Jean-Daniel Zuber, Stewardship Director

Euro-Africa Division

Summary: To possess a fulfilling life in Christ, we need to move courageously through each ?new birth.? Living this way means to forge ahead, to grow. It doesn’t mean withdrawing into ourselves, our positions or our obligations to the point that we are no longer able to hear what the Holy Spirit has to tell us. Walk boldly through each new ?birth? ?

Read: John 3:1- 9

Introduction. The theme of the narrative regarding Nicodemus in this passage is about being born again. It is about a complete change in one’s way of thinking under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Looking at the passage, in Chapter 2 we discover those who say they believe in the name of Jesus and His ability to understand the minds of people. Chapter 3 begins with the word ?now,? announcing that a new situation and a new character are about to appear.

From this text we observe that the verb to be born is used eight times. Jesus uses birth—this genesis event of a person’s life—to help Nicodemus reflect on who He is and what the kingdom of God is all about. This story is a dialogue between two characters: Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, and Jesus, the unsurpassable Man of God who puzzles Nicodemus.

The scene takes place by night, no doubt for reasons which are right for Nicodemus but which Jesus will later exploit in an excellent illustration. Nicodemus dares to express his curiosity toward Jesus while showing his deep respect for God, for he himself is a man of God.

This passage brings out interesting concentric parallelisms and is structured as follows:

Verses 1 and 2: Introduction of Nicodemus

Verse 3: Jesus answers

Verse 4: Irony of Nicodemus, his astonishment

Verses 5 and 6: Baptism of water and Spirit

Verse 7: Jesus declares: You ought not to be astonished

Verse 8: The wind blows where it wills

Verse 9: Nicodemus’s confusion

Verses 1 to 4 on the one hand, and verses 7 to 9 on the other hand, introduce the main message of the new birth of water and Spirit.

Let us understand. Jesus tries to make a doctor of the law acknowledge an essential element of spiritual life through an illustration drawn from a essential element of physical life—the birth of a human being.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the components of this event: Enveloped in the amniotic liquid, the fetus is in darkness, in a night that prevents it from seeing its surroundings and discerning its present condition. It is covered by a membrane that protects it from shock, sound, and light. But one day this environment will become too small, and should the fetus remain where it is, it would cease to live!

One day something is going to trigger! It will seem to come from the child as well as the mother, but the exit signal will originate with the child, announcing that the time of separation has come! The infant expresses his need for something new: his birth. Suddenly, the baby faces light, drought, cold, and sound. Uttering his first cry, he faces air and breathes in oxygen. He has attained the breath of life!

The infant will have to physically separate from his mother so that during his youth, he will attain a growing independence of choice—a freedom that he could not have in his mother’s womb. Henceforth, he is a new human being. However, for this infant to live fully and completely, his birth should be followed by many others births! Indeed, the process that took place and led him to life could be compared to all of life’s conquests he must undertake to grow: From birth to walking, adapting to his surroundings, living in society, relating to brothers, sisters, and schoolmates, learning and growing in faith to and through adulthood.

Each time he must leave the water—a symbol of security and protection—to attain something unknown, new, greater, and more powerful. But, as with the fetus, if this watery state continues it becomes a symbol of limitation and death. The trigger or instrument of this change will be a fervor, a breath, and a Spirit that will allow him to overcome the obstacles of this adventure and the sufferings related to it so that he may achieve a new stage of development desired by the Creator.

Hailed by His personality. According to the text, the Spirit is always impelling, inspiring and enlivening this movement. It is the same with the man who seeks God. Jesus wants Nicodemus to understand that he is in the same state as an unborn child. He needs to come, hailed by the personality and power of Jesus, as a baby ready to move outside to new life! But this cannot be done without abandoning the safeties that were once necessary. Safeties which have now become obsolete and restrictive sources of death!

Without any doubt, this movement cannot occur without suffering, painful heartbreak, and without taking risks. For Nicodemus, erroneous conceptions regarding the law, the social status of people and the Son of God, fill his mind and prevent the Holy Spirit from leading him toward the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus has to reconsider his traditional, formalistic thoughts to arrive at the profound source of God’s kingdom—the assurance of the continual and unconditional love of the Father ? and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ep 4:13).

Today is much like Amos’ time, a time of admonition to change our thinking and understanding. As in Christ’s time, we are hailed by strong signs of God’s love as well as by the dark madness of men! How will we react? Will we take refuge by protecting ourselves with a rigid reinforcement of all kinds of rules? By using delusive means of security through escape or money or superstition? Or by being fatalistic—eating and drinking because tomorrow the risk of death will be greater than today? Or will we lose our faith by making ourselves judge over everyone who does not think or live as we do?

After hearing these warnings, will we be ready to examine ourselves when we meet Jesus face to face? He calls us, just as He called Nicodemus! Will we be drawn to Christ’s character and work as Nicodemus was? Will we question ourselves as the prodigal son did and consider our values, motives, and priorities? We need to conform our attitudes to the influence of the Holy Spirit, remaining faithful to the principles Jesus gave us. Under this influence we may give priority to God’s love and our love for others in the very name of Love by which we ourselves are loved.

Conclusion. God loves us. He wants us to live fully the life He provides from His infinite resources. And to live this way means to forge ahead, to grow. It doesn’t mean withdrawing into ourselves, into our positions, into our obligations, to the point that we are no longer able to hear what the Holy Spirit has to tell us. In order for us to continue our course through this life, we need to move courageously through each new birth which will lead us to the perfect stature of Christ.

For this to take place, we must learn to be born again. We must look at matters with new minds, with the loving look of Christ upon everything. We need to receive the Holy Spirit as Master of our thoughts from whence come our attitudes and actions.

It is time to be born again every day! May God help us. Listen carefully. Pay rapt attention. He has promised to be continually by our side. Let us walk into each new birth with courage and faith.

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January–March, 2002

The Mind