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Are You Frustrated with Religion?

John 3:1-9

Exodus 2:11-15

Jim Davis

The story is told of a man who was stranded on an island after a shipwreck. He spent years alone on the island but was finally rescued. The captain of the ship asked him, "What are those three huts you have here?" The man said, "Well, that’s my house there." The captain asked, "What’s that next hut?" The man said, "I built that hut to be my church."

The Captain asked, "Well what about that other hut?" The man said, "Oh, that’s where I used to go to church, but I got upset and left."

Do you ever feel that this is the way that many go about trying to discover the relevance of Christianity? Discovering the relevance of Christianity in our modern times is not easy. Many are walking into church buildings across the nation and walking out because it all seems irrelevant. Many who are searching don't know what to look for and end up being misled. They sense that something is amiss in their lives, but they are having a difficult time discovering what is missing.

The design of many religious groups may only divers the attention of the one seeking to the superficial. It may seem as though the person has found what he/she has been looking for, as the person's life is filled with religious activities. But eventually the feeling of emptiness returns and they are on the move again.

There is a longing within the soul that needs to be filled, but if it isn't filled with the right thing, we will remain restless and unsatisfied. If you don't feel satisfied, it may be a sign that you are looking for the wrong thing. It is really dangerous when we fail to find that which we are looking for.

Luke 11:24-26

24 "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not fmd it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' 25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26 Then it goes and takes several other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first." NIV

I think these verses are descriptive of many who are searching. They have sought to rid their lives of evil, but have failed to discover anything meaningful to fill the void left. Many have decided in all the confusion that it is futile to continue the search.

Our Hopes Lie beyond Religion

Filling the void goes beyond being religious. Many religious people went to Jesus looking for something more relevant. They felt the same emptiness on the inside that our modern world feels. Jesus met each person where each stood and gave each one of them the key to filling their emptiness saying, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matthew 5:6 NIV).

Filling the void goes beyond being righteousness. Many righteous men and women came to Christ, but they were not filled.

The rich young ruler came to Jesus proclaiming that he kept all the commandments, but he realized something was amiss. He asked, "What good thing can I do to inherit eternal life." Nicodemus was a very righteous man but he came to Jesus with an emptiness he didn't know how to fill. His visit with Jesus left him baffled.

John 3:1-9
3: 1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him. "

3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

4 "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again. ‘8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. "

9 "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked. NIV

The key to finding fulfillment is to make sure you understand the nature of what you are truly hungering for. It is possible to seek a righteousness for which we do not hunger, which only leaves our lives more empty and frustrated. This approach will only leave an empty longing for something more real.

Matt 6:1
6: 1 "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before me~ to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. NIV

Matt 5:19-20
20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. NIV

The Pharisees did not desire righteousness; they only used righteousness as a means to self glory. It left them miserable.

Jesus challenged the religious world of his times with their need to be reborn. Have we overlooked our need to be reborn in our haste to build the church? I want the church to be what it was when it was first established, but it must first experience a rebirth of its thinking. This is hard to accept by those that think they are too old to be reborn. It was hard to accept by many of the first century. But this was the reason their religious practices left them empty and frustrated.

Today the transformation of rebirth goes beyond church membership. Some go to big churches because they like to be part of something big. Others go to small churches because they like the family like atmosphere. Some go to church because they feel they are doing what is right.

The religious turmoil in our world today makes it apparent that our hope lies beyond religion. There is a kind of anger that accompanies so much of religion today that it is making the message of Christ to the lost world irrelevant. Anger is not the answer to the world's problems. The world may be hungering, it may need to change but anger only instills more anger and reaps a whirlwind of trouble. Moses discovered this the hard way.

Exodus 2:11-15
11 One day, after Moses bad grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, "Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?"

14 The man said, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "What I did must have become known."

15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. NIV

Moses was a privileged Hebrew that grew up as the Pharaoh of Egypt's son, but he despised how his people were enslaved.

Moses learned that trying to reconcile the world out of anger over the way the world operates will never work. Your anger only justifies the angry world's ways-regardless of who is to blame. The world is seeking reformation. The conflicting ideals of what our world ought to be, leaves our world angry. God is seeking transformation of our world through the restoration of my life to his original plan in Eden. It all begins with a rebirth of me. Moses thought that he could lead his people out of his own anger against the injustice, but he was mistaken. He found himself exiled in the land of Midian for forty years.

An Irishman, a Mexican and a redneck were going construction work on a tall building. At lunchtime, the Irishman opened his lunch box and said, "Corned beef, if I get corned beef one more time for lunch, I'm going to jump off this building."

The Mexican opened his lunch box and exclaimed, "Burritos again! If I get burritos one more time, I'm going to jump off too!"

The redneck opened his lunch and said, "Bologna again! If I get a bologna sandwich one more time, I'm jumping too!"

The next day the Irishman opens his lunch box, sees corned beef and jumps. The Mexican opens his lunch, sees a burrito and jumps too.

The Redneck opens his lunch, sees the bologna and jumps as well.

At the funeral, the Irishman’s wife is weeping, she says, "If l’d known how really tired he

was of corned beef, I never would have given it to him again. "

The Mexican's wife also weeps and says, "I could have given him tacos! I didn't realize he hated burritos so much."

Everyone turns and stares at the redneck's wife. "Hey, don't look at me," she says, "He always made his own lunch."

Moses packed his own lunch when he went to Midian.. Moses spent forty years in Midian because of the problems he created from himself out of anger. God's answer to our problems begins in our own hearts. That's why he said, "Except you are born of the water and the spirit you shall not enter into the kingdom of God." Jesus knew that a transformation must take place from within.

It Begins with Listening to the Voice of God

The concept of being born again sounds as strange and difficult to a modern world as it did to Nicodemus. "Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

The reason these verses may seem mysterious is because of the mention of the Spirit of God. We believe in a Spirit world, for God is a spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). We feel that we have to be able to explain how the Spirit works before we can be born again. But this is not the case. Jesus tells us that you don’t know where he comes from. He is like the wind that blows wherever he pleases. This is the way it is with those born again.

It is really simple. If I want to live a fleshly life, I follow my fleshly appetites. If I want to live a spiritual life, I follow the teaching of God’s Spirit. If I follow the flesh, I will experience a fleshly birth. If I follow the Spirit’s teaching, I will experience a the Spirit’s birth.

Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (Matt 7:21-23 NIV).

Jesus says you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven without being born again. He also says that you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven without doing the will of the Father. Therefore,

A fleshly birth can take on the form of godliness as it seeks to live a righteous live, but it denies the power of God. If our activities, religious and otherwise are totally governed by the will of the flesh we will grow weary and quit. I think this is probably why the religious world is going through so much change at the present. There has been a type of godliness that has robbed us of the power of God.

No other writer of the New Testament stresses the need for a rebirth, as does John. John said, "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." (John 1:11-13 NIV)

Only God Can Give Us A New Birth

Jesus pronounced this verdict to those born of fleshly decisions: "Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (John 3:19-21 NIV)

The fleshly heart is willing to allow us to adhere to religious doctrine while remaining totally unchanged. It is willing to allow us to remain in total darkness. In fact the human heart may refuse to come to the light. Jeremiah indicates that the human heart is deep and deceitful and it is hard to know it. (Jeremiah 17:9)

Jesus didn't come trying to change the way the religious folks did things. He endeavored to change the reason behind what they were doing. Jesus told them they needed a rebirth of the heart.

An illiterate couple had just been saved. They met with a group of believers who all dressed alike. The men wore red shirts while engaged in a certain project, so the woman made one for her husband. He came home after the meeting, however, with a look of disappointment on his face because the others had a message printed on their shirts but he did not. His wife, undaunted by her inability to read, sewed three words on his shirt, which she copied from a sign in a store window across the street. He wore it to the next meeting and came home bubbling with joy. He said all of the men really liked the inscription because it so aptly described the wonderful change they had seen in his life. It turned out that his wife had written, "UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT."

To be born again we need new management. The flesh cannot manage our lives; the flesh is far too deceptive and self-reliant.  Jeremiah says that when we listen and follow the stubborn inclinations of our own evil hearts, it will take us backward and not forward. (Jeremiah 7:24 NIV) We need God's management for a new birth. Unless our lives are given birth by the power of God's Spirit we will never experience a new birth nor see the kingdom of God.

It is God who gives us a new heart through faith in Christ. We are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26) We become sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ. Christ is the master of changing hearts. God said of the Israelites, "I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart." (Jeremiah 24:7 NIV)Proverbs 21:1-2The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart. (NIV)

Proverbs 3:5-8
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. (NIV)

God is still in the business of changing hearts in a powerful way. A changed heart is the result of the work of the Spirit of God.

The new birth is dependent upon the Spirit breathed word of God. Any religion that stresses what a person knows and what a person has done instead of what a person is, is generally a religion of the mere flesh. Those born of the flesh only preach what the flesh tells them to preach and they want us to listen to them.

The Wind of Change on Pentecost

The wind of change blew on the first Pentecost after the death of Christ. Jesus had commanded his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were given power from God. While they waited the wind of change blew upon them.

Acts 2:1-4
2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. NIV

Many are seeking this experience today as they send up heart rending prayers to receive the same miraculous experience. However, those who obeyed the gospel on Pentecost simply followed the instruction given to the apostles by the Spirit. They obeyed the word preached to them. It led them to a new birth.

Peter stood up and preached Jesus Christ.

Acts 2:22-25
22 "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. NIV

They simply listened and followed Peter’s instruction.

Acts 2:37-41
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call."

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. NIV

The Lord added those who obeyed to his kingdom.

Acts 2:46-47
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. NIV

Those who responded were in a Jewish assembly. They weren’t in a church building, but the Lord added them to that first assembly of believers, it was call the church today. They had simply responded to the good news that Jesus Christ had saved them from their sins. They were born again. Of course, the new birth didn’t stop there, but it led them to follow the example of Christ.

Acts 8:26-40
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road-the desert road-that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.

31 "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:

"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth."

34 The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. NIV

What amazes me about the eunuch’s conversion is that we don’t see any discussion about anything except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Of course, the eunuch had enough background in the Jewish scriptures to understand where his new birth would lead. Those Scriptures led him to the Messiah, they would direct him to live for the Messiah.

Conclusion:

There was nothing mysterious about becoming a Christian in the first century. They just simply experienced the new birth by focusing their lives on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing demonstrates this better than baptism.

Romans 6:3-6
3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. NIV
 
 
 
 

 

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