Some time ago, I read an article in the magazine, Christianity Today, entitled, “Should Churches Celebrate Mother’s Day During Worship Service?”
The article provided the perspective of six pastors. I am not entirely sure, but I think I counted seven opinions.
One pastor, a Methodist bishop, opined “We should not celebrate Mother’s Day.” The bishop said, “One of the biggest threats to theology today is not fundamentalism; it's sentimentalism. Mother's Day appears to be just another occasion to say, 'Christianity is feeling something mushy in your heart.' We all get sentimental about our mothers."
I think his mother would have said, “I think you need a nap.” The bishop seemed a bit grumpy and his opinion rather harsh.
A differing opinion was offered by an evangelical pastor who said, “We should celebrate motherhood. The fifth commandment establishes parenthood as a holy calling. But it also makes good sense to acknowledge ‘cultural rhythms’—like certain secular holidays - liturgically, to recognize there is no place God isn't."
That pastor seemed much more upbeat and willing to use any type of secular celebration, including Mother’s Day, to speak to the majesty of God.
I prefer the side of the evangelical pastor and believe we should acknowledge appropriate events in the world that surrounds us and use those events as part of our evangelical outreach. Afterall, Mother’s Day in the United States was first celebrated on May 10, 1908, by a church service at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. It was a day established to honor all mothers, living and deceased. And we should honor our mothers because it was through them that we have life. Our mothers nourished us even before we were born and began nurturing us after we drew our first breath.
Jesus used the simple truth of the mother and childbirth relationship to explain a truth about the kingdom of God. Namely, each of us has one and only one life but it is God intention that we have two births.
Jesus explained this truth to a man named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish people. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a religious leader, respected for his knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures and faithfulness in religious practices.
In the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, beginning at verse 1 we read, “Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Nicodemus, this important man, knowledgeable and leader, approached Jesus cautiously. John said in verse 2, “Nicodemus came to Jesus by night.”
The darkness perhaps offered Nicodemus some protection at being spotted with Jesus. Nicodemus’ cautious approach to learning about Jesus is like the way most people today want to find out about Jesus. People are more apt to ask you about Jesus, about church, in a casual setting, perhaps at work, over a cup of coffee, at a family reunion, and maybe even today as you gather to celebrate Mother’s Day.
People who are curious about your faith are not likely to begin exploring faith by coming to church. Your friends and family are much more receptive to a conversation with you about your life as a Christian as you live life together. So we need to be attentive to those opportunities, and see them as Nicodemus coming in the night but speak directly, confidently, and with gentleness about your faith.
John wrote that Nicodemus said to Jesus, “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.” Nicodemus was acknowledging God existence, that he had seen Jesus do miraculous things, had heard the words Jesus said. And because of Jesus’ words and deeds, Nicodemus knew that Jesus was somehow from God, even though Jesus did not quite fit into the God of Nicodemus’ creation.
Jesus wasted no time getting to the point. Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Jesus, again, spoke about the kingdom of God. Jesus was and is about the kingdom and what Jesus said were a stunning reversal of everything Nicodemus ever thought.
Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Jesus point was being born a Jew, having Jewish heritage and ancestry, counted for nothing. Although the Jews were the chosen people of God, it would be necessary for anyone, for everyone, to have a second birth to enter the kingdom.
Jesus was saying, “Nicodemus, you were created by the physical union of your father and mother, but such a physical birth, ‘the will of the flesh,’ while a wonderful moment, will not result in you ever seeing the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was in shock.
Many people today who would listen to these words would also be in shock. So many people today, are accustomed to saying, “I am a good person. If there is a heaven, I expect to be there when I die.” To which our Scripture today says, “It is wonderful that you consider yourself a good person. But being good in your mind is not the pathway to the kingdom of God. You must be born from above.” People would be shocked and confused to hear such words.
In Nicodemus’ confusion, “Nicodemus said to Jesus, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’” Nicodemus was relating Jesus’ words to motherhood and physical birth. Nicodemus correctly understood that we have only one life and only one physical birth. Nicodemus, this learned man, seems to ask Jesus an absurd question. “Can another have a second birth?”
Jesus was undeterred by Nicodemus’ reply and does not even acknowledge it. Instead, Jesus persisted and said again, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
Jesus repeated that the kingdom of God requires a second birth, brought about from above by the water and Spirit of God. As in our physical birth, none of us caused our own life to occur. Our parents brought about the conception of our life and our mothers brought about our physical birth. In a similar manner, Jesus said that none of us can cause our second birth to occur. We must be born again, only this time by the power of the Spirit.
Jesus was perhaps reminding Nicodemus that the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, contains these words in the Book of Ezekiel. “I [God] will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:25). To be born of the water and Spirit is a life-altering gift from God. The water gives a sense of a life cleansed of impure behavior, while the Spirit reflects a change within.
What is that Spirit? Ezekiel wrote God’s words down. God said, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27). The Spirit is thus the Spirit of God that is part of that creative and second birth process. When we have born again by the Spirit of God, then we shall enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus was each person who enters the kingdom of God is like a person who is born for a second time. Only this time, instead of having their life decisions guided by their own will, the person will have their life decisions guided by the will of God. What Jesus is laying out is upon our second birth, our life will be radically different.
Jesus explained this parable to Nicodemus in verse 6 this way, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” How can you be born of the Spirit? John told us at the beginning. He wrote, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12).
To enter the kingdom of God, to be born again, we must believe in the person of Jesus Christ. To receive Jesus means to “place one’s faith in him, to yield one’s allegiance to him and thus, in the most practical manner, to acknowledge his claims.” (F. F. Bruce) We are utterly different.
Having shared the truth with this learned Pharisees Jesus said to him, “7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘Youmust be born from above’” (John 3:7).
We should not be astonished at what Jesus had to say. God did not send his son into the world to have us change a degree or two in the direction of our life. God sent his son to us that we would change course completely.
So, what is the significance of this dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus to us? At its simplest, it means that you undergo a spiritual birth, a second birth, we must believe Jesus and receive his Holy Spirit. We cannot receive Jesus and be unchanged.
I know you will be surprised to learn that not all churches agree on how this spiritual birth occurs. The Roman Catholic Church believes such rebirth occurs when the priest christens a baby with water. Protestants, particularly Baptists, reject this idea. We hold that spiritual rebirth is a gift received when an individual enters a personal relationship with Jesus.
When we receive Jesus as Lord, as our King, the one to who we follow and show allegiance to, then we are born again and become part of the kingdom of God. Paul would write, “‘If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9).
We have but one and only one life, and yet, God’s desire is that we would have two births, one physical and one spiritual. In the first birth we enter a kingdom of the world. In our second birth, we enter the kingdom of God. Jesus, the king, has come and he is calling you to be part of his kingdom.
It is an everlasting kingdom that is available to everyone but only open to those who have been born from above. “16 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” (John 3:16).
W. C. Fields, a comedian, rogue, and womanizer throughout his life spent his last weeks in a hospital, where a friend stopped by for a visit and caught Fields reading the Bible. When asked why, Fields replied, "I'm checking for loopholes."
There are no loopholes. There is a kingdom of heaven and the door to it is open to all who profess publicly that Jesus is Lord. While the kingdom will never end, the door to it will not remain open forever. It will close to each person whether by their death or by the return of Christ.
Jesus’ message to Nicodemus was about life, abundant life now and forever. Today is Mother’s Day in which we honor the women who gave us life through a physical birth into this world. We should be grateful for the life our mothers gave us and the nurturing we have received. However, our mothers who gave birth to us physically cannot give us eternal life. Our mothers can lead us on the path to the kingdom of God but they cannot hold our hands and bring us into that kingdom. We must be born again to see the kingdom.
Have you seen the kingdom? Have you genuinely become part of the building of the kingdom of God? Are you allowing the Spirit within you to mold you into the likeness of your king? And if you have, have you also celebrated that decision with a public baptism? These are all elements of know who you follow and celebrating eternal life. Do not wait, the door is open, for how long, none of us knows. Come, be born again, and see the kingdom of God.
If you have confessed Jesus as Lord and been baptized, then you have a story that to tell someone else. Make a point of being available to someone who comes in seeking answers. Look into the lives of those God places in your path and ask them in your own words if they have seen the kingdom. Share with them what it means to be a Christian. Do not be anxious, the Spirit is within you and will give you the words to say. Amen.