(watch here: https://youtu.be/bUWF9BjoDoc)
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. 18Those 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. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But 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 continue along in our study of John’s gospel with this encounter between Jesus and a Jewish leader named Nicodemus. It is an encounter that was early in Jesus’ ministry but one that had a profound effect on Nicodemus, so much so that he would later return at the foot of the cross helping to remove Jesus’ body. Nicodemus came to believe in Jesus because of this encounter. And in the overall narrative of Jesus’ ministry according to John, this encounter serves as the first instance when Jesus used his teaching to convince a notable leader of who he is as the Messiah. Sure, he had gathered a handful of disciples and had impressed a wedding party with his miracle of turning water into wine and had caused quite a scene in the temple by whipping the animals and overturning the table of the moneychangers. But he had yet to reveal himself to any noteworthy leader through his teaching. And even so, Jesus didn’t reveal himself very clearly. No, he taught about how only those who are reborn of the spirit can know the kingdom of God and alluded to his eventual death at the hands of those who chose not to be reborn and remained in darkness. Except he didn’t claim it would be his own death but the death of the “Son of Man.” Jesus couldn’t have been any more unclear about who he is and yet Nicodemus was somehow transformed! How could that be?!
A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus calling his first disciples. They, too, had come to him wanting to know who he was and what authority he had. Knowing their sinful natures and their need to see in order to believe, he beckoned them to come and see firsthand who he is and his authority. They saw and believed and followed. But Jesus went on to explain that it wasn’t necessarily their seeing that caused them to believe. It was how they saw that enabled them to believe. It was because they opened not only their eyes but also their hearts and minds that they were able to see who Jesus is. Even those who can’t physically see can ‘see’ who Jesus is if they but open their hearts and minds. Jesus is more than a physical body to behold in time and space. Jesus is an experience, an encounter. Jesus beckoned those disciples to step out of their lives and come out into an experience. Jesus isn’t a picture or a statue to look at. Jesus isn’t a book to read. Jesus is an experience to live out. We can’t see Jesus by simply reading a book or looking at a picture. We see Jesus by living him out, so to speak. The disciples lived him out. They walked with him, they ate with him, they slept with him, they prayed with him, they served with him, they suffered with him…they lived him out. That is how they came to see him, how they came to believe in him. How we go about seeing is just as important as simply opening our eyes!
Nicodemus came to Jesus wanting to believe in him but only by opening his eyes. He wasn’t prepared to open his heart and his mind. He certainly wasn’t prepared to walk with Jesus and to live him out as his disciples were. So Jesus used the opportunity to teach us a lesson about the importance of how we see. How we see Jesus IS important! His teaching on being reborn in the spirit tells us that our souls must first see him. We must open our hearts and our minds as well as our bodies to be able to see him. We must open our very souls to him! When we are “born from above” as Jesus suggests, our souls are revealed to him and he, in turn, is revealed to us. Our souls unite forever, in this world and the next. We hear in that most popular verse, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believe in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” When we believe, when we see and are seen by him, we receive eternal life because our souls are forever intertwined. Jesus becomes me and I become Jesus and we go on living through all of eternity.
How we see Jesus, how we live him out, how we become one with him depends entirely on faith. Because he is an experience, Jesus demands that we venture into the great unknown alongside him. We don’t know what the future has in store for us. We don’t know what will be expected of us. But we can know that we’re not alone in it if we but have faith. Jesus will walk with us through faith. More importantly, the love of God will be with us through it all if we but believe in Jesus. And the love of God is no small thing to scoff at. To know we are loved in all that we do empowers us to be great. It empowers us to be the body of Christ, bringing light into this old, dark world. There is a deep, deep darkness in this world. The devil has his grip on this world. People love the darkness of this world. But Jesus, the great light, came into the world…he came into you and me through faith. Let us go out into the darkness shining his light. Let us live him out, he in us and us in him. We can see him but only if we open our souls to him. If Nicodemus, a religious leader who came to him in the night, could learn how to see him, then you and I can most certainly learn too!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.