“Born of the Spirit”
John 3:1-17, March 8th, 2020
Second Sunday in Lent
Scripture by Pastor Tim Woodard
Read Statement of Faith
“Listen now to the scripture reading from the gospel according to John, chapter three, verses one thru seventeen.”
1 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.
“Having hear Jesus’ teaching regarding being born of the Spirit, let us now open our hearts as we seek a deeper understanding of this ancient account.”
“Born of the Spirit”
One of the allusions or misconceptions about our faith journey’s is this notion that some religious organizations have the lock or the only answer to how to approach a relationship with God; this is especially true in Christianity! Mainline Christianity is in the center of the full breadth, and depth of the whole body of Christianity, the full body of Christ. In the context of the world we live in… Christianity has its progressive theology and it has its orthodoxy. Where we are in the mix is relevant to our faith community and how we understand, and worship God, is indeed relevant. Yet, we need to hold fast to the basic understandings of this overview as it is the crux of our discussion. The question one needs to ask: are we Christian or are we not? Then ask yourself this: have you gained a personal relationship with God through your understanding of a unique religious sect, or has God come into your life with or without your involvement in a specific group?
Our scripture lesson, this morning, involves a man who comes to Jesus in the cover of night, presumably so that no one will see his coming or going. He begins his discussion with Jesus by saying “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.” /John 3:2/ The first question is this: “if he or they” (if he is asking on behalf of others) & believe this of Jesus why does he come in the secret of night? Is he ashamed of his belief or afraid others will see him associating with Jesus? Clearly the man was unsure of himself, or he was sent there by others trying to see if they can clarify who Jesus truly is. Yet, Jesus goes ahead and gives him a discourse containing an understanding of being born of the Spirit. A lesson that the man seems unable to grasp, as have a vast number of ‘would be believers’ over the time span since Jesus expressed this concept.
So, again I say to you, we must approach our understanding of God – based on our faith experiences – not on any given religious sect, which may or may not have an agenda to fulfill as they recruit members to their fellowship. Let me give you an example. My father was a firm believer in the “Born Again” religious sect, which insisted one can quote the hour of the day in which they were ‘born again” in Christ. I struggled with that then and still do when told I must associate with that strict tenet or belief to be a Christian. Now, let me be clear, I have been reborn of and through the Spirit of God. I can tell you the time period in which this process of rebirth took place. Yet, I was not associated in or with any specific group of Christians. And as time went on and my new way of life took hold, I have gone back to a religion of my grandparents as I seek out a way to serve and to worship the God of my understanding. With this in mind, the conflict my dad and I had over theology and spirituality was resolved when I looked him in the eye, as I shared with him the belief that I am a born again Christian; born again into new life through the Living Spirit of God! (He did not ask for clarification and I did not offer any.)
Going back to our scripture lesson let us again consider the manner that this “Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews,” /John 3:1/ came to speak to Jesus. Again, let us pose a question to consider. Do we only practice our faith when we are hidden by the shadows of the night? Or rather, do we boldly seek out the Living Spirit of God in the bright of day so that all may see? Perhaps this man was being cautious of his inquiry simply because it was the way he approached new things. Or more probably, he was coming so the crowds would not see him talking with this charismatic popular man named Jesus, who was raised by a carpenter and his wife. Whether Nicodemus came for himself alone or as a Pharisee looking to entrap Jesus in his words, so that he and others could discredit Jesus; for Jesus was becoming a problem to the religious leaders of the time. With the crowds came concerns from their oppressors, the Romans, who were uneasy and nervous that the crowds would lead to rebellion. Thus, they were pressuring the Pharisees and religious leaders to stop him.
The best way to grasp the complexities of this discussion is to continue posing the questions that many, if not most of us, are unwilling to ask. Are we born only of the flesh and of human existence? Or have we sought to be ‘reborn’, renewed, refreshed and filled with the Spirit of God from above? Years ago, when being cross examined for ministry, in preparation, my mentor and teacher urged me and coached me with the following advice. “Tim”, he said, if someone asks you a complex question that you are having trouble coming up with an ‘instant answer’ for, simply ask them to “clarify the question” for you.” He assured me that when this occurs, I would get a chance to look at a different element of the question and have a greater ability to grapple with an appropriate response. He also urged me to not be shy to ask for reclarification more than once. So again, I ask each of you to answer, for yourself, were you… were you born of the flesh alone, void of any connection to the spiritual realm; meaning your physical existence is the ultimate reality, therefore the spiritual sphere and or territory… is of no consequence or consideration for/or by you?
This is the teaching, about being born again, that Jesus speaks of, which perplexes Nicodemus who seems unable to grasp the concept of being ‘reborn’ through the Spirit. Jesus was challenging this religious leader in his understanding of the spiritual realm, the spiritual scope and jurisdiction of Almighty God, the God of Abraham, and Moses! What about the prophets Elijah, Elisha: for was not Elijah, according to Second Kings chapter two, verse eleven, taken by the Spirit back to heaven? “As they (Elijah, Elisha) were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” The scripture goes on to tell us that the young prophet Elisha was then given the “spirit” of the prophet Elijah. /2 Kings 2:15b/ Throughout the scriptures the power of the Spirit of the Holy is often referred to. Who amongst us does not want to part of the ‘spiritual’ as we begin to see the downsize of human flesh bodies alone!
This lesson which Jesus taught so long ago, may be confusing and even perplexing to us as we first hear it and hear how others have misused its meaning as the dominion of the Christian church has taken on so many shapes and sizes, consisting of its own human failings, including hypocrisy and even abuse of those whom have sought out help from the “church!” Yet, it is clear, Jesus was clarifying that ‘if’ we wish to be a part of the true reign of Jesus and the true reign in his kingdom, here on earth and in heaven, we must be born of the Spirit! Many of us believe that we are first introduced to the Spirit of God through our baptism; others of us believe it is when we take responsibility for our baptism as young adults… as we are confirmed into the universal church of Jesus Christ. Still others believe we must have even a more dramatic reawakening such as Moses did at the “Burning Bush” and/or on Mount Sinai when God created the Ten Commandments, which Moses brought down from the mountain top when he was first in the presence of God. “And his face was shining (like the sun)!” /Exodus 34:29/
Do not be confused or misled: no one branch of the church has a lock on the way to heaven. Some branches of the body of Christ are considered heretics and are thus teaching heresy, and the same can be said in reverse. The point being, we all need to be born of the “Spirit” of the Living God. This is not as complex as dear confused Nicodemus made it sound. ‘Nicodemus said to him (Jesus), “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”’ /2 Kings 2:4/ No, no, no! It is easy. Jesus tells us that “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.” /2 Kings 2:8/ Jesus is saying that the Spirit blows without our seeing or knowing into the lives of those who are open to receiving it! Let us not forget the words of those who seek to be our spiritual advisors. “God, the Spirit, will only come into your home, your lives, when you personally invite the Spirit of God into it!”