How can we be born again?
This week, I was visiting a parishioner, and while we sat with our cups of tea, the television was on in the background. Now, I confess that I have never watched much daytime television, but the two shows that were on were Homes Under The Hammer and Bargain Hunt, and as the television glowed I felt myself drawn to the unfolding fortunes of the hopeful contestants and it struck me that these two shows had a common theme in that they both involved people getting lucky and making money. As I watched on, I hoped the contestants would succeed and also felt slightly jealous when, at the final reveal, they walked away with a healthy profit. These kind of shows cleverly tap into our psyche where we hope for a better future for ourselves and we think to ourselves, “One day, perhaps I will also get lucky!”
Back in First Century Palestine, the Jewish people were waiting for God’s kingdom to come at some point in the distant future — at the end of history. Only one person would have the authority to inaugurate and establish such a kingdom, and that would be the King (God) himself. So you can imagine the surprise of the ruling religious authorities when Jesus arrived proclaiming, “The Kingdom of God is here,” and performing miracles as signs that confirmed its existence! Talk about attention-grabbing!
How do you process that? Imagine you have believed and trusted in one version of the narrative for your entire life, dedicated yourself to the cause, and trusted in your interpretation of the ancient texts. How would you feel? Resentful? Sceptical? Perplexed? Defiant? The Sanhedrin, the 71-member highest Jewish council, with religious jurisdiction over every Jew throughout the world, expressed all these things and more. They were divided over this person called Jesus, but a faction of them dared to hope that Jesus was indeed the King who had come to establish and inaugurate the Kingdom of God.
In the dead of night, one of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, approached Jesus and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” Although it was a statement, it was also a question, for behind it were all the hopes and fears of the Sanhedrin, and the implications would change everything forever.
Jesus replied to Nicodemus saying, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again,” which confused Nicodemus no end!
Jesus likened coming into his Kingdom to being born again. You see, when we are born into this world, we are born into earthly kingdoms governed by earthly kings and queens. When we become members of God’s Kingdom — a kingdom with a spiritual King, we are born into it with a spiritual birth. In fact, when Jesus uses the phrase, “born again,” it can also mean, “born from above.”
But here’s the thing. Nicodemus came to Jesus to evaluate him, to appraise him, and to check him out, but when we encounter or meet with God it is God who appraises us, evaluates us, and checks us out! His light shines far brighter than ours, and it is our lives that are illuminated by God and not the other way around. That day, Nicodemus went away changed and transformed by his encounter with the living God.
And the good news is that we can meet Jesus today. There is this phrase we use in the Anglican Church called the Memorial Acclamation. It is an ancient saying used by Christians and it goes like this:
“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
Note that we do not say, “Christ was risen,” but, “Christ is risen.” It is because Christians testify to having met with the risen Christ in the here and now though his Holy Spirit.
One of my parishioners made me laugh this week when she said that I run a divine dating agency and I am a divine matchmaker! And it is true. My job, as a priest or minister, is simply to arrange meetings between people and God – through whatever means are available to me. All I am doing is passing on the invitation from the King and setting up a date!
To emphasise this to Nicodemus, Jesus ended his chat with what has become one of the most well-known and famous Bible verses:
“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.”
Loving the world and giving his Son was and is God’s initiative. Our response is to believe. Like those contestants on Bargain Hunt and Homes Under The Hammer, we can get lucky in the here and now. It is not a hope for a future but a very real and present reality. Therefore, my prayer for you this week is that you may meet with the risen Lord Jesus, encounter him, and be forever blessed. Have a great week.