Jesus said, "So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?" - John 3:8-10
Early in his preaching career, Billy Graham led a revival in a South Carolina town. Before the service started, he wanted to mail a letter.
So he asked a child for directions to the post office. After the boy had given him directions, Graham said, "If you come to Central Baptist Church tonight, I'll tell you how to get to heaven." The boy replied, "No thanks. You don't even know how to get to the post office."
With all due respect to America's most renowned preacher, I think Graham had it wrong. At its most basic level, Christianity is not about getting to heaven. Christianity is about heaven coming to us, in and through the person of Jesus Christ.
Nicodemus, the renowned Pharisee, also had it wrong. Jesus told him so when Nicodemus paid Jesus a nighttime visit seeking spiritual direction. Nicodemus was a bit mixed up about heavenly matters. Like the boy who gave directions to the post office, Jesus chided Nicodemus: "How can you call yourself a teacher of Israel if don't you understand the basics?"
I'm not interested in condemning Nicodemus or Billy Graham because the truth is, I get a lot wrong myself. The good news is this: Jesus did not go to the trouble of bringing heaven to earth only to condemn earthlings (see John 3:17) who miss the point. Jesus came to point the way and demonstrate what love looks like on earth as it is in heaven.
Lord, if even a renowned contemporary preacher and a respected ancient Pharisee can miss the mark and still be loved by you, there is hope for me too. Amen.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first book, The Spinner Prince, will be available March 9, 2018.