Summary: Seeing, knowing, and experiencing the kingdom of God requires being born again through the Spirit and placing our full dependence on God for our life.
Have you thought recently about how different your life might be if you were not as independent as you are now; if you had to rely on someone else to do things for you that you normally do for yourself? When I was in fifth grade, a friend of mine had a pretty serious (if not somewhat humorous) accident. Chad was at his parents' lake house on Watts Bar sometime in the early Spring, and he decided he was going to go out to play on the rope swing that hung out over the water. Now, the original plan Chad had in mind was that he was going to swing out and drop into the water. But at the last minute, he decided the water was probably too cold and he didn't really want to jump into it. But the decision was made just a moment too late and in trying to maintain his hold on the rope, Chad manage to break both of his arms. Now his accident could have turned out a lot worse, but as it was, Chad had to wear a full arm cast on both arms for several weeks.
I think you can probably imagine how difficult that was for Chad. In school, the teacher's aides had to be Chad's hands. He would take tests out in the hallway with them at his side, they would read the question, he would say the answer, and they would write it down for him. He was limited during recess and couldn't really participate in any of the fun things happening on the playground. I don't remember exactly how Chad ate, but I'm sure that wasn't easy either. You can imagine how much he would have to depend on others to help him out as his arms healed. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to be reminded of what it is like to be dependent on other people – a broken arm or a broken-down car – but have any of us recently thought about how different our lives would be if we were not as independent as we are now? And aside from just a physical dependence, what about a spiritual dependence? What would it look like if we lived our lives as though our life truly and completely depends on God?
Well, this is precisely what Jesus is telling us in this passage from John's gospel we heard today. Christ very simply and plainly tells Nicodemus (and all who would hear him) that in order to see the kingdom of God, you must be born again. Christ is saying that if we want to experience God's kingdom to the fullest, we have to place our whole dependence on God. We have to be like a baby just born, whose entire life and existence is dependent on someone else.
This is why we have these baby pictures here this morning; to remind us of a time of complete and utter dependence. Maybe our memories are a little fuzzy, and it's hard to remember our days as a baby, or toddler, or even a young child. But we've all seen the needs of the youngest in our midst. They can't eat unless someone feeds them. They can't move unless someone carries them. They can't sit-up unless someone holds them. And then when babies get a little older, they need help with other things; things like tying their shoes, learning to ride a bike, and learning to read. Babies could not live if not for the work of someone else in their life caring for them as they grow. While that is a physical truth, the spiritual equivalent is that we cannot live if we do not place our complete dependence on God!
After Jesus tells Nicodemus that seeing the kingdom of God requires being born again, Nicodemus has a kind of funny question. He basically says to Jesus, "What on earth do you mean? Surely an old person cannot enter the womb a second time?!?" And, of course, that is not what Jesus means. But the point that Jesus is trying to get across is not only that we have to place our dependence in God like a newborn baby, but also that we have to live a new sort of life; a life filled with the Spirit, a life that is wholly different from the old life. What matters for most purposes is not that once upon a time you were born. What matters most is that the Spirit lives in you and that you are alive now, and that your present life, day by day and moment by moment, is showing evidence of grace, love, and purpose.
And the opportunity for such a new life is all around us. For instance, when we follow God's teachings on honesty despite the fear of the price it may cost us, that's new life. When we ask God to open doors for us to make a difference in the lives of others around us despite our fear of where that may lead us, that's new life. When we talk to someone about our faith, in spite of our fear of what they may think of us because of it, that's new life. When we think enough about God to want to be in worship in spite of the inconvenience it may cause us, that's new life. We have to be willing to let the old life go and trust in God for a new birth! Faith means being born again as a new person, leaving the comfortable behind to live a new life with God! That is a life of dependence!