John 3:1-17 (NRSV) - Nicodemus Visits Jesus
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.
Born Again. What a couplet of words. For some, when they hear it, it brings back vivid memories of an encounter or a moment of eternity in time. For others, they think of money grabbing prosperity preachers on ‘Christian TV’; others think of a placard at a football match. It can be a trigger word. It provokes thought. For some, like Nicodemus, it makes them think ‘What on earth are you talking about?’ Nicodemus, a good holy man in right standing with God upon hearing Jesus say ‘’unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” and wonders what he is talking about. Perhaps he misunderstood him. Or perhaps Jesus wanted him to dig deeper. The Greek word ‘anothen’ means ‘again’ but also means ‘from above/from a higher place’.
John uses this tactic in his Gospel a couple of times. Jesus will say something, a person will respond and then Jesus will give a deeper meaning. With the woman at the well, the meaning moves from well water to living water. With the man born blind, it moves from physical blindness to spiritual blindness.
Here we have Nicodemus hearing Jesus say 'You must be born again' and when pressed, Jesus responds with ‘You must be born from above. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’
Being born from above feels far more mysterious than being born again or having a do over. Being born again sounds like a one time thing, being born from above feels like a daily choice. Just this morning I woke feeling sad. My heart was troubled and, while I’m ok with sitting with that feeling, I knew I had a choice to make. I could choose to wallow or I could choose to step in to the mystery of what it is to be born from above. To allow the mystery of the wind of the Spirit to come upon me like a soothing balm. To allow the Ruach to breath upon me life and a knowing that it’s ok. A knowing that hope is a person, that person is Jesus and he beckons me to be born from above.
The Kingdom of Heaven does not have a formula of ‘say a prayer and you are born again’. The Kingdom of Heaven is a daily surrender from ‘me’ and what I want, to Jesus and what he wants. A daily surrender to ego. It’s what John alludes to when he references Moses and the serpent. The children of Israel after fighting and blaming (perhaps the dying here is akin to Adam and Eve ‘dying’ in the garden when they ate the fruit) took their eyes off themselves, looked up and out and saw each other. They shifted from me to us. Their response was ‘WE have sinned’. Another reminder of our interdependence. In this moment it’s not about me getting in, or you getting in, it’s about US altogether getting in to the Promised Land. They don’t blame each other or try to find a scapegoat, they own it together. In that story, the serpents (doubt, blame, ‘she made me do it’) don’t go away. Sometimes the notion of ‘being born again’ gives the impression that all our problems disappear; life shows us that they don’t. What we learn though is that we are to look up to Jesus. We will get bitten at times but we are beckoned by the wind of the spirit as she says ‘Here is Jesus. Here is Abba, the one who so loved his people that he gave. Salvation is here. Life is here. You have the capacity for intimacy. You have the capacity to choose a better way, to choose to be born from above and to allow God to lead you in the ways of the kingdom.'
Ferg Breen is married with two kids and is a counsellor, psychotherapist, lecturer and pastor in Dublin. He also performs motivational seminars inspired solely by the work of David Brent.