Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said 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.”
Jesus answered him,
“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above. ’The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can these things be?”
Jesus answered him,
“Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
There was a pow-wow at the cathedral. We, the church leaders were worried about Joe. Joe had turned up with a raggle-taggle band, preaching Good News and people came flocking. Well the alkies and druggies, the dropouts and prostitutes did. His message was simple ‘Turn to God and change your ways.’ They loved it. They followed him in droves, singing praises, clapping and dancing in the streets. We didn’t know what to make of it, to be honest we didn’t like it.
Now we see how controversial this text is. This would have been the scene when Jesus came to Jerusalem and the Jewish religious leaders were not happy. What to do about it? John the Baptist had been a troublemaker and he’d been beheaded. Now here’s another one causing ructions and this one is even more aggravating than the last. Jesus likened them i.e. the Sanhedrin to a brood of vipers; compared them to whitewashed tombs. He told people to beware of them as they walked miles for a convert then made them twice as likely to go to hell as they themselves were.
Imagine this nowadays, Joe in the streets saying ‘Keep away from churches they don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re miles away from the kingdom with their fancy robes and statues. Driving round in fancy cars, living the high life while others are starving. Urging people to give more to keep their buildings open.’ This is scary stuff I’m not comfortable even writing it.
So back in 1st c Jerusalem, Nicodemus goes to see Jesus and Jesus tells him that he has to be born again. What’s all that about? I had to work through this myself many years ago when I went into a restaurant and the waiter had a fish badge in his lapel. I was in there ‘Ah, you’re a Christian,’ I said. ‘Yes!’ he said, ‘a born again Christian.’ Well I had to wrestle with that. What is a born-again Christian? Are there two sorts of Christians? Are born-again Christians different and if so how? Am I different and if so how and if not should I be and different from what? My brain was hurting now.
I revisited this text I imagined Nicodemus going to Jesus, I pictured him grovelling ‘Teacher we know you are from God…’ and Jesus seeing right through him, STOP. You have to be born again! What is that about? What does this mean to me? I decided it said ‘Have I invited Jesus into my life and have I accepted him as my Lord and Saviour?’ Well. yes I supposed I had but not from any specific moment or day, he’s just always been there. BUT Once I’d accepted Jesus into my life I was born again in the Spirit. This may come as a sudden revelation or a gradual realisation but once I’d acknowledged Jesus I was indeed born again and it’s that realisation that gives me trust in Jesus and confidence to face adversity.
Lord, thank you for the scriptures that I can read and relate to my life; thank you for the people I meet and the situations I encounter. Thank you for being there for me so that I know I can bring you my problems in the safe and sure knowledge that you will understand, because you love me and because you love me you will forgive all my human mistakes and let me start again. You wipe my slate clean and I come now and put all my trust in you, fill me with your Holy Spirit, refresh me and renew me so that I can go forward born-again in your service. Amen
The Rev’d Lena Talbot is the minister of Revidge Fold, Trinity Brownhill and Westbury Gardens URCs in Blackburn.