Summary: What does it mean to be born again? How can we be saved?
Second Sunday In Lent (Year A)
Many people attend sporting events carrying signs labelled JOHN 3:16, the promise that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. I heard of a sporting event recently, where the announcers began to snicker and gawk at a sign one of the spectators held that said John 3:17. "He’s got it wrong! Doesn’t he know it’s JOHN 3:16 not JOHN 3:17! What an idiot." But listen to the words from John 3:17, "For the Son came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved."
John 3:16 is one of the most well-known Bible verses. Nearly all Christians (and many non-Christians) know John 3:16, but may not be able to recite the reference or tell that it comes from Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus? But in spite of its popularity and familiarity, the world thirsts more and more daily to know that God loves us, to understand what it means that God loves us. When we come to church, to God, to the pastor, asking for direction, many of us bring this same question, perhaps we might call it the Nicodemus question.
The Nicodemus Question. Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He is a respected man, a leader of the people, a religious authority and teacher, who knew the Law. Maybe Nicodemus doesn’t even know how to tell Jesus that he hungers for the love of God, or that he thirsts for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or that he wants to find a merciful Lord. Nicodemus doesn’t come out an ask Jesus anything. He comes proclaiming knowledge of who Jesus is. And even though he doesn’t come right out and ask the Nicodemus Question, it is there. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus revolves around the simple question: "How can I be saved?"
Alone with Jesus in the dark of night, Nicodemus, a respected teacher of the Law, made a confession of sorts to the young preacher-carpenter who sat before him. He said to Jesus, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." Nicodemus’ approach to Jesus is very rational. He describes what he knows, that Jesus is from God, and how he knows it, because no one could do this stuff outside of God. Nicodemus came to this conclusion through perfectly logical, rational deduction.
Nicodemus knew only one way to God, the way of logic and law. And on this night, in the darkness, that is the way he approached Jesus. He came with a religion of the mind. But Jesus replied with, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." Jesus responds, not by speaking to Nicodemus’ logic, but by telling Nicodemus that he needs to start over again if he really wants to understand. If you want to understand, if you really want to know the truth, if you want to see how it is that I have come to you from God, then you must start over from the beginning. But Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus’ words. "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born again?" Nicodemus was still arguing with his mind. His logic could not wrap around the truths that Jesus was telling him.