John 3:1–17 (NRSV)
Nicodemus Visits Jesus
3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
This week was one of those weeks where I enjoyed the study of this passage a bit too much. As if that could be a thing. I just continued to read and study, several nights I would wake up realizing that I had fallen asleep while studying and ended up dreaming about the conversation portrayed in the verses.
Probably the most invigorating form of prayer that I have ever engaged in is when you use your imagination to put yourself into the story and consider the words from that perspective. So, in this case, imagine you were Nicodemus you are walking quickly under the cover of the night to the dwelling of a rabbi. Listen to the sounds of the night, smell the night air. If you have been to Israel, you might be able to imagine the various aromas drifting by from the plants and cook fires. You are walking with a mission. You are a leader among the Hebrew people, you are a Pharisee a rabbi in your own right yet the questions you are being asked have been spurned by the teachings of another and you cannot quite explain or find the answers. So, you walk, you are not like the others in you rank, you are not offended by the teachings of this rabbi Jesus, instead are caught between wanting to believe the signs you have seen and the history of you learning. The wind blows a bit while you walk it tickles the hair on the back of your neck and you are filled with anxious energy; you consider what people will think if they knew you were visiting the teacher, will you believe what he said, will you end up arguing, or will you leave empty? I want you to really imagine this walk. Listen to the crunching steps you are taking. Hear the breaths entering and leaving your body as you exert the energy. Why are you walking at night?
The gospel of John is my favorite of the gospels. The writing style speaks to in a way that the others neglect. I love the gospels but this one the one written by the disciple Jesus loved, is like the soul of the gospels. This is the gospel that God uses to woo me.
We meet Nicodemus walking at night. This image is one that highlights the ignorance of Nicodemus more than just telling us the time of day that he came to visit. The ancient days light was seen to represent the presence of God, or at least the wisdom of God. Aspects of this continues even to our contemporary time, light is equal to wisdom or knowledge. The image of Nicodemus walking at night is saying that he is walking without wisdom, even though he is a leader of the people.
This should cause us all to pause for a moment. If a great religious leader of the first century Jewish people is walking in ignorance, though is seen by mankind as being one possessing wisdom and honor what hope do we have.
Nicodemus comes to the dwelling and the conversations ensues. “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.” There is something very important to this question, first Nicodemus is granting Jesus the title of Rabbi. Which means teacher. This title was only used to refer to the educated ones. Jesus was not educated in the traditional forms so he should not have accepted the title. Secondly, Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus is from God. He knows and accepts that Jesus is teaching truth and that He comes from God, yet Nicodemus comes to Jesus in darkness in ignorance. He has witnessed the various miracles yet he walks in the darkness.
Jesus then abruptly goes into his teaching mode and his answer to this leader seems a bit out of place. “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” The concept surrounding the word we translate “Born” is a loaded word. Of course, it can mean to begot or to bear a child, but it is deeper. The world born was also a religious concept. It is a word that also references the beginning of one’s religious conversion. We are born into faith so to speak. This concept was used in the teachings of the contemporary rabbis. Yet this word confused Nicodemus. The second part of this being born from above or again is what really baffles him.
The idea of being born from above, or again, could mean becoming a disciple of God. It is a concept of taking on a new life and lifestyle. Yet Nicodemus take an alternative interpretation, why? He is a teacher of the people, an important leader within the Jewish community. He is seen by most as being wise, and by nearly everyone as being righteous. Jesus is telling him that all that he is basing his life on is not the kingdom of God but a construct of humanity. No wonder it seems that this conversation is bazar.
Each of us have preconceived ideas about reality. We consider certain ideas as being true and others as being false. We hold tight to the ideas we support and are offended whenever our preferred point of view is challenged. In a sense, Nicodemus, cannot imagine that he could be counted as one needing a new lifestyle, or having a lack of knowledge. So immediately he gravitates to the alterative interpretation of the words born again instead of hearing it as being brought into the wisdom from above. We often catch ourselves in this trap too. Many of us have been associated with this Meeting for a great amount of time, and if not with this meeting we have been associated with Christian concepts for most of our lives. We feel confident in our faith so if a teacher were to tell us that we need to convert we become defensive. Our ways are right. That is it.
Jesus then takes a different approach. He explains discipleship to this leader of men. Flesh gives birth to flesh, spirit gives birth to spirit. We can rely on our own flesh or we can follow the spirit of God to something greater. We cannot get to the kingdom of God through our own acts. That would be something birthed out of our flesh. The only way to enter the kingdom is to listen to the wind.
The Spirit of God is described like a wind. The wind blows from a place beyond our understanding and carries us somewhere else. Jesus says that we cannot know where the wind comes from or where it is going. This means that to enter the kingdom of God we need to learn how to pursue the wind. Even during the days of Jesus, mankind could use the wind to get from one place to another. They observed the force within and developed sails to harness that power. But what is the origin of the wind? Where will the wind stop? Science can tell us much about wind today, but even today we can only give predictions about the wind. The same is with the spirit of God. We can observe, we can study, but wind is elusive. It may or may not start how we predicted, and we just as soon as it is built it can stop.
Jesus speaks of wind, the Irish monk explained it as chasing a wild goose. To chase this goose, we first observe. This is difficult, to even attempt to chase after this elusive personality we must learn to listen. Anything we do without listening to the spirit is something derived from the kingdoms of mankind. Jesus instead encourages us to trust him not ourselves, follow the wind and let it take you where it is going.
As we look at the world around us it seems as if much is lost and the more we try to improve our conditions it seems like the opposite occurs. So, we try harder, we push more, and we save, we everything we can only to have it blow away. We lose because we are living under the influence of mankind, not in the lifestyle of God. We like Nicodemus walk not in the light but in the darkness. We want to believe because we have seen some signs, yet we do not trust. We do not trust that the God who came down to live among us cares enough about us. We do not trust because all to many of us have been injured in some way. We continue to push forward, we look through scriptures trying to find the right words to justify our actions and we walk in the darkness instead of the light. We trust our own wisdom because we know it. Yet God is say Return, repent come back to me, but we do not really like that idea.
To entrust our lives fully to God, to be born from above we like a child born to parents must entrust their lives to survive. So many people turn from God because of this one thing. We do not trust that God can do what he claims. But God loves the world so much that he sent his son not to condemn the world but to save it (redeem it) We condemn, we judge, we want to make sure everyone adheres to our concept of God, and when we do that with they do not see Christ but an expression of worldly wisdom so they leave. But what if we lived a lifestyle of Christ in all we do, what if we entrusted our lives to the father who loves us enough to get down into the dirt with us and he gently encourages us to take another step. We must be born again. We must be born from above, we must take on the lifestyle of Christ and live it out, because our world needs us to. Let us become a people who does not walk in the darkness but in the light. Let us become people who are born or given new life and new hope from above.
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