It’s a strange thing to be in the dark, even in your own home. Simple tasks like cooking oatmeal on the stove or doing laundry would be frustrating and difficult—if not dangerous, in complete darkness. And we’re talking about oatmeal and T-shirts. Imagine the darkness of the soul.
Cloaked in the shadows of night, an anxious Nicodemus comes to Jesus in John Chapter 3. He’s troubled—convicted and conflicted. He believes Jesus is otherworldly—to say the least. The stories of His unprecedented miracles reaching the upper echelons of Jewish society, the strange authority He inherently possesses: simultaneously a straightforward and perplexing rabbi yet equally a fearsome renegade who with a handmade whip of cords sent gangsters and con-artists fleeing from the Jewish equivalent of Times Square. He is neither boastful nor arrogant but will later say He alone is the bread of life who comes from Heaven—making Moses’ forty years of manna look like the spread at a child’s birthday party in comparison to His everlasting banquet.
Nicodemus a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, professor of the law, esteemed and revered sits at the feet of this carpenter’s son from Nazareth and can’t even mouth the question that’s setting his soul on fire.
Maybe he wants to fall before Him--worship and weep—embracing this God-man who he has spent his life studying. Is that really you? But how can it be? What does that mean for us—for me?
But decorum or doubt or nagging disbelief choke those thoughts and silence the questions. For now, Nicodemus will acknowledge Christ is a teacher sent from God, “No one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2, Italics added)
But God is not merely with Him.
The words from the prophet Isaiah should have been burning in Nicodemus’ mind, if not his heart. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call is name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
Immanuel is God with us.
And so Immanuel cuts to the chase and tells the fragmented leader how to see the Kingdom of God. Because, after all, that's what Nicodemus really wants to know.
Regnum Dei, the Kingdom of God, sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven is frequently referred to by Christ in the gospels, though it’s less frequently defined—a phrase so common to its original hearers that it defied definition. The relationship between God and humanity involves the kingship of God—His lordship and our worship. In the context of Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus it is an awareness that only presents after a new birth.
In the sermon “The Kingdom of God is Righteousness and Peace and Joy in the Holy Spirit” by John Piper (November 13, 2005), Dr. Piper simply defines the Kingdom of God as “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:17-19)
Paul the writer of Romans (and much of the new testament) does not use the term frequently but here he offers a glimpse of the kingdom as a lifestyle—a heavenly lifestyle that goes far deeper than the rules of morality or surface composure to cultivating a heart of peace and pursuing or running toward, that which builds up one’s neighbor. It speaks of a motivation of the heart that is empowered and validated by the Spirit of God and secondly by others.
So we pray, “Jesus, help me to see the Kingdom of God” as entry into this realm requires a new birth—bearing the fruit of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit and a cleansing or renewal of the mind by the Word of God.
In the same sermon, Piper categorizes the Kingdom of God as follows:
1) It’s a reign or a rule—not a place
2) It speaks to the saving or redeeming reign of God as opposed to God’s providential reign. The Kingdom of God desires the will of God to be done “as it is in heaven” righteously, peacefully and joyfully. This is contrasted to the way God’s providential will is accomplished on earth—often through heartache or catastrophe—causing us to look to Christ only after we've exhausted every other vessel of hope and found emptiness. The Kingdom of God teaches us to freely walk in step with our master instead of choosing Him last.
3) It is present (in some measure) but mostly future (new age of Christ). We can enjoy God by enjoying a portion of his Kingdom in our fractured world now—waiting confidently and expectantly for the consummation.
4) The Kingdom of God is one and the same as the Kingdom of Christ.
According to Piper whose mastery of the scripture turns sermons into Easter eggs--you'd be satisfied with the beautiful candy coating yet no sooner than the first bite discover hidden chocolate worth savoring long after the surface goodness melts away--the Kingdom of God is evidenced in our life when the Holy Spirit is “holding sway, conquering sin and producing righteousness, joy and peace.”
Nicodemus struggled to the voice the question--“How can I see the Kingdom of God?” Our modern, first-world sensibilities are too dulled by worldliness and too lulled by distractions, to even care to ask.
And yet Jesus answers the longing of both our hearts—ancient and modern, the same.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
It originates with God the Father’s unyielding love for His own creation, the sacrificial and covenantal work of the cross willingly accomplished by Jesus Christ, necessary because of humanity's sin and God's holiness, the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit calling the dead unto life and the recipients of this grace--those who call themselves believers, living a faith-filled life that bears the marks--or perhaps the scars, of this spiritual transaction.
This revelation—this light, is life for the soul that was previously trapped in darkness. And that is very good news for those of us who were trying to make oatmeal in the dark.
It Really Matters
Last year our church did a pajama and underwear drive for a local agency that works with Foster children. We were told that many children come into care with just the clothes they are wearing and would appreciate the small gifts of nice pajamas and new undies.
The ages and genders of various children were written on a pretty paper ornament and hung on a Christmas tree for us to choose from. My family selected “12 Year Old Girl” and sometime during the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping we tossed our gift into a shopping cart. We left it under the tree at church—and thought nothing more about it.
Until a year later, when we took a little girl into our home, agreeing to be her foster family knowing little more than her age and gender. Not her race, her preferences or even her name.
She knew even less about us.
But you know what’s beautiful? There were people who, without knowing the story of a child who needed comfort and a family who needed supplies had already been thinking about both of us. Just like the pajama/undie drive that we participated in, other churches, services organizations and kind people brought their gifts to the agency too with hearts to bless a little person when they needed it most.
What were these profound gifts?
School Supplies: When classes are days away and Target is almost empty—at least of the good stuff, we didn’t fret because a local church had donated backpacks, pencils, notebooks, glue and every other gizmo required for the first day of school. Our little one had what she needed to learn. Thank you.
A Teddy Bear: A big, giant, fluffy guy with a bow around his neck; the kind your daddy would bring home to you after returning from a long trip. Our little one had a Teddy to snuggle in her strange, new home. Thank you.
A Handmade Pillowcase: A colorful, kid-approved pattern that’s special and new. What a thoughtful way to adorn a new bed! Our little one slept deeply on pillowcase made just for her. Thank you.
A Small Quilt: Perhaps the most special gift of all. A local quilter’s guild made small quilts for Foster children—Linus and Snoopy approved! Who among us hasn’t watched a child snuggle a blankie for comfort? And when would you need comfort, more? Our little one received a beautifully-made quilt that continues to calm her heart. Thank you.
A transition like this is never easy—but thoughtful gifts and necessary supplies make it a bit easier.
The Harry Potter series is a favorite in our house. We love J.K. Rowling’s incredible imagination and the magical world of Hogwarts that she’s created, but I can tell you of something greater than fictional magic.
It’s love—especially the kind that asks for nothing in return; the kind that is content only with the recipient’s joy.
The strangers who lovingly donated pencils, stuffed animals, pillowcases and quilts to children they’d likely never meet, gave love to children who needed it most of all.
So to all of you who’ve taken the time, spent the money and added the thoughtful touches, our family says THANK YOU! Your gifts really matter.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:34-40
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "