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"Where Heaven Meets Earth"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 10, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Where Heaven Meets Earth)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: John 3:1-21

There's something about stepping outside early in the morning at the dawn of a new day. It's like being let in on earth's best kept secret. That early time in the morning when the night is over—but the day hasn't quite yet started—is my favorite time, at least when I don't hit snooze. I have an unhealthy relationship with my snooze button. Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe there's somebody you love who has an unhealthy relationship with their snooze button. As good as it feels to get up early in the morning, sometimes it feels better to hit snooze. It's like you're getting on in some secret sleep that no one else knows about.

People who study human health say that snoozing isn't good for you though. It's bad hygiene, bad sleep hygiene. It's like forgetting to brush your teeth or not trimming your toenails. It's not good for you. There's a term for this. I learned a new word. It's "drockling," to drockle is to linger in that space between deep sleep and alertness and wakefulness. If you drockle, it might feel good, but all it does is rob you of deep sleep and replace it with fitful, useless sleep, and then what this does is it zaps your energy for the day. It saps your memory, and it irritates everybody in the household who has to listen to you drockle about in the morning. Just ask my wife.

Some would say that snoozing may be among the greatest, most powerful, temptations to humanity, and it may be symbolic to this ingrained human tendency to delay what is uncomfortable, even if it's inevitable.

In John 3, we meet a witness of Jesus. It's a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus represents a group of people who are religiously interested or even spiritually interested in this guy, Jesus, but they're not quite ready to wake up to who He is and what He's come to do. They're drockling; they're trying to hit the snooze button on Jesus. And Nicodemus comes to Him, but he's not quite ready to wake up to who He is and what He's come to do.

So, who is Jesus? John has told us a lot about who Jesus is in the first chapter of his book. If you remember, he's told us that He is the King of Israel. This came from the mouth of Nathaniel, one of Jesus's earlier followers who was a little bit skeptical at first. He was won over by Jesus. He confessed, "Rabbi, you are the King of Israel," which means He is the Messiah. He is the Anointed One who is going to be the Lord of all nations. This confession was in John 1:49.

So, Jesus is the King. He's the anointed Messiah. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the greater Moses who has come to bring about a greater exodus—an exodus for the whole world to bring them out of slavery from sin and death and the dark night, to bring them into the light of the day, and He was going to do this by being the Passover Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, John 1:29.

So, Jesus is the King. He's the Lamb. He's going to bring about a new exodus and new liberation for God's people, and He can do all this; He can be all this because He is God's personal Word, who created heaven and earth and everything in between. That's John 1:1-5. So, that's who Jesus is.

What does He come to do? He's come to be the place where heaven meets earth. He said this about Himself in John 1:51. He said, "I tell you the truth. You will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." He's quoting a vision from the Old Testament, from the first book of the Old Testament, the book of Genesis. There's this guy, Jacob. He's the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, and God had given this family line a promise that He was going to use their family to bless all the families of the earth.

And so, He meets Jacob, and in a dream, He repeats this promise to him that He will bless them to be a blessing for all the families of the earth. And in this dream, Jacob has a vision. He sees something. He says in Genesis 28:12, he saw a ladder or maybe a staircase with its top in the heavens and extending down and touching the earth, and he saw the angels of God, the messengers of God, ascending and descending.

Now, there's a song about this. You've probably heard it, "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder." It's a beautiful song. It's a heartfelt song, a deeply spiritual song. I think it's about finding hope and comfort in the presence of God in the midst of suffering and sorrow. But it gets it a little bit turned around because that's not what the Bible says. It doesn't say that we are climbing Jacob's ladder, but God's messengers, God's Word is coming down the ladder, down the staircase to meet us when we're too tired to climb or too sleepy, too weak to climb. God's Word has come and found us. And that's why Jesus says this of Himself, that the angels of God, the messengers of God, are ascending and descending on the Son of Man. God came and found us. God's heaven came to earth to find us. That's the message of the Bible.

It's not that we need instructions on how to escape earth and get to heaven. The whole message of the Bible, Old Testament, New Testament, repeated again and again and again, is that God has found a way to earth in Jesus. He's found a way to find us.

Heaven is God's space. We couldn't ever climb there. It's not like Jack and his bean stock. It's God's space. Heaven is a space from which God rules and reigns over the whole creation. And in Jesus, John tells us heaven has come to earth. Heaven and earth have overlapped and intersected, as one scholar of the New Testament likes to say, N.T. Wright, Jesus is the place where heaven and earth overlap and intersect.

So, what does this mean for us? It means that the night is over, and it's time to stop snoozing and wake up.

So, I want you to listen to this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus in the book of John 3. "Now, there was a Pharisee, a man by the name of Nicodemus. He was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, 'Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God because no one could do the signs that You are performing unless God we're with Him.' Jesus said to him, 'I'm telling you the truth. No one can see the kingdom of God. No one can see the rule and reign of God unless he is born from above.' Nicodemus says, 'How can a person be born when they are old? Certainly, they cannot go enter again in their mother's womb to be born a second time, can they?' Jesus said to him, 'I am telling you the truth. No one can enter the rule and reign of God unless they are 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 to you, you must be born from above. The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it has come from or where it is going, so is it also with everyone who is born of the spirit?' 'How can this be?' Nicodemus asked. Jesus answers, 'You are Israel's teacher, and you do not understand these things. I am telling you the truth. We speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but you all will not receive our testimony. I've spoken to you about the things of earth, and you have not believed. How will you believe when I speak to you about the things of heaven? No one has ever gone up into heaven except the One who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man, and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so also the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who trusts in Him has eternal life, because in this way, God loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever trusts in Him will not perish, will not be lost, but will have eternal life. You See, God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever trusts is not condemned, but whoever refuses to trust stands condemned already because he has not trusted in the Name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict. This is the judgment. Light has come into the world. But people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed, but the one who lives in the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done by God.'"

This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, O Christ.

Jesus is the place where heaven and earth meet, and everyone who trusts in Him find themselves in the place where heaven and earth meet. I understand that this is difficult to accept. I trust in Jesus, but it doesn't feel like I'm living in heaven on earth. I trust in Jesus, but the places that I inhabit don't appear to me as heaven on earth. It's not what I would imagine it would look like, and this creates doubts in me, and I know that I'm not alone in this, and so listening to Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus helps me because I hear Jesus say that the problem is with how I see. You and I, we don't naturally see God at work in the world. Maybe it's because we've been shaped and formed to look for the wrong things. We look for our own signs that things are going well. We look for dollars in our bank or happy comments on our posts or points on our scoreboard. We look for food to put in our bellies and pleasures for our bodies and gadgets for our fingertips, but we're looking at the wrong things.

These things aren't bad in and of themselves, but if it's all that we're looking at, then we're going to sleep right through the signs, the signs that come in Jesus, that God is bringing heaven down to earth.

When heaven and earth meet in Jesus, the transition is not always pleasant; it can be like an alarm in the morning. Sometimes it's an annoying alarm, and you know what that's like when you hear that alarm, you want a little bit more sleep. And I think that's what was happening with Nicodemus and the fellow Pharisees that they knew a certain way of God working in the world, and Jesus was this alarm who was different. He was trying to get them to wake up, and they didn't want to wake up. And maybe you're in the same place. You hear it: beep, beep, beep beep. Oh Jesus, just gimme just like nine more minutes, just a little bit more time. Maybe let me get out of school and find the right job and get my financial situation in place. Just give me just a few more minutes.

Beep, beep, beep beep. Already? Jesus, my kids have all these activities, and we're saving for this vacation, and there are all these shows in my queue to watch. Just give me a few more minutes.

Beep, beep, beep beep. You know what Jesus? I'm just too old now, too old to change. Just let me sleep. Just let me sleep.

Heaven help us wake up. God, have mercy on us, snooze-hitters. See, heaven come to earth. It's no secret. The signs are everywhere if you look in the right place. The crucified Jesus has risen from the dead. He has given His Spirit to His followers, and He has sent them out across the globe to carry His message, and they have been spreading that message 2,000 years and going strong. You can see it.

You can see the evidence in the eyewitness reports of the Bible. You can hear the voice of Jesus in Baptism when He claims people as His sons and daughters, as sons and daughters of God. You can hear His voice in the Lord's Supper when He welcomes people and forgives our sins and shakes us out of our snoozing.

You can see God's kingdom coming in the lives of his people, and if you have been baptized, if you have been born of water and the Spirit, people can see God's activity in you. Even if you can't see it yourself, they can see it in you because you, in Jesus, have become a place where heaven has come to earth.

Waking up to this truth doesn't mean being other worldly, doesn't mean that we climb up a ladder and hide out in some spiritual state. Waking up to this truth about Jesus, about heaven coming to earth, just means that we see all of our earthly activities in a new light. So, your job now becomes a place where you serve your neighbor in the Name of Jesus. Raising children, raising grandchildren, becomes a way to raise up maturing followers of Jesus for the next generation. Taking care of an aging spouse or an aging parent, or being taken care of, is a way to witness the sacrificial love of Jesus in action.

Retirement is an opportunity to invest more time in building up the Kingdom and investing in people. Going on vacation and making music and playing games—these are all modes of celebrating the life of earth that Jesus has come to restore. All of life, in Jesus, becomes a portal, a gateway for heaven to come to earth. And in Him you are a place where God's heaven is coming to restore the earth.

So, it's time to stop drockling and wake up. Hitting snooze is bad for you, literally and figuratively, and the shortcoming of talking about delaying faith in Jesus with this figurative way of hitting snooze is that it doesn't get across the urgency, because we're not talking about oversleeping and running a little bit late. We are talking eternal life and eternal death set before you. And so, it's time to wake up.

In the words of the poet, Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots, "There are things that we can do, but of the things that work, there are only two, and of the two that we choose to do, peace will win, and fear will lose and there's faith, and there's sleep, and we need to pick one please, because faith is to be awake, and to be awake is for us to think, and for us to think is to be alive, and I will try with every rhyme to come across like I'm dying to let you know that you need to learn to think. Wake up."

We'll meet Nicodemus again. If you listen to the Gospel of John, you read through the Gospel of John, you meet Nicodemus again at the end of chapter 7. He's actually trying to defend Jesus before the religious leaders, try to give him a hearing at least, and then you meet them again at the end of chapter 19 after Jesus is crucified. He and another guy named Joseph of Arimathea, they actually go to the Roman governor and ask for the body of Jesus to give Him a proper Jewish burial.

There's Nicodemus again at night, and he's come to Jesus on the eve of the dawn of the resurrection, and maybe he's still snoozing, and maybe that's where you find yourself in this half-light of indecision between faith and sleep, and I know what that feels like. I've lingered in that, and I still tend to linger in that. It's not good for you.

Literally, snoozing isn't good for you, but recent studies have shown that there may be at least one benefit to snoozing, to lingering in that state of deep sleep and alertness, and it's that your brainwaves are of a certain level that you tend to be more receptive to insights in that state. You've probably experienced this if you're snoozing on a Saturday morning or maybe a Sunday morning and some insight hits you like Jacob's ladder coming out of heaven.

And so, if you're in that place with regard to faith in Jesus, then try reading the whole Gospel of John. Sit down and read the whole thing or listen to the whole thing. It'll only take about two hours, two and a half hours.

You might see something.

If you're willing, I invite you to pray with me. These words from this prayer are drawn from a 600-year-old English hymn. We pray: "Our weary limbs refreshed now with rest, after our sleep, we wake and up arise, our sluggish bed no longer be our nest. We dress us Lord, as best we can devise. Darkness of sin and all obscurity give place to light that it may clearly shine. The day is coming. The night must flee. Illumine us Lord with light of grace divine, removing sin that stole on us by night, and guide us Lord by clearness of thy light." In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Reflections for February 10,2019

Title: Where Heaven Meets Earth

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and we just heard a message from Dr. Michael Zeigler titled, "Where Heaven Meets Earth." And once again we're learning new things. Today we learned a new word: "drockle."

Mike Zeigler: That's right, it's a word that I got from the Huffington Post. There was an article on snoozing there, and the physiological and mental effects of snoozing. I have a problem with snoozing, as you've heard, and I need to do better. But it comes from a Mary Carskadon, a Ph.D. professor in psychiatry and human behavior, and this is an old term to describe this lingering sleep inertia, was another word I liked for it. You just can't wait up.

Mark Eischer: All right. The message had a lot of important imagery, particularly I liked when we talked about Nicodemus and his nighttime meeting with Jesus. I'm wondering, would John 3:16 have made it into Scripture had Nicodemus not been there and related that conversation to John, after the fact?

Mike Zeigler: Yeah, you and I were talking before, and you mentioned that, and it really ... I think that's a great idea, and a great thought. We don't know. Jesus, of course, could have relayed it to John in post-resurrection conversations, but I think that's a great theory, and I've heard someone make a similar move with the book of Jonah. Like, where do we get Jonah? Because Jonah ends with this open endedness that he is angry with the Lord, and the Lord just asks him a question, and we don't know how it ends.

Well, where did we get the book of Jonah? Apparently, Jonah had a change of heart. And so, maybe Nicodemus went and talked to John and said, "Oh, I heard you're writing a book. You got to put this one in there."

But John portrays Nicodemus in, I would say, a favorable light. Everybody who meets Jesus in the Gospel of John comes with their own background, with their own baggage, their own issues, and Jesus will meet them each individually, and he meets Nicodemus. And as I mentioned, in the message, John mentions Nicodemus again by name in chapter 7, and again by name in chapter 20. So, John, he's an author who loves to just hint, and make you fill in the blanks. So, I think that's a great idea.

Mark Eischer: Later on, during the Scripture reading, you consistently use the phrase you must be born from above. Often, we hear that said, you must be born again, so here you're tying in with your latter metaphor of God descending, born from above, it's coming to us from God. Could it also be interpreted as born again?

Mike Zeigler: So, the Greek word there normally means "from above," and I'm reading a commentary on the Gospel of John by Professor William Weinrich, a Concordia Publishing House commentary. It's a scholarly commentary that deals with the original languages, and that's how he translates it.

It can also mean "born again." That's not a bad translation of the word, but I think the emphasis is on this is the work of God, from heaven, coming down to earth through the Holy Spirit. This is the movement in John, so at Jesus' Baptism, the Holy Spirit is descending, and we are born from above. And John connects our new birth to the Baptism of Jesus, that we are born in Him, and we receive the spirit just as He received the spirit in time as a man.

Both are good, but I think the emphasis is on the action. The arrows go down, always the arrows go down in John and the whole biblical message. We are not climbing up the ladder to try to sneak up on God or find God. He is finding us.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Thy Strong Word Did Cleave the Darkness" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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