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Looking for a savior, receiving a Savior
Scripture: John 3:1-21
Track 1 of 6 in the Inside~Out: Getting Whom we need, not what we want series
Running time: 19 minutes, 01 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

"Looking for a Savior; Receiving a Savior" December 23, 2007

You just never know what to expect, but isn't that the point? Christmas never -- well, at least the real Christmas doesn't quite match up to the expectations. I mean, if you think about the Christmas story, the story that I trust you'll be reading together sometime in the next two or three days, the story that you think about at this season of the year, it is full of the unexpected. It wasn't anything like people thought it was going to be.

We've been saying that now for the last three or four weeks trying to help us catch the context into which Jesus came. It was a context full of expectations, but he didn't match any of them. I mean, just think about the story. You've got an old priest who for maybe the one and only time in his entire life will have the privilege of entering into the holiest of holies, and he walks in and he encounters an angel that tells him that he is going to give birth to a son, and he can't hardly believe it, and he goes mute. His elderly wife Elizabeth some months later brings forth the man we know as John the Baptist.

I mean, think about it. When you read the story, you're a young girl, unmarried, living in the area around Jerusalem, and you encounter an angel, and the angel says, you're going to have a son, and not only are you going to have a son but you're going to have a son who's going to be the son of God. That's a little hard to imagine.

Or put yourself in her fiance's place, Joseph. Talk about the unexpected. First you hear that your fiancee is pregnant. That's bad news enough. And then she wants you to believe that the pregnancy has nothing to to with another man. And then you're encountered by an angel who affirms the story, and, sure enough, you discover that she is going to carry a child.

Well, if the son of God is going to come into the world, that ought to have all kinds of excitement and there ought to be great things happen, but instead he ends up being born in a cave, among the animals, laid in a feed trough. Not exactly the birth that you would expect for the son of God. Visited by, well, frankly among the lowliest of people in Israel's society, the shepherds. Then you have these unexpected wise men from another country who come bringing gifts. Well, gifts you could expect, but a gift of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Not exactly what you would expect out of the Christmas story.

And, of course, you know that the story moves forward in rather unexpected ways to the place that this one who comes to be the king, comes as the son of God, comes as Emmanuel, God with us, ends up being rejected by his own people, don't even recognize him, don't want anything to do with him ultimately. You know the other end of the story. Fortunately, along the way there are some encounters with Jesus that help us understand the nature of Christmas and what we might come to expect if we really take this season seriously, if we really did invest ourselves fully into the idea that God came in human flesh and dwelt among us and now dwells in us.

The story we are looking at is John Chapter 3. It's the story of Nicodemus, a ruler, a member of the elite Jewish religious leadership, a man of some means apparently, a man of tremendous influence, who chooses to step outside of the expectations and to come and encounter Jesus. John Chapter 3, let's just read bits and pieces of this. John 3:1 starts this way. "There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could 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.' 'How can a man be born when he is old,' Nicodemus asked? 'Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's woman 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. You should not be surprised at my saying, you must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it is coming from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.'"

What an odd answer to Nicodemus. But that is the expectation that comes with the coming of Jesus is that he comes in a way that is going to change and transform people's lives. There is going to be a renewal that can only be described in one way, and that is it's as if you were totally born anew, as if you got to start all over again, as if you entered back into the womb and were rebirthed into a new existence. A birth that comes not by natural means, but by supernatural means as God begins to move in your life in ways that you probably never could imagine, and he calls you to himself to experience a change.

The Nicodemus story is a fascinating story, partly because it includes the text that is so familiar to all of us, and that's the 16th verse of John 3. Most of us never take time to put it in the context of Nicodemus's conversation about what it means to be born anew, and in that context of lifting up Jesus, even as Moses lifted up the serpent, we get this most famous verse, Verse 16. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever beliefs in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only son. This is the verdict. Light has come into the world, but men love darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he has done has been done through God."

There is this unexpected side of God in, I think, two rather interesting ways that come out in this verse. One is the unexpected side that God sent his son into the world, even though he knew the world wouldn't accept him, in order to redeem the world, to love the world without condition. No matter who you are, no matter what you've done,

God's choice in Christ is to love you. No condemnation. But one very clear expectation, and that is that you will believe in the son. And believing is far more than just mentally, yes, I think there was a Jesus, but someone who invests themselves and trusts him for their life is the condition. And there is a dark side of God that says, if you choose to reject my son, then I'll have no choice but to reject you. And so in that seeming contrast of saying there is no condemnation he says there is strong expectation you will believe in my son. That's the one thing that I hold you responsible for. Will you accept my son?

Nicodemus must have struggled with that request. If you can place yourself in a Jewish context instead of a christian context, if you can see yourself as one still anticipating the coming of the Messiah, sure that the Messiah would meet certain expectations of yours and to have Jesus come and not meet those expectations, it must have been an incredible challenge to be able to get over those things that stood between you and him and to accept him as God's son in spite of the fact that he didn't live up to what you thought he should be. And yet we see that happening in Nicodemus's life. We see the transformation that occurs.

If you just go over a couple of chapters into Chapter 7, you'll notice that in this context of them wrestling with who Jesus is, and particularly the Jewish leadership coming to grips with the identity of Jesus, in Verse 45 it says in Chapter , "The temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who asked them, 'Why didn't you bring him in?' And their response was, 'Nobody ever spoke the way this man does.' 'You mean he has deceived you also,' the Pharisees retorted?" Do you hear the attitude of the Pharisee toward Jesus?

Verse 48, "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No. But this mob knows nothing of the law. There is a curse on them.'" And Nicodemus, who is a Pharisee, who apparently at this point who has not yet owned his faith says, "'Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?'" Do you hear the risk involved in this journey of his? None of the Pharisees, he says, has believed in him.

That's the statement that the Pharisees make. And Nicodemus immediately says, but wait. And their response is, well, have you fallen to him as well? Well, the answer that day may not have been yes, but it eventually became yes, because when you run into Nicodemus again --

The only other time you hear of him, it's over in Chapter 19 after the death of Jesus, verse 38. "Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission he came and he took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 75 pounds. Taking Jesus' body the two of them wrapped it with spices in strips of linen. This was in accord with Jewish burial customs." He has come from questioner to follower to the place that he is willing to take the risk of claiming the body of Jesus and giving it an appropriate burial out of respect for who he believes Jesus to be.

This incredible journey is, I think, the story of Christmas. I think that is the essence of what this is about. There are a lot of different ways to come to Christmas. There is a lot of different ways to think about celebrating the birth of Jesus, but if we don't see this one part of it, we have at least missed a portion of the story, and that is that there is a process of transformation that occurs because of the coming of Jesus, and there is this -- I hate to say this, but Bart and Ralph are right.

There is something about the gift that demands that you keep giving it, and you begin to see how this works in the life of people in scripture and in the life of the disciples that sit in this room, because there is this transformation. There is a transformation in Jesus from God to man, sacrifice, and atonement for sin. There is a transformation in Nicodemus from seeker to defender ultimately to disciple. There is a transformation in little guys like Bart and Ralph who recognize that gifts come in varying packages. They are different. They mean different things.

And that may be the greatest gift is not one you get, but one you give as you recognize that Jesus transforms you from one who cannot wait to open the gift on Christmas morning to one who cannot wait to see somebody else open their gift on Christmas morning. The transformation of one who expects to receive into one who expects to give and to see the wonder of what it means to move from that which was at one time a tremendous blessing to being a blessing to somebody else.

And the question really this morning is simple. Where are you in this journey? Are you with Nicodemus in John Chapter 3 still wondering, still seeking? Let me offer you a word of encouragement. Keep coming and keep listening, because there is more to know. Stay with it. This may be your very first Sunday in church in years, maybe ever in your life, and none of it may make sense to you. It's okay. I'm guessing that that conversation with Jesus that day with Nicodemus didn't make a lot of sense to him either, but he stayed with it, and it transformed his life.

Where are you in this journey? Have you gotten to the place that you're ready to say that Jesus ought to at least be respected? That's a move in the right direction. Or have you come to the place that you're now ready to also own your discipleship and to make a public statement that I want to follow Jesus. I want to live for him no matter what it costs me. Where are you in this journey as a follower? Are you here because you like what happens here? Are you here because you enjoy what you get out of it? Are you here because you have a sense of duty, you think that this is where you ought to be, even on a snowy day? Or are you here because you have come to understand that the greatest gift God ever gave didn't come wrapped in a pretty package, but came hanging on across, and that the only way to really be a disciple, the only way to really follow Jesus adequately is to give your 12-gauge shotgun away to the neighbor.

It's to move from being the one who is always concerned about receiving to becoming the one who is most concerned about making sure that others receive. Transformation in the kingdom of God is to move from having God give you what you need to you turning to your neighbor and saying, I'm here to give you what you need. It might be a snow shovel with you on the end of it. It might be a bag of groceries. It might be a visit in a nursing home. It might be a meal. But it will always end up being Jesus. Always. Because all of the meals and all of the gift cards will ultimately end up with nothing. The one gift that makes all the difference is obviously the gift of Christ, and we come here today because we believe in that transforming story in your life, that the greatest gift in the world is the gift you give that allows somebody else to know who Jesus is.