Sometimes Jesus is confusing (John 3): August 11, 2014

the text: John 3:1-21
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He 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.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus 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?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The 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.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

‘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. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

‘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.

‘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. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

the ideas
Nicodemus (Nic) - The scripture passage tells us that Nic comes in the dark and calls Jesus rabbi. The darkness is symbolic as it represents his religious state. Jesus is the light of the world, in John, and darkness will not overcome the light. A question: is Nic sincere in his questioning or contradictory? Scholars are divided, but the light/dark language may help. Nic also flatters Jesus with complimenting his signs and calling him rabbi. Jesus sees right through it. Moreover, calling Jesus a rabbi who comes from God is like saying "God is with you" and does not recognize that Jesus comes from God.

Jesus conversations - in the book of John, Jesus tries to converse in such a way that he brings people to a revelation, an epiphany, about who he is. Often times he is confusing. Sometimes I wonder if he is confusing on purpose to help people who think they have it all figured out have a little doubt about the right-ness.

Kingdom of God - The Gospel of John talks much more about Eternal life rather than the Kingdom of God. With the Synoptics (Matt, Mark, Luke) it is the opposite. In fact, the Kingdom only gets mentioned here, with the religious leader, and in chapter 18, with Pilate the government leader. Kingdom, in Nic's understanding, comes at the end of time, but Jesus stresses the NOW-NESS of the kingdom.

Above/Anew/Again - The word Jesus uses could mean any of these ideas (triple entendre?). Nic obviously assumes again or anew because he asks the question about climbing back into our mother's womb. Jesus shows us that it is about being born from above. More than that, Jesus reprimands Nic here. It is not those who see Jesus' signs that see the Kingdom. Only those who have been born from above have eyes to see the Kingdom of God.

Water/Spirit - Lots of debate throughout Church history about this passage. Is this really about water baptism and the indwelling of the Spirit? Maybe. It could be about different births, water being human and Spirit is spiritual from above. Often theologians want to link this to our practice of baptism; I don't think this is too far from the truth, but ultimately I think there are as many interpretations as interpreters. Again, who knows?

Moses and the Snake - Jesus relates his story to the story of Moses lifting the serpent (Numbers 21). Essentially, God releases snakes on the people for their rebellion. Moses made this bronze snake and anyone who was bit would only have to look at the snake and they would be healed. We see the bronze snake still in medical imagery. Jesus uses the phrase "lifted up" because it has two meanings. Jesus will literally be lifted up on the cross like the snake. But Jesus being lifted up on the cross is also Jesus being glorified and exalted. This is where Jesus reveals himself. He is the Son of Man who has come from heaven. Anyone who looks at Jesus as one exalted on the cross will have eternal life.

Gospel is for All - God loves the whole world and whoever looks on Jesus will leave the darkness and find the light of salvation. Here Jesus is continuing his ministry of busting down the walls put up around God and inviting everyone in. 3:16 is probably the most popular verse in Christianity right now.

Spoiler Alert - Nic shows up later in the story, after Jesus is "lifted up."

the stuff
When you think about the cross of Christ do you think triumph or defeat? If triumph, do you usually think about your individual sins being taken care of or is there global work being done?

If we have a hard time looking at the cross as the triumph of God for the whole world, then we may need to pray for fresh water. Moreover, if we don't see that the cross is our own destination, and that by taking up our cross daily we cannot see God without it, we might need a baptism of the Spirit.

Often we are like Nicodemus. We like Rabbi Jesus who does some miracles. The water into wine trick was pretty sweeeeeeettttt. But Jesus refuses the flattery and the miracles. In fact, at the end of chapter 2, he refused to entrust himself to those who were patting his back over signs. Jesus is not interested in being a miracle worker. He prefers to help people move into the Kingdom that is here and the eternal life that is now. We do this by casting our lot in with the Jesus who has been crucified. We do this by taking up our own crosses.

Think of something you could give up this week. What is something indulgent or comfortable that you have made a habit that you could, and maybe should, give up? Maybe it is that sugary coffee drink. Maybe it is that extra long shower you take everyday. Maybe it is the amount of time you spend social networking on the phone. Maybe it is soda or cheese or tv time. Whatever isn't beneficial or edifying and actually may be detrimental to your physical or spiritual life, think about going without it this week. During that time or comfort, invite the Spirit into your life specifically asking that you have eyes to see the Kingdom around and eyes to see the cross of Christ as God's victory. 



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