10. Supernatural

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

10. Supernatural

Jn 3:3-8   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.”

And So? In the previous studies we made the point that to be a Christian, to be a member of the Church, is to be different, to be different from a sports club or a social club or even a political club, and the difference is – God! We are called by God, but calling is merely the start and so, in the days to come, we will examine in more detail how this calling comes about and where it goes. But we did also say that everything about ‘being a Christian’ is different from being an unbeliever, and that it what this series is really all about. But having said the first difference is that we have been called by God, the second difference is that God does NOT simply lay down a lifestyle and expect us to work on it and live it, He gives us the means to do it.  But in these verses in Jn 3 that we have above, Jesus uses three sets of words which are really important. This will be very basic but, for anyone who has never really thought these things through before, are really critical to this subject. The three sets of words we need to start examining are, the kingdom of God, being born again and the (Holy) Spirit.

Focus on the Kingdom: no one can see the kingdom of God unless…..”  So we start with the first ones, ‘the kingdom of God’. Put very simply it simply means the realm, or the existence, or the experience, of being under the rule of God. ‘Church’ we will go on to see later is simply an expression of the rule of God, expressed through the people He has called out as we considered previously. Now some people immediately get nervous about this because they don’t like being ‘told’ what to do and so talk of the ‘rule’ of God may conjure up pictures of a despot who has serfs who he bosses around, but what we have here could not be further from the truth. We are really in this paragraph jumping the gun because we will need to consider this in more detail in the days ahead but, if we are to understand this whole package, we need to understand what is at issue here. If I may explain in brief skeleton outline form what we will consider in detail later, the truth is twofold: first, we haven’t made a very good job of life so far, and second, God’s desire is to help us live the best possible life that a human being can live. As I say we’ll explain that more in the days to come, but for now can we just take that as read?.

When Jesus first appeared at the start of his three-year ministry we read, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15) Perhaps we might put that latter part, “Do a complete turn around and dare to believe the wonderful news that I am here to bring all of the love and goodness of God to this world.”  That is what we struggle to believe, that everything God has for us is an expression of His love and goodness and so when Jesus ‘ruled’ it was to get rid of sickness and cast out demons to free people and bless them.

Let’s use some different analogies. Suppose you go on holiday and part of the package is to learn rock-climbing. The instructor says I need you to do everything I tell you. Or suppose it was scuba diving and the instructor says the same thing. You wouldn’t get upset with that and respond, “I’m not going to have anyone boss me around and tell me what to do!”  That would make you stupid! Why? Because the instructor knows better than you and if you ignore them you may be putting your life or the life of someone else at risk. So we think we know better that Almighty God who designed and create this world? We need to give ourselves a severe talking to!

Born Again: So when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless….” he is saying, no one can come into the place where they can receive all of God’s love and goodness unless….. and that brings us on to the second phrase ‘born again’. “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Now good old Nicodemus tried to take this literally and so he starts chatting on about how you can’t restart life by going back into the womb. Absolutely not, Nicodemus, you’re completely right, so what does Jesus mean?

Water and Spirit: Jesus explains: “unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” Commentators get themselves in a bit of a twist over the water bit and go on about baptism, and indeed baptism does have a part to play as we’ll see in the future, but it is more likely that Jesus means ‘natural birth’ and ‘supernatural birth’. We talk about the ‘waters breaking’ as a woman goes into labour, and this understanding is reinforced when Jesus adds, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

In other words, to become a Christian and part of the Church, it requires a work of God, of the Holy Spirit, a work of the third person of the Trinity. Later when teaching his disciples about the Holy Spirit, he says, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17). Just to pick up one or two of the many references to the Spirit indwelling believers, let’s note the apostle Paul’s words, all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Cor 6:19) When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, it meant that from that moment on every real Christian, every true believer, would be indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Thus, to use Jesus’ language, when we come to him and surrender our lives to follow him, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us. The apostle Paul was most specific about this: “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Rom 8:9) i.e. no Holy Spirt = no Christian. Just in case I should be addressing anyone who has been a church goer for years and has considered themselves a Christian but who has never been ‘born again’, never come to that point of surrender to God, never received the empowering of the Holy Spirit, it’s never too late. It’s not about being religious, it’s not about ‘going to church’, it’s not about keeping the rules, it’s not about trying to be good, it is about surrendering to God and receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour as we spoke about earlier, so that he places his own Holy Spirit within you to empower you and provide a new channel of communication within you.

I think my testimony is fairly common. I was living on my own, heard the Gospel and so before I went to bed, knelt down and prayed and surrendered my life to God and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I then got into bed and fell asleep, and that was that. Except the only thing is that next morning when I woke up I realised I was a different person and went out and shared what had happened to me with others. I started to learn to pray and read my Bible but they were merely add-on things to what had already happened IN me. I was different, I was changed. Nothing about turning over a new leaf or making a resolution, this was an act of God. And that is what is available to whoever comes to God in humility so that He can not only put them on a new course in life, but also empower them to live it. You can pray in the same way.

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10. A Kingdom of Impossibilities

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  10. A Kingdom of Impossibilities

Luke 1:26-28  In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Perhaps when you read Scripture regularly there is the danger of it becoming commonplace and our attitude casual. When these verses are read every year in Christmas Services and maybe even at Nativity plays, then there must be that danger of reading the words but losing the impact. Luke, who at the beginning of his book is so careful to explain that he has carefully researched everything and now wants to write an account that is full of integrity, drops this bomb on us and we don’t realise the enormity of it.

There is no room for half-hearted belief here. You either believe it as it stands or evaporate it away by saying – well I don’t know what you would say, but people do manage to overcome their intellects and rubbish the truth! But just look at what he says so simply: God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee.” (v.26). There are three things of note here for sermon constructors.

First, things happen here because God takes the initiative. In fact nothing of the Christmas story will happen unless God is in it. Even before this passage in chapter 1 of Luke, God sends an angel to Zechariah in the Temple and then God enables aging Elizabeth to have a baby. In the verses that follow, God is going to speak to Mary through the angel and then God is going to enable her to conceive without the help of a man. God is going to come to Joseph in a dream, to convince him not to break off his relationship with Mary.  After the baby is born, God is going to send an angel to shepherds on a hillside and God is going to provide guidance for wise men from the East. God is going to warn the family to flee to Egypt and then later to return to Israel. God is in this every step of the way. If you have a trouble with believing in God, this is not a story for you!

Second, note that this God communicates and for this task He uses an angel so that a human figure stands before Mary and holds a conversation with her. Have you noticed in Scripture, it seems that often a word simply comes to someone but sometimes it needs more than a simple word, it needs a conversation, and so in those times God sends an angel. On this occasion quite a lot of information is to be imparted and so Mary has an angel sent to her by God.

Third, in this one simple verse, note the mention of places – “Nazareth, a town in Galilee.”  We have this remarkable supernatural event but it is anchored in time space history in a known geographical location. Again and again in Scripture we find this mix of the supernatural with the down to earth daily life or here and now time-space history. This is not a book of weird and wonderful spiritual goings on and you may find in other religions. This is the record of activity of God here on this earth with very ordinary people in very ordinary circumstances. Mary was an ordinary Jewish girl living an ordinary life there in Nazareth and until this thing happens, she probably had no inkling of her destiny.

But then, as an even greater challenge to the materialistically-fixed-mind-set people, the next verse starts moving us towards an uncomfortable challenge: “to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” (v.27)  Twice there Luke seems to almost emphasise the fact that Mary is a virgin. Now there are those who would seek to suggest that the word for virgin can also be used to simply describe a young woman but the account that follows refuses to allow us to go down that path. Mary is going to question the possibility of having a child without a man, and the angel explains it will be the Holy Spirit who will bring about what is otherwise impossible.  You have to go to Matthew’s Gospel to see Joseph’s side of it and see that he has had nothing to do with it.

For the skeptic, the only other possibility is that Mary had a sexual relationship with some other man but in that culture that would have been virtually impossible without it becoming public knowledge but no such thing was suggested. Luke is absolutely sure in his researches that this is just as it says. God intervenes and we have a miracle of a virgin birth. Once you believe in God, this should be no problem.

What are some of the outworkings of this storyFirst, the God we hear of is a communicating God and has no trouble with communicating with us. We may have a problem with hearing (because of our unbelief) but that is another story. It is unlikely that you or I will have an angelic encounter; they seem to be saved for major occasions and so if you do, you’re either in big trouble or God is about to lead you into major life changes.

Second, the God we find in the Bible is no God who stands afar off and leaves us entirely to our own devices. He comes and involves Himself in our lives and from time to time, when the circumstances demand it, He does what we would otherwise consider impossible. How much we hear or see Him in our lives depends, I believe, on how open we are to Him. If we maintain the materialistic mindset that the rest of the world has, we will rarely hear Him and never see a miracle. If we open our hearts to Him and make ourselves available to Him and listen for His quiet voice, and then respond to what we hear, we will find ourselves venturing out on the waters of faith and will find our testimony growing exponentially. When you hear this gem of a story every Christmas, don’t let it pass you by leaving you untouched. When Christmas comes, pray, “Lord open my eyes to see the wonder and the truth of these accounts and may my life be changed for ever because of them.”

3. Your World View

SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 3 of 20

Matt 3:16,17 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

OK, a reminder first of all. These meditations are specifically about why Jesus IS the unique Son of God, but before we get into that in depth, we are simply considering some of the primary issues that face people when confronted with the Bible, and specifically with the accounts about Jesus’ life and ministry. How do you feel when you read the two verses above? Jesus has just been baptised by John the Baptist in the river Jordan, and something, possibly like light in the form of a dove comes down on him and a voice from above speaks. The response of many is, “That couldn’t happen!”

In the previous introductory meditations we have considered presuppositions, the starting point beliefs that we have. Francis Schaeffer once wrote, “Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realise that their presuppositions should be chosen after careful consideration of what world view is true.” A ‘world view’ is an overall picture that we have of the world and, as Schaeffer said, most of us just pick up our world view and the presuppositions that go with it, and we do it without much thought. Essentially your starting place will either be that the world just is and there is no God, or there is a God. Both starting places have a lot of ramifications.

The odd one of the two starting places is, strangely enough, believing in a world without God. This ignores a) vast majorities of the world who believe in a deity, b) experiences around the world of ‘spiritual activities’, and c) it has to believe that the world is pure chance and so there is no such thing as meaning or purpose. With the evidence of world religions, and Judaism and Christianity in particular, based on the Bible, it is more illogical to believe in no God and ultimately the only common denominator in such people is pride that says, “I can’t afford to believe in a superior being. I like ruling my own life.” They may not want to acknowledge that, but that is what is behind so much atheistic thinking which blinds the atheist believer (for atheism is as much a belief system as anything else) to going and investigating with an open mind the evidence that is there.

So here we have this record, just as a starting point exercise, of Jesus being baptised and the starting point for many of us is, “This couldn’t be!” Why? “Because there isn’t a God!” There you go again. You are starting with a belief-decision instead of saying, “Well, what is the evidence? How real is it? What are the possibilities? How does it correlate with other evidence?” A scientist doesn’t write off the evidence. Science is about examining the evidence and coming up with theories to be tested. If there is a Supreme Being (God) then why can’t He speak into this world, especially if we see that because He is the Supreme Being He created and brought about this world (either in a short period or over a long time), why can’t He do whatever He likes if He is that powerful? Get away from the pictures of silly little ‘gods’ like the Greeks and Romans had, extensions of human thinking, and think of what constitutes a “Supreme Being” for God can be nothing less.

We are discussing nothing less that the divinely supernatural here, the possibility of God not only existing but being able to communicate and interact with the world He brought into being. If there is such a Supreme Being, then logically it is not difficult for Him to be able to do this.

Now I realise that I have used a word that our sceptic might object to – He. Let’s not worry about ‘he’ or ‘she’; let’s just note the word ‘He’. It denotes personality. If you want to be really prescriptive, then when we find that the Bible refers to God as ‘spirit’ we might define ‘God as Spirit’ as ‘energy with personality’. We are familiar with energy in science but whenever God makes His presence known in the Bible it is energy that has personality – energy that decides, chooses, thinks, reasons, plans, speaks and acts with purpose. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it like that, but that is how it is in the most simple of terms. Science says there is no movement without an originating force of some kind and we find a world that is full of movement. God is The personal force, the Ultimate, Supreme Being, who made it and made it move, and it is no problem for Him, therefore, to continue to move in the midst of it.

In the coming meditations we are going to consider God’s movement and God’s activity for that is what the Bible is all about. That is what the account of Jesus is all about. For our starting point, therefore, we have got to confront this irrational idea that God cannot speak or act into His own world. Modern crusading atheists seek to do this by trying to explain everything that happens by natural means, but none of them can explain the original ‘movement’ (what they refer to as the ‘Big Bang’) because they start from the premise that God doesn’t exist, so they have an unsolvable problem which by a massive leap of faith, they say they will solve ‘one day’. Some Christians also hold to this position that God cannot speak or act today. Oh yes, He spoke and acted in Biblical times, but for some reason He shut down after that. Illogical! We hold that position because we are afraid of what will flow from the thought that God still speaks and acts into His world.

Unless you can face up to this philosophical illogicality, that evidence is to be weighed rationally and not written off before examination, you might as well give up reading these examinations of the evidence, for that is what this set of meditations is. If your mind is so closed (like the people who believed in a flat earth) that you can’t examine reasonably the evidence, you’re going to have to live with that knowledge about yourself, and once you see that, it is uncomfortable! Come with us on this expedition to examine the records honestly and without prior prejudice. Tomorrow we dive in at the beginning of the ‘Jesus accounts’.