Sunday, June 3rd, 2012 ~ Mysterious Encounter

Guest Speaker – Neil Clark, President of Consistory.
John 3: 1-17

We ended our reading from John with the very essence of the Gospel, verse 16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son….

But today we are going to look at the beginning of the reading, a mysterious encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus.

Nicodemus comes to see Jesus under cover of darkness. Why? Let’s see what we know about Nicodemus. He is a member of the Sanhedrin, he is  one of the wealthy and powerful in Jewish society.

He is NOT the usual, ordinary person that we are used to seeing come  to Jesus.

On top of this he is a Pharisee (which means ‘separated one’) – those who had separated themselves from all ordinary life in order to keep every detail of the law of the Scribes. The Best of the Best.

BUT, something Nicodemus has seen Jesus do or heard him say has provoked questions. Perhaps ones that he would not want his respected colleagues to hear.

Away from the crowds, in the silence of the night he approaches Jesus.

“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher from God…” You can almost hear the but coming. But how? Why?

Jesus does not make it any easier. In fact he seems to confuse Nicodemus even more. “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (or born again, or born anew depending on the translation)…

In fact, according to Barclay, all three are part of the original Greek word.

1. there is the idea of such a radical change that it is like a new birth

2. there is the idea of something happening so deep in the soul of a person that the best description is being born all over again

3. there is the idea that the whole process is not a person’s achievement – that  it is from above / coming from the grace and power of God

Nicodemus seems to take issue only with the second idea: “How can one enter a second time into a mothers womb and be born?”

Let’s look beyond the actual question. Nicodemus knows Jesus is not speaking of a physical rebirth – it must be spiritual. It is as if there is a great, unsatisfied longing in his heart. As if he is saying “I know when you speak about being born anew, this radical change, you are right, it is necessary. But, I don’t see how it is possible.

The Problem: A man who wants to change, but cannot change himself

The Answer: All through early Christianity and the New Testament is this idea of rebirth, being born again, new creation, dying and rising etc.

Marcus Borg puts it : Dying to an old way of being and born to a new way of being. This personal transformation is anew identity centered in the sacred, in the Spirit, in Christ, in God – truly born from above.

Borg continues: This faith that ‘believes God” isn’t something we will on our own – we are led into it. It grows as our relationship with God deepens. But we do have to take that first step (sometimes out of desperation like Nicodemus).

Was this Mysterious Encounter Nicodemus’ first step to being born anew from above?  Maybe…

We hear about him later when Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin. He tries to temper their judgment and have Jesus explain his mission.

And he later helps Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus after the crucifixion.

Was that encounter his conversion experience?

Can you think of similar examples from your life? Or others lives?

An illustration from Paul Nixon’s book I REFUSE TO LEAD A DYING CHURCH – the subject of our current book study: Nixon’s telling of his first experience in ministry as a nineteen year old summer intern. (pages 28,29)

What born anew/again/from above experiences did you hear in his story?

– Nixon’s personal transformation and call to ministry

– the little mountain church lived

– the members and those who professed Christ

One more question: what is that small voice saying in you? Is this all there is?  There is more – take that first step – answer as the passage from Isaiah says: Here I am Lord – use me. For I choose LIFE.

Amen.

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