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Wednesday, 13 September 2017 08:56



By the time you read this, we’ll have been involved with a second funeral in two weeks. Another hurricane has hit, and I’m writing on the sixteenth anniversary of nearly 3,000 Americans perishing on 9/11. Death and destruction bring grief, but they also lead to life-altering changes to the survivors. 

Starting another devotional series, it seemed good to begin with the basics. Today the first topic is based on the familiar ‘born again’ passage in John 3:16. Before reaching that pivotal scripture, though, it’s important to review the background. 

I found several paintings on the internet and am particularly taken with one showing a side profile of Jesus, Nicodemus with his back toward us, the two men deep in discussion. They’re seated on a low rock wall, with soft lamplight showing through a window. We can’t tell much about Nicodemus who’s wearing a robe and whose head is covered. I like that, as he represents any one of us. 

Nicodemus is mentioned by name only three times in the Bible, once at this private nighttime moment (John 3:1-15); later when Nicodemus was questioned by his Pharisee companions (John 7:50-52); and finally, after the crucifixion as he and Joseph of Arimathea begged Pilate for permission to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:38-40). 

The painting is of two learned men discussing truth, as Nicodemus had questions about the “signs” [John recognizes miracles as signs] Jesus has done (John 3:2). He saw the man beside him as a teacher from God, but only dimly. New light from new understanding was just beginning to dawn in Nicodemus’ mind and heart. Before we each encounter Jesus, we also sit in shadows. It helps that Jesus evidently explained to his disciple John sometime later (John 3:16-21) the meaning of the personal conversation with Nicodemus. 

Nicodemus would have understood more than we do the meaning of “born again”. The Greek is more precisely translated, “born from above”. Nicodemus asked incredulously, “’How?’” such an abstract strange-sounding event could ever happen. 

Not many people get a chance for a do-over. It’s impossible using ordinary means. But the explanation (John 3:5-8) is that the rebirth was a spiritual one, achievable only when we’re born of the Spirit, or “born from above”. 

Like many of us, Nicodemus asked again, “‘How can this be?’” (John 3:9). This time Jesus spoke more pointedly and referred to himself as the Son of Man who comes down from heaven. He acts on God’s behalf to deliver mankind and on behalf of man, as the sacrificial deliverer who will take us back to the Father. 

Then he used the fascinating illustration any Jew would recognize, the bronze serpent lifted in the wilderness for healing (Numbers 21:4-9). Further, he declared that all who believe on the one who descended from heaven will have eternal life (John 3:13-15). It may be that it wasn’t until viewing Jesus lifted up on the cross that Nicodemus realized the meaning of their conversation. 

Finally, we reach the pivotal verse, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The term “one and only son” is the same used when Abraham took his son to give a sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-19). Though Abraham had another son, Isaac was the son of promise through whom the covenant would be carried. 

Nicodemus as a Pharisee had a complicated, legalistic relationship with God. Jesus offered a simple yet complete solution for saving us all from everlasting destruction. For whoever will come in faith - trust, cling, rely, put their very life and being on Him - Jesus offers eternal life. 

ne of our sons who works full-time and pastors a small church was asked to lead the memorial service. Sunday morning, he shared that he had struggled with how to minister to an extended family dealing with loss and hurt, as well as underlying difficult memories. This happened after he worked overtime all week to cover for two employees who’d walked off the job, and a service manager who was suspended because of the incident. 

He said he began reading in the Beatitudes, then continued for several chapters until he reached Matthew chapter 11. The end of that chapter brought peace and assurance. “‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’” (Matthew 11:28-30). 

Sometimes instead of comfort, the words of Jesus reveal burdens, and things that need to be laid at the cross. According to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 and 6, all are guilty – something the religious leaders could not accept. 

One phrase that caught our son’s attention as he continued reading was repeated in two separate accounts. The first is Matthew 6:9-13 where the author, a tax collector, was sitting at his job. Jesus passed by, Matthew and his friends responded, and later Jesus was criticized for eating with a bunch of undesirables. He told the Pharisees, disciples and other listeners, “‘But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matthew 9:13). 

The ancient scripture quoted by Jesus was from Hosea, the man whose dealings with an unfaithful wife tempered his prophecies for Israel. “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). 

A second incident occurred as Jesus’ disciples were hungry, plucked grain from a field, and ate on the Sabbath. When religious leaders again criticized, Jesus reminded them of an Old Testament story of David (1 Samuel 21:1-6) who was given bread consecrated for temple use. Again, he said to them, “‘If you had known what these words mean, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath’” (Mathew 12:7-8). 

Their narrow hypocritical interpretation of the Law was no match for Jesus the Bread of Life, who came to feed and sustain hungry people, and who was present as Sabbath rules were implemented. Even before the Ten Commandments were handed down to Moses (Exodus 34), the temple rituals pointed toward God’s mercy and plan of salvation. His love continued through the centuries until Jesus hung as a perfect sacrifice on the cross, available for all who are hurting. 

By the time you read this, the funeral service will be over. A man who suffered as a child and led a tortured imperfect life is gone. The message for all is that none of us can “do” enough good things to receive salvation and peace. But we are meant to receive grace and then be the embodiment of love and mercy to all around. 




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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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