March 18, 2011

March 18: Another kind of birth

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By Ben Sutter, a junior history and communication double major from South Bend, Ind.
SCRIPTURE: John 3:1-17 (NRSV)
Scroll down for complete Scripture.

DEVOTIONAL:
Nicodemus is like us. He doesn’t understand. “Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’” We are like Nicodemus, confused by Jesus’ talk of the Spirit blowing and second birth from above. And yet Jesus the patient Teacher, tries to rephrase his answers. But still, nothing. Nicodemus has no idea what Jesus is trying to say.


Imagine Jesus’ frustration at this point. This is one of the more intelligent people in Jewish society. He’s studied the Torah and knows the Scriptures. But what does it mean to be born again? So we have to go back into our mother’s womb? Come on, Jesus, that makes no sense. I mean for one, I’m a lot bigger now than I was then. And why would my mother ever agree to that?

“Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus says (repeatedly), “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.” Jesus is trying to speak in language that we understand. Birth is of this world, we know what that means. But what is spiritual birth? How do we figure out what that is?

Jesus continues to try to dumb it down for us; put it in language that we can understand. God loves you! But people die. If you believe that you can be saved, God’s only Son has been put to death in your place. This is not meant to sentence you for your wrong doings, but to give the world a way out of its mess.

Wow. Now that is deep. But do we really understand it? Maybe we can’t fully. Maybe we have to let the Spirit take control of our understanding. Let the Spirit blow where it chooses, without us knowing where it comes from or where it goes. Maybe that is spiritual birth.

SCRIPTURE:John 3:1-17 (NRSV)

1Now 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.

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Comments (4)

  1. Thank you for your insight. Especially the first two sentences of your article. How often have I said, “How can this be?” to situations I just can’t understand. May Gods Spirit continue to blow for all of us who have been washed in the Lamb.

    Betty March 18, 2011 |
  2. I too thank you for your insight. I think though that one can see the conversation with a bit of a different twist. Note, the conversation with myself after an alternate translation.

    John 3
    There was one of the Pharisees
    Called Nicodemus
    A leading Jew.
    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 could perform the signs that you do
    apart from the presence of God.’
    3Jesus answered him,
    And I tell you, truly, unless a man is born anew
    From above,
    He could not even see the kingdom of God.’
    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,
    ‘I tell you truly,
    unless a man is born through water
    and
    through the Spirit.
    He cannot enter the kingdom of God.
    6What is born of the flesh is flesh,
    and what is born of the Spirit
    is spirit.
    7Do not be mystified when I say,
    “You must be born from above.”
    8The wind blows where it chooses,
    and you hear the sound of it,
    even though you cannot tell where it comes from
    or where it goes.
    It’s the same with one who is born of the Spirit.’

    9Nicodemus said to him,
    ‘But how does it happen?’
    10Jesus answered him,
    ‘Come on, you are a teacher
    of Israel,
    and you do not understand these things?
    11 ‘The truth is simply
    that 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.
    You see, God loved the world so much;
    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.

    Da Hey Deryll!
    Oh, you look like you’ve been thinking again.

    De I guess, but it doesn’t do any good.

    Da Oh?

    De As they say, you can’t teach an old dog, new tricks.

    Da Well, old dog; or should I just call you Nicodemus?

    De Nicodemus?

    Da The cliché Nicodemus used; it didn’t involve dogs, but it pretty much meant the same thing.
    ‘Can someone old crawl back into his mother’s womb and be born anew?
    Nicodemus had forgotten.

    De Had forgotten?

    Da Israel, the one who wrestles with God.
    The one who can tell the wind is blowing;
    So he latches on and won’t let go.

    De Am I gonna have to wrestle?

    Da Probably.

    Deryll March 18, 2011 |
  3. Yes Nicodemus was an educated Jew, one of the leaders but he knew little about this new guy, Jesus, that is why He wasn’t frustrated wit Nicodemus’ lack of understanding.
    And I’ve got to say “spirit blowing…second birth”? This is an example of Jesus “trying to speak in language that we understand.”? If I hadn’t had years of schooling I wouldn’t know what he meant so how do some simple people of Judea know?

    Harley March 20, 2011 |
  4. Well done Ben. Thank you for writing!

    Brenda Shelly March 21, 2011 |