Summary: God gives us his Holy Spirit to enable us to be renewed and begin life again as children of God.
A Pharisee, a leader of the Jews, came to see Jesus by night. We’re not told why he came. His opening statement might indicate a curiosity about who Jesus really is. But then, it might also be simply the opening statement that precedes some sort of accusation or put down. "We know that you are a teacher who has come from God, but ..."
In any case, Jesus doesn’t let him get that far. He stops him in his tracks with the reply: "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." It’s a strange reply isn’t it? Nicodemus hasn’t mentioned the kingdom of God. So why does Jesus mention it?
Could it be that Jesus is picking up on the apparent desire of the Pharisees to be the arbiters of what’s from God and what isn’t. Listen again to how Nicodemus puts it: "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." In other words, "We’ve had our meeting and we’ve decided that you must be from God, even if we don’t understand why you do what you do." But Jesus says, "Hang on. Don’t jump in too soon. Are you sure you can tell what’s from God and what isn’t? Are you able to recognise the Kingdom of God when it appears in your midst? Well, let me tell you, the only way you’ll be able to discern the kingdom of God is if you’re first born from above."
There’s a certain logic to that isn’t there? The Kingdom of God comes from above, from where God is. So only those who also come from above, or are born from above, will be able to truly see it when it appears.
It’s fascinating isn’t it, that this is a leader of the Jews who’s speaking to Jesus. Of all people, you’d expect the religious experts to be able to recognise God’s kingdom when it appears. But no, Jesus says all the study in the world won’t help you. You must first be born again.
At our Alpha group last Monday someone pointed out how some people can be shown all the evidence and yet still not be convinced. Oh, yes, they know it’s probably all true, but so what? It doesn’t have any impact on them. Now why is that? Why is it that some people pay no attention even when the alarm bells start ringing in their life? The answer that Jesus gives here is that they first need to be reborn. You could ask the same question about some academics who spend all their life studying theology yet in the end can’t say definitively that Jesus Christ is the Son of God or that he physically rose from the dead.
We’ve been thinking about what it means to be human over the last couple of months. If you’ve been here you may remember that we’ve thought about the great honour God has given us as human beings of being made in his image. We’ve thought about the perfect world that God put us in at the beginning.
But then we’ve seen how humanity spoilt all that by wanting to be just like God, in fact by seeking to be equal with God, to share the rule of the universe with him. It wasn’t enough to be given the responsibility for ruling the rest of creation, we wanted to be on an equal par with God himself. And as a result humanity’s place in the creation was ruined. Along with the rest of creation we became an endangered species. We died spiritually and that led to us dying physically.
But last time, 3 weeks ago now, Tim showed us how God has sent Jesus to restore the true image of God to humanity. Jesus came as a second Adam to live a human life the way God meant it to be lived, in total obedience to God the Father, in loving care of his fellow human beings, ruling over the creation the way we were meant to.
What’s more, we saw last time that because Jesus has appeared on earth those who receive him as the one sent by the Father are enabled to become children of God. Not children by virtue of their birth, their racial origins, but children by virtue of their faith in Jesus Christ, in his virtue, in fact, as the true human being.
But how can that be? How is it possible for us fallen human beings to become children of God? How can we have our innate flaws taken away so we can be made acceptable to God?
Here’s where this encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus is so important. These strange sayings about being born from above, about the Spirit, about the wind, begin to make sense when we realise that Jesus is really talking about how we can come to be God’s children once more.