Tuesday June 2, 2020
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He 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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus 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?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 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.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus 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. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just 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.
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. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
We read John 3:16, “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.” This wonderful sentence tells us so much about life. We exist. There is a world here – and it is loved by God. That alone is amazing beyond understanding.
Due to our aches and pains and disappointments, we may take ‘existence’ for granted. At low points we may condemn existence and agree with discouraged prophets who said they wished they could just die or had never been born (Job 3:3, 1 Kings 19:4, Jonah 4:8). Better not to exist at all, they felt. If we feel discouraged, we are in good company. God was sympathetic with their distress and their lives went on. So also God is sympathetic with us. We have been born. Existence is real and it is amazing.
Even better, existence is not accidental or neutral. It is designed as an act of love. How do we know this? To begin, Jesus said so, for example in John 3:16.
On the positive side there is additional evidence. There is joy and fun and companionship and good food and beauty in this world that we experience throughout our lives. There is also mission. We are equipped for mission, for doing things, and there are mountains of things to do. We have a lot of choice about what part of the mountain we take on. We fit our space here. What we see and what we feel and what we do are all part of God’s plan of love.
On the negative side, how does pain, disappointment, sickness, and trouble fit into God’s loving plan? It teaches us. It equips us. It prepares us. Paul declared (Romans 5:3-4), “3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” And, mercifully, troubles in this world are temporary. They do not last forever. When we die, we do not just perish. We are offered eternal life in a wonderful place with God.
“Offered” eternal life does not describe how hard God worked to convince us to accept it. Jesus entered this world as a human being and went through many struggles ending in crucifixion to make this offer known and possible. He has motivated believers for two millennia since then to spread that offer among non-believers. Such effort shows so much love.
This is verse 16. What about the rest of the chapter? Verse 16 is part of a surprising conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Pharisees taught that God’s will for people was fully expressed in the Jewish law. Anything beyond the Jewish law was forbidden. Because Jesus’ teaching went far beyond this law, the Pharisees opposed him at every turn. But Nicodemus was so impressed by his miracles that he came to listen to Jesus without condemning him, a brave, as well as surprising, act.
At the beginning of their conversation, (John 3:3–10), Jesus’ main explanation to Nicodemus was that following the law was not enough to build a saving relationship with God. A change of heart, a rebirth ‘from above’ was necessary (John 3:3). ‘From above’ is sometimes translated ‘again’, as the Greek word, ‘ανωθεν’, carries the same meaning. Nicodemus thought Jesus meant literally ‘again’. Jesus’ explanation seems more like ‘from above’.
Much more can be written about what being “born from above” entails. I believe this is what it says about God’s wonderful offer of eternal life. This offer is automatic when we believe Jesus is God’s son. Believing Jesus is God’s son isn’t just an abstract belief about Jesus, however. It must include the belief that, if he is God’s son, Jesus’ teachings are authoritative. Humility, compassion, and forgiveness are not optional. They must take over our hearts. Belief that saves is belief that joins us with God, with his person, with his love, with his plan, and with his goals.
At the end of the conversation (John 3:17-21), Jesus tells Nicodemus something we know all too well. It is not easy to accept Jesus and Jesus’ teachings. They run counter to what many grow to love. They run counter to selfish behavior that seeks personal gain at the expense of others. Jesus does not mince words. Exploitive, oppressive behavior is sin and darkness.
Although Jesus did not mince his words or message to Nicodemus, he spoke to him from his heart. And later accounts show Nicodemus defending Jesus (John 7:50) and place Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea helping with Jesus’ burial (John 19:39). It appears that his heart was changed, reborn from above, and he accepted Jesus’ offer of eternal life. I hope so.
God’s wonderful, loving creation and plan for us includes us becoming more like Him. Becoming more loving people. For us, who are still sheltering in place and waiting for Bucks County to go yellow, let us think about what living in God’s love means. Covid-19 is a dangerous disease. Loving as God loves is doing our best not to give others this disease. Let us be comforted by God’s love. Let us continue to be safe.
-Pastor Douglas Donigian
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