Narrative reading: John 3:1-17 NIV
Jesus Teaches Nicodemus
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
I once had the, let’s say privilege, to drive with two pensioners: one is deaf, and the other never listens. They had a conversation that was not at all hampered by, say, being about the same topic, or being coherent in any way, shape or form.
I always remember the pensioners’ conversation when I read this part in John 3. Nicodemus and Jesus were having two very different conversations. On the one hand, Nicodemus was trying to stick to the protocol: he kicks off their discussion with flattery. But Jesus wasn’t interested in protocol. He was there to talk Kingdom business.
Part of my Lenten practice this year is spending more time in prayer, specifically in intercession. And what I’m discovering as I settle down each day to pray is that I’m still very interested in protocol. Like Nicodemus, I feel I need to dot my i’s and cross my t’s before I’m “allowed” into Jesus’ presence. In “Jesus speak”, this attitude is “flesh giving birth to flesh”. It shows that some part of me, however small, does not know which way the wind blows, so to speak.
People gravitate to the details of being a reborn Christian. Should churches baptise at birth or at conversion? Is a water baptism different from being baptised in the Holy Spirit? And so on. But I wonder if these details aren’t variations of trying to crawl back into the womb; trying to understand, essentially, what defies explanation, logic or reason.
It isn’t logical. God loving the world so much that he came to earth wholly prepared to die for fallen humanity isn’t logical. Love isn’t logical. In this case, it isn’t even really perspicuous. This is indeed why we need that moment of metanoia: our previous understanding no longer applies. When we accept Jesus, the rules change, we change, the world changes.
Lent forces us to confront the reality we’ve been saved to and the one we choose to live in on a day-to-day basis. Do we live lives where the Spirit births spirit? Or do we persist in the flesh, still hopeful that it will somehow give birth to spirit? Our conversation with Jesus needs to move away from protocol, from crossed i’s and dotted t’s, to Kingdom talk and Kingdom business.
Blessings for your sermons,