Genesis 12:1-4a; John 3:1-17

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.


Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’

Another interesting pair of passages to continue our reflection on giving up certain things or beliefs for a lot longer than just these weeks of Lent. Last week we considered the possibility of giving up the belief that we have more control over our lives than we actually do. We compared Adam’s control in the garden to Jesus’ control in the desert. Adam foolishly misused his control and ate of the forbidden tree while Jesus wisely relinquished his control in response to Satan’s temptations. Satan’s tempts us all into believing we have or deserve more control over our lives, our fates, our destinies. When we give into that temptation, we invariably make a mess of our lives. We stop trusting in God’s sovereignty and inflate our power over forces in this world we can’t even begin to comprehend. There are forces at work in this world that only God understands and can manipulate. We’re fools to believe otherwise, that we can somehow have power over those forces. We are very small and insignificant compared to the mighty and awesome power of our God! He can make the impossible possible; his ways are not our ways. We must always walk humbly before our God and never overreach his control over our lives.

It isn’t much of a stretch to consider giving up whatever false expectations of this world or of God we may also fool ourselves into believing. Expectations are an extension of control. If we expect this world or God to behave in a certain way, then we can have control over them. Abram thought he understood the natural way of this world. He was married to a woman who couldn’t bear him any children and they were both well beyond child-bearing ages. Yet God came to him and told him he would be a father. And not only a father but a “father of many nations” meaning his offspring would grow and multiply and occupy many nations. Quite a promise to a man in advanced years without any children! He expected a life without children and that gave him a false sense of control over his life. But remember God can make the impossible possible. God can make an aged, infertile couple fertile. Abram expected the natural process of aging disqualified him and his wife from having children and God shattered his expectation. With God, nothing is impossible.

And Abram wasn’t the only one in scripture who was caught up in expectations. The leader, Nicodemus, also thought he knew and understood the ways of this world and of God. He had two false beliefs or expectations: the kingdom of God is not of this world and a person can’t be reborn. Jesus taught him quite the contrary, that the kingdom of God is very much a part of this world and can actually be seen if only a person were to be reborn. Of course, his rebirth has more to do with a spiritual than a physical rebirth. It is true, we can’t be reborn from our mother’s womb, but we can certainly have a spiritual transformation or rebirth. And the kingdom of God is less about a heavenly place beyond this world and more about an experience of God within this world. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the embodiment of the kingdom of God, that we can come to know the kingdom by coming to know Christ. All throughout scripture we hear various people cry out, “the kingdom of God has come near!” when Jesus was approaching. The kingdom, indeed, had come near for Jesus is the embodiment of it.

We hear in that most familiar verse, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The key to that verse is belief and in a lot of ways belief comes from faith. There is a trust that is necessary for true belief: trust in eternal life, trust in a loving God, trust in the Son of God. We have to trust in these 3 things in order to truly believe. Nicodemus simply needed to place his trust in Jesus for his spiritual rebirth to take place. Jesus comes to each of us with the same offer. Do we trust him? Do we trust he is who he says he is? Giving up expectations means living by faith and trust in God. It means going into that unknown land like Abram did. It means seeking out Jesus in the spiritual darknesses of our lives. Nicodemus may have gone to Jesus “by night” as the text tells us but he certainly left Jesus “by day”…in the light of awareness. Let us give up our expectations of this world and of God and allow him work wonders in our lives. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.