A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/17

10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:10-15

We don’t often think of Jesus as calling out someone and being sarcastic. But that certainly seems to be the case with Nicodemus. Jesus is chiding him for being a teacher of Israel, a religious leader, a Pharisee, and not understanding what Jesus is saying about spiritual things. Nicodemus has a lot of head knowledge about things of the Bible but he does not have insight into spiritual truth.

Then Jesus proceeds to tell Nicodemus some of the most deeply spiritual things you would ever hear. First Jesus is saying that he has descended from heaven with spiritual truth. He is the Son of Man that the Old Testament speaks about as the coming messiah. By saying that he has descended from Heaven Jesus is connecting himself with God in a direct and intimate way. He is claiming to be more than a man. He is claiming to have some connection to the divine that is beyond what anyone ever anticipated. But Nicodemus and others should have anticipated it if they would only have searched the scriptures looking for the deeper spiritual truth.

If that is not hard enough to understand Jesus makes reference to Moses lifting up a staff with the form of a serpent on top and miraculously healing people in the wilderness. Just as Moses lifted that serpent Jesus says that he will be lifted up and not only bring healing to people but actually bring eternal life to anyone who puts their trust in him. Nicodemus has no idea what Jesus is talking about until the crucifixion takes place three years later. At that point it somehow sinks in that he must honor and trust in Jesus. Nicodemus and another Pharisee, Joseph of Arimathea take the body of Jesus and place it in a new tomb.

It is somewhat baffling that time and again Jesus says that eternal life comes by faith in him and not by our works or knowledge or effort and yet time and again people refuse to put their trust in Jesus and keep trying to earn God’s favor. Nicodemus as a Pharisee would have taught people about living according to the law to have a right relationship with God and have eternal life. It took standing at the foot of the cross for it to sink in for him that salvation would be by putting his faith and trust in Christ and not his own religious obedience to rules. That is the heart of the Gospel. Jesus preached that Gospel in countless ways from the very beginning to the very end of his ministry. It is Good News. Trust Jesus with all you have and rely on his work on the cross for your righteousness and salvation.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/16

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8

The conversation between Jesus and the religious leader named Nicodemus continues. Jesus is following up on his statement that you need to be born again because Nicodemus doesn’t understand the spiritual implications of what Jesus is saying. All he can think about is the impossibility of being physically born twice. Jesus wants him to understand that he is talking about a spiritual birth.

The new birth is something that happens because the Holy Spirit moves. We don’t know why He moves when He does but we can be aware that it is the Holy Spirit just as you can be aware of the wind blowing. What is important is that we respond to that move of the Spirit and place our trust in Christ.

One of the ironic problems with folks who focused on being born again in the 70’s is that they assumed their experience of the Spirit was the norm and anyone who did not have that experience was not really a follower of Jesus. But the reality is some people are born from above with a powerful and dynamic experience. Some people are born from above with a very internal, contemplative experience. Some people are born from above all at once and some seem to be in spiritual labor for years. What matters is not how you came alive in the Spirit but that it has happened.

Can you look back on a time in your life when it was obvious that you were not spiritually alive but today you are? You don’t need to be able to identify the moment of your new birth any more than you need to identify the moment of your physical birth. But you do need to be able to affirm that once you were not alive and now, because of the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, you are alive in Christ.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/15

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Nicodemus came to Jesus wanting to understand who Jesus was, especially to find out if he was the long awaited messiah. The conversation to a very unexpected turn, something common with Jesus, when he spoke the words of John 3:3, “unless one is born again”. More than 1900 years later the phrase “born again Christian” would be popularized, misunderstood, splashed all over the media, and be the focus of a heated debate about what it means to be a Christian.

The debate was in part because for centuries people in the Christianized west grew up and lived with the idea that they were Christians because of church membership. But something happened, people came into an awareness of what it meant to come to faith in Jesus, to have a spiritual birth and experience the power of God like never before. That is what Jesus was urging Nicodemus to understand. Just because he was a religious leader did not mean Nicodemus had a saving faith in God. Just because he was a teacher of the Scriptures did not mean he was spiritually alive. Jesus urged him to give deep consideration to what it meant to be spiritually alive.

To be born again is to come alive spiritually by placing your faith and trust in Christ. It is about having a relationship in which you grow in your trust of Christ and in your love and devotion for Christ. Following religious traditions, having a head knowledge of the Bible and theology, performing good deeds in the community are not the things that open the Kingdom of God to you. Loving Jesus with all you have and all you are, being alive spiritually because of faith in Christ is what Jesus was calling for when he said you must be born again.