Do you believe what you cannot see?

Genesis 12:1-4a, Romans 4:1-5; 13-17, John 3:1-17

March 8, 2020

“When quarterback Tim Tebow played college football for the Florida Gators, he won a Heisman Trophy as the most valuable player in American college football. The following year, when he wrote John 3:16 on his eye black for a collegiate national championship game, for the next twenty-four hours that one verse became the highest ranked search on Google. John 3:16 frequently appears in public in other ways as well. A chain of fashion stores stamps John 3:16 on the bottom of each shopping bag. A California fast-food outlet prints John 3:16 on the inside bottom rim of each beverage cup and other Bible references on each bag of fries.”

“Are these creative ways of sharing faith? Or do they turn people off? Are they effective forms of testimony if they make people curious, at least enough to look up a verse reference on Google? Or is it disrespectful to put a verse of Scripture on a paper cup or bag that’s going to get crumpled up, recycled, or thrown in the trash? Is it misleading to cite just one verse out of context? Is it a kind of fast-food, fast-fashion treatment of Scripture when what we really need today is deep reflection and engagement?”

Are these creative ways of sharing faith? Or do they turn people off? Are they effective forms of testimony if they make people curious, at least enough to look up a verse reference on Google? Or is it disrespectful to put a verse of Scripture on a paper cup or bag that’s going to get crumpled up, recycled, or thrown in the trash? Is it misleading to cite just one verse out of context? Is it a kind of fast-food, fast-fashion treatment of Scripture when what we really need today is deep reflection and engagement?

I don’t think God cares how we get the Word out there so long as it is used in the context God intended and it is used to glorify His name and His kingdom. If putting a scripture on a paper cup gets one person interested in what being a Christian is all about, then go for it. What they do with is between them and God. I encourage you to develop some unique ways of getting God’s word out to those who need it. I ask you to get your thinking caps on and get moving.

Speaking of moving. I am sure many of you have moved from one house to another. In 2006, we moved a whole 5 miles from where we lived for the first 25 years. Which was about 2 miles from where Helen grew up and ¼ mile from where I lived until I was 13. Perhaps some of you have moved from one state to another. Maybe even from one country to another. Moving can be exciting depending on where you are going, and it can also be a bit saddening if you are leaving behind friends and family as when my family moved 4 miles to be on a farm. In today’s working world, it is nothing for families to moved long distances because of a parent’s career opportunity.

Imagine you were asked to pack up all your belongings and move. Your first questions would be, “Why and where?”. The answer you receive is “Oh, I will tell you that along the way and I will tell you when to stop.” Would you be willing to go? Would you be willing to trust in the person telling you to move that they would not lead you the middle of the gator-infested swamps or to the top of the Rocky Mountains? That is exactly what God was telling Abram (Abraham) in Gen. 12:1, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” God didn’t tell Abram where he and his family were headed but God did promise them in verse 2, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” And you know what, Abram did as he was instructed, packed up his family, his animals and all his stuff, and left. I would almost bet that Abram’s first reaction was to say, “no thanks. We have lived for many years and we are staying right here.” But what part of the word of God in verse 2 do you think changed Abram’s mind?

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you?

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing?

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse?

All peoples on earth will be blessed through you?

I would venture to say the part about being blessed by God caught Abram’s attention and changed his mind (God already knew he would). I know if God told me that I would be blessed by Him no matter what I did, I would do whatever He told me to do. WAIT! God did that. For all of us when He sent his only Son to die on a cross for our sake; for the forgiveness of our sins and for our salvation. By the blood of the Lamb, we are all blessed. And it is by our blessing that our families are blessed as well.

The greatest part of the story of Abraham and Sarah is that God didn’t ask them to move for no reason. God knew exactly where He wanted them to go and for what reason. God had it all planned out and God knew that it would all work out in the end. This story is the same story for each one of else as well. God has a plan for us, a plan that was written long ago. One that we count on being the best plan ever made. It is a plan that will lead us to the promised land – life eternal. Abraham had faith in God and so should we. So, you see, Abraham and Sarah, through their faith, believed in something they couldn’t see. They believed in a future invisibly set before them by God and they went.

The second part of this week’s lesson came from Romans 4 where Paul continues with the story of Abraham. Paul talks about family and states in the end of verse 16, He (Abraham) is the father of us all. Paul goes on to quote from Genesis 17:5 where God says to Abraham. “I have made you a father of many nations.” Therefore, all Jewish peoples born after Abraham are family, biologically. But what really constitutes family outside of genetics?

However, through faith, we all are brothers- and sisters-in-Christ. Regardless of whether we are related by blood, DNA, what organizational membership we hold (Lion’s Club, Ruritan, Knights of Columbus, Ladies Auxiliary, etc.) we are spiritually related through our faith and through our baptism into God’s family. Just like biological siblings are heirs to the parent’s estate, so are we, as it says in Romans 8:16, “God’s children. And if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” How great is that?! It is by this same rule that Jews and Gentiles alike can claim ancestry to Abraham.

Paul then goes on to talk about the Law (10 Commandments) and how obeyance of the Law cannot make one automatically a member of God’s family. The Commandments were put into place to point out sin and to set boundaries on it. To inherit God’s promise, those who followed the Law needed faith just as much as those who were outside the Law. Again, for both Jewish and Gentile Christians, faith became the deciding factor. God’s promise depended on God’s grace, not on human ancestry or on the Law.

Today, the 10 Commandments still hold water in reference to sin and moral acts. But they still do not guarantee us God’s promise of salvation. It is still only through faith that we are accepted into God’s family and therefore have a solid chance at salvation according to God’s grace. In our church we have very few generational families, but does they keep the rest of us from being part of the same church family? No! Others who are not related by birth, adoption, or marriage are just as much a part of the church because we all share the same faith in the same God, the same Savior and the same Spirit. And I think that is what makes our church so special. Anyone who walks through our doors are welcomed in just like any other church family member.

Our study poses this question, “what identifies people as part of the family of God? The good news is that you don’t have to be born into a particular ethnic group or into the “right” family. You can’t earn a place by doing the right thing. Instead, says Romans 4, the defining characteristic is to have faith like Abraham’s: a faith that believed God’s promise, a faith that trusted God for the journey, a faith that acknowledged God as the Creator and Giver of Life.”

The last part of our study talks about coming to Jesus and the accompanying scripture is John 3:1-17. It asks the question, “Have you been born again?” As you may know, this is the same question Jesus asked of Nicodemus shortly before Christ was crucified at the order of the Jewish Sanhedrin in which Nicodemus was part of. What does it mean to be “born again”? Nicodemus asked Jesus this same question. How can a person enter into their mother’s womb a second time after becoming an adult? The best way to start this is by substituting for the word, “again” with the word “anew”. It really means that someone has accepted Jesus as their savior and has felt the power of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. Jesus said to Nicodemus in verse 5, “unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom”. This is not talking about being baptized. It is talking about a spiritual, or heavenly, birth. One that can only take place by the hand of God through the Holy Spirit. A birth that comes from above. And when this happens, we become new again. Not physically but spiritually. We get to start over with a clean slate as we allow God into our souls, deepen our love for Jesus and become the person that God intended us to be. Our study calls it, “a radical change to a completely new kind of life.” It’s when you realize more intensely the wrongs you are doing and work harder to stop doing them. Like, when you come to church on Sunday. Go back to work on Monday and pick up where you left off on Friday. With using fowl language and telling inappropriate jokes or making fun of someone different than you. When you have accepted Jesus Christ into your heart, you come to church with a more intent sense of listening to the scriptures; you sing a little brighter as you praise your every-loving God; you walk out of here after worship with a lighter step with the intention of sharing your God with others. And finally, you go back to reality with a renewed sense of who you are, and whose you are, and you don’t fall back into the same old sinful routine. That is being born again. Born again in Christ.

So, what do we know about this man called Nicodemus? He was a Jew; he was a Pharisee, a group of Jewish men who focused solely on the oral Laws of God given to them by Moses; he was a member of the Sanhedrin, 70 men who were the top level of the Pharisaic council. But was he a Christian and had he been born again? He had enough faith in Jesus to attempt to get him a fair trial. Later in 7:51, Nicodemus asks the council, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” But that wasn’t all. Listen to John 19:38-42. Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.

This man, this Jew, this Pharisee, somewhere along the line had found Jesus in his heart and developed some compassion for Him. Enough to spend his own money of burial spices and to help prepare the body of His Savior and to Him in the tomb. Somewhere in his life, Nicodemus believed in something he could see. The mercy and grace of God, the love of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit.

So today I ask you, do you believe in something, or someone, you cannot see? Do you believe that Jesus Christ came to this world as a human child, died on the cross for your sins and was resurrected on the third day to ascend to heaven even though you did not see it happen? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit lives in you even though you can’t see it when you look in the mirror or see it on an x-ray? Do you believe in God even though you cannot see His face? If you answered yes to all of these questions then you have been reborn; you have been born anew. If you answered no to any of these questions, then you are in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. Because by the power of the Holy Spirit we can help you see the light of Jesus that shines in this place today. The light that will show you the way to righteousness and salvation. The Light that help you see what you now believe.

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