Sunday message 8 March 2020 – Eternal Life

Readings: Psalm 121:1-8;  John 3:1-17

MESSAGE

 Do you have nice neighbours?

In our first home as a ministry family I decided to connect with my neighbours. The first neighbour was cautiously hospitable, but at the end of the visit mentioned that they didn’t really have much to do with neighbours.

Point taken. I didn’t persist after that.

Some people have terrible neighbours.

I sometimes muse that if we land up in a mansion in our Father’s house, what kind of neighbours will be land up with?

After all, we will be stuck with them for eternity!

Isn’t that what eternal life seems to mean?

Maybe the idea is simple terrible for you!

I mean they may be people in this building today that you might consider as potential eternal neighbours and then think “Nah!”

And if pets get to heaven what if that dog just keeps on barking for thousands of years?

When you look at the idea, eternal life is an interesting concept.

And its right there in probably the most famous verse in the Bible:

Joh 3:16  “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.

So what it? What does Jesus say? John 17 in his prayer spells it out:

Joh 17:1  After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. Joh 17:2  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

How do we get to that point – to know God and Jesus who was sent by God?

And what is it in John’s Gospel that got people interested enough to get to know Jesus the giver of eternal life?

I’m not sure that they started with the idea that we have about eternal life as an ongoing existence forever in heaven.

If we go back to John 1 – you may remember a man we encountered called Nathaniel.

Joh 1:48  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Joh 1:49  Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”  Joh 1:50  Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” Joh 1:51  He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

Th first idea we have in John about heaven is not to do with life after death, but heaven open in the present – in the life of his disciples.

If you were here when we looked at this, you may remember that we linked it to Jacob’s ladder in Genesis – where Jacob encounters God at Bethel – the name meaning house of God.

Jacob’s declaration after that dream was – surely God was in this place, and I didn’t know it.

The encounter with God is really the start of a relationship which Jesus calls “eternal life” – he says its not a future state but an experience in the present.

Now why do I start with that encounter with Nathaniel?

Well here’s my secret reason.

25 times in John Jesus introduces what he is about o say with this key statement:

In the NIV – it reads “I tell you the truth.” No it doesn’t mean he is misleading them on other occasions. It’s a bit like the Old testament prophets who when they say “Thus says the Lord” they were getting people’s attention because God was speaking through them.

Those of you who grew up with the King James bible will remember it as “Verily verily I say unto you” Or “truly truly”. Literally “Amen Amen”.

The first of those 25 times he uses the double amen –  truly truly – is to Nathanael – alerting him and others to a breakthrough from heaven to earth like Jacob’s dream at Bethel.

Follow Jesus – and heaven is going to break through.

People will know God again as they were meant to. And know Jesus too because he is God.

The next three of the 25 “amen amens” appear in our reading today.

And they’re pretty important.

Here we go:

John 3:3; John 3;5; John 3:11 –

  • Joh 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
  • Joh 3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.
  • Joh 3:11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

In the first two of these – there’s a clue you may miss.

If you’re not born again (or from above – it means both) you can’t see the kingdom of God.

If you’re not born of water and the Spirit (explaining being born again) you can’t enter the Kingdom of God.

The clue? The term “kingdom of God”. Matthew uses the other version of this – the “kingdom of heaven” – because of his Jewish readers or recipients of his gospel.

The water refers to baptism in water and the spirit refers to baptism in the spirit. Both are part of entering the Christian community – water baptism symbolizes the entrance into the physical body of Christ here on earth (the organization if you like). Spirit baptism is about being incorporated into the spiritual organism of the body of Christ everywhere.

I think we get the water baptism bit. The symbol of going under and coming up out of the water represents our dying to our old life and being raised up to a new life – participating in Christ’s death and resurrection. The water has various symbolic associations including cleansing and washing.

The spiritual baptism is referred to by Paul I a Corinthians 12:12

1Co 12:12  The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 1Co 12:13  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

There are various other places where we are told that there is a spiritual life that we experience in Christ. Not the least of which is this in John 7:

Joh 7:37  On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Joh 7:38  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Joh 7:39  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

So when Jesus says: Joh 3:5  Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Joh 3:6  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Joh 3:7  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ Joh 3:8  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.”

it’s not surprising that Nicodemus is still stumped. He’s already tried to think of the new birth as going back into your mother’s womb – he clearly missed that one too. This time he says:

Joh 3:9  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. Joh 3:10  “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

Here comes the next “Amen Amen” – which in this case is a bit of a lecture to one of the most clued up influential people of the Jewish religious establishment:

Joh 3:11  I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. Joh 3:12  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

And just to lay it on the line even more – Jesus goes on to say:

Joh 3:13  No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Joh 3:14  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, Joh 3:15  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

It’s not just the angels at Bethel going up and down the ladder into heaven – or Nathaniel being told that he would see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

It’s the son of Man who is he prototype – the forerunner – who has come down from heaven and will go back to heaven – he will be the first to rise from the dead and live forever in a new resurrected body – and all of this ends with us looking up – not a Moses’ snake on a pole in the desert – but on Jesus on his cross.

If you don’t know that story – it’s in Numbers 21.

Num 21:4  They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; Num 21:5  they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Num 21:6  Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. Num 21:7  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. Num 21:8  The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” Num 21:9  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

They would have known the story.

Just as Moses lifted up that snake – a bronze one which they kept in the tabernacle as a sacred object -which Hezekiah later destroyed (2 Kings 18:4) because it became like an idol to them rather than a reminder that it was God who saved them.

Just as that snake was lifted up -says Jesus – so the Son of Man must be lifted up, Joh 3:15  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (v15).

And its here that we find the famous verse 16: Joh 3:16  “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.

To believe in Him you have to look to the cross – Jesus through his cross has become the new ladder opening up heavenly life to us now and keeping heaven open for us at he end. Eternal life says Jesus – is knowing God.

You can only know god through the access of Jesus on the cross. Tom Wright puts it like this:

Humankind as a whole has been smitten with a deadly disease. The only cure is to look at the son of man dying on the cross, and find life through believing in him. 

The cross is at the heart of John’s amazing new picture of who God is. He is now to be known as the God who is both father and son, and the son is revealed, ‘lifted up’, when he dies under the weight of the world’s evil. The cross is the ultimate ladder set up between heaven and earth. (Wright, Tom. John for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-10 Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 33). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

So poor old Nicodemus in that “amen amen” saying is roundly chastised really.

Joh 3:11  I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. Joh 3:12  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

“You people” is one way of getting people’s backs up – or taking on the whole lot of them. Its translated like his because it’s in the plural – it’s not just Nicodemus but all of his colleagues in the Jewish religious establishment that Jesus is addressing. Which is what he does again and again. If you don’t believe me look at John 8:

Joh 8:43  Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. Joh 8:44  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. They plot to kill him quite early on.

People always oppose things that upset their religious organisations which make things tidy, clear cut, organizing and labelling things in nice little piles.

Nicodemus represented that kind of religious world of rules and categories.

Inconveniently Jesus comes along and talks about a new kind of life – eternal life – which is an experience of a kingdom where the spirit is on the move. Like a wind or a gale (the word for spirit and wind is the same) – things can be blown over or blown away.

In a similar way the earthquake in Christchurch did that when the church buildings were destroyed. The churches had to sit down and say -well what is it really about – who are we really?

They had no buildings to sit comfortably in.

So they had to look up.

It always helps to look up. To pray and seek God’s direction.

The Psalm today reminds us that people were looking up to the hills – of course there were high places – altars to false God’s on those hills.

I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? Psa 121:2  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

This is not greenie Psalm for us to go cavorting around the countryside and climbing up the hills like Maria in the Sound of Music.

The help comes from the Lord the maker of heaven and earth.

  • He is a God who creates and recreates.
  • And to know him is eternal life.

So when Paul says that noting separates us from the love of God – he lists all the troubles of life, spiritual powers, and of course he adds DEATH in there because it is still eternal life – we will still know God and be known by Him who knows his sheep by name.

  • Have you seen the Kingdom of God?
  • Entered it?
  • Been born of water and the spirit?
  • Received eternal life?

Amen.

About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. Preaching and teaching remains a joy.. More recently I have been doing some part time voluntary prison chaplaincy.

Posted on March 22, 2020, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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