Community – Part 2
In John’s gospel is a story about a guy called Nicodemus, and it is through his dialogue with Jesus that we encounter some of the themes and ideas about God’s eternal community — The Kingdom of God — that form the very basis of how we are to live and have our being in relationship with God.
Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish Ruling Council — a council made up of high priests, teachers, and lawmakers. He approached Jesus at night, signifying that he wanted to have an intimate, personal, and clandestine meeting — not coming to Jesus on official business but personal business. Nicodemus made it clear that there was a group of them within the Jewish Ruling Council that recognised who Jesus was, and that he was not alone. By way of an introduction, he opens with this statement:
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with that person.”
Jesus replies by cutting straight to the heart of the matter with a single sentence.
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see (or enter) the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
You see, Nicodemus, as part of the Jewish Ruling Council, was all about teaching people about God — and particularly how to obey the rules and regulations in order to be holy or acceptable to God. Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, was concerned with what we dub ‘religiosity’ — not for its own sake — but for the sake of holiness. For example, he would say something like, “If you want to meet with God then you need to be holy, and this is how you go about it.”
But Jesus turns this on its head and says that being welcomed into the community or Kingdom of God is not about religiosity or doing anything holy. It is about being born again or rebirthed. As Christians, I wonder if we have heard the phrase ‘born again’ so many times that it has lost the utter strangeness of how Nicodemus must have heard it. To enter the Kingdom of God you must be rebirthed. How extraordinary!?
Jesus explains that to become part of God’s community you have to be born into it and Nicodemus asks how this can be?
“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus goes on to explain that to be born into a physical human community you need to have a physical birth, therefore, in the same way, to be born into a spiritual community (with God), you need a spiritual birth. Jesus is alluding to the fact that he himself is the key to unlocking that possibility — through his life, death, and resurrection. As God is holy, Jesus makes us holy such that we can commune with God.
Jesus says we must be born of water and the Spirit and that makes perfect sense. In other messages I talk about how the Spirit brings order out of chaos and how water represents that chaos. Well, as we are born into the waters of chaos, the Spirit lifts us out of the chaos of our lives and brings us to a new spiritual reality.
However, what we learn from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is that we cannot enter the Kingdom of God in our own strength. This rebirth can only come from something outside of ourselves — from God. Our religiosity cannot save us. In other words, no matter how hard you try, you cannot achieve ‘rebirth’ in your own strength. You can come to church every Sunday, you can read your Bible, you can pray, you can give all your belongings to the poor, you can put $100 bills in the church coffers (that last one was a hint), but you will not be any closer to entering the Kingdom of God. Religiosity does not get us there but relationship does.
Jesus, the Son, makes us clean so that we can be born again; born of the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit in us that draws us, through love, into a relationship with God. We enter God’s community — The Kingdom of God — no other way. Jesus says to Nicodemus,
“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.”
We can choose to live outside God’s Kingdom. We can choose to live a transient life apart from God. We can ignore the outstretched hand of Jesus and resist his love. God will never coerce or force anyone to love him for that is not the way of love. The way of love was to come to us, meet with us, eat and drink with us, tell us we are loved and precious, then give himself for us, hoping and dreaming that it will be enough to rouse us from our slumber and for us to say, “I am a sinner. You came to save me. Thank you, Jesus.”
Let me leave you with this poem by Malcolm Guite:
In the beginning, not in time or space,
But in the quick before both space and time,
In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace
In three in one and one in three, in rhyme
In music, in the whole creation story,
In His own image, in His imagination,
The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,
And makes us each the other’s inspiration.
He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,
To improvise a music of our own,
To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,
Three notes resounding from a single tone,
To sing the End in whom we all begin;
Our God beyond, beside us and within.