John 3:1-17 (NRSV)
Chapter 3Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. Verse 2He 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 apart from the presence of God." Verse 3Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Verse 4Nicodemus 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?" Verse 5Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. Verse 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Verse 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' Verse 8The 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." Verse 9Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Verse 10Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Verse 11"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. Verse 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? Verse 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. Verse 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, Verse 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Verse 16"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. Verse 17"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.
In these next four days, we will be like Super Bowl fans holding up signs announcing “John 3:16!” We carry God’s word with its promise of eternal life in our earthly lives. Children sing the faith, while learned theologians can never fully grasp its depth (see the lovely, clear witness of Professor Craig Koester, “The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel,” Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2008).
We begin with Nicodemus. As a “leader of the Jews,” he belongs with our seminary grads and teachers of communities of faith. He shows up later to argue that Jesus should not be condemned without first being heard (7:45–52) and then with Joseph of Arimathea to claim Jesus’ body at his death (19:38–42). Here Jesus is teaching him (and us!) about being “born from above,” flesh and blood mortals who are “born of the Spirit.” With Nicodemus, we wonder, “How can these things be?”
Oh Lord God, we come, often in secret or by night. We yearn to understand your ways, to trust your love. How can these things be? Help us, like Nicodemus, to follow Jesus, until we see him lifted up on the cross, and believe. Amen.