Good morning from Jenny! I’m taking a break from the Psalms of David today, and shamelessly recycling what I prepared for our church youth group yesterday. As it was an in-person, socially-distanced meet up…. outside….. in the pouring rain, I’m not sure how much of the study they absorbed. I strongly suspect they absorbed more rain and pizza than anything else.
Anyway, here’s a picture of me as a baby. And here’s a question to get you thinking. What traits, features or habits have you inherited from your parents? My serious, thinking face…. ? That comes from my mum.
I had decided (ambitiously) to look at John 3: 1-21. You might want to have a read of it now.
The passage starts with Nicodemus, who waits until after dark to go and speak to Jesus. From his statement in verse 2, its evident that he’s seen Jesus about, heard his teaching and seen some of his miracles. Yet he didn’t choose to speak to Jesus in public, in the temple courts. While seeing Jesus as someone sent by God, it seems he doesn’t want his mates – the other Pharisees – to know he thinks that. So he goes to see him late, and alone. The resulting conversation gives us the bedrock of our Christian belief. We have to acknowledge the Son, step into the light, be born again, and that puts us right with God.
The conversation, however, doesn’t result in any great conversion event in Nicodemus’ life. When Jesus said to the disciples, “leave everything, follow me”, they did just that. Each of them gave up his life and his job, and went with Jesus. It was single moment of decision for each of them. This passage in John just stops – seemingly mid-discourse. We see no moment of decision in Nicodemus.
However, that’s not the last we hear about Nicodemus. He pops up again in John 7:50, trying to ensure justice for Jesus when the Pharisees are discussing their failed attempt to have him arrested. And then, after the crucifixion, when the disciples had fled, and Peter had denied knowing Jesus, Nicodemus crops up again, accompanying Joseph of Arimathea to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body, so they could bury it. Just when the known followers of Jesus are hiding away, Nicodemus sticks his head above the parapet.
Was Nicodemus a follower of Jesus, in secret? Had there been a point of conversion? Or was he on a long journey to becoming a follower of Jesus? He must have, at the very least, had some communication with John after the resurrection for these stories to have appeared in the Gospel narrative at all, so I’m hopeful.
I find stories like Nicodemus encouraging. When I was born, I was not a follower of Jesus. By the time I was 14 I was certain enough in my faith to want to be baptised. There was no single point of conversion anywhere in those 14 years. No single moment when I metaphorically put down my nets to follow Jesus. I sometimes worry that I’ve missed an important step, and when I pop my clogs, God’s going to look in His big book, and say, “Sorry, you missed a step. You can’t come in. It was clearly stated as a requirement in the terms and conditions.” It’s sometimes good to see that coming to faith is a slow journey, taken step by step, stage by stage, rather than a single, thunder-clap revelation.
I think one of the reasons that we place so much emphasis on this single moment of conversion in talking about becoming followers of Jesus is because of this passage. You must be ‘born again’. Being born is a single moment in time. It can be pin pointed down to the minute. I was born at 9pm on the dot. There must be a moment at which we ‘become’ a Christian.
When I was preparing this passage for the youth group, a thought struck me about that. In verse 6 Jesus says, “Humans can produce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.” When I was born, I had indeed been born, and was a whole human……. But I wasn’t the human that I am now. I couldn’t walk, talk, sit, eat solids, read, cook, sew……. The process of becoming me didn’t happen in a single event. It has been happening slowly for the last 40-odd years. Much of who I became was as a result of my parents and my upbringing. Some of those things were due to genetics. My small hands and feet? Thanks Dad! Others had more to do with the environment I grew up in. If I didn’t have a mum, and a grandmother and an aunt who were always busy with some kind of craft, whether knitting, embroidery or dressmaking, would I now be someone who has huge pleasure in craft herself, even training in textiles? But growing as a human doesn’t stop when we reach adulthood. Only last year, I learnt to ski. Not well, but I can get down a very shallow slope with only mild terror and a lot of encouragement. I’m still growing and learning. I’m still becoming me, as a human.
If that’s what it’s like when humans reproduce human life, perhaps that’s a more accurate picture of what it’s like when the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. Somewhere in those first 14 years of life, there must have been a moment of ‘birth’, but it was so small, so insignificant, I didn’t notice it at the time. The process of becoming the me that follows Jesus, becoming the person who God wants me to be, the person that lives in the light so that others can see what God is doing in my life….. Well, that’s still ongoing. Just as the genetics my family passed to me and the upbringing that they gave me shaped much of the person I have so far become, so the Holy Spirit passed on the genetics of God to me in that moment I was born again, but then continued to ‘bring me up’, and still continues to ‘bring me up’ as a follower of Jesus.
Being ‘born again’ is both a single moment of conversion, and a life long journey. I may not remember the single moment, but I am still in the process of being born again.
I hope Nicodemus also carried on that journey of being born again. His discussion with Jesus has blessed us with the best known verse in scripture. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” I was encouraged that at least one of our young people knew that one before we even started looking at it.
Just for a moment, reflect on your journey, and thank God for your spiritual upbringing. And just as we asked our parents for help – or still do – ask for help with the bits you’re finding tricky.
I’m VERY glad that I don’t have any outdoor meetings to try and lead today. Stay warm and dry Zephyrs, as you go about your individual journeys of being born again today. I hope its a good one.