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The God Revealed In Jesus Christ

Here you will find a blog post containing the sermon manuscript and video for the sermon from May 31, 2015 (Trinity Sunday) which was preached at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, Richmond, VA.   You can also find an audio of this sermon by visiting the church website and subscribing to our podcast.  The sermon is titled:  “The God Revealed in Jesus Christ” based on John 3:1-17

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You can watch the video below and/or read the manuscript.

The God Revealed in Jesus Christ

John 3:1-17 New International Version (NIV)

 

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was 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 signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

 

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

 

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

 

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are 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 comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

 

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

 

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

 

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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 

The Guardian News broke the story about a previously unknown self-portrait by Rembrandt, revealed beneath another painting titled “Old Man with a Beard.”  The discovery was made using the latest x-ray technology.  Rembrandt started this self-portrait only to paint over it later and reused the canvas for “Old Man with a Beard.”

 

This got me thinking about how people think about God.  God is perceived by many more like that second painting – the “Old Man with a Beard.”  Most religious art portrays God as an old man, sporting a long flowing beard, sitting on a celestial throne, distant and detached,  strict and stern, far removed from our daily lives.

 

But what if we’ve got God all wrong?  What if the “Old Man with a Beard” actually masks what God is really like?  Where, then, might we look to find a clear self-portrait of God?  A picture of God freed from the layers of religious paint?  Where can we turn to find a picture of God that reveals an unvarnished understanding of God?

 

We turn toward Jesus.  He is God’s self-portrait!

 

Jesus says:  “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son [Jesus]…has made him known”  (John 1:18)

 

Jesus says:  “I am and Father are one.” (John 10:30)

 

Jesus says:  “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

 

When the “Word (Jesus) became flesh and pitch his tent among us” (as John 1:14 puts it), we were given a self-portrait of the God.

 

The core questions of theological inquiry are these:  “Who is God?” “What is God like?”  “Who are we in relation to God?”  These questions are answered in the incarnation.  If we want to know who God is and what God is like, we need to have stripped away all the layers of religious paint that have been applied to the canvas, so that we can see the God who is reveal in Jesus.  Then we will be able to understand who we are in relationship to God.

 

In the text from John 3, we read a verbal exchange between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus.  In this conversation, Jesus strips away all the paint Nicodemus had used to color his perceptions of God.

 

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, an integral part of the religious establishment of his day.  “Pharisee” means “the separated ones.”  The Pharisees were a select group of no more than 6000 Jewish men who separated themselves from the rest of the populace with the aim of living a better life.  They believed that their acceptability before God was a matter of believing the right truths and expressing those truths with right living.

 

This makes Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus seem odd.  He approached Jesus looking for answers to questions most Pharisees thought they had already settled.   Even Nicodemus must have thought that his visit was strange because he comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness.   It was considered scandalous for a scholar of theology like Nicodemus to seek counsel from an unorthodox, free-spirited, rabble-rousing rabbi like Jesus.  Yet still he comes to Jesus, hidden in the shadows of the nighttime sky.

 

What drew Nicodemus to Jesus?  He was trying to answer those questions:  “Who is God?” “What is God like?” “Who are we in relationship to this God?” Nicodemus had spent a life-time trying to please the God.   He done the right things, said the right stuff, participated in the right rituals, and joined the right religious clique.  Yet something still seemed missing.

 

Nicodemus speaks:  “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do the things you do unless God is with him.”

 

Jesus cuts right to the chase.  “Nicodemus, you must be born again!”

 

He is the most radical, off the wall, out-side-the-box, kinds of statements you’ll find in the entire Bible.  Jesus is saying,   “If you really want to experience the life God intends…if you want to see the Kingdom of God…if you want to know who God is and what God is like, and how you related to God, then you’ll have to be born again.”

 

Till now, Nicodemus’s faith was a cosmetic matter.  He’d painted his life with broad religious rituals and obedience to the rules.  He’d followed the formulas, said the words, confessed the doctrines, and practiced the behaviors.  He did all this with passion and zeal.

 

Jesus is saying:  “Nicodemus, it’s not about you.  It’s not about what you’ve done or failed to do; it’s not about what you’ve said or failed to say.  It’s simply not about you at all.  It’s about God.  You’ve got to be born again.  It’s the only way!”

 

The significant phrase here is born again.  Really, though, that phrase isn’t exactly right.  If we translate it that way it can be make into a lesson about  turning over a new leaf, redoubling our efforts, or rededicating our lives to our religion.  This phrase has nothing to do with all that human effort and  human resolve.  It would be more accurate to translate these word to say born from above or born of God. 

 

Nicodemus didn’t get it.  “How can a person be born when they are old?  They can’t enter the womb again, can they?”

 

Nicodemus desired that  kind of change.  That’s why he’d come to Jesus.  He wanted to experience something transforming FROM God because all that he’d been doing FOR God left him feeling empty.   He wanted the experience Jesus was talking about, but did not believe it was possible.

 

Is it possible for a man or woman to enter their mother’s womb and be born a second time?  No, of course not!

 

Is it really possible for me to change everything about myself in such a radical and fundamental way?  Not a chance!

 

Is new birth possible?  For Nicodemus the answer was:  “No!”

 

But Jesus was not talking about being born a second time.  He was not talking about a personal reformation plan.  He was not talking about people looking more religiously respectable.  Jesus was talking about being born “from above.”  He was talking about being birthed by God as daughters and sons of God.

 

This is not something we can accomplish, no matter how moral our lifestyle or orthodox our confession.  We do not and cannot save ourselves.  Salvation is wholly the work of God.  It’s is all about grace – grace that transforms, grace that redeems, grace that remakes, grace that includes – the grace by which God births us as one of His own.

 

Jesus is the self-portrait of God – and in God’s self-portrait, grace enters the picture.  When grace enters the picture, we are born from above, changed, transformed, saved, and liberated.  When grace enters the picture, old ways die and new ways are birthed.  When grace enters the picture we are brought into the awareness of our relationship with God – a relationship where we recognize that we have been born anew in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, and are a part of the Father’s  household.  When grace enters the picture, we have a relationship with God that allows us  (as the Bible says) to cry out to the Father, using the intimidate of term: “Abba!” or “Pappa.”

 

Next Jesus refers to the work of God’s Spirit’s as the exertion of the wind. Jesus says that the movements of God’s Spirit are like the blowing of the wind.  We can’t see the Spirit.  We can’t control the Spirit.  The Spirit comes and goes as the Spirit pleases.

 

That’s tough to grasp because we like to control everything.  But we don’t own, possess, control, dictate, or direct the Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit cannot be limited or controls by anything we say, do, or believe.

 

Next Jesus identifies himself as the means by which God’s Spirit will bring NEW BIRTH to the world.  It Nicodemus wasn’t confused enough, imagine what he must have thought when Jesus said that the Spirit would bring the awareness of God’s salvation via the cross.  If we really want to see who God is and what God is like, and how we relate to God, then we have to look toward Jesus, seeing him nailed to a cross.

 

Nicodemus knew about the cross.  It was the instrument of torture used by the Empire in Rome to keep dissidents in their place.  It was a picture of cruelty and death – yet Jesus holds it up as a symbol of life.

 

Jesus refers to a story in the Hebrew scriptures about a time when the people of Israel came upon a nest of vipers.  Those who were bitten became deathly ill.  At God’s instruction, Moses fashioned a bronze serpent (a symbol of their sickness) and instructed the people to looked toward the serpent to be healed.

 

Jesus says that this is what the cross symbolizes.  The cross picture human brokenness, sin, and rebellion.  But when Jesus takes up that cross and includes it in himself as a part of a self-portrait of God, it also becomes central to the picture of God’s determination to love us and redeem us!

 

Now we come to John 3:16-17, the most well-known verses in the entire New Testament.  Now we can read it in its context, not as a stand-alone, feel-good expression of our religion, but as a radical expression of who God is and what God is like.  (quote) his verse teaches us that the God revealed in Jesus is a God so great in grace that He comes to us in the middle of our darkness, sin, and rebellion, to remind us that WE ARE LOVED BY GOD.

 

We do not approach God to “get saved.” God approaches us with the gift of salvation.  Salvation is always at the initiative of God.  The invitation of the Gospel is to stop saying “NO!” to God because the God reveal in Jesus at the cross has said yes to you.

 

We discover that the heart of the God reveal in Jesus is filled with love and grace—not punishment and condemnation.  The God revealed in Jesus does not approach us to condemn us, but to love us.  Atonement is not a matter of justifying an angry God, but rather an expression of grace and reconciliation offered to us as a gift from a loving God.

 

The phrase that sets the foundation for who God is, what God is like, and who we are in relationship to God is this:  “God so LOVED the World!”  God enters our darkness and God redeems.  Salvation is not getting God to change God’s mind about us.  Salvation happens when we change our mind about what we have thought about God.  Jesus is the self-portrait of God.   So, what is God like? “God so loved the world…”  God love the world so much that “he gave his only son” so that we could see that love firsthand.

 

The picture Jesus reveals is not of a God scowling with disapproval, but rather smiling upon us with grace. It’s a picture of a Father who loves us unconditionally and without reservation.  It’s the picture of the Holy Spirit moving in our lives so that we might experience that grace.  It’s the picture of God at the cross, redeeming, forgiving, reconciling, and including us all.

 

Jesus came to remove the many layers of misunderstanding about who God is and what God does.  He came to reveal the truth about God’s identity and what this means for us.  In Jesus we discover that the Almighty God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) likes, loves, accepts, includes, and adopts us.

 

So what do we do with this message? We are invited simply to believe.  Believe that God redeems you.  Believe that God forgives you.  Believe that God lives, loves, accepts, includes, and adopts you.  Believe Jesus is the self-portrait of the God who love you.

 

Believe, because, “whosoever believes in him will not perish, but will have everlasting life.”

 

Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ
by: Thomas F. Torrance
publisher: IVP Academic, published: 2015-03-25
ASIN: 0830824596
EAN: 9780830824595
sales rank: 219441
price: $20.94 (new), $21.99 (used)
The late Thomas F. Torrance has been called “the greatest Reformed theologian since Karl Barth” and “the greatest British theologian of the twentieth century” by prominent voices in the academy. His work has profoundly shaped contemporary theology in the English-speaking world. This first of two volumes comprises Thomas Torrance’s lectures delivered to students in Christian Dogmatics on Christology at New College, Edinburgh, from 1952 to 1978 and amounts to the most comprehensive presentation of Torrance’s understanding of the incarnation ever published. In eight chapters these expertly edited lectures highlight Torrance’s distinctive belief that the object of our theological study?Jesus Christ?actively gives himself to us in order that we may know him. They also unpack Torrance’s well-developed understanding of our union with Christ and how it impacts the Christian life, as well as his reflections on the in-breaking of Christ’s kingdom and its intense conflict with and victory over evil. Decidedly readable and filled with some of Torrance’s most influential thought, this will be an important volume for scholars, professors and students of Christian theology for decades to come.

 

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