The reading for this Sunday is about Nicodemus– and yet it is also very tempting to preach on the last two verses! However, I am going to resist and look at Nicodemus.
Nicodemus was an influential religious man, he belonged to the Sanhedrin, which met every day in Jerusalem. And yet he appeared not to understand metaphor! Or chose not to. The word translated “from above” can also be translated “again” – an interesting aside is when Christians ask if you have been born again, do they mean from above?
The imagery of being born again was common at the time in both Jewish and Gentile culture – it was used for Jewish converts (two sources I have disagree about this!) and for various mystery religions.
It perhaps becomes obvious which Jesus meant when he goes on to talk about being born of the spirit (the aside about the wind would have come about because in both Hebrew and Greek the word for wind and spirit is the same), and the similarity of the two is that they are both only visible by the impact that they have.
So, to paraphrase, Nicodemus goes to see Jesus at night (never a good sign in John’s Gospel which frequently compares light and dark, day and night) and says that “we” recognise your signs as coming from God – but when Jesus tells him that he must be born from above, to be born of the spirit, he wavers.
Of course it is also possible that he was fully aware of what Jesus was saying to him, but was unwilling to take the steps required and was replying in kind – a kind of verbal tennis.
The question then becomes “what about us?”. Are we willing to be born from above – to change our lives?
There are long arguments in Christianity about which beliefs are “orthodox” – leading to excommunication for those who do not conform – but in this passage Jesus appears to more interested in “orthopraxy” – right practice. At least with this we can try to do the right thing. I know of no way to force myself to change my mind if I don’t believe something, but I can make myself do things.
So – the last two verses! I couldn’t resist.
John 3:16 is perhaps the most quoted verse in the Bible – it used to make a regular appearance in the crowd at sporting events, but how was it being used? To me it felt as though it was being used to mean: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who does not believes in him may
not perish but may not have eternal life”. And yet the following verse suggests to me that this is far from God trying to catch people out, but trying to help us.
Now surely that is a God worth believing in – and a God worth responding to.