“By Our Love” – Pastor Donna Doutt 9-1-19
How many of you remember or know the story of Nicodemus? We know from the Gospel of John that Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council, who came to Jesus at night with a question. Afraid of being ostracized by his peers, he met Jesus stealthily in the dark.
In John 3, Nicodemus concedes that God must have sent Jesus because of all the miraculous signs he performed. Jesus gets to the heart of the matter by responding with firm truth: “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).
Nicodemus, thinking literally and physically, asks how anyone can be born twice Jesus continues the conversation teaching Nicodemus about the need to be born of the Spirit. Nicodemus is baffled. Then he simply asks simply, “How can this be?” Jesus is frustrated that Nicodemus can’t grasp such a heavenly concept and relies on an Old Testament story from Numbers 4-9, which any Pharisee was sure to have heard before, to illustrate how to be born again and get to heaven. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15).
It’s here in this story of Nicodemus where John writes the God-inspired verse that we hear so often:“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Still, Nicodemus hesitated to admit to being a follower of Jesus until after the crucifixion when he showed up with Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus's body for a proper Jewish burial.
In the next chapter of John, Jesus encounters the Samaritan Woman. The Jews and her community despise her for her loose lifestyle. Jesus spoke to her in front of others in broad daylight, first by herself, but later in the company of others. He told her about “Living water” and the need to worship in spirit and truth. She responded much more quickly than Nicodemus. She couldn’t wait to tell others about the love of Jesus.
The Gospel of John goes on to record many other ways Jesus’ dealt with people, and the many ways they responded to Him. Some became believers after they were fed, others after they were healed, and others after that had seen the resurrected Christ. Some responded to the Lord’s miracles, others to His teaching. There was no one kind of response to Jesus. But in all encounters with the non-believers, Jesus showed each of them love.
The church will be known by its love. As the church grows together in unity and loves each other through good deeds and giving, the world will have a living example of Jesus’ love for them. In the early church, the Lord added newly-saved Christians to their group daily.
Who was here a few weeks ago when you received the card to give to someone you appreciate from this church? Like us, early Christians had to work on their relationships every day. They needed to get to know and appreciate it other just as we do. They worshiped together like us. They ate together, as we just did today. They spent time with each other in their homes and socially. They were of one mind.
This doesn’t mean that they were all alike or even that they knew everyone in their church. Remember now, these were people from all over the world who had gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover when they heard the message of Jesus and committed to being His church. Like us, they came from different backgrounds and had different socioeconomic levels. Some of them probably didn’t even speak the same language. There were thousands of people in this new church of Jesus’ followers. It would have been impossible to know everyone up close and personally. So how could such a huge group of diverse people be known for their unity?
Colossians 3:14 tell us that the perfect bond of unity is found in our love for one another. Paul writes, “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
These people in the early church wanted to learn everything they could from the apostle’s experience with Jesus. They were committed to growing in their faith and learning how to be disciples. Jesus teachings and life showed us a picture of a Savior who was devoted to love, service, sacrifice, giving, and unity with our heavenly Father. As these new Christians learned to be better disciples of Jesus individually, they grew to love other people with a common life goal of following Jesus. Their love was reciprocated and replicated over and over again. They didn’t have to know all the people in the church in order to love them. They simply loved their Savior. And that was enough for them. Loving Jesus unified the early church.
In the modern church, if we as individuals keep our focus on Jesus, we can live in unity too.
Our unity as a group of Christians will directly impact how effective we are at reaching those around us. Each of us, individually, is the face of this church. We represent the whole of this church.
I heard a story a week or so ago that was painful to me, as it should be for you. One of our members encountered someone from the neighborhood who said, “I hear this church is closing.” I was stunned to hear that repeated to me. As the Brits say, I was gob-smacked! Why would someone think that? Who would have said such a thing? All they have to do is take a look at all of the positive things that happen from this church to know that isn’t true. This is our church. We need to be clear to our neighbors in this community that we are here and open for business!
How will we ever be able to convince our neighbors that God is love and that He sent His Son to them out of love if we can’t show them that this church is united in its love?
Our unity as a church was important enough to Jesus that He prayed for us in the moments before He was arrested. John 17 contains His prayer for us. Image this…he was worried about us!
Jesus said, “I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them in the same way you’ve loved me.”
Jesus was concerned for our unity. He must have known how much we would struggle to love each other. He related our unity directly to how much the world would know that God sent Him and that He loves them.
Our unity as a church is a powerful witness of Jesus’ ability to change lives. When a group of people gets together, our earthly nature is to sometimes behave in ugly ways. But with the saving power of Jesus among us and striving to follow after His will and His ways, we can overcome our nature and act out of love for another by seeking the good of others above ourselves.
As the early disciples grew in their faith, they expressed more love to those who were worshiping and fellowshipping with them. They were willing to sacrifice for the sake of others because they were learning of the sacrifices God had made for them through Jesus. Their obedience to following Christ’s example fostered love among them. And as the world witnessed their love, it made a compelling case for know their Jesus. The people around them were drawn to the church. They were intrigued by the actions of this group and wanted to find out their motivations. And as they heard about the Jesus who was moving these Christians to such acts of love and observed the unity among them, they saw proof that Jesus was the Son of God.
Our world is so desperate right now for peace and love. Let’s not be like Nicodemus only showing his love in the dark, and waiting until it was too late to follow Jesus.
When this desperate world can see us and our unity of faith…our willingness to boldly follow Jesus…they won’t be able to deny that there is something different about this church. The love we have for the church…this church…will draw people into a relationship with our Father.
If you want to reach the world for Jesus, start by loving your church.
  I Love My Church Small Group Leader’s Guide. Outreach, Inc., Colorado Springs, Co. 2014.