Born of the Spirit
March 05, 2023
Own work -
From where does my strength come?
Where is my hope?
Is there more?
What do you mean, "That which is spirit is spirit?"
What is my Rainbow Connection?
Here is an expression of the longing of the human heart.
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
A Song of Ascents.
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 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 unless God is with that person.”
Jesus answered him, “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 Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“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. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“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.
TRANSCRIPT (Slightly edited)
This morning, we're going to visit a conversation. I invite you to have some coffee with me or whatever you drink, because we're going to go back in time. And this time that we're going back in is a time when Jesus, if it were happening in our time with our tastes, or at least my taste, would have sat down for a late night cup of coffee or tea or some sort of, beverage with another rabbi, an old rabbi. I perceive, an older, young rabbi, early thirties, one who has created a great deal of controversy of late people are seeking him out. They're looking for answers, they're curious. He's evoking emotions and opinions on both sides of the fence.
And if the fence could have many sides, it would be many sides of the fence. Not just to protect his reputation because his reputation would be at risk, but openly in chapters to come in. John Nicodemus would at first defend Jesus and then later, take the big risk of discipleship, be called a disciple, and would claim his body to help, Joseph Ahea give Jesus a respectable burial, which he would not have had, as one who had been crucified and disgrace. But Nicodemus comes to Jesus, and for a rabbi to seek out another rabbi with the interview process as it was to really have an in-depth conversation, one would need to go by night to receive Jesus undivided attention, to be able to inquire, to be able to ask the deep questions. There's no doubt in my mind that we only have a portion of this conversation, that it may have gone on into the wee hours of the morning, that the conversation was long and it was deep and respectful and insightful, and was also a turning point in the life of Nicodemus. The scripture is found and one of the most familiar of all the passages in the Bible in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. And it includes many people's favorite verses, John three 16, that God so loved the world. But I would like to have a conversation with you about this today, and I'd to do it maybe as a launch from the Psalm of the day, just the first few words.
The psalmist is singing one of the Psalms of ascent that would be sung by the people as they came to Jerusalem for a feast. And as they're moving up toward the hill, they would be singing.
I lift up my eyes onto the hills question from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Then take a trip with me back to the days of Abraham, the first of the patriarchs, when God speaks to Abraham in the country of his birth.
And he says, go from your country and your kindred in Genesis 12 and your father's house to a land I will show you.
I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed
Later. In Romans four, Paul reflects upon this, and he says, God counted this faith of Abraham to believe this promise and act on this promise, to live in this promise as righteousness.
And now we go to the first century of the common era, year of our Lord, and a quiet place at night when many deep conversations take place when many deep thoughts are thought. Last night I posted a blog that I thought about all day. I started it in the morning. I did many other things. I kept coming back to it, and finally I got it posted. And it doesn't mention God by name. It simply raises the question that one of my young friends prompted in me just with a picture of his wife and kids watching the Muppets.
I had to think about it. Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side? Rainbows are visions and only illusions and rainbows have nothing to hide. I thought about this and I asked the question in the blog, why are there so many songs about rainbows?
Why? What is it that is creating this longing for whatever pot of gold it is at the end of the rainbow? Whatever it is that is mysterious and wonderful and beyond ourselves. And there has never been a time in the history of humanity as far as we can tell, and that is even going back and reading before language when there has not been this sense of wonder, this sense of other.
And some would say that with the decline in church attendance and church affiliation in our time, that maybe that sense of wonder and curiosity and awe is on the decline. But I do not think so. I think it is still present. And at every juncture of life we choose.
Can I explain this all in the flesh or do I need to turn to the spirit to explain what's going on? And there will always be, and there always has been this company of humanity that seeks the things of the spirit. And you who are tuning in here, either live today or later, even days later, it could be years later, are doing so because of that sense of wonder, that sense of placing a question mark somewhere in the portrait of your life. And so we do look to the hills and we say, where does my help come from? How is it that I'm breathing?
What is it that makes me alive and what will make me more fully alive? So in John three, we began with verse one. There was a pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews,6,000 Pharisees, living in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. I just heard that figure yesterday,6,000 Pharisees of them 70 were members of the Sanhedrin court. They were the leaders.
And Nicodemus we know from other passages was one of them. They were moral and religious leaders of a sect of people who desired so much, who honor God and love God with their deeds and actions, that they became seriously meticulous about the observance of the law. And therefore they engaged in great discussions of the law. And they would often use argumentation. And they came often to argue with Jesus. And Jesus made an enemy of many of them, although he seemed to gravitate toward their love of God and their people came and inquired of him, he had much more in common with them than he did with the Sadducees. They didn't believe in anything supernatural beyond, the personality, and life of God himself.
But yet this misguided often, seriousness about dotting the I and crossing the Ts often led them away from the intent of the law. And they were desperate to do what was right. But this man was so attracted to Jesus and not just to argue with him, he was serious. He comes to Jesus by night and says to him, and this first word that comes out of his mouth is telling. He calls this young man, rabbi or teacher, rabbi, we know that you're a teacher who's come from God for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with that person. I'm going to pause again.
We look at life and we see the miraculous hand of God in the world, but we still have a choice. We can blame it on chance. We can attribute it to just the natural occurrence of things and factors beyond our control. Or we can look for the hand of God, the hand of the spirit, the hand of that which is other than us. And in many ways, that becomes a choice.
And Nicodemus has made that choice to look for the divine, to look for the sacred, to look for the holy, to look for the other, to look for God in the works and the words of Jesus. He's looking, but he's not completely seeing. So Jesus addresses the issue of his seeing. Jesus answered him barely, truly, very truly, or verily, verily or truly, truly. I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.
Now, what is this idea of seeing? This is Tom talking. By the way, if you can't tell from my voice or you're not following along with the reading, well they're seeing and then they're seeing, right? There is perception. There's understanding. There's that time when the lights go on, you're looking at that picture. You know those, those visual trick pictures that have more than one, more than one image in them. And you have to kind of train your brain to see not what you see at first, but what is buried in the picture. Once you see it, you can't unsee it.
And this is what Jesus is talking about. It takes a birth from above. It takes a new beginning. Now, if it had weren't such an honest and loving and respectful conversation, perhaps Nicodemus would've been insulted, but he was not insulted.
He was still curious. And Jesus was not insulting Nicodemus in any of these inquiries. He was engaging in a penetrating conversation. He was probing this man who had come to him by night. And so he says, Nicodemus, the problem is, and you do have a problem, even though you're a great leader, you're a great teacher, you there's a problem, there's a step missing.
Well, Nicodemus doesn't understand what Jesus is talking about, seeing the Kingdom of God, kingdom of God, the rule of God, the reign of God, the mastery of God over everything that begins in the hearts of human beings and penetrates society and begins to do what, is often called in, in later Judaism. Repairing the world. Fixing the world is part of the kingdom task. But it begins in the heart. it really begins before that.
It begins with having your eyes open and perceiving the kingdom of God. So he says, how can anyone be born after they've grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born? So Jesus speaks in metaphor and Nicodemus doesn't know what the meta is for.
Does he miss the metaphor or is he getting the metaphor and really not getting the application? How can I start again? How can I start thinking differently? How many people that you encounter are stuck in one way of thinking? They're just stuck. they can't break out of it. They can't see anything differently.
They have a paradigm or a set of glasses through which they see the world and they perceive reality, but they can't begin again. How can I be born again? How can I be born in a new way? How can I see things differently? Jesus answered and he takes it beyond seeing.
You see, the first step is you have to see it. The next one is then entering the kingdom. They're seeing the kingdom and then there's entering the kingdom. And Jesus says, barely.
Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water. And spirit was one of the flesh, is flesh. What is born of the Spirit is spirit. Now, without trying to get too deep into the illustration, Jesus really defines what he means when he says water.
He means flesh because he uses that again as a counterpoint to spirit. You have to be born, you have to become alive, you have to be, you know, in the flesh. We have to live in these bodies and in this reality, but we need that second dimension of life. He says, so what is born of the flesh is flesh. What is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to 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 spirit. So seeing the kingdom of God is predicated upon being born from above. Entering the kingdom of God is predicated on being born from above, but it doesn't mean you necessarily understand everything. You don't always know where the wind comes from.
And yet you are moved by the wind. You soar with the wind. You're led by the wind. You're inspired by the wind. If you're born from the spirit, the kingdom of God enters you a mighty wind and you flow, you fly.
You go as the spirit leads you. And Nicodemus said to him, how can these things be? How can these things be? Maybe you're not plumbing the depths if you had never asked that question. I mean, we want to criticize Nicodemus for having a hard time getting it. But maybe if you get it too easily, you haven't wrestled with it enough. It was a dark night, it was a deep place.
It was an honest meeting. How can these things be in that question? Is hope in that question is yearning in that question. Is curiosity all mixed with the doubt?
And yet the faith that is akin to that of Abraham who didn't understand it all, but left the land of his father and wandered toward the land and toward the promise of many generations and the ordinary worshiper who is ascending the hill of Mount Zion and singing, where does my help come from? What brings me to this place? What stirs me on and spurs me on? What brings me to the feet of God?
Jesus answered him. Are you a teacher of Israel and you don't understand these things Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we've seen. Yet you do not receive our testimony. I've told you of earthly things and you do not believe. How can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things, no one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven. The son of man.
Well, he's saying, listen to me. I've been there. I've I've seen I'm, I'm giving you, I'm buried witness to you of what I know. And you have to make the shift. You have to be willing for that shift to take place in your life where you're born of the spirit, where all you're thinking in all your believing is transformed by the spirit in a way that you do not understand completely because the wind blows where it wait will, but will you be aware of it? Will you be moved by it or will you resist? The wind? History tells us that biblical history tells us that Nicodemus did not resist the wind, that Nicodemus academia felt the wind below and allowed it to blow him into discipleship and move him into followership and gave him courage to stand with Jesus. Even in his death, he had to swallow his pride as a teacher and understand there are things I do not know.
And then Jesus says something curious. It goes back to the exodus in the wilderness. When the serpents came in judgment and bit so many of the Israelites and so many died and so many were sick. And Moses took a serpent and lifted it up and Jesus and they lived. When they looked at the source of their injury and their pain and their disease and their poison, they were healed. Jesus says, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. So the son of man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. So just as we are needed to need to, look at the source of our pain in Jesus, we look at the source of our healing through his pain because that lifting up was him bearing all the pain of the world and all the suffering and all the judgment and all the condemnation and all of the guilt and all of the agony and all of the doubt. And he's saying, look, when that happens.
And when it did happen, Nicodemus was there to identify with Jesus and to claim his body and to give him that dignified burial. And there you go, believe and have eternal life. Well, what is eternal life? Is it the pie that's in the sky in the by and by?
And that's part of it, but that's not the all of it or the whole of it or the essence of it. Who would want to live forever without meaning? Who would want to live ever forever without purpose? Who would want to live forever without joy, without fellowship, without presence, without a sense of wonder? It would be one monotonous moment after another. So we need eternal life right now with that great hope of it continuing and unfolding and growing in all of those qualities that make it eternal.
Jesus said later in a later passage that hopefully we'll get to this life eternal. That you may know him. You know God know me. It is that relationship that makes it life eternal and the purpose that we come to share in living in the kingdom and through the kingdom and being born of the spirit, being caught up by the wind becoming what Leonard Suite calls a pneumonaut.
Do you know what a pneumonaut is? You know what an astronaut is, right?
Who? Someone who travels through the solar system, the astro system. Well, a pneumonaut is one who travels on the wind of the spirit. Can you imagine anything more exciting and enlightening and enlivening than traveling on the wind of the spirit for God's soul of the world that he gave his only son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Life is eternal for God. In other words, this is how God loved the world. It's not sentimental or primarily emotional.
It is a great act of loving that he gave his only son the embodiment of his inheritance for the ancient people, especially the Hebrews you live on through your children, you live on through your only son. This is your afterlife. This is your eternal life. This is the hope of going on. He gave his air that whoever believes will have this kind of quality of life, of sailing on the wind of the spirit forever, now and forever.
And verse 17 says, indeed, because he's explaining more of it. God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world through him might be saved. God loving the world this way, giving his legacy, intending as he told Abraham for all the nations of the world to be blessed through him loving the world. That in the fullness of time he gives his only son not to condemn, not to make them feel bad about themselves, not to come and say, I hate you, I judge you.
You're really a big disappointment to me. We already know and loathe ourselves that way. We already know our failures. We know our sins. Sometimes they need to be pointed out because we have blind spots. In Nicodemus case, Jesus confronts him and says, you need to be born from above.
You're, you're a teacher and you don't get it, but, and you need to in Nicodemus, you need to understand your need. But I'm not here to condemn. I'm here to lift. I'm here for all to be saved.
That's what I want. And when you enter my kingdom, you begin to embody that message and you carry that message to the world as well. Come to see as you seek, come to enter the kingdom as you look around and trust that this God that you seek is the God who gave everything. He could possibly give to invite you into that life of the spirit. That life is on the other dimension. That to connect you to that rainbow connection that you're always looking at. By the way, that's not un, it's not just unbiblical pop stuff.
God gave the rainbow as a symbol of hope to Noah. So, it's always been there, it's always been the physical reminder that there's something there. Why are there so many songs about rainbows, <laugh>? Because we've been looking at them all of our lives and knowing that there's more there than meets the eye. Yes, rainbows are illusions. I mean, they're refractions of light. I mean, we can explain a rainbow.
But what was the genius behind that? God didn't have to make it so beautiful, did he? He didn't have to make it so compelling, but he did. And as Kermit said, someday we'll find it.
The rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me. This is eternal life, as Jesus said, to know God. And Jesus invites us to know God through him.
Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come by, will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For dying is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Leave your questions, your comments, and your pre requests, either in the chat box here on Facebook or the comments on YouTube or the comments section on the blog or LinkedIn or Twitter or wherever you find this cast.
Communicate, reach out, reach out and touch and believe and trust and explore. Be a Nicodemus. Go to Jesus by night and ask the hard questions and dialogue with him and open your heart to the possibilities of that glorious rainbow, that wind, that birth of the spirit that is possible for you, that is available for you, that God deeply desires for you to be drawn into. You're not here by accident today.
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and be gracious under you and give you peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Uhde, Fritz von, 1848-1911. Christ and Nicodemus, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56264 [retrieved March 5, 2023]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fritz_von_Uhde_-_Christus_und_Nikodemus_(ca.1886).jpg.
Christ and Nicodemus
Tissot, James, 1836-1902. Christ and Nicodemus, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56263 [retrieved March 5, 2023]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Interview_between_Jesus_and_Nicodemus_(Entretien_de_J%C3%A9sus_et_de_Nicod%C3%A8me)_-_James_Tissot.jpg.
Attribution: Pittman, Lauren Wright. Born Again, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57087 [retrieved March 5, 2023]. Original source: Lauren Wright Pittman, http://www.lewpstudio.com/.
Attribution: JESUS MAFA. Nicodemus, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48385 [retrieved March 5, 2023]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact).