Vaguely I remember it.
It happened in my late teens, I think…maybe my early twenties. I had been having some kind of conversation with a friend – the kind of philosophical conversation you have at that stage of life. I cannot remember what the subject of the conversation was exactly, but I can remember me starting to talk with my friend in terms of things being black and white in the world. As I remember the conversation developing, I can remember it dawning on me that there was no correct answer to the question we were discussing. In this moment I started to realize that things were not always black or white, and that more often than not things were some kind of shade of grey more than anything else.
Since that moment, boxing things off in neat compartments has been all but impossible for me.
In this passage, Jesus meets with a Pharisee, Nicodemus – a member of the local ruling council, which means he is kind of a big deal. It also means that Nicodemus is sold out on the old ways that I was talking about in the previous post. Nicodemus is a leading part of the system which, according to John, Jesus seems to have come to blow wide open. For Nicodemus, the world is somewhat neatly boxed off and compartmentalized. He knows what is what, and how things work in the world.
Except that Jesus is not fitting into those boxes.
Jesus came to town and turned the tables upside down in the Temple.
Not only this, but Jesus had been performing some pretty serious signs – signs which were convincing many people that perhaps Jesus was worth following and listening to.
Curiosity got the better of Nicodemus and he sought Jesus out in the hope of clarifying a thing or two. If he was looking for clarification this was not his lucky night at all. The first thing recorded as being said by Jesus is a bonfire curve ball:
No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again
To someone like Nicodemus, who operates in a black and white kind of world, this word from Jesus is difficult to comprehend. One cannot simply climb back into the womb and be born again. Nicodemus is quite right, right? He absolutely is if Jesus is talking in purely physical terms. Unfortunately though, this is not the case. The rebirth Jesus is talking about is a new birth; a spiritual birth from above. The Greek word used by John in this particular verse, anōthen, can be translated in two ways. It can either mean ‘anew, over again’ or it can mean ‘from above, from a higher place.’ Is Jesus saying that in order to see the kingdom of God one must be born ‘anew or over again?’ Or is Jesus saying that in order to see the kingdom of God one must be born ‘from above?’ Remember that in the prologue, John has said that to all who believed in the Chosen One the right had been given to become children of God:
…children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or of a husbands will, but born of God
This theme of new birth from above is right there throughout everything John has written so far. Jesus tries to explain it to Nicodemus but does not appear to have much success. You see this new work of God does not fit easily into the neat boxes of Nicodemus’ worldview. For Nicodemus, if a human has been born into the right family (i.e being born fully into his tradition) then there is no need to be born again. But Jesus is blowing apart this understanding that God is only interested in one group of people. Jesus is coming with a new message – that God is working to redeem all of humanity and bring all people into the family of God.
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. For God did not send his son to the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
How does this happen? By being born again from above; by having a spiritual new birth which leads to a new life where the old has gone and the new is come. And all this is possible because Jesus is the very Word of God; the Chosen one, who can transform water into wine; who can breath new life into seemingly dead things.
I don’t know about you, but for me this is exceedingly good news!
May we each of us live our lives in the light (v21)