The reconciling love of God
"Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 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?" Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' 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 SpiritJesus goes on to tell Nicodemus, "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. 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."
This famous encounter is one I last preached on in a first-person sermon from Nicodemus perspective that is online here: The Untamed Wind—God's Spirit.
Jirair Tashjian of the Christian Resource Institute has a different take on the encounter, comparing it to older forms of the faith and newer communities that come out of them. He writes,
The old religious community of Judaism and the new Christian community of John are encountering each other in this text. Can God do anything for Nicodemus type groups who have been around a long time? Can such groups recognize the new thing that God may be doing through newcomers on the scene like the community of Jesus that John represents? This is an age-old question. What will Roman Catholicism do with Martin Luther? What will Lutheranism do with Pietists? What will the Church of England do with the Wesleys? What will Methodism do with the holiness movement? And finally, what will the holiness movement do now after a century and a half of existence? Is there any hope of newness for the likes of Nicodemus?
However, the story in John 3 cuts the other way too. How will the new Johannine community under Jesus respond to old-time stalwarts with long traditions like Pharisaic Judaism represented by Nicodemus? The temptation for newcomers is to become arrogant and look down their nose on folks like Nicodemus. How will the holiness movement view mainline denominations? How will Protestants speak to Roman Catholics?
Unfortunately there came a time when Christianity would no longer converse with Judaism except in angry words. But in John 3 the two communities are still carrying on a conversation. And perhaps that can provide a model for us to follow. The model is none other than the reconciling love of God who gave his Son to the world and has called into existence a faith community whose task it is to engage in the same act of reconciliation and redemption. God did not send the Son to condemn the world but to save it.
Labels: Gospel reading