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Read John 3:1-21

So here’s Nicodemus, he’s in the dark. It is night and he wishes to interview this Rabbi, Jesus from Nazareth. He’s heard about the signs and Jesus has been discussed often in the religious council. But Nicodemus’ first word to Jesus really isn’t a question – it’s a statement ...

“We know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

We know. Nicodemus and his colleagues have it all figured out. That’s sort of appealing in a way to be so confident. They’re not obtuse academics or scholars gushing with liberal ambiguity. We know, says Nicodemus. And here he is presenting this knowledge to Jesus. Maybe he’s wondering if Jesus really is sound and conforms to what he and his colleagues know. After all, the only way Jesus can do signs is if God is with him. Nicodemus and his associates have spent a lot of time sorting, classifying, and rightly dividing what they know – and anything that doesn’t fit one of their categories must not be right.

Nicodemus relies on what he knows. He relies on his orderly, systematic sorting and typing of all things religious. Nicodemus knows. He is a teacher of Israel.

But Nicodemus cannot see. He is in the dark and he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.
He cannot see the kingdom of heaven because he hasn’t been born from above. What he knows is from the earth, not from above. What he speaks is from the earth, not from above. That doesn’t mean that Nicodemus is worldly or non-religious. No, it means that his religion and his belief isn’t spiritual. It hasn’t been inspired by the spirit from above.

If you haven’t heard, television signals are going to change. If you haven’t then don’t worry because you don’t watch TV anyway. You can have a TV, a TV antenna, a TV guide but if it isn’t converted to the new signal, then you will get nothing. [This illustration and other observations are inspired by the work of Gregory Stevenson, Tom Olbricht, and David Fleer in Preaching John's Gospel: The World It Imagines (Chalice Press, 2008).]

Nicodemus is on a different wavelength. According to his dial, Jesus is a teacher sent by God. He would have to be sent by God to work those signs. That’s sounds like a confession of faith, but it is really a limiting and defining statement. Nicodemus is trying to explain it, limit it, categorize it and classify it.

Here’s a warning that even people on the inside can still be in the dark. Nicodemus is not a godless pagan. He’s not a hopeless sinner. He’s one of the chosen. He’s a teacher and leader. But he’s still in the dark because he’s more invested in what he knows rather than knowing God’s Spirit.

What wavelength are we on? Can we get in tune with the Spirit from Above and see the kingdom? Or are we going to rely on what we’ve always known, like Nicodemus. What does this means for us?

Born Again means Born from Above
The difference between dark and light is the ability to see. We can stand in a dark room and we may be able to get around because we “know” the layout. But we cannot see a thing. What happens when the furniture get rearranged?

Jesus says that if we want to see the kingdom of God breaking into this dark world, then we need to be born from above.
Your text probably reads born again. You might have an asterisk explaining that it can also be translated as born again. There’s a word play here and it’s odd that the majority of translations in history have followed not what Jesus is saying, but what Nicodemus misunderstands. Nicodemus understands the phrase as born again because that’s all that fits is categories.

But truly, truly Jesus is saying that being born again is being born from above: a rebirth that involves the spiritual renewal of heaven. To be born from above through water and Spirit tunes us into the wavelength of the spirit. It fills our eyes with light. Flesh and Spirit is a not a dualism of body and soul, rather they are points of reference.

  • Flesh = earth, below, dark
  • Spirit = heaven, above, light

    What’s Our Point of Reference?
    Even though Nicodemus believes that God is with Jesus, he still needs to adjust his point of reference. For him, Jesus is just a teacher. A teacher who’s going to give Nicodemus and his colleagues top marks, he hopes. Because he has the wrong point of reference (earthly religion) he’s struggling to see what God is doing through Jesus.

    Sometimes we struggle to see what God is doing through Jesus. Sometimes we struggle to really see Jesus for who he really is. And we struggle to hear what he is actually saying. It’s as though we have not a different language, but a different dialect. (In Scotland, they spoke English, but I didn’t always understand it.)

    If we have the wrong point of reference, then we can assume we know a lot about Jesus, but we might not really know Jesus.

  • Is Jesus simply the sacrifice for our sins?
  • Is he the pay-off that gives John 3:16 its power?
  • Is Jesus just the scapegoat? Is he the whipping boy?

    Do we know that Jesus died so we don’t have to, or do we see the Son of Man lifted up?
    Do we know that we ought to be baptized, or do we want to see the way to enter into the Kingdom?
    Do we know that heaven is a wonderful place, or do we see eternal life because we believe in the Son?

    Jesus was not sent to correct our knowledge; He was sent to save us.
    Jesus was not sent to improve our understanding; He was sent to bring us light.
    Jesus was not sent simply to die so that we don’t have to die; he was sent to bring us eternal life


    Believing in the Son of Man leads to eternal life; that’s not just the heavenly hereafter. Eternal means now. The quality and the focus of life even now must be concerned with the things from above and not just the things below.

    If you want to see the Kingdom of Heaven then you must be born from above.
    Jesus is inviting you to eternal life. He’s inviting you to be saved. He’s inviting you to be born from above through water and spirit.
    And Jesus is inviting you out of the darkness and into the light.
    Believe him and live in the truth.

    Chris Benjamin

    West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
    Morning Sermon, 25 January 2009

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