Scripture Readings Hymns
Ezek. 36: 25-28; 18: 31
John 3: 1-10
Giving the Lord Access to Your Heart
Rev. Kit Billings
Jesus answered him: `This is the truth I tell you--unless a man is reborn from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'
God's Word is loaded with references to being reborn, made new again, or getting a new heart and a new spirit within. Pretty powerful words aren't they? Indeed they are, and they leave us with a great deal to consider and think about. The Lord has reached out to us through the mouth of the prophet and through His own words to Nicodemus that unless we allow God to re-create us in a deeply fundamental way the Kingdom of Heaven may become invisible to us after death, not to mention within us during our lifetime on earth.
The issue of being spiritually reborn was not new to the Jews of Jesus' day. Both the Hebrew and Greek writings have deeply stirring thoughts about this awesome commandment of God, that spiritually, mentally, and most of all inside our very wills—where our intentions are formed—a major transformation must take place. This transformation and change within us is so great, that the only language that does it justice is to say that afterward, we are spiritually REBORN within.
Change. Transformation. Today we're dealing with what the Bible and New Church theology refer to as REGENERATION.
The Lord, as usual, made full use of every moment and dialogue that came His way during His three-year ministry. And that night, among the soft whispers of the wind blowing through the trees of Palestine, a man in search of spiritual truth came to Him. Nicodemus was most likely a man of wealth and honor among his fellow Jews. He was a Pharisee, which meant that he had devoted his entire life to the study of and rigorous devotion to following the volumes-upon-volumes of religious rules set forth by the Scribes of the Law. He had been a man devoted to behavioral Judaism, which had spun out of control, and which said that salvation was to be sought by means of following so many thousands of rules, rituals and regulations. Judaism had become a religion that lost sight of the wonderful truth spoken aloud by her prophets, such as Ezekiel, who preached that God would “…make you a new heart and a new spirit.” The Lord, like a marvelous Divine Surgeon, will “…take away the stony heart out of your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh.”
That is, after God gets access to your own heart, the spiritual part of you that beats inside of you each day, and is ALLOWED ACCESS by you for many, many years—and perhaps on for some few years after death—then it will have been transformed into one that is SOFT, TENDER, FEELINGFUL, and DEEPLY DEVOTED TO GOD'S LOVE and God's will!
Nicodemus was one among many Jews back then who was being spiritually choked to death by man-made religion—a religion that had once been based upon a marvelous, broad set of religious principles set forth by the Law, the Five Books of Moses, which was taken over by ridiculously trivial expansions of the Law. By Jesus' time period, the Scribes had written new “laws” about what kind of material may be used to tie a knot on the Sabbath day, and they even prohibited setting broken bones until after the Sabbath ended. But now, after hearing Jesus of Nazareth preach out loud, in the streets or perhaps in a local Synagogue, the aristocratic Nicodemus comes to the Lord by night.
We don't know what it was about Jesus as a whole that drew Nicodemus to Him. But we do know that this Pharisee was deeply moved by the miracles that Christ was doing. This was the night of Nicodemus' life that would allow the peace of the Holy Spirit, which came through Jesus Christ to gently blow through the searching and suffering spirit in Nicodemus. As a Pharisee, he was one of a greatly honored BROTHERHOOD, one devoted to every sentence of the vast volumes of Jewish ritual and religious law. For it is known that it literally takes years and years time to truly learn and understand what the Scribes had formulated. Obviously, Nicodemus was not content inside, and he sensed something vital in the person of Jesus Christ.
That night, the winds of truth, the spiritual, soft winds of change would begin to set his troubled mind free, as the Lord spoke with him about the essence of eternal salvation. Jesus didn't respond to this good Pharisee with more rituals and regulations. Instead, He spoke with Him about wonderfully deep and MOVING spiritual truth. He said that if Nicodemus wanted to see God's Kingdom, he'd have to be reborn.
He responded to Nicodemus in a way common to how Rabbis and disciples dialogue, and He spoke about the incredible effect of giving the Lord access to Nicodemus' soul in an entirely new way. In short, the Lord was telling this aristocratic Jew that his time for spiritual re-birth has arrived. But to experience it, he would need to turn more over to God than his outward behavior; Nicodemus would have to turn also his understanding and will over as well. The Lord said to him, “This is the truth I tell you--unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Water is an element in nature that represents or corresponds to spiritual truth, since water on the natural level purifies, cleanses and gives new life. The “Spirit” of God refers to the outpouring, and also in-reaching, ACTIVITY of the Lord that literally affects deep and serious change within you.
Swedenborg learned that God gives you and me a significant part in this transformation process of being born anew from above. We're given the choice to open ourselves up to the awesome and powerful Spirit of the Lord, which is often experienced as the great, soft power of divine Love, Who's very presence warms and satisfies us down deep where it matters most. This is being “born of the Spirit,” and it's a very good and vulnerable choice to make. Part of a person's choice to open up like this is to simply worship the Lord in song and praise, and also making time to talk and listen to Him about issues and challenges that we think about most.
Another choice we may make that deals with letting God birth us anew with the spiritual water of His truth, is making use of regular repentance, allowing God's truth to re-form our understanding and fill it up with the truths given in God's Word in addition to the very helpful doctrines of the New Church. This then allows us to live a life open to spiritual living every day—a life of compassion, sensitivity, forgiveness, usefulness, intelligence and faith in the saving power of God Himself. It's also a life that calls us to address the true “demons” within us, such as anger, emotional distance with one's spouse, one's self or one's children, jealousy, low self-esteem, hard-heartedness, rebellion against God and His truth in His Word, and a reluctance to commit one's self to the church. Repentance calls us to truly examine ourselves and see for real that which is blocking God's will of love and His light of truth from living through you fully and passionately!
Reformation refers to REFORMING ONE'S UNDERSTANDING by means of Divine truth from the Word, and then using all that God gives us to live with love, understanding, in faith with the Lord alongside of us. And to be even more precise, to live with real charity and faith, so that the Lord Himself may actually have regular access to that most stubborn part of us that resists spiritual transformation---and of course, I now refer to the basic WILL we inherit at birth, that is handed down from eons of time from people who chose self over God. We all inherit a difficult “hand-me-down” from ancient humanity, a natural will that tries to make one's self and our personal weaknesses the center of life, instead of the Lord and a very good, spiritually powerful and faithful connected self that lives in love, sensitivity and wisdom.
God needs our cooperation, and He needs it so that His Power of love can gain access to our hearts (and the natural level of will we all have), which begins life on earth in need of change. The Lord is crystal clear where the Power of love and wisdom comes from—it's not generated from humans. It's generated from the Lord in Heaven, who lives and moves within us.
Receiving the Kingdom of Heaven is simply defined in The Lord's Prayer, which expresses this by saying, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God's will, as well as His truth, is the kingdom we're born to inherit.
Only God has the power to regenerate and transform the inner levels, the subterranean levels of your natural will—that is, the actual nature of your will, to change it from being so easily self-centered to instead completely centered on God's will, a will of total love, sensitivity, and passion for all that is good and true…a will that's simply oriented toward usefulness toward others. Or as Swedenborg would say, to connect our natural will to our spiritual will, which requires an everyday life of charity, compassion and faith centered in the Lord.
The Lord's power to regenerate your will cannot enter without your help. You are called upon to live in charity and faith, and therefore in a conscious way, to live in the Lord!, the way as branches we may live connected to the Lord as a vine.
Jesus said in effect: "This is no theoretical thing of which we are speaking. We are talking of what we have actually seen. We can point to a man after he has started to let the Holy Spirit work within his heart, as he gradually gets re-born by the power of the Spirit." Dr. John Hutton used to tell of a workman who had been a drunken reprobate and was converted. His work-mates did their best to make him feel a fool. "Surely," they said to him, "you can't believe in miracles and things like that. Surely, for instance, you don't believe that Jesus turned water into wine." "I don't know," the man answered, "whether he turned water into wine when he was in Palestine, but I do know that in my own house and home he has turned beer into furniture!"
Real changes will occur in your heart, in your mind, and your life by living as the Lord needs you to live, which gives Him access to your will and inner life. God has a job to do within you, and it may well take many years to accomplish it.
Yet every day, in ways not seen directly by your spiritual eyesight, the Lord will actually build His kingdom within you. May our prayers, our choices and our actions be true to that divine and saving end.