It’s a difficult teaching, one I’m sure Nicodemus did not expect. And it’s still one that is difficult for us. I’ve heard the phrase over and over again through the years in my Christian life. Maybe it’s one I need to hear more, still:
You must be born again.
So much of Lent feels like the opposite. We fast. We restrict and deny. We die to ourselves. But these things in and of themselves can be simply religious busywork without the larger purpose that Lent points to:
This week we look back at this difficult teaching with new eyes. We hear it with the fresh ears of Nicodemus and ask that it penetrate our hearts. If we want to see the Kingdom of God, we must be born again. Totally new. Into a new kingdom.
May the Lord — who brings dead things to life and creates new things out of nothing — teach us again what it means this week.
There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him.
I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!
He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
never slumbers or sleeps.
The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.
The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever.
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”
When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.
Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith. If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless. For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)
So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe. That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations.” This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.
Lord, you breathe life into this world.
You took the formless and void and made something new.
And you still create beautiful things from the dust.
Create new life within me today,
that I may see the world with new eyes and hear you with new ears.
And help me understand the weight of my new life in you.
There is always time to jump into Lent and participate in the season. Here’s some of the things we’re doing: