The Story of being Born Again
Nicodemus, is number two in all of Israel. People look up to him as a respected religious leader and teacher but something is troubling him. He's heard about the many miracles and signs that Jesus has been performing and knows deep inside himself that Jesus is a teacher sent by God.
Nicodemus tells himself that he can't be seen with Jesus or people might get the wrong impression. So under the cover of darkness, under the cover of night when he's less likely to be seen, he goes and visits Jesus. When Nicodemus shows up he pays Jesus honor by acknowledging him as a teacher from God. Deep in his heart he knows Jesus is from God because of the many signs he's performed.
Introductions seem to be going as planned until Jesus responds back. Nicodemus introduces himself to Jesus. Jesus tells Nicodemus he can't enter the kingdom of God unless he's born again. Not exactly the first impression Nicodemus would have been hoping for.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they're born again. Nicodemus, thinking rationally, tells Jesus that one cannot be born again. It's not like they can force themselves back into their mother's womb and be born again. That's impossible and it certainly doesn't make any sense.
But it's what Jesus says next that reveals a crucial truth to us about the Gospel, about the Good News, and about the kingdom itself. Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless someone is born of water and also of the Spirit they can't enter the kingdom of God.
The kingdom is both physical and spiritual and another way to say it, it's as much physical as it is spiritual. Any Jesus talk devoid of physical reality isn't talk about Jesus at all. And any Jesus talk devoid of spiritual reality isn't talk about Jesus at all. It's nothing more than incomplete talk.
Nicodemus understood what it meant to be born of water, to be born of flesh and blood. By being born into this world he was already half the way into God's kingdom. But he still needed to be born of the Spirit and that wasn't making much sense to him. So Jesus brings up Moses.
There's this story in the book of Numbers where God instructs Moses to cast a bronze snake and to lift it up on a pole. When someone in the camp would be bit by a snake they would live by simply gazing at this snake and recognizing that it's God who has the ability to give life. It's an image that has carried itself today even in modern medicine. Look at an ambulance or around in a hospital and you'll often see the Caduceus, a medical symbol with twin snakes wrapped around a staff.
To fully enter the kingdom of God we have to fix our eyes upon Jesus lifted up and believe that it's God who brings life through his Son. God didn't send Jesus into the world to condemn it. No, God sent Jesus into this world to save it because God loves the world. Jesus was bringing the kingdom into the here and now and preparing us for the kingdom then and later all at the same time. Physical and spiritual.
The story ends with Jesus inviting Nicodemus out of the darkness. He didn't need to approach Jesus in darkness or use the cover of night to hide what he was doing. Jesus is from God because Jesus is God. Nicodemus could enter the light because there was Life waiting for him in the Light.
A retelling based on John 3:1-21; Psalm 139:13-18
Storyline Commentary on John 3:1-21
Setting Nighttime, Nicodemus is visiting Jesus under the cover of darkness so word doesn't get back to others that he's been speaking to Jesus. He has a reputation to uphold. He's coming to Jesus because he believes he is from God because of the miracles that he has performed.
- Nicodemus – A Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council, comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness, someone willing to acknowledge that Jesus is a teacher/rabbi from God because of the miracles that he's performed. The second most important man in the city as far as religious teachers were concerned. Only the High Priest garnered more respect.
- Jesus – Tells Nicodemus what he must do in order to enter the Kingdom of God
- The Spirit – gives birth to spirit
- Moses lifting up the snake in the wilderness. People would look upon the snake and they would be healed. Our modern symbol for medicine, Caduceus, probably has history rooted in this original symbol of the Teraphim. Like the snake lifted up, to look upon Jesus is to find healing/salvation.
- God – loves the world so much that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes won't perish but will have everlasting life. God sent Jesus into the world not to condemn it, but to save it.
Tension You can't enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. Nicodemus is a leading religious teacher but he doesn't understand what it takes to enter the kingdom of God. You can't enter the kingdom apart from being born into it.
A lack of understanding what the kingdom of God actually is.
Resolution To enter the kingdom of God you must be born into it. The only way to be born into it is by being born of the Spirit. The Spirit gives birth to spirit.
What's the throughline? To enter the kingdom of God we must be born of the Spirit.
Why did people find this important to write down? It's a passage that balances the tension between truth and love. We can't enter the kingdom without being born of the Spirit but at the same time God didn't send Jesus into the world to destroy it and send us to hell. Jesus came to save us.
Why did this passage endure? It beautifully tells the start of Nicodemus' start with Jesus. It is Nicodemus who would appear at the cross with Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus for burial. Jesus had a profound affect on Nicodemus' life, so much so that he wasn't afraid to be seen with Jesus any more, evidenced by helping to properly lay the body of Jesus to rest.
What is it that is true for them then that is true for us now? We have the opportunity to be a part of a kingdom that's both physical and spiritual. We can be a part of the work of Christ in his kingdom in the here and now while we're preparing for the kingdom then and later. It's a work that's continued for two millennium.
What is the good news in this passage? That we can have eternal life by setting our eyes on the crucified and resurrected Christ. How does this help me love God better? It's mind-blowing that Jesus wants us to be a part of his kingdom. That is such an incredible honor when you truly reflect up on it. How this King would want any of us to be a part of his kingdom is unfathomable but he does. His love knows no bounds for us.
How does this help me love people better? It's a reminder that even when things seem clear to us it doesn't mean that it's clear to those around us. Never ever give up on people.