Summary: LENT 2, YEAR A - This passage is so familiar that our expectations cloud our sight from seeing what is right in front of us. Come and read John 3:16 again as if for the first time, for that’s what it means to be "Born Again".
There is the story of an elderly gentleman who lived in a mid-western town. One day as he sat on his porch a stranger walk up and said, “Could you tell me about the people who live in this town? I’m thinking of moving here and want to know if this is a good place to live.” The elderly gentleman stopped his rocking and asked, “Well first tell me what type of people are there where you live now?” With a frown on his face the stranger said, “Well, the children are always making noise and running up and down the streets. The neighbors are always sticking their noses in other people’s business. And they never leave you alone.” “Then I’m afraid you would be disappointed here young man,” said the elderly gentleman, “for the people in this town are just like that.” With a huff the stranger walked away. Later in the afternoon another stranger approached the elderly gentleman and said, “Excuse me sir, but could you tell me about the people who live in this town? My company is moving me here and want to know if this is a good place to live.” The elderly gentleman stopped his rocking and asked, “Well tell me first what type of people are there where you live now?” A wide grin appeared on the stranger’s lips and he said, “Well, the children are great, they are always laughing and having fun as they run up and down the streets. The neighbors are compassionate and caring and nothing happens that they don’t know about. And they will never leave you alone.” “Then I’m glad to say that you would be happy here young man,” said the elderly gentleman, “for the people in this town are just like that.” And so with a joy filled heart the stranger walked away.
Expectations, we all have them. Expectations make all the difference in the world. Or put another way, what you expect to see is ultimately what you will get. Expectations can be good and expectations can be bad. They can help, or they can get in the way. Our preconceived expectations can cloud our eyes from seeing what is really there. John 3:16 - Nicodemus - You must be born again. We know the story. We know what to expect. Nicodemus - sneaking in at night, lest his fellow Pharisees learn of what he has done. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these miracles except by the power of God.” Brown nosing it are we Nicodemus! Trying to butter up the teacher? Don’t you need an apple for that? So Jesus blasts this weaselly Pharisee. “You must be born again!!!” Ha, Ha - Got Ya! In this version of the story Nicodemus gets a bad rap. He is not a person. He is a two dimensional bit player who is used to display Jesus’ obvious superiority. He is seen as a cowardly fool, sneaking around under cover of darkness. A Pharisee ready to betray his brothers, to the delight of Christians near and far. We assume that his pharisaic training has trapped him in the letter of the law. And we can never seem to decide whether he is too learned for his own good, or too dimwitted to understand about being born again?
That is what the story says isn’t it? Or is it? While it’s often said that Nicodemus meets Jesus at night to avoid being seen in this unauthorized interview, there is another interpretation you can make. The rabbis of Nicodemus’s day taught that the Torah was best studied at night when it was quiet and the distractions of the day had subsided. In this account of the story, Nicodemus uses his precious study time to expand his search beyond the standard rabbinical texts. In this view, Jesus himself becomes the book which Nicodemus willingly explores, mining every word for wisdom and understanding. Ah expectations, they certainly can cloud our eyes from seeing what is really there. But I’m not talking about Nicodemus the Jew, I am talking about me and you, the Christian. What if Necodemus has come to Jesus as a true seeker? Well, that changes everything. If this is the truth, then Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as coming from God and he seeks out the one who can reveal to him the true nature of the God of Israel. And, in receiving this genuine seeker of truth, Jesus doesn’t’ blast him but lays out the ground rules for his search. To talk about the heavenly father, says Jesus, you must first be born again. To discuss spiritual things you must first be spiritually alive, born, that is, from above. But what does born again mean? We know what it means, we know what to expect. A Revival. An altar call. Praying the sinner’s prayer. But remember, expectations can cloud our eyes from seeing what is really there. And believe it or not Jesus was not a Baptist preacher, in fact he was not even a Christian. He was a Jew, and a good one at that. Altar calls were not a part of his tool kit. But things like repentance and faith were. Jesus was trying to bring Nicodemus to repentance, if by that you mean, Jesus was trying to get Nicodemus to think outside the box. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a man of great expectations concerning God, concerning the Word of God, concerning living for God. But his expectations had clouded Nicodemus’s sight. So Jesus had to first clear his sight so they could freely talk about the living God Jesus had come to reveal.