Christianity 201

April 2, 2014

Dumbest. Question. Ever.

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 pm
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When Nicodemus comes to Jesus with questions, Jesus gives him a statement that then prompts one of the many comedic moments in the Bible:

John 3:1 (NLT) 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?”

Seriously, Nicodemus, do you really think that’s what he meant?  Well, we have to forgive Nick, because Jesus is introducing a new terminology, and whether you prefer born again, or perhaps born from above, the fact remains that new birth was a foreign concept.

Why does Nick need a new birth.  Interestingly, the answer to John 3:4 is found in I John 3:4 —

I John 3:4 (NIV) Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Sin has separated us from God, so we need a cleansing from sin so complete and thorough that we are no longer the same person we were.

Titus 3 combines the elements of washing and new birth into a single verse:

Titus 3:5 (NIV)…He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit

For Nicodemus this is too much to take in. Remember, he’s never heard this type of terminology before.

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

The narrative ends with Jesus amplifying this in the familiar words of verses 16-21, but we don’t know anything about Nick’s response. But we meet up with Nicodemus — a character exclusive to John’s gospel — in chapter 7

49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”

50 Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. 51 “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.

We don’t hear a response from Jesus, instead the crowd interrupts as the dramatically scripted Voice Bible makes clear:

Pharisees (ignoring Nicodemus’s legal point): 52 Are you from Galilee too? Look it up for yourself; no real prophet is supposed to come from Galilee.

Finally, we meet Nick for the last time in chapter 19:

38 Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. 39 With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. 40 Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. 

Clearly, at this point, Nicodemus is a disciple; a follower. Because common names existed, John goes out of his way in chapter 7 and chapter 19 to say, in effect, ‘Make no mistake, this is the same guy.’  I think that’s important because of the way we’re left hanging at the end of John 3. John knows who Nicodemus is and what becomes of him, but rather than telegraph that early on his gospel, he brings Nick in and out of the story culminating with the concern that Jesus’ body be properly anointed for burial.

But Nick’s “dumb” question sparks an answer from Jesus that also includes verse 16, probably the most-known and most-quoted verse in all the New Testament.

So what’s become of your story? Following your initial encounter with God, long after your initial questions, where you do return to the center of God’s story? In what places does your story intersect with His story? At what point in your life would you say you experienced the new birth?


 

Go deeper: Father Dave offers what I believe to be a sermon transcript based on the late night conversation with Jesus and Nicodemus.

 

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