Scripture: John 3:1-15
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 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?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above. ’ 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.” 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? “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. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
These verses make up the first three quarters of a lengthy passage. Likely, you’ve heard the next verse, John 3:16, a few times. I wanted to reflect on the whole passage together for context, but splitting them up made much more sense practically. So, we’ll consider this post part one of the Nicodemus encounter.
As I read through the Gospel of John, I’m struck by how differently Jesus responds to different people. When in conversation with people in distress, he is more concise and direct. Yet, in conversations like this one with religious leaders, Jesus is very coy and illusive. This passage is hard for me to follow with all of the details about second spirit births from above, wind blowing where it wills, and Moses lifting up serpents. Without centuries of Christian theology being handed down to us, I think we’d be as confused as Nicodemus at the idea of a second birth. I don’t blame him for his confusion. Jesus is being a little difficult. Thankfully, the following few verses we’ll read next time help alleviate our confusion, but what I think is important to notice today is that some of Jesus’ teachings require patience and instruction in order to be discerned. I don’t necessarily think that Jesus is being actively difficult with us like he was with Nicodemus. After all, the fact that Nicodemus decided to come under the cover of night says to me that his motives might not have been the most honorable. Yet, Jesus is still laying out a doctrine of new birth that has been very important to Christians throughout history. And in his banter with Nicodemus, that explanation isn’t easily construed. Basically, I’m trying to reiterate a point I made in my sermon “Ordinary Times, Ordinary Practices: Scripture” a few weeks ago. That is that we need to read scripture with humility. Jesus has a message of hope and plan for new life. Sometimes we just need to sit back and listen to the whole story before we start jumping to conclusions about the details of salvation. More on that exact point next time.
Holy Spirit, give me the patience to listen to the full story of Christ as well as the stories of people around me that I may truly know how best to respond. Amen.
Thought for the Day:
Sometimes thinking like a Christian is hard work. But it’s worth it.