The heart of the Gospel – the Visit of Nicodemus

John 2:23 – 3:36

Sunday 4 November 7.00pm

As indicated in previous weeks this blog is written as if by John, the author of the gospel, reflecting in the light of today on what he has written. It is, of course, written by me, Derek McKelvey.
 The signs Jesus did[1] I haven’t included here, for my point is that people were attracted by them but were not changed by them. They saw and believed him to be a prophet, a ‘miracle worker’, but it was the attraction of the new thing, not the recognition of who he was – and he knew it! He always did – he could discern people’s hearts – so he didn’t make mistakes about people. All too often the first who come running to the new man are not the ones you can trust – I’ve found that over the years, sometimes it’s their own agendas that drive them, their neediness not their need of him. So in the midst of a little revival, Jesus is cautious.

And then Nicodemus arrives. At night – did he want not to be seen or did he simply want there to be uninterrupted time to talk? We were like kids hanging over the bannisters when they should be in bed to hear the adult conversation – we sat and said nothing. Nicodemus, Pharisee, teacher and member of the Sanhedrin[2] was in the house and he was deferring to Jesus. ‘You are a teacher sent from God, for no-one can do these things unless God is with him.’ This was mind-blowing – but not as much as the way Jesus spoke to him, as if he did not even know his theological ‘abc’s’. I’ve tried to get the balance right here. But Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus compliment was stark. ‘No-one can even see the Kingdom of God unless he is born from above.’

Looking back I can see that the point Jesus was making was crystal clear in Nicodemus’ answer – he goes off into a fuss about climbing back as a grown man into his mother’s womb to come out again – he simply did not understand. So Jesus says it again in a different way. ‘No-one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the spirit.’[3] You need the repentance of John’s water baptism and the transforming power of Christ’s Spirit baptism. He still did not get it – and I believe many since have not either.

It is even harder for you to follow the argument Jesus puts forward – for in Greek (and Hebrew) the word for Spirit (PNEUMA) is also the word for wind. So what is born of the pneuma is pneuma … and the pneuma blows wherever it wants…  The Spirit is as unpredictable and as powerful as the wind and it blows when and where it wants. That same Spirit revealed to us who he was and showed us what the Scripture had always said.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life[4].

I had no idea that sentence would capture the essence of the Gospel for so many people – but it did for me and so I should not be surprised I suppose.

But there was something else that had to be said – he did not come to condemn. People condemn themselves when they do not believe, when they refuse to come into the light where what they do can be seen for what it is. As I say in my letter ‘God is love’.[5]

One more thing – when some would have stirred up rivalry between John’s mission and Jesus’ – John would have none of it. ‘He must increase, I must decrease.’ Isn’t that what we all need to do, let him increase in us till it is Him people see?

And am I allowed one more thing? He does not measure out the Spirit – there is more than enough for everyone. Water into wine anyone?

[1] John always calls the ‘miracles’ of Jesus ‘signs’ of the Kingdom; the other three Gospel writers call them ‘powers’ – demonstrations of the power of the Kingdom. So there is no word for ‘miracle’ in the scripture and perhaps that is good as it avoids all the mediaeval imagery that the word brings to mind. Jesus tended to do his signs quietly and without fuss – a message some modern practitioners would do well to imitate.

[2] To be all three was highly significant and quite unusual – but it emphasizes his significance.

[3] ‘Of water and the Spirit’ has been hotly disputed by commentators. Some suggest that water refers to the natural physical birth and the Spirit to the rebirth. But this is unlikely as the context here is the rebirth. Some want to use it as a sacramentalist manifesto – baptism by water is an essential, rather than an outward sign of an inward decision. Some have tried to separate baptism by water as the sign of conversion and baptism by the Spirit as the Pentecostal experience that must follow. But it is hard, given the conversation in Chapter 1:29-34, to see other than that the repentance of John’s water baptism and the empowering of Christ’s Spirit baptism are both essential and contemporary parts of entering the Kingdom.

[4] The ‘so loved’ is grammatically a result clause not a purpose clause. The giving of his Son is the inevitable result of his love. Sending His Son to die was never an option for God, he loved so much that that was the result.

[5] 1 John 4:7-8