We human beings have the tendency to try to shrink even our faith to a manageable size so it fits our boxes of religious imagination. Some have boiled the Christian faith down to slogans and reduced them to bumper stickers. And often these slogans truly miss the point of our faith. We are very familiar with today’s Gospel text. And we often presume that, since we have heard it before, we already know what it means. And yet, I try to take a new look at these texts, in the hope that they might give me new insight. We have to forget what we thought of it before and ask good for a new spiritual insight. That is where we might enter our Gospel lesson for this morning. God’s Spirit is continually challenging us to expand our presumed understanding of Scripture and help us grow in faith.
We might want to consider how we identify with Nicodemus. Here was a man who had a highly knowledge of the verses of Scripture. He was a leader of the Jews and the Sanhedrin. They were suppose to lead the faith for the people of Israel. But though Nicodemus can quote scripture, like many in our days, it does not mean he understands. Not yet! Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, and says 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.”
Nicodemus wants to keep the conversation on safe ground. As He starts it as a conversation between established authorities. He gives Jesus the title “rabbi…teacher.” But he speaks also as one who has power and tradition on his side. “We know…” he says. He brings to the conversation a fixed understanding of what can and what cannot happen. Nicodemus is presented as the spokesperson of a fixed world. A world confident of its own knowledge and closed to the surprising and new movement of the creator God. But Jesus confronts Nicodemus’ close minded view of reality.” He tells Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Nicodemus responds to Jesus by asking, “How can one be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be reborn? Nicodemus, it seems, is totally confused by what Jesus says. But we cannot really blame him. We don’t even fully understand Jesus’s meaning. Besides that the The Greek word that John records Jesus using here, “anothen,” can have two connotations. One means “from above.” The other temporal, meaning “again.” Thus, Nicodemus probably took Jesus’s words in earthly terms, instead of heavenly terms. Nevertheless, his box of preconceived ideas was shaken and eventually he would come to faith. Later he will be one of the two men that bury Jesus.
Nicodemus was afraid, or ashamed to be seen with Christ, therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion, there are many Nicodemusses. But though he came by night, Jesus bid him welcome, and hereby taught us to encourage good beginnings, although weak. Our Savior spoke of the necessity and nature of regeneration or the new birth, and at once directed Nicodemus to the source of holiness of the heart. Birth is the beginning of life; to be born again, is to begin to live anew, as those who have lived much amiss, or to little purpose. We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. By our first birth we were corrupt, shapen in sin; therefore we must be made new creatures. No stronger expression could have been chosen to signify a great and most remarkable change of state and character.
We must be entirely different from what we were before, as that which begins to be at any time, is not, and cannot be the same with that which was before. This new birth is from heaven, and its tendency is to heaven. It is a great change made in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us, which we cannot do for ourselves. As St. Paul says, in Christ we become a new creation. We become a spirit lived person that will be “born from above”. Amen.