One size fits all. Have you been shopping for Easter outfits yet? When I was growing up, Easter clothes were more important that the Easter Bunny Basket! You couldn’t wait to wake up on Easter morning to show off your new clothes! I was shopping last Easter for Skylar and discovered this cute shirt on a mannequin. It was one size fits all. Now, how many of you have purchased those one size fits all knowing you shouldn’t even attempt it! Well, I bought the shirt thinking it would make a great illustration one day. I’ve never found clothing that is one size fits all ever really fit, but there is one thing in life that’s one size fits all that actually works. And that’s baptism! The only payment is a good dose of humility and courage to profess the faith.
John’s Writings. We begin the Sermon Series on John’s Gospel today with the discussion of Baptism – it truly is “One Size Fits All.” From now through Easter we will be listening closely to the John’s Gospel which provides for us a picture of friendship and intimacy with God that is inspiring. John provides a window into his relationship with God that captures our imagination with snippets of stories that he believed would be compelling for others as they joined in the Christian discipleship movement within the fledgling early church.
If you’ve never read the bible, or you still feel like a novice John can become a guide for you into the heart of God. John provides for us character references that we can sink our teeth into. The John’s story about Jesus begins with this beautiful introduction that sets the whole of the Gospel apart as a cosmic narrative. This information you are about to receive has a pre-existent understanding of Jesus. Jesus is God who became flesh and dwelled among his creation. And, while Jesus was here with us on earth, I became one of his companions. I can just hear John saying to his readers, I want to share this story with you. It is the greatest story ever told.
As we make our way to Easter we will hear the stories about a wedding, a religious leader named Nicodemus, a Samaritan Woman who had five husbands, a Royal Official, a woman caught in adultery, a man born blind, the restoration of life of a man named Lazarus, and the outpouring of love from a woman who will set the disciples in a panic. From there we will enter Holy Week when we will hear the passion of Christ and discover his victory over death. For John the stories of Jesus did not make sense until after the Resurrection, so the stories now have a more complete understanding of the event than it did the day they happened.
John’s Gospel is certainly focused on his intimate relationship with God in Jesus. Surely the Beloved John demonstrates his closeness to Jesus at the writing about the Last Supper which we will experience in drama on Holy or Maundy Thursday, the Thursday prior to Easter.
When we think of John, some of us might recall the nick-name that Jesus gave John and his Brother, James, “Sons of Thunder.” This all happened as they wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans. The fire from heaven that James and John were searching for was the fire that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah, an experience of radical destruction. Christians today understand fire from heaven as the cleansing fire of Pentecost that cleanses and refreshes the soul, not destroy the physical body.
John’s deeply personal relationship with Jesus enables us to see the profound heart issues for the Son of God. I can only imagine who John wrestled with the Kingdom principles of new life, sin, grace, truth, love, and prayer. Let me just say that John was not bashful about calling out problems in the church in Revelations: lack of love for God, slanderous, libelous accusations, sexual immorality, morally unrestrained, lifeless, frazzled, and apathetic. To be certain he was still a “Son of Thunder.” John would want us to understand that if we are not ready to listen to the challenges of the Gospel message, then we are not ready to be a Christian.
In John’s writings we can see how important the Spirit of God is to obeying God, and not willfully sinning against God. We can glimpse John’s personal relationship with Jesus through the writings of his three letters entitled 1st John, 2nd John, and 3rd John or Revelation, the last writing in the New Testament. John expressions his love deeply and invites people to expose themselves to God’s friendship. In fact I would say that John’s essential message to us is this: If you want to be God’s friend, you’ve got to rend your heart. In 1 John 3.9 he even says, “Those born from God don’t practice sin.”
When John recounts the revelation about the seven churches, he doesn’t hold back encouragement or criticism about their behavior. John will bless you for your good works then spank you for your mischievous behavior. For John our awareness of our sinfulness is the catalyst that opens the opportunity to new life. Guilt, shame, disbelief, pride, arrogance, lying, deception to save face… the list is long on the kinds of (intentional bad we do) sins commission we commit. And, the sins of omission (intentional good we do not do) lack of love, forthright behavior, and honesty. John is quite bold about his insights in the Kingdom of God.
Nic at Night. Enter the storyline a well-respected Jewish leader I’ve nick-named “Nic at Night.” Well, his name is not really Nic; it’s Nicodemus. Some of you may be familiar with the reruns (even first runs) of the family-wholesome TV programs on the Nickelodeon channel. You might call them a throwback to the good old days. Let’s imagine Nic is as wholesome as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver. Yet, Nicodemus is coming under the cover of darkness in the night. Just like those family-wholesome TV programs you just know there’s going to be a rich here somewhere that’s going to be learned. And, sure enough Jesus doesn’t disappoint us: baptism.
Nic needs a lot of courage, but he is just too cofounded to visit with Jesus in the light of day. He’s not ready to profess his faith openly that this Jesus fellow might have something he needs.
So we see Nic becoming a secret disciple. He really doesn’t want anyone to notice that he is catching the Spiritual vibes of this radical teacher of the faith. Nic isn’t your average Joe. He is an educated man, a man of some significance and influence in the community. For Nic to follow Jesus would mean he had to lose face among his colleagues, lose his place of tenure and respect. In the ways of his peers he may have been somewhat extraordinary because of his position on the counselor at Jerusalem. Nic would be required to give up his extraordinary fleshly life to become an outcast among his people. Yet, Jesus’ words here teach us that when we are meek and lowly he will invest in us with the power of this Holy Spirit. This is a mystery when the Spirit of God claims us in a one size fits all way that embraces the flesh and transforms us.
Nic approaches Jesus in a quizzing way with questions about his preaching. Twice Nic responded to Jesus with words of impossibility: “How is it possible” (3.4), “It’s impossible…isn’t it” (3.4), and “How are these things possible” (3.9).
Imagine the possibilities: the Kingdom of God is at hand and you have a choice to enter into the mystery or deny its existence. This word for “possibility” in the Greek means power (δύναμαι). This same word is used by Jesus when he advised the disciples to stay where they are until they are endued with power (δύναμαι) from the Holy Spirit after his resurrection and ascension.
Baptism. There are two kinds of baptism – water and Spirit (3.5). Jesus specifically claims that unless a man is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God. The purpose of the Spiritual awakening is to see, enter into, and have eternal life in the Kingdom of God (3.3, 3.5, 3.16). Without the Spirit Birth one cannot enter the new life of the Kingdom of God. Water baptism is the sign of that newness of life (1 Cor. 10.1-13). Jesus describes this experience as a mystery, like the blowing of the wind from here to there and disappearing. If you watch The Weather Channel, you know that Jim Cantore would be right there waiting to catch a glimpse of the power of the wind of the Spirit.
New Birth. John Wesley was all about the “new birth” that Jesus was talking about. He grasped in his own heart-warming life experience. The four most important doctrines of the Wesleyan tradition are original sin, justification by faith, new birth, and sanctification (inward/outward holiness). It was Martin Luther’s claim that we are justified by faith alone that became the heartbeat of the protestant movement. No longer are works necessary for salvation, but good works provide the evidence by which we know our salvation is secure.
Through justification by faith we know that our sins are forgiven, our debt has been paid. We are saved from our past, and set upon a pathway to new life in the moment Wesley understood to be the new birth. We are saved and given a new life, a two-fold process. Essentially, we understand through justification we are saved from the guilt of our sins, and Christ provides the opportunity for the root problems of our sinfulness to be revealed and healed. The new birth begins the journey of sanctification, the healing of our inward being that produces outward holiness.
Spirit and Flesh. In our story there are two key concepts that we want to hold on to: spirit and flesh. Spirit is Spirit (πνεύματος πνεῦμά ἐστιν), and flesh is flesh (σαρκὸς σάρξ ἐστιν). Spirit is not flesh, and flesh is not Spirit. There are no gray areas between Spirit and flesh. It is very humbling to Nicodemus. Here is a well-respected teacher of the Jewish faith, skulking around at night trying to make sense of his faith. I can only imagine how perplexed and desperate he was to humble himself to seek Jesus out.
John’s Gospel leaves us with beautiful wisdom. John’s presentation of Jesus, his person and his message, lies at the heart of his Gospel message. John wants you to KNOW the God-Man Jesus. John desires for you to rend your heart wide-open for a fresh infilling with power of the Holy Spirit that will transform your flesh. The possibilities (power for transformation) are there!