July 15, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Sometimes the long questions are easier to answer than the short ones. Let me tell you what I mean. Imagine that you’re back in school, that you’ve got this word problem that’s about a mile long on a math test, and you’re trying to figure out how to answer this problem. You’re going to spend some gray matter just figuring out what they are asking for, and then it’s probably going to take you a while to figure out the answer to that question. Or let’s say, you’re taking a standardized test; your taking the GRE or the SAT, and they ask you that essay question. Yeah, you’re going to write on that question for 20 or 30 minutes to give an answer.
But those questions are actually easier to answer than the very short but profound questions of life. Let me tell you an example. It’s these 3 or 4-word questions that can really be a challenge to think about. Imagine that you’re trying to explain to a 7-year old the answer to this question: What is love? How do you describe that in just a few words? Or perhaps you’re trying to answer this question for yourself: Who am? It’s going to take a little bit of thought. It’s probably going to take some hard examination just to come up with the answer to this question.
Let me give you an example, Ladies, of a question that is a very simple question, a 1-word answer and every day for the rest of your life, you will be impacted by your answer to this question: Will you marry me? You’re going to feel the effects of your answer to that yes-or-no question for the rest of your life. The simple, the short questions are sometimes the most difficult questions to answer.
Forbes Magazine ran an article about the 35 questions that will change your life. I’m not going to read all 35 of them, but listen to some of these questions: Why do you do the things that you know you shouldn’t do? -and by this question Forbes Magazine is saying that everybody [I do it. You do it too], you know you’re not supposed to do something and yet you do it anyway. Why do you do that? Or Forbes asked the question: Are you living true to your values? Here’s a question that Forbes Magazine asked: What do you want your life to be like 5 years from now? But I think an absolutely awesome question that Forbes Magazine asked is: Imagine that you get everything in life that you’re hoping for this year. Will you really be happy? I mean those are some really powerful questions of life.
Now, if you’re new to our church, let me tell you what we’re doing right now. We’re in this sermon series that’s designed to help all of us take 20 or 30 casual relationships (You already have them. They’re the people you see at the gym, or they’re the folks you run into in your neighborhood or at the grocery store), how do you take those 20 or 30 casual relationships and whittle them down to 2 or 3 what we’re calling “gospel friendships”? And a way to do that I said last week was, you start to listen to people, and I mean, listen from the heart. You’re not trying to win an argument. You’re not trying to change the subject. You’re just listening to what’s happening in their heart, and maybe if the Lord blesses you and blesses the way that conversation is going, you’ll have the privilege of telling them your story as you’re listening to them tell you their story. And when that happens, today’s challenge is now, maybe God is offering you the opportunity to start to ask some really important questions.
So, if you want to know where I’m going with this sermon today, here it is in a nutshell: It’s the big questions of life, those really profound questions, a good question will almost always leave a deeper impact than a great answer. So, when you’re trying to take 20 or 30 casual relationships and turned them into just 2 or 3 people (probably at the max) that you’re developing a gospel friendship with, perhaps the best, most effective way to do this is just to ask a couple of really simple questions and then be silent and let them wrestle with that question in their own mind before they give you an answer to the question.
We’re going to look at a passage of Scripture today, one passage of Scripture found in John chapter 3, and we’re going to look at 4 profound questions from the Bible today. Before we get into this passage from John chapter 3, though, I owe you a disclaimer. Most of the time, those of you who have been here before, you know that most of my sermons just come naturally out of the passage of the Bible that were reading. Today’s going to feel a little bit weird. Here’s what I’m saying.
For our guests, please trust me with this: I would never do anything to twist the Bible and make it say what I want it to say, but what we’re going to look at today is a conversation between Jesus and somebody else. It’s actually a gospel presentation that happened 2000 years ago in a very different culture, and I’m trying to take that conversation and say if Jesus was sitting down with somebody and having a conversation today, 2018, in the Chattahoochee Valley, what would this conversation sound like?
I. Do you consider yourself spiritual?
There are 4 questions that I think Jesus alludes to in John chapter 3. The first question (and I would ask it in this language): Do you consider yourself, would you call yourself a spiritual person? Now, let me give you 2 warnings when you start to ask these life-altering, very profound, very deep question. The first warning is, you are not trying to win an argument. In fact, don’t try to sway the opinion at all at this stage. You’re just simply listening to what the other person believes.
A second warning from us today is that you’re not trying to rush through question #1 to get to question #2. Actually, consider this today kind of like a flow chart, and maybe I never get to question #2. Maybe I never get to question #4. Maybe we need to stop and spend all of our time on question #1. If that’s the case, awesome.
2000 years ago, Jesus had a spiritual conversation with a religious leader. The guy came to Jesus’s house or wherever Jesus was staying at night. This is found for us in the Bible in John chapter 3. We’re going to start it verse 1, and we’re going to read all the way down to verse 18 today. Here’s what the Bible says:
There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform these signs you do unless God were with him.” 3 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
II. What do you think happens to people after they die?
If you don’t know what the word Pharisee means, in Jesus’s day, these guys were experts in the Bible, the Old Testament. They used the Bible to enforce laws on the people of Israel, so they’re kind of like the Supreme Court and the Congress of the United States, but they do it from a biblical perspective. So, you have one of these very powerful, very influential Pharisees, a guy by the name of Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus’s house, and he has just a simple question. This man came at night. By the way, he probably came at night because he knows that, if my friends find out that I’m here, they’re going to kick me out. I won’t be a Pharisee anymore because all of my buddies hate Jesus.
He’s saying, “We’ve been watching you, and the kind of stuff that we’ve seen you do, you can’t explain this. It’s obviously supernatural. So, Jesus, I’ve got an honest question,” and I believe Nicodemus is having an honest conversation. “Jesus, I’ve got an honest question for you. I’m not trying to trick you here. I just need to ask you a question.” And before he even gets to the question, Jesus cuts him off.
If you were sitting back watching this conversation, boom! A mind bomb just went off because Nicodemus has no idea what this means to be born again. Typically, when I share my faith with somebody who doesn’t know Jesus, I will use John chapter 3 as the Bible passage that I will use. I’ll do it for 2 reasons. One, a number of you probably learned some gospel presentation where you’re jumping from chapter to chapter to chapter in the Bible. ‘Nothing wrong with that other than it makes me always wonder, does the person that I’m talking to, are they asking about the stuff that I’m flipping over? -like, “Hey, you went from chapter 3 to chapter 6 to chapter 9 to chapter 10. What’s in the middle? Why are you skipping all of that stuff in the middle?” So, I just use 1 simple passage, John chapter 3.
But I also use it for this reason: This is a complete example of somebody in the Bible sharing the Gospel, and the person sharing the Gospel for us today is Jesus, and Jesus is going to have a gospel conversation with a guy who should know all of the answers to all of the questions because he’s an expert in the Bible, but he doesn’t. Jesus cut straight to the chase and says, “Hey Nicodemus, you must be born again.”
At this point, I used to ask people, “Do you believe in God?” But I don’t ask that anymore because frankly, our country is so jacked up that when I asked the question about God, I get so many wacked out answers. “I don’t even know who you’re talking about. Obviously, you and I don’t have the same definition of God.” So, I now ask the question, do you call yourself a spiritual person? And because we live in this post-modern culture, most people are going to answer yes to that question.
Then the next follow up is, what do you mean by spiritual? In fact, Dr.’s Norman and David Geisler, they wrote this book called Conversational Evangelism, and they said this is a great question to just put the ball on the tee and tee it up for you because in this post-modern culture that we live in, people generally are going to answer the question, yes. And from that answer, you can try to get at, what do you really mean by spiritual? -or what do you really believe in? Do you call yourself a spiritual person? These questions today are designed to minimize somebody’s defensiveness, but they’re also designed to maximize a desire for the person that you’re talking with to hear more.
So, we’re just simply asking questions and trying to honestly learn what the person we’re talking to believes. Jesus is trying to get at, “Hey, what do you really believe, Nicodemus?” He might ask it this way: “Would you call yourself a spiritual person?” -and the answer to that question would lead naturally to the next one.
“How can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. 8 The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Picture this in your mind. Jesus is sitting down at McDonald’s having a cheap cup of coffee with Nicodemus. The Son of Man can’t afford a place to lay his head. He can’t afford Starbucks coffee, so he has to go to McDonald’s and buy a really bad, cheap cup of coffee, and he says, “Nicodemus, I’ve got a question for you. What do you think happens to somebody after they die? What do you think happens to somebody after they pass away?” Nicodemus is having trouble wrapping his whole mind around being born again, so Jesus says, “Check it out, Nicodemus. Look outside the window. Is the wind blowing right now?” And Nicodemus says, “Yeah, the wind is blowing.” And Jesus says, “How do you know the wind is blowing? You can’t see the wind.” And Nicodemus says, “Well, I can see the leaves rustle on the trees. I can see the grass sway. I know the wind is blowing. Even though I can’t see the wind, I can see the effects of the wind.” Jesus says, “Exactly. And the same is true of the spirit, the Holy Spirit.”
2 people walk in the door. This one has the Holy Spirit. This one is born again, has the Holy Spirit living inside of him. That one does not. You can’t see it by the way that they dress, but you can see the effects of the Holy Spirit. “This is what I’m trying to teach you, Nicodemus. Until you’ve been born again, until the Holy Spirit has radically and totally transformed you, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Nicodemus, you must be born again.”
I want you to picture it like you’re at the gym in the locker room after a spin class or after a pickup game of basketball, and you’re just sitting there talking to somebody who you’ve just met, and God gives you the opportunity to ask him a question. “Hey, would you call yourself a spiritual person?” And that starts the conversation going, and then you ask him this question: “Hey, what do you think happens to somebody after they die?”
Did you know that if you were to do a Google search on your smartphone right now to that question, you will get 1,320,000,000 possible answers to that question? In fact, in the top ten answers alone, you’re going to get a scientist’s answer to that one. You’re going to get a psychologist’s answer to that one. You’re going to get a naturalist or a humanist answer to that question. You’re going to hear an answer from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and number 10 on the top 10 search results from Google when you ask the question, what happens to you after you die? -number 10 on the list is somewhat of a biblical answer.
You see, people are struggling with this one because most of us have just never been forced to think about it until somebody close to you dies, and now you start wrestling with, wait a second; what happens after your heart stops beating?
III. Are people held accountable for how they live?
Jesus asked a question. Let’s say it would be like this: “Hey, would you call yourself a spiritual person?” He would ask that today. “What do you think happens to you after you die?” And then maybe the next question that he would ask is something like this. “Are people held accountable for how they live? Hey, Nicodemus, do you think we’re going to have to answer to somebody for the way that we live?”
Now, when you ask that question today in our society, you’re going to get 1 of 2 possible answers. Many people are going to give you a legal answer to this question. You’re not trying to find out about legally or illegally. The real question is trying to determine morally, are people held accountable morally for how we live? Let me explain what I mean. Some people are going to tell you, “Well, I don’t steal. I don’t murder. I don’t rape, because it’s illegal. I’ll go to jail for that.”
That’s not what we’re asking. I know it’s illegal; you should go to jail for that. I’m asking the question, what about if you had an affair? That’s not against the law. Is it wrong for somebody to have an affair? Or how about this: If you’re a parent, is it wrong for you to lie to your children? There is no law against it, but would you say that it’s wrong for you to do that? And based on how they answer that question, now you have the ultimate opportunity to say, “Wait a second. What makes something right? What makes something wrong?” -and what we’re trying to do is help people understand that God has written inside the human soul, from Adam and Eve to you and me today, this transcendent opinion of right and wrong. Everybody knows it’s wrong to have an affair. It’s wrong on the inside at the moral level. I don’t need a law to tell me that. You know that it’s wrong.
So, Jesus now starts to get at, how you and I live today, we’ll be held accountable for that in verse 9.
“How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus. 10 “Are you a teacher of Israel and don’t know these things?” Jesus replied. 11 “Truly I tell you, we speak what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man.
Jesus probably pointed to himself, “And I have authority to tell you about heavenly things. We’re not just talking about earthly things anymore, Nicodemus. Now let’s talk about heavenly things, and I can tell you from authority because I was the one who came down from heaven.”
There is this transcendent law that governs all people at all times. It’s written on our hearts. We know it’s wrong to lie to our families. There doesn’t have to be a law that tells us that’s wrong. We know that’s wrong, and that law says that we’re accountable to someone or to something. Listen, when you start to get to this part of the conversation, when you start to ask these questions, tread very lightly. In fact, let me put it to you this way: Be prayerful, and be careful about what you say next because the truth is, you’re not trying to win an argument, and many of you, if you’re not careful, you’ll get so focused on winning the argument, you’ll miss it.
The goal here is to help the person you’re talking to start thinking about things they’ve never really thought about before, and when they think about them, the weight of it starts to hit home. See, here’s the truth. What we’re doing at this stage in this question is, your starting to define what it means to sin, and if you were with us before, you know that we told you a couple of weeks ago, the word gospel literally means “the good news that Jesus saves sinners”. Well, there must be some bad news in order for the good news to really be good news. The bad news is all of us sin, and all of us are accountable to God because of our sin, and this is the part where people start to wrestle with that one on their own, and start to think about, wait a second. Maybe there is somebody that’s going to hold me accountable for the way that I live my life.
Here’s the last question, and again, don’t rush through question number 1, 2 and 3 to get to 4. Just simply allow the Holy Spirit to lead the conversation, and you’re trying to help the other person not give you the perfect answer but start to wrestle with some things on their own.
IV. Do you believe in something enough that you would bet your life on it?
Last question, one of my favorite questions to ask: Do you believe in something enough that you would be willing to bet your life on it? You see, most people would say, “I think I believe this”, or, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that I believe this,” but many people have just never really had to examine, “Am I ready to bet it all? Am I ready to risk it all? If there really is a heaven and hell, am I willing to risk heaven and hell and all of eternity on what I claim to believe?”
Jesus takes a prominent story from the Old Testament, and he uses it because he knows Nicodemus knows this story from Numbers 21. He takes this example from the Old Testament, and he uses it to start to examine heaven and hell, eternal life, or eternal condemnation for Nicodemus. John chapter 3, starting in verse 14. And by the way, when you’re doing this, please don’t ever stop at verse 16. Keep reading to verse 17 and 18, because the Bible clears up all of the confusion when you get to verses 17 and 18. Jesus says:
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.
He knows that Nicodemus knows what he’s talking about. He knows Nicodemus is familiar with this story from Numbers 21 and how this was God’s punishment and the rescue for the sins of the people of Israel. Just as Moses did that back in Numbers 21, so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. “Hey Nicodemus, the reason why that story is in your Bible in Numbers 21 is to point forward to what is going to happen in the New Testament.
Eternal life is a reference to heaven; condemned is a reference to hell. The way Jesus describes this, there is no middle ground. Everyone is already betting eternal life on what they believe. You just may not know that you’re betting it. Either you’re betting eternal life on it, or you’re risking eternal condemnation, but in either way, everybody is already putting it all on the line for what he or she believes, just the way that John chapter 3 puts it. We understand just how much is at stake. Look, all of us have already put it all on the line.
If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll recognize the name Allan Houston. Allan Houston was a 2-time all-star in the NBA. He played for 12 seasons with the Detroit Pistons and the New York Knicks. When he started, when he was drafted, when he started playing in the NBA, Houston didn’t have a strong faith. In fact, he would say he didn’t really have faith at all. He had a cookout at his house. His cousin came over to his house. His cousin didn’t have any idea what he was doing when he asked Allan Houston this question: “Hey Allan, when you’re on the court, what’s going through your mind?” And the next game, Allan started thinking about it, and he started thinking about myself, that’s what’s on the line. -My stats and my prestige and my paycheck. I’m only thinking about me.
And Houston says for 2 years, he couldn’t get this question from his cousin out of his head. Finally, he heard what he thinks is probably the voice of God saying, “Allan, I gave you this talent for a reason, and I want you to use this talent to glorify me.” Allan, for the first time in his life, sought out a couple of other dudes on his team who he knew were followers of Jesus, and he said, let me tell you about this question that somebody asked me, and I can’t escape it. I need to know, what is the difference? How do I become a follower of Jesus? Allan Houston will say, because of that question, his friends from his team led him to faith in Jesus, and he spent the rest of his life on the court trying to play hard to give the glory for his game back to God.
If you’re like me, when you ask these 4 questions, you’re going to be really anxious to hear the right answer or to try to solicit the right response. Can I remind us all (I need to be reminded of this), I want to remind you of this: When you start to ask questions like this, 3 powerful things converge all at the same time in the heart of the person you’re talking to.
Three reasons why the big questions of life are powerful:
1. Your witness
2. The work of the Holy Spirit
3. The Word of God
The first is your testimony, and I said to you last week, no one can argue, “You didn’t experience what you experienced.” They can tell you they don’t believe that it can happen to them, but nobody can tell you to your face, “That didn’t happen to you.” Your witness is very powerful when you start to ask these deep, big life question. But here’s what’s also happening: If you’ll just be quiet and listen, the Holy Spirit starts to work through these questions in the heart of the person you’re talking to. Your witness is powerful, and when it’s combined with the work of the Holy Spirit and you’ve opened up a passage in the Bible and started sharing who Jesus is from the Bible, the third thing converges. You have the witness, the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God all converging at the same time, and I am convinced these questions become life-transforming or eternal-life transforming.
• This sermon helped me understand that I’m not a Christian. Today, I went from condemned in sin, to eternally alive by faith in Jesus.
– I’m not sure who the Holy Spirit wants me to start a Gospel friendship with yet. Please pray for me to hear from Him this week.
+ These questions helped me better understand how to explain my faith.
- What is the toughest question you’ve ever been asked?
- Was there ever a question that prevented you from becoming a Christian? If so, how did you get that question answered?
- Can someone become a Christian without understanding the answers to all of today’s questions? (Explain your answer.)
- Is it possible to ask the same questions in ways that would make someone defensive rather than reflective? If so, what is the difference?
- Have you ever learned a Gospel presentation method? If so, how often do you use that method today?
- Do you think it’s okay to continue to share the Gospel with someone who won’t answer your questions honestly?
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to open an opportunity for you to ask a “big question” this week.