Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:1-17
Now that is a great text. Every phrase has been the basis for lengthy dissertations. The setting is a late night discussion between Jesus and a leader among the Pharisees. The Sadducees were ‘upscale’ includconsisting of the priestly and aristocratic families. The Pharisees, not so much. They were a political party and a social movement among the general population. They were more likely to be of the common class. The Sadducees were literalists, recognizing only the written Torah. The Pharisees on the other hand acknowledged the oral tradition which had much broader implications for how life was to be lived. Later, after the Temple was destroyed, in the year 70, they would become the liturgical basis for Rabbinic Judaism. This leader among the Pharisees, John calls Nicodemus, a Greek name that means ‘victory of the people’.
What Nicodemus said he knew was that Jesus was a teacher who had come from God. He said that Jesus couldn’t do what Jesus had been doing without the presence of God. That was pretty astute. Nicodemus was being true to his Pharisaical understanding of how God works in the world.
What Jesus went on to tell him wasn’t new to him either. Though Nicodemus wrestled with the metaphor of birth, being of both physical birth and spiritual birth was was part and parcel of his studies of the patriarchs and prophets and the Psalms. Not being a physical entity, God’s self is thus manifested in the world as spirit, to be more precise the spirit of holiness. Jesus actually questions Nicodemus, how as a teacher of Israel he didn’t know these things. Of course he did. He understood that God’s creative spirit couldn’t be contained –at all. Jesus had said The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Everyone who is born of the Spirit shares that experience.
Think back to the Biblical story of creation and how the Spirit of God hovered and ultimately brought life. Recall how the wandering Hebrews were lead in the wilderness. Think back to the patriarchs being lead by the spirit. Think back to Moses distributing to the Judges of Israel his portion of God’s spirit. Think back to the Prophets having words put in their mouths by God’s spirit. Nicodemus knew those stories better than do we. Jesus called him to take what he knew and employ it in his discernment of Jesus and Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus posed a rhetorical question to Nicodemus ““Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? And of course Nicodemus understood but was resistant to the implications for his life. Jesus poses a similar question to us. It’s Jesus’ contention that it is true for all who are born of the Spirit. God’s spirit, Christ’s Spirit, is ‘blowing where it will’, in and through us. The challenge to us is how we pay attention.
It was under pretty well accepted that God spoke to us until we were brain washed by dogmatic and materialistic science. You contain something beyond your own consciousness. And, especially in the middle of our fast paced world, we have to make the effort to be still, listen and look within. We can’t discover much about the world of the Spirit until we take the time to be silent, quite ourselves and look within. For some it may require paying attention to our dream life. For others it may entail exercising the patience of settling down into a time of quiet mediation, in a private or corporate setting. I think you will be amazed what you will discover about yourself.
The Biblical record emphasizes that God’s spirit has been actively seeking the attention of human beings since the beginning of time. Some embraced the call, others like Jonah resisted, at least for a while. That Nicodemus already knew. The hard part for Nicodemus was to acknowledge that he too could be included in the phrase ‘So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ So you too. Find the time, make the effort. Be still and be amazed at what God has in store for you.