John 3:1-17 (NIV) 1 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.” 3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” 4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are 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. 10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
My dear friends in Christ,
Did you watch the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last weekend? The whole world celebrated. People bought souvenirs, talked about Meghan’s wedding dresses, and cheered at the pageantry. It was a memorable day, as any wedding day should be.
There was much more to joining the royal family than simply getting married. Meghan had to go through “princess training” that included royal protocol and etiquette. She also needed to learn how be apolitical and unbiased when it comes to her political views. She has given up her private life, her career, and probably even her nationality. In addition, she now has to play “second fiddle” to her husband Harry. He is prince of England. He is royal. She becomes part of the royal family by marriage, not by birth. Now, after all the build up to the wedding, Meghan will learn firsthand what being “royal” is all about. “Welcome to the family!”
When Nicodemus came to Jesus, he wanted to know more about God’s family and how to be part of that relationship. He was already in a difficult “family” relationship. He was one of the Pharisees, who were Jesus’ enemies. Nicodemus had questions. He desperately wanted answers. He didn’t dare approach Jesus in public. It might call his status as a Pharisee into question. So, Nicodemus decided to go when it was safe—at night. No one would know, except Nicodemus and Jesus. He could ask his questions and get answers from this man who spoke with such authority about the Scriptures!
Nicodemus opened the conversation with a compliment: “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” (John 3:2 NIV). Nicodemus focused on the outward, but Jesus knew Nicodemus needed a change on the inside. Jesus shared what Nicodemus needed to be part of God’s family: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3 NIV). Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, and he asked, “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4 NIV). He still didn’t get it. He needed a change of heart. King David had recognized that centuries before. He confessed, “All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3 NIV). David needed help to become part of God’s family. So did Nicodemus.
So do we. Being part of a family is never easy. What happens when people, connected by both blood and marriage, each possessing a unique personality and different abilities, and at the same time are completely sinful, try to solve some issue that comes up? Sometimes it works out beautifully—everyone talks, agrees, and they all move on. Sometimes, arguments and outbursts cast a dark shadow over the family gathering. Hurt feelings lead to harsher words. Stubbornness and a lack of personal accountability (“They started it!”) drop a nuclear bomb in the middle of the group. All of a sudden what was intended as a fun family gathering turns into World War III.
The same is true about our relationship with God. We are at war with him, and Paul tells us why. “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7 NIV). We aren’t good enough to be part of God’s family. We don’t want to! We’d rather fight it out with him and then sit back, saying, “This is all his fault. He started it! He’s the one with all the ridiculous, impossible demands! How can he possibly expect me to do all that? To be perfect? He must be out of his mind!”
There’s no way that this can end well. In fact, it’s going to be really ugly. It won’t be an all-out brawl. No, it will simply end with God closing the door and locking it. We can pound and pound, begging him to let us in, only to hear his final words: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23 NIV). We are not welcome in the family!
On Monday I learned a little known fact about the royal wedding. Before Meghan Markle married Prince Harry, she took a step to cement her position in the family of God, as well as the royal family. Meghan was baptized and confirmed as a member of the Anglican Church. She didn’t have to take those steps to marry Prince Harry. If she wanted to take communion with him and participate in his faith life, she needed to become a member of his church family. When the archbishop poured water on her and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” God said, “Welcome to the family!” By God’s grace, she became a member of an even more royal family—the family of the Triune God!
What was it that Jesus told Nicodemus about becoming part of God’s family? “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5–6 NIV). When we are born for the first time, we arrive in this world carrying the same deadly baggage as our parents— our sinful flesh. We are born to die! When we are born again of water and the Spirit, we receive a special gift. We have become members of God’s royal family. Welcome to the family! No classes needed. No special protocol or etiquette to learn. Just water and the Word. With that simple act, an incredible change takes place. God ushers us into his kingdom. We are royal heirs of the inheritance Jesus won for us.
Do you remember this beautiful section of Scripture? “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 NIV). What more could we want in a family relationship? We all want a Father who loves us, no matter what. We would love a sibling who would always take care of us, and would never punch us out or betray us. We’d love to find our way into a perfect family relationship that will never end. Then God says, “Welcome to my family!” God the Father loves you. He loves me. He loves everyone, no matter what we’ve said or done. He doesn’t care how badly we’ve messed things up. He doesn’t care if we have been fighting World War III against him. He loves us.
God the Father loves us so much that he was willing to send Jesus, and Jesus became our brother in every way. He was born one of us. He was willing to die for us. Can you imagine a family member so dedicated, so loving that they would make that sacrifice? That’s Jesus! That’s what he was willing to do for you and me! He smiles and says, “Welcome to the family!”
Don’t forget about the Holy Spirit. This so-called “silent partner” in the Trinity is the one who made it possible for us to join the family. The Holy Spirit worked through God’s powerful Word to strike the spark of faith in our hearts and we believed. The Holy Spirit put the family name on us. Remember what Paul also told his friends in Rome? “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17 NIV). Because we are royalty, God’s children, heaven is our inheritance. We are princes and princesses of heaven through faith in our perfect brother, Jesus! Welcome to the family!
Entering a new family is life-changing. I wonder how Meghan, the new Duchess of Sussex would describe her “new” life with Prince Harry? Becoming a member of God’s family is also life-changing. What does this new family life look like? Think back to the difficult relationships we face every day. How many of us argued with someone this past week? Now, stop and think about the argument. What was it about? Was it over something relatively trivial—perhaps about where to go for a meal, or whose turn it was to do the dishes, or who was in charge of the remote? Or, was it a bigger deal? Did the argument blow up? Are you struggling because words or actions wounded you deeply, and now you are wondering how to find the courage to talk to them about it? How can we step outside this box and find a way to fix this relationship?
Jesus was willing to step out of his box for us. He courageously put us first. As we work through our arguments, we can hear Jesus say, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34 NIV). Jesus loves the person I’m arguing with just as much as he loves me. That gives me the courage to step outside the box, to talk to that person, and to love them just like Jesus loves me. We are members of God’s family. We have what we need for every relationship, no matter how imperfect they may be!
Meghan Markle is now Prince Harry’s wife, the Duchess of Sussex. The royal family has welcomed her in. We are members of God’s royal family. We are fellow princes and princesses of heaven. Our royal status gives us everything we need to love each other. With our heavenly Father, our perfect brother Jesus, and the Holy Spirit guiding us, let’s show everyone what living like eternal royalty is all about! Amen.