>John, three sixteen. Its the verse most people know, even the irreligious… “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shouldn’t not die but live forever.” It is the simplest and most basic summation of the Christian gospel… the message which preachers, teachers, bishops, leaders in the church have been trying to transmit for two thousand years.
Have you ever read the story that surrounds John three-sixteen?
Its about a guy named Nicodemus who comes to Jesus in the middle of the night. Curious time to come… most scholars think it was because Nicodemus, being a member of the Jewish ruling council, had his reputation on the line and didn’t want his buddies to know that he was coming to see this …. insurgent…
Nicodemus starts off with a great line: “we know you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do the miracles you are doing if God were not with him.” To the acute imagination, you can almost hear the desperation in his voice. Here is a Jewish leader, who knew the Scriptures inside and out, who probably lived a life that kept all the commandments of the law, who still feels as if he is missing something.
Jesus cuts to the chase… “you can’t enter the kingdom of God unless you’re born anew.”
Its an idea that’s all over the New Testament. Peter talks about being born anew by God’s mercy (1 Pet. 1:3), of an imperishable seed and not a perishable one (1 Pet. 1:22, 23). James talkes about God giving birth to us through the “Word of truth” (James 1:18). Paul’s letter to Titus mentions baptism as the “washing of rebirth,” (Titus 3:5), and also to the Corinthians about how if any person is in Christ it is as if they have been created all over again. The idea is drastic, radical, irrevocable change.
Nicodemus knew of this change, and knew that it was necessary: “How can a man be born if he is old? Surely he can’t re-enter his mothers womb?” It appears as if he is taking Jesus’ statement literally, but Nicodemus would’ve been well aware of the “new birth” that Jesus was talking about. In his question to Jesus there is a deep, unexplainable longing. He knows of the concept of “new birth.” Its like he’s saying to Jesus: “seriously?! I know that it requires radical change… I hear you talking about being ‘reborn,’ you talk about this drastic change that people need to undergo, but its impossible! You might as well ask me to crawl back into my mother’s womb as an old man! How is this birth possible?”
Characteristic of Jesus, he responds with another hard to understand statement: “the wind blows where it pleases. You see the results of it, but you don’t know where it came from. Its the same way with everyone born of the Spirit….”
Nicodemus had seen the results of the wind… the Spirit of God. He had seen the miracles. He had seen the healings, the excorcism, lame people being made to walk and blind people recieiving their sight…he had heard the sound of the wind…rumors of the prensence of God in his very midst…
Then Jesus reminds him of a strange example from the Old Testament: “just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert so the son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Its a story found in Numbers 21. God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt and they were complaining and grumbling and wanting to go back because they were being bitten…by snakes. God told Moses to lift up a snake in his hand, and that everyone who looked to the snake would be healed of their poisonous snake bites. It didn’t make any sense to the Israelites… how could looking at a snake heal them of their snake bites? It must’ve seem like a ridiculous request to the them….
…almost as ridiculous as saying that looking to a crucified carpenter would give people eternal life…
…which is exactly what the next verse, the most famous verse in all the Bible says…John three-sixteen. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him should not die but live forever.”
In Nicodemus, we find a man who sees the effects of Jesus’ life and miracles… he “hears the sound of the wind,” the powerful work of God through Jesus. He is a man who is deeply longing for something that we all long for: a new beginning…radical transformation and change… and we find Jesus speaking into that longing with an impossible promise. It is the same promise that he offers to people today and throughout all ages, that whoever looks to the Son can be created anew and experience a phenomenal new birth into a life of wholeness, of freedom, of beauty, and of life eternal. And what on the outside must have seemed illogical to Nicodemus and to you and I … that a crucified man so many years ago could pay for the sins of the world and could light a path to new beginnings: it may just be the means chosen by the “Wild One whose image we bear” for our healing and wholeness.
“but I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to myself…” John 12:32
The wind is blowing. Do you hear it?