Good morning and happy mother’s day, we celebrate mothers and mother figures, and honour all women today but I also want to acknowledge those who find mother’s day difficult and not sure a happy day.
My one and a half year old is named Cecil not to be confused with my husband who is also called Cecil. Before little Cecil was born I had a bunch of ideas about how to raise kids, I had worked with a lot of kids at Camp Columba and well I thought I could teach most parents a thing or two. Thankfully I mostly kept my mouth shut regarding this. But I had a bunch of ideas for other parents in how to do this parenting thing. Things to do and not do…
And then I had Cecil and a lot of those ideas all became chaff in the wind. I had no idea what I was talking about. Co-sleeping may have seemed like a terrible idea until your right there, in the middle of it at 3am with a child who won’t sleep. I was naive and rightly so, I thought I knew but really I didn’t understand at all. I thought I knew but I didn’t understand at all.
Nicodemus in John chapter 3 is a bit similar. He thought he knew but really doesn’t understand at all.
Read John 3v1-8
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” 4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Jesus uses a childbirth metaphor to explain salvation. Fitting for mother’s day I thought. Here God expresses his salvation to us in a way that makes us the child and God a mother in labour for us.
Probably not a normal metaphor to use. But if there was anyone who might understand what Jesus was saying Nicodemus would have been a good bet. He was a pharisee which meant he was well-educated in religious concepts, he was even a teacher of religious concepts and would have been called Rabbi. He was a member of the ruling council- which meant he was one of 70 ruling councillors. This made Nicodemus the modern equivalent of a politician, priest, and professor all rolled into one.
Nicodemus had all the knowledge but didn’t understand.
He was a Pharisee and we often give pharisees and Sadducees a hard time. We often make them out to be the bad guys. But the uncomfterable truth is, soo often we are just like them. We have knowledge but often don’t understand.
There was a president of a well-known theological university who was shopping during the Christmas season and happened to pass by a Salvation Army volunteer, standing by a “donation bucket” and ringing a bell. As he paused to make a donation, the woman volunteer asked this president: “Sir, are you saved?” When he replied that he supposed he was, she was not satisfied, so she pursued the matter further: “I mean, have you ever given your full life to the Lord?” At this point, the president thought he should enlighten this persistent woman concerning his identity: “I am the president of such and such university, and as such, I am also president of its school of theology.” The lady considered his response for a moment, and then replied, “It doesn’t matter wherever you’ve been, or whatever you are, you can still be saved.”
We can have lots of knowledge like Nicodemus, and we can have lots of Churchy knowledge. It can be part of our identity, I’ve always gone to church, its who I am, and this is not bad at all, it’s often a blessing. But it’s not enough!
What if Jesus was to arrive and say- all those things you do your bible reading, quiet times, your tithing, your upbringing in a Christian home, how you serve the church, all of these things don’t cut it, you must be born again to see the kingdom of God.
Jesus flips all Nicodemus stood for on its head in one sentence.
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
Nicodemus was probably pretty secure in his Jewishness. And I’m sure a lot of us are secure in our Christiness, some of us probably aren’t as secure in our Christianess. There is probably a little bit of a Pharisee mindset inside all of us. A little spiritual pride or showmanship where we think we got it all together or at least we want it to appear like we do. At times we find life in doing religious activities, not because we are serving the Lord, rather because that’s what we do.
Nicodemus was secure in his Jewishness, he was even an expert, a top leader, born into the right family. Showmanship, spiritual pride or not Nicodemus had a lot of knowledge but he didn’t understand.
Jesus says- you must be born again! And Nicodemus didn’t get it!
8 times in as many verses the word birth, womb, born, or gives birth, are used. Birth is the metaphor! Which I found quite fitting on mother’s day I have to say. Jesus uses childbirth as a metaphor for salvation.
After I had given birth to Cecil yes I am going to use the actual language as that’s what our scripture reading uses today. So after I gave birth to Cecil I had this huge respect for all women. Anyone who had given birth was raised to superhero status over night! Just walking around town, at the supermarket. Ever women I saw I was thinking wow you are amazing. You are amazing as well. And you too! To go through that gosh you are strong and deserve a gold medal or a trophy or a monument or something. You are all amazing, I had no idea before!
I had knowledge of birth before giving birth but I didn’t understand until I had given birth. Jesus is saying unless we are born again spiritually we just wont understand. We may have knowledge. But we will be missing understanding and we will be missing so much that its like we haven’t even been born yet!
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
People I have talked to about birth tend to be on either end of a spectrum. One side birth is a beautiful, magical experience, the joy of new life, and its very positive and empowering for women. It’s a time full of God’s blessings and just awe and fluffy ducklings.
The other end of the spectrum birth is chaotic and traumatic. Filled with complications which can be life threating before, during, and after birth which leaves scars of all kinds with lasting impact. Physically needing surgery to repair the damage done. And emotionally, mentally, spiritually its as if surgery also needs to be done from experiencing near death places.
And yet Jesus uses childbirth as the metaphor for new life. We must go through a spiritual birth which could be beautiful and empowering or it may be chaotic and traumatic but new life is created to see the kingdom of God.
Before Cecil was born when the terms born again were used in a Christian way I did not link them to childbirth at all. Born again, made new, new life, all were spiritual ideas. And born again was often about making a decision to follow Jesus. Usually it signified the turning point of making that decision. And that was a happy joyful occasion, it wasn’t a lengthy process involving any pain.
Talking with a friend last week we were having a discussion about a monk he knew. And we were discussing whether the gospel looked like good news for this monk. If he chose to follow Jesus there was serious ramifications. His family would probably renounce him, Following Jesus could mean the monk could loose his whole family, he would lose his place in society, loose his current calling or vocation in life. His whole way of life, all the friends and family he had back home would be lost or at least strained a lot. Becoming a follower of Jesus for this monk from our perspective looked really hard, messy, painful, it will probably be a process, and there will probably be a sense of death and loss of identity and relationships. And yet Jesus says to Nicodemus regardless of the ramifications “very very truly I tell you, you must be born again”, born from above. Jesus uses strong language. Its as if Jesus is saying look you just have to be born again. Without the Holy Spirit making you new there are many things you just wont have a clue about. You just wont understand. You won’t see the kingdom of God!
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
The Spirit is at work. Born of water signifies cleansing and baptism. Born of Spirit I have this funny feeling is all about the Holy Spirit I figure. Spirit gives birth to Spirit.
So if being born again is more than just us making a decision sometime. What is it? How does it relate to birth? One of the problems with it being all about our decision is that it takes away that God is involved in the process and decision- as if the mother is not involved with the birth. The Holy Spirit births new life!
Now as we know the baby doesn’t do much of the birthing process, it happens to them and while they do a little most of the pain and effort comes from the mother rather than the baby. So it is with Spiritual birth. God does the work, God even does most of the pain, Jesus dies on the cross for our new life, and I believe God experiences the joy of our new life, the joy of us being born to him. In new life- in birth, the change is mostly on the part of the child, but the pain is mostly on the part of the parent. In this case, the pain suffered by God, in the form of Jesus on a cross, produces new life and change in those who believe in God.
Now you may be thinking yes Annie-Kate I get all of that I’ve been a Christian for so many years. I’ve been born again, so this is old news to me, how can I learn from this. What can I apply to my life from this.
For our own lives we often need to be reminded we are saved by grace not works. It is not our Christianess- it’s not about how good our prayer life is or isn’t. It’s about what God has done for us, giving us new life, birthing us into new life. It’s not Christian knowledge that saves us. For Nicodemus a Pharisee who were all about the law, all about following the religious ways this will not cut it.
You must be born of the Spirit. The Spirit gives us understanding, but so much more than that. Newness, gifts of the Spirit, the freedom from the law. Gal 5v18 You are lead by the Spirit you are not under the law. This was a new way of living for Nicodemus – and it’s a new way of living for us. A way of life lead by the Spirit, a life that is made new and is still in the process of being made new and will be made new fully one day.
The birth metaphor shapes how we see mission, it shapes how we see evangelism but also shapes how we DO evangelism. Because we don’t just talk about things like we accuse Pharisees and Sadducees of, but we live out what we believe. So friends and family we would love to see become followers of Jesus, people we would love to see born again. We need to understand the messiness, the pain, and joy of birth, the vulnerability of the new life, and realise it is The Spirit who does the saving not us. Nicodemus understood all the ways to be a Jew and how to become one. Which was mostly through being born into a Jewish family. Here in John 3v8
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Everyone born of the Spirit is the Spirits work. Birth is a bit unpredictable about when it happens, Spiritual birth is also not up to us alone but is from God. It is the Spirits work in us and the Spirits work who brings new life in our friends and family. And as we live in step with the Spirit I believe we participate with God in his saving plan for others.
I want to encourage us all to not be satisfied with just knowledge of God but- be willing to be born again- in all its messiness, in all the pain it often takes to produce new life, a process that ends in joy. Are you willing to be born of the Spirit if you haven’t already?
Are you willing to be lead by the Spirit beside people who are still in the labour of new life, who are not yet here.
Are you willing to be with people through their Spiritual birth? It may be painful, it may be hard to watch, but it will also be joyful in the end we hope and pray.
I am sorry if this topic has brought up memories you would rather not remember. If you want to talk about those or have someone pray with you please do ask for prayer today after the last song or sometime this week.
To finish with Nicodemus – he is mentioned twice more. This first time is in the dark in secret coming to Jesus, the second Nicodemus speaks up in a way defending that Jesus should get a fair trail, and finally He brings a huge amount of spices (like an amount for royalty) at Jesus burial and is not in the dark, not hiding. Nicodemus didn’t stay where he was
Are we willing to be born of the Spirit?