Saturday, March 13

Reader: “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,”

Response: “you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” 

Scripture:  John 3:1-13  

 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe me if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

From episode seven of “The Chosen.” If you are not already familiar with this series, you should be! The movie clip begins at about 50 seconds. It is a portrayal of the passage you just read. I would agree with Dallas Jenkins, watching the first seven episodes will give you an even greater understanding of the dynamics of this clip. Don’t skip this. In the clip, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness with questions. He has seen firsthand some of the miracles Jesus has done and wants to know more.

Some thoughts:  

If we remember that there were no verse or chapter breaks in the original manuscripts of Scripture, it is often wise to look beyond verse and chapter divisions when reading a passage. Such is the case here. The last two verses prior to this chapter speak of miraculous signs Jesus did with the result that many people began to believe in him. But Jesus also knew how fickle they were. One of the persons who had seen some of these wondrous displays of God’s power was Nicodemus. So when he came to Jesus when it was dark, he had previously seen Jesus do the miraculous. To Nicodemus’ credit, he was trying to figure who this miracle worker was. 

John, of all the gospel writers, makes the most use of the symbolism of light and dark in portraying people who see Jesus as the Light and those who don’t as people dwelling in the dark (John 1:4-9). John is here portraying a man representing all mankind. John makes this link by using the same word, anthropos, for mankind (2:25) and for man (3:1). In a sense, Nicodemus is symbolic of everyone who lives in darkness searching for the Light. Notice he doesn’t attribute the miracles he’s seen to magic or trickery but rather to the presence of God in the person performing the acts. Hence, Nicodemus is earnest in his seeking. 

If you were Jesus and Nicodemus had just said what he said, how would you have responded? The Pharisees had a specific image of what the Kingdom of God should look like. So Jesus goes right after the Pharisee misunderstanding. The entrance into the Kingdom is not via legalism, by the law, but by spiritual birth. So Nicodemus asks for more clarification with his question. Jesus’ answer is that entrance comes by water and the Spirit. It is an act of God. 

It seems to me people “in the dark” in our world have the same pharisaical understanding of Christianity. In other words, it is a system of rules which should make you a better person. Being a Christian is not about being a better, more loving, more caring person. I’m not sure how many people grasp the truth that it is the Holy Spirit who is the father of the new birth. There is nothing human about the new birth. If one is to be a citizen of heaven, that is of another world. Birth into that world must originate from that world. There is no “human” way to get there. In the last part of this pericope, Jesus makes this truth so clear. “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man (the name Jesus most often used in referring to himself) has come down from heaven.” Like Nicodemus, during the season of Lent, we continue to reflect on the wonder of the new birth made possible by God’s decided action toward us. Toward you!

Music: “Behold, People Have Walked in Great Darkness”    Philippe Sly, Trinity Wall Street Baroque Orchestra   Prayer:  May God support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.                                         ―John Henry Newman 1801-1890