Telling the Old, Old Story
RUMC 12 March 2017
The following story was published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on January 17, 1998. Three year old Katie was taken to her pediatrician with flu like symptoms. As the doctor examined her ears with an otoscope, he asked, “Will I find Big Bird in here?” Apprehensively Katie replied “No.” Then he examined her throat with a tongue depressor and a flash light and asked, “Will I find Cookie Monster in here?” Again, the answer was “No.” Then he began to listen to her heart with a stethoscope and asked, “Will I find Barney in here?” The girl with innocent conviction looked directly in his eyes and said, “No. Jesus is in my heart. Barney is on my underwear.”
This morning I would like to speak about the rebirth or spiritual awakening experience, as John & Charles Wesley called it, or as three year old Katie would say, “Having Jesus in my heart.”
My scripture text is about the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus in John 3:1-17.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
In our scripture text for this morning, we come to the story of Nicodemus, who went to Jesus for spiritual counsel. As a Pharisee and a significant member of the prestigious Sanhedrin, Nicodemus was an influential man in Jewish politics and religion. As a religious teacher, he thought he had the answers to complex religious questions, but this time he was the student.
When Nicodemus was told about the new birth experience, he thought in terms of physical impossibility. But Jesus meant a spiritual awakening. Now Christian denominations all across the world use different terms for this spiritual awakening; let me list them for you.
- New Birth
- Sacrament of baptism
- Renewal in Holy Baptism by the Holy Ghost
- Born Again
- Born Again in Christ
- Spiritual Awakening
- Born from Above
- Rebirth in Christ
- Baptismal Regeneration
- Heir of Salvation
- Making a profession of faith (favorite of Methodists)
- Accepting Jesus Receiving the Lord.
The favorite of my pastor’s devotional class is “Awakening” which is # 6 on the list. I experienced an awakening when I was younger. At the time, I knew nothing about this spiritual awakening until it was explained to me by one of my high school classmates. That conversation led me to the path where I choose to make a profession of faith; I asked Christ into my heart. I can honestly say that it has stayed with me all these years.
Since the 1970’s, I think most Americans have heard the term “Born Again” from John 3:3. It first gained national prominence when President Jimmy Carter who was a very public in his presidency about his Christian faith, had described himself as “Born Again.”
One scripture verse that goes along with today’s topic is John 3:16, a favorite among many believers, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Perhaps you have seen John 3:16 signs in football stadiums and basketball arenas. Occasionally I will see that verse spray painted on highway overpasses. It is a powerful message that resonates with many people in the world.
John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the Methodist church, were like Nicodemus. They were zealous for the things of God, but they did not understand the spiritual connection. They lived without any assurance in their hearts that they would go to heaven when they died, nor did they feel the love of God in their hearts. The Wesley brothers dedicated their lives to God and the search for a spiritual connection to Him. As part of their spiritual devotions, the Wesley brothers founded the “Holy Club” which took the idea of Bible study, prayer and visitation to new levels. Still looking they later become missionaries in the New World. I believe Charles spoke for both of them when he said, “I went to America to convert the Indians, but who will convert me.”
But that all changed when Charles was 31 years old. While slightly ill Charles convalesced reading Martin Luther’s commentary to the Galatians, and he wrote what happened next. “I labored, waited, and prayed to feel God who loved me and gave himself for me. Three days later his brother John, at 35 years of age, read Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans, and wrote that “he felt his heart strangely warmed.” And that was Wesley brother’s spiritual awakening.
When a person is born from above, it is a supernatural act where the Holy Spirit comes into the believer and implants the reality of God into their hearts. It is almost like having a doctor implant a spiritual microchip; once activated, we are immediately tuned into heaven.
It has been said, that trying to get a person who has not been “born from above” to live like a committed Christian is like trying to teach a dog how to sing. What you get is frustration and annoyance.
As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, the new birth is a heavenly matter. I have known young children who know Jesus as their best friend and have a definite closeness to the Lord.
- It is a supernatural experience that cannot be diagnosed.
- It cannot be put in a test tube and examined.
- It is not a scientific formula that can be tested.
- It can only be experienced.
PGA golfer, Paul Azinger had already won the PGA championship and had ten tournament victories to his credit when he was diagnosed with cancer. He wrote this in his biography, “A genuine feeling of fear came over me. I could die from cancer. Then another reality hit me even harder. I am going to die eventually, whether from cancer or from something else. It is just a question of when. Everything I had accomplished in golf had become meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live.” Then Azinger remember something that Larry Moody, another golfer who was a professing Christian, had told him. He said, “Zinger, we are not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We are in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living. You can’t be born again in the land of the living by clinging to this world that will die and decay. We need to be born of the spirit.”
Azinger invited Christ into his heart, and his cancer went into remission. But his bout with cancer deepened his perspective. He also said, “I have made a lot of money since I’ve been on the tour and I have won a lot of tournaments, but that happiness is always temporary. The only way you will ever have true contentment is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I am not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don’t have problems, but I feel like I found the answer to the six foot hole.”
And what can we expect when we are spiritually awakened?
- Experience the presence of God in our lives.
- We will be known by our devotions to the Lord.
- With Christ in our hearts, there will be a renewed commitment to marriage.
- We become concerned for the most vulnerable of society, the poor, and the homeless.
- Because we will treat our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit, we have a healthier lifestyle
- A desire to serve God.
Some time ago, a twelve year old boy had become a Christian believer during one of those outdoor tent revival meetings. The next week at school, his friends had questioned him about his experience. They asked did you see a vision? Did you hear God speak? The boy answered no to those questions. Finally the friends asked, “Well how did you know that you were saved? The boy searched for an answer and finally said, “It’s like when you first catch a fish, you can’t see or hear it. You just feel him tugging on your line. I just felt God tugging on my heart.”
Let me close. If you have never been spiritually awakened, I would encourage you to invite Christ into your heart, and then follow it up with daily reading of God’s word. If you have lost some of the newness in your relationship with God, ask the Lord to fill you again with his Holy Spirit. Like John and Charles Wesley discovered, all that matters is the spiritual awakening and having the assurance in your heart.