Meditation for Lenten Service I – February 28th, 2018

Text: John 3:1-7

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus

3 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[e] 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

We Christians have been bashing the Pharisees for almost 2000 years now. Some of that censure is justified, because the Pharisees were, as far as the Gospel record tells us, up to their eyeballs in the conspiracy to bring Jesus down. Unfortunately, this antipathy on the part of the Pharisees has been used over the course of the last 20 centuries to justify and foster, not just a negative view of the Jewish people, but to oppress and even – as the Nazis tried their best to do during World War II – to exterminate them altogether.

So it’s important for us to recognize the fact that not all of the Pharisees were “bad.” Not all of them were out to get Jesus. In fact, we read that even some of them were intrigued by Jesus; and certainly it stands to reason that many Pharisees, while disagreeing with what Jesus had to say, nonetheless didn’t want him to come to any harm. And there were no doubt many other Pharisees who, like us, were too busy with their own lives to bother with it all.

Nicodemus was one of those Pharisees intrigued by Jesus. Everything we know about him adds up to this: He was a man of faith, learning, and – more importantly – open to new teachings. Though he may not have fully come around to Jesus’ way of thinking, he nonetheless didn’t want to just dismiss it out of hand.

So, he comes to Jesus one dark night. He comes at night because it was an enormous risk for any Pharisee, much less and upright and respectable “teacher of Israel” to be seen with this itinerant rabbi who was giving the local authorities a massive headache; it just wouldn’t do for Nicodemus to also get in trouble.

Anyway, there he is, sitting across from Jesus in some dark room lit only by a lamp; and then comes the famous exchange between them.

“No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.”

“What? Excuse me? What does that mean?”

“It means that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”

That was slightly better, but Nicodemus still didn’t get it. So Jesus explains that God is always and constantly turning the world upside down, dashing the assumptions of the powerful and raising the hopes of those on the bottom rung life’s ladder. And, says Jesus, God reminds us that His time is not the same as our time. Nicodemus, the rest of the Pharisees, and really everybody else, looks down as they make through life to avoid tripping over their own feet, slogging along, day by monotonous day, until they’re gathered with their ancestors.

But, Jesus continues, he has come to raise people’s eyes so they can look above themselves and see the glorious horizon toward which God calls them. When we look up, says Jesus, we see what God has in store for us: Eternity with Him.

Jesus wasn’t about condemnation, but about saving the world. About forgiveness – of those who hurt us, and also forgiving ourselves.

So, as we continue our journey through Lent, let us do our best to forgive, to love, and to keep our eyes fixed on God’s Kingdom!

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.