Summary: 2nd in the Series on Spiritual Transformation
Our Spiritual Metamorphosis: Step 1 – Conversion
John 3: 1-10a; 16-17
As you may recall, I began last week’s message with a Poem entitled “Metamorphosis.” I would like to use a portion of the opening, as well as the closing stanzas of that poem again this week as both a reminder of some of the poem’s words and phrases, but also to draw us into our sharing of this week’s theme: conversion.
In a world filled with sweet scents and blue sky,
Lives the gentle, uplifting butterfly,
Whose metamorphosis has this truth to teach:
Our aspirations are within our reach.
… Of caterpillars becoming butterflies,
Bring real hope of the possibility
Of total transformation of me!
Like the caterpillar that crawls the Earth,
We are destined for a divine rebirth.
Nicodemus came to Jesus privately sometime in the darkness of night. We all speculate as to why this leader among the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee, would have chosen this particular time to seek out this extraordinary rabbi. This morning we are not going to delve into that arena of thought. There is not enough time for us to go into great details about either the Sanhedrin or the pharisitical sect of Judaism either. Our main focus this morning is going to be about Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus, particularly the part about “rebirth.”
Why would this subject matter be of such great importance to chisel out of this entire story and dialog just these few thoughts and phrases? In looking at the questions that Nicodemus had for Jesus, do they preempt similar questions you and I may have? Are Jesus’ responses really that difficult for us to understand? After all Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, was puzzled, so are we?
I can see why Nicodemus may have been baffled by Jesus’ statement: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” When he had approached Jesus the first statement that Nicodemus had made had nothing to do with such a response. Instead, as far as I am concerned, he had just made a very profound declaration about Jesus’ standing with God the Father. I’m sure Nicodemus was kind of blown away with such rhetoric.
Of course I am sure that Jesus wanted to point out that what Nicodemus had just announced came from the heart only half baked. Yes, Nicodemus had it just about half right; Jesus was a great teacher and he did have the heavenly Father with him. But what Jesus had expected from this religious leader was a bit more. A man of such learning of the Law and the Prophets should know from the wondrous signs that Jesus had been executing, he would have been more than just a common rabbi and miracle worker that had the touch of God. He should have had no trouble seeing Jesus for who he really was, the long awaited Messiah.
So, here is a man of a deep religious conviction that has been doing all he has been able to do to live according to Commandments and the Law that Moses had received from God. This had been the entirety of his life. As a young child he had been trained by his pious father in the Law and the Prophets and then encouraged by the local rabbi to dig deeper into the faith. At the age of accountability he had completed his religious training and gone through his bar mitzvah and along with that a rite of passage into adulthood. He had risen early many mornings to wrap his arm and head with his phylacteries, cover his head first with his kippah and then his prayer shawl and pray to begin his day. He had dedicated himself to the study, the understanding and the execution of the Talmud’s instruction in his daily life. He was a devout Jewish man of great standing in his community.
Jesus wanted Nicodemus not only to recognize by whose authority he spoke and whose empowerment he performed the miracles, he wanted Nicodemus to ratify a new found faith in him as the Only Begotten Son of the Father. But in order for that to transpire in Nicodemus’ life he had to be reborn – go through a conversion experience.
Let’s break away from our story for a few minutes and look deeper into this thing called “conversion.” Within the Christian faith, conversion is intended to involve more than a simple change in religious identity. In fact, the Latin word conversio, translating the Greek metanoia, literally means "going the other way." The convert, therefore, is expected to renounce his or her present way of thinking and thus living and personally commit to a life of righteousness as defined and exemplified by the Christ.
In this line of thinking, that would mean that Nicodemus would have to be willing to forego his present religious philosophies and practices and transform completely in the ways of the teachings of the Christ and not that of the religious community. One problem: it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks! Nicodemus is so steeped in his religious traditions and repetitive practices that changing in such a way is an extreme modification for him to make after years of living his rhythmic life of Judaism.