ukraine became an independent nation. Russia has been trying to reclaim that land sense. In 2005, the Ukrainians expelled their Russian backed President because he failed to keep a campaign promise and join NATO. In 2014, the Russians took Crimea without a shot being fired. The latest military action is not as much a surprise as a continuation. Like Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) expected quick victories in the Second World War, Putin expected a quick victory, but it is not happening. The Ukrainians are fighting back. The west has responded with severe economic sanctions. The fragile Russian economy is crumbling, but the Ukrainians are suffering. The United Nations has reported more than 1,000,000 Ukrainians have left their country. That figure may jump to 5,000,000.
Nightly, I watch reports on those refugees. It is heartbreaking. Mothers/wives are taking their children to safety. Husbands/fathers are staying in Ukraine to support or serve in the Ukrainian army. Those men are willing to sacrifice everything, to change everything about their lives because they love their wives, children and country. There is no doubt about it. Love is the most powerful force in the world. We are not afraid to sacrifice and change for those that we love.
It is the story of the Christian faith; how much do you love God? How much are you willing to sacrifice for God? How much are you willing to change for God? The time has come to change the way you spend your time. The time has come to change the way you spend your money. The time has come to change your witness. Are you the center of your universe or is God the center of your universe? It is the question that will not go away. Are you born again?