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?’ Jesus answered, ‘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 judgement, 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.’
Reflection It seems more than ever that what the world needs most is a second chance. What each one of us longs for as we stumble and at times even blunder through life – littering the road we have travelled with our mistakes and failings – is the space, the opportunity to reset, renew … redeem.
Here we find that today’s reading gives us both reassurance … and a powerful challenge. And wow, what a rich passage it is: replete with profound truths; full to the gunnels with theological insights; and burgeoning with the ripe, opulent fruit of the gospel message. Indeed, it could be said that if we had nothing else, these verses alone would convey the essence, the core, of our Christian faith.
These concise verses give us so much. They feature Nicodemus, a noble Pharisee and genuine seeker of the truth … but unable to look beyond tradition to see the Kingdom of God before him in the person of Jesus. We gain insight into the contrast between being born into the heritage of Nicodemus’ world and being born anew, a second birth, born of the Spirit.
And the verses also set in train that tragic (and at times almost comic) theme which permeates John’s gospel narrative where everyone Jesus encounters, disciples included, just don’t get it. They fail to connect with the transcendent presence and message of Jesus. In the drama of this gospel it is as if Jesus and those around him are on different plains and inhabit separate realms. Yet, as with Nicodemus, the wonderful, redemptive good news, embodied in Jesus, is there for all to see, in plain sight: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
As individuals, young and old, we ache for a second chance. It is there before us to claim. We need only open our eyes, and our hearts, to take possession.
Prayer Dear God, In the daily round of our busy lives; In our preoccupations, anxieties and concerns; We fail to see the one who sits and walks alongside us. Take the scales from our eyes And the bindings from our hearts So that again we experience The love, the grace, the redemptive power Of our Lord Jesus. Amen.
Professor Graham Handscomb, Member of Christ Church URC Chelmsford.