John 3: 1-3
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
I want you to think about evangelism today in America. Pray this prayer… Sign this card… Raise your hand… Walk this aisle… Step in this river… Read this tract… Go through the Roman road.
We have twisted the decision to follow Christ into a mirror image to the values we treasure most in America. Convenience, ease, and nominal commitment.
When we evangelize, we do so in “seeker friendly” ways. In our churches, we use high cables, dancing, props, and a vast amount of entertainment driven devices that are vastly similar to the world in hopes of attracting the lost to Christ. We boil down the commitment to become a disciple of Christ into admit, believe and confess. We have twisted the beauty of an individual lost in their sin desperately crying out to Christ, into a model of repeat this prayer after me.
Oh, and the types of people we most often “feel called to evangelize” are vastly similar to you and I. They are white, middle class, Americans. Because that is who we are most comfortable with. Rarely do we hear in our churches of opportunities to reach out to the homeless, the impoverished, the addicts, or the broken.
Simply put, our evangelism is centered around a call that includes little commitment, great convenience, and selective outreach.
Yet, before us stands an account in scripture that should fly in the face of the majority of our evangelism efforts in America.
The account of Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, is one of my favorites in all of scripture.
Here is this man, most likely a wealthy man, and due to his position of authority in Judaism, probably a very influential and powerful man.
In our eyes, we would see the big fish. We would see a man who could provide great amounts of resources to the cause of Christ, that could have a significant impact on the culture… We wouldn’t want to let this big fish off the hook.
Yet, Jesus sees Nicodemus for what he was.
Nicodemus apparently has an interest in Jesus, probably due to his recent miracles. He is intrigued by Christ, and to a degree acknowledges that Jesus must be of God… yet, he only shows a nominal interest in commitment. Instead of coming to Christ in public, and in light so that his desire for Christ would be made known… he comes to Christ in the secret of night, probably to avoid being found out by his co-Pharisees.
Nicodemus had a desire for the benefits that Jesus could offer, but not the cost that he would require. He wanted the miracles, but not the persecution. He wanted Jesus presence, but not the cross. He wanted the blessings, but not the burden of following after Jesus when it meant leaving behind the Pharisees.
And, Jesus recognized this. And, he replied in a “seeker sensitive way” [insert sarcasm here].
Jesus literally said something that would cause Nicodemus to be utterly confused. Something obscure, yet brutally honest.
Jesus was honest with Nicodemus about what He would require. He did not sugar coat it. He did not boil it down, or make it easy to understand. He did not reduce it down to admit, believe and confess. And, he did not ask Nicodemus to simply say a prayer.
He told him that he would have to be born again. Which implies death to this life. The same word for born again, can also be interpreted as “born from above”… meaning that Nicodemus would have to be born again, not to the passions of this world and his religion, but to the things of Christ and God. Born of the Spirit, not of the flesh.
Good thing Jesus had our books on evangelism! If he did, he would have known that it is bad practice to use Spiritual language with an unspiritual man! Or that it was bad to make conversion seem difficult.
Here Jesus is, being brutally honest, and upfront as to what the Kingdom would require, and in doing so he is most likely turning away Nicodemus.
Why would he do this?
In our minds, we think Jesus is letting the big fish get away.
But, Jesus knew that Nicodemus was unwilling to make the type of commitment He required, yet instead of reducing it down to Nicodemus’ level, Christ was honest with him.
This account that we will study over the next few days I hope will encourage you to examine our current models and thoughts on evangelism.
For so long we have twisted evangelism into a model of nominal commitment, convenience, and ease. Meanwhile we witness people walking away from their “commitment” days later… Why? Because we were not forthright about what following Jesus requires. We simply asked them to pray a prayer, or sign a card.
Meanwhile Jesus said things like you must eat my flesh, and drink my blood… or, you must go sell all you have and give to the poor.
Or… YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN.
I really think that we have made evangelism what it is today out of good intentions. We want to make following Jesus attractive, and we want the commitment to be accessible… Yet, we have lost the model Jesus gave us in being radical in our response to what He requires. We have forgotten the need to be honest to what following Jesus is. And, when we do this, we set new believers up for failure. They don’t know what they are getting into, and we are the ones responsible.
Jesus didn’t share the Roman Road; neither did Phillip with the Ethiopian Eunuch. He didn’t ask Nicodemus to repeat a prayer… He didn’t dumb down the truth, or make it easy. And, most believe Nicodemus walked away, but we will see later in the Gospels that Nicodemus does become more bold and public about his new beliefs and interests… Why? Because the true Gospel is enough to draw people, and it is what people want. Maybe we should consider that we don’t need all the props, and entertainment. Jesus is enough people, and I hope you will use his model for evangelism, not our own.