Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
- – John 3:1-21
Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
– John 4:1-26
“We must never measure our spiritual capacity on the basis of our education or our intellect; our capacity in spiritual things is measured on the basis of the promises of God.”
– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Okay, there are two very interesting stories told in these two chapters of the book of John and very valuable teaching, with just John the Baptist’s testimony about becoming less so that Jesus can become greater between the two stories.
At church this past Sunday, the senior pastor came by the Sunday school room to encourage everyone to attend the service afterwards, not that we were planning on missing it. One thing, there would be a great sermon. Another thing, he was not giving it. Actually, it was given by his wife, who is filling in as Interim Associate Pastor. I usually have tons of notes that I take when she preaches, but this time, I was simply lost in the moment. Her message was very powerful, filled with very personal moments from her past.
But there was one moment where she seemed to have a head scratching moment. Her Scripture was John 3:1-17, and corresponding Scripture from Ezekiel 36:25-27. She defined who Nicodemus was. Then she talked about how Jesus said that Nicodemus had to be born-again. At this point she stops. She gets this look of total incredulity over her face. Then she says something like, “Wait a minute! The woman at the well needed to be born again, not Nicodemus!” She let that hang for a moment before continuing.
She then talked about people in her past who had multiple problems, but once they were born-again the problems were much less, and soon vanished altogether. She talked of how we all need to be born-again. She talked of the physical birth and the spiritual birth. She talked of how people shy away from the term ‘born-again,’ but she embraced it.
Once she was done, there were few dry eyes in the sanctuary. It was powerful.
But I had my moment of incredulity, when she became incredulous about why Nicodemus was given that lesson instead of the woman at the well. It took being in prayer for another day when I realized how good of an actor she was. Let me explain, as I have interpreted that one simple moment in time, the moment in sermon when no words were said.
Jesus teaches us based on our abilities, not based on the “Christian Education” syllabus that He had rolled up in His pocket. Okay, they wore robes. Robes may not have pockets…
The Scots took care of that by wearing a sporran, the leather or fur covered bag hanged from the belt at the front of their kilt. The sporran contained their needs for the day (money, keys, etc.). Everything except the sgian dubh (pronounced skeen doo, meaning black knife) kept in their stocking and held tight by the garter, called ‘black’ for its sinister purpose, not the color.
No, Jesus tailored the same message in two totally different ways.
The woman at the well was a woman who was not well educated. She was a Samaritan, so having a Jew talking to her at all was something unusual. The woman needed water and Jesus talked about ‘living water.’ If we applied Jungian psychology to this woman, we would find that she based her value system upon her senses. In other words, her value system and the way she processed everything that she learned was judged important based on what she could hear, see, touch – right now, in the here and now. She is in good company, with about three out of every four people just like her in this respect. She needed water. Jesus offered her ‘living water’ that once consumed would leave you never needing water again. That got her attention. She probably had no clue what Jesus meant, but Jesus had her attention. Jesus had a ‘teaching moment’ while the woman was at His feet.
As an instructor for thirty years in industry, ‘teaching moments’ were what you craved. A ‘teaching moment’ was that mystical moment when a willing teacher, prepared with the right words to say or skills in which to perform, meets a willing trainee who at that moment becomes hungry to learn. Being paid to attend a class does not ensure a ‘teaching moment;’ there must be hunger.
In fact, the pastor’s sermon was entitled, “Hunger in the Dark.” Nicodemus came at night. Nicodemus was hungry to learn at Jesus’ feet.
So why was Jesus’ message so different? The Oswald Chambers quote above is one sentence from a quote that I used a few days ago. Jesus tailored His lesson for Nicodemus based on the education and intellect of Nicodemus. Nicodemus was smart. He was highly educated. He was not just a Pharisee, but a member of the Sanhedrin. Based on this information, I’d say that the value system (based on Jungian psychology) for Nicodemus was based on the possibilities of what could be instead of the senses (registering the here and now), the other one out of four as compared to the woman at the well. At this point in his career, Nicodemus did not ask questions, he told others what to do and how to think. Yet, here he was, hungry to learn from Jesus.
Then Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
What!? I used this quote from Winston Churchill yesterday. Jesus offered Nicodemus ”a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
Why was I incredulous about the pastor’s apparent incredulity? Because I knew that of all the people in the world that needed to hear “You must be born again” it was all the folks who were like Nicodemus in the world. Nicodemus had it all. Nicodemus told others. He did not have to ask anyone for any kind of explanation. But Oswald Chambers said that spiritual capacity could NEVER be based on education and intellect, two things that Nicodemus had in spades.
So, Nicodemus was left with a conundrum, riddle, mystery, and enigma, all rolled up in five words, “You must be born again.”
Those same five words were a mystery for me until I surrendered my will to God. That’s when the son of an elder father, the son of a choir director/organist of the church mother, and the brother to an ordained minister was born of the Spirit. Until then, I was a boy who was an overachieving good boy, who had read the Bible multiple times from cover to cover. Yet, none of those words that I read made sense until the Holy Spirit opened my eyes.
I praise God that He loves me and that He chose me, a wretched sinner who often tries to drive, hitting every pothole along the way, when Jesus could take the wheel for a much smoother ride.
I pray for all the other Nicodemus types out there. Those who are going headlong toward oblivion, trying to get to the Promised Land by their education and intellect. Forget zombies, these are the true walking dead.
But wait. As Admiral Ackbar said in Return of the Jedi, “It’s a trap!”
Let’s get everyone incredulous. We don’t need something that mysterious or that drastic, do we? We became incredulous, so the point can be made that we ALL must be born again, for we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is easier for the important men or women to be tripped up, when they have their face in the clouds and their chests puffed out.
Lord, thank You for humbling me nearly fifty years ago. Thank You for the humbling reminders over all these years since then. And thank You for the hard lessons that You sometimes must deliver through the back door after a day in prayer. You are an awesome God who can make it possible and help us be born again. Amen.