Genesis 12:1-4 New International Version (NIV)
1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
1Now 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.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
How many Mennonites does it take to change a light bulb? 25: five on the light bulb removal committee, 10 on church council to approve the expenditure, five on the purchasing committee, and five on the installation committee.
How many Mennonites does it take to change a light bulb? 7: 1 to change the bulb and six to stand around and complain about how much more they liked the way things used to be.
How many Mennonites does it take to change a light bulb? Change? What’s that?
One of the scariest things to me is change. I like continuity, predictability, and consistency. Change makes me uncomfortable. I don’t even like to carry change around in my pocket.
I know that there are many people who embrace the excitement and challenges that come along with change, but I believe that they are usually in the minority. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that some people who always seek change are actually just comfortable with the consistency of inconsistency.
Even if you are one of the few who likes to try new things, I feel that you probably at least like to know what you are getting into. I tend to order the same thing every time I go to a restaurant, and you may like to change things up each time. But I bet there are very few people, if any, who walk into their favorite restaurant, grab a menu, close their eyes, and just point to something, telling the waiter, “I’ll take that.”
Now that’s exciting and maybe a little bit dangerous! You might get the filet mignon, or you might get the kid’s corn dog with French fries.
Take that level of excitement and danger, multiply it by 1,000, and you will still not reach the level of anxiety that I get when I put myself in the shoes of Abram. Verse one tells us, “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.’”
At your favorite restaurant, you know you typically like their food. And if you get the corndog, there’s probably worse things you could eat. But in our Old Testament text we find that Abram was told to leave his country, his people, and his family to go to some unnamed land. Abram had a lot to lose as he was coming out of a pretty comfortable situation. But the Bible tells us that Abram was faithful, he followed God, and he was blessed because of it. Sure, life wasn’t without its struggles for Abram after this initial act of faith. But it was worth it.
The attributes of stepping out in faith tend to be consistent throughout the Bible. It is scary, it makes us uncomfortable, but there are always promises that accompany these changes that remind us that it will be worth it.
One example that we find is a part of the larger narrative behind one of the best known verses in our Bibles, John 3:16. But let’s not rush there yet.
John begins this chapter by telling us that there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who is a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a ruling body that served like a Jewish court system. In spite of all of their shortcomings and mistakes, it would be wrong to call the Pharisees stupid. They knew the scriptures forward and backwards. And as a member of the Sanhedrin, we have to assume that Nicodemus was among the smartest of the smart in Jerusalem.
This wise, educated, and respected man comes to Jesus at night and says, “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” (v.2).
I like to note that when Nicodemus addresses Jesus, he calls him Rabbi and says that he is a teacher. The word “rabbi” means teacher. As Christians we believe that Jesus was more than just a teacher, we believe he was God incarnate. But Jesus doesn’t stop Nicodemus and correct him. And I love the way that Bruxy Cavey mentions that this is an excellent way for people to begin seeking Jesus. If someone is interested in learning more about Jesus, it is helpful to start by looking at him as a teacher and moving toward the ontological and theological questions of his being. Nicodemus, a seeker, recognizes Jesus as a teacher, and Jesus starts there and goes on to show Nicodemus his full identity as they continue to walk together.
So how does Jesus respond to Nicodemus as he professes Jesus’ role as a teacher from God? He says something that seems totally unrelated. Verse 3, “Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’”
We find Nicodemus’ response in the following verse, “‘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!’”
We often mock Nicodemus for his lack of understanding here. I mean, come on. How stupid can you really be, Nicodemus? Again I am indebted to Bruxy for a different way of seeing this inquiry from Nicodemus.
This idea of new birth was not original to Jesus. In fact, there are numerous religions that use this metaphor for changing your life and beginning anew. One of the religions that has employed this metaphor is Judaism.
Remember, Nicodemus is a sharp guy. So when Jesus says, “You must be born again,” Nicodemus just continues to use the metaphor, to play along, and he essentially says, Look at me. I’m a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin. I’m a keeper of the Law, a teacher of the Law, and an expositor of the Law. I’m rather mature in my faith, so why would I need to be born again?
Sure, Nicodemus was doing alright for himself, but he had not yet arrived. Jesus informs him that if he wants to see the kingdom of God, he must be born of the water and the spirit. A new beginning in Christ.
Let’s go back to our Old Testament text for a minute. God calls Abram, and Abram begins a new life in a new place. But we don’t often talk about Abram. We know him better as Abraham.
There are a number of individuals who receive new names in the Bible when they accept this call to faithfulness. Simon is given the name Peter. Saul becomes Paul. These men are given new names to reflect their new lives, their new realities, their new beginnings.
There’s not a one of us that wouldn’t like to try some things again.
As we (hopefully) approach spring, many of our minds turn to things pertaining to the outdoors. I planted lettuce and beets in our coldframe this week and I saw many people enjoying the nice weather in the park.
But for some people in our congregation, nice weather means one thing: golf. I don’t golf. I don’t even own a single golf club. But I have golfed a few times and I get the basic concept of the game. You have a little white ball that you try to whack with a big metal club until the little white ball goes into a hole. The person who takes the least amount of whacks to get their ball to go into all of the holes wins.
As I learned the rules to golf, I learned that there is something that is not in the rule books, but it would seem is practiced on every golf course. This is the practice of giving a “do over,” a second chance. If you go to hit your ball and you slip, twist, or lose your grip, your golfing companions may allow you to try the shot again. That shot is called a mulligan.
The thinking behind offering a mulligan is that we all make mistakes. We all hit a ball into the woods, water, or sand from time to time. And we know that we can do better. So you grab another ball, drop it where the previous ball had been, and swing again.
Now it probably seems obvious to everyone, but if you get a second chance to hit the ball, you aren’t going to do everything exactly the same. You are going to make adjustments, tweaks, and changes. Because maybe you can’t change the fact that the first ball you hit is now somewhere in the trees, but you don’t have to make that same mistake again.
When Jesus uses the metaphor of rebirth, he isn’t saying that one day when we die we will go to heaven. He is offering eternal life, life that can start right now. He is offering the mulligan and saying, You’ve made mistakes, and we can’t change the past. But we don’t have to make those same choices again.
Our son, Paxton, was talking about bullies this week. I’m not sure where a 4-year-old hears about bullies, but this got me thinking of my younger years.
I remember sitting in the locker room as a freshman in high school when one of my classmates was being picked on. He was short, chubby, and had thick glasses. His overall lack of athleticism made him an easy target for bullies. And when he got pushed around and teased, I knew that I should do something. I should speak out, stop them, find a teacher, anything. But I said nothing, I did nothing. Perhaps because it was nice to have someone else being teased for a change.
Today I see that whole situation differently and wish I would have said something. I know that saying something would have been social suicide for me, but as a follower of Jesus, I believe we must stick up for the weak, the lonely, and the bullied, regardless of the cost.
When I became a Christian, I identified with a crucified Jew who was mocked, beaten, and accused of all sorts of things. And being born again means that you get a mulligan. No, I can’t go out and hit that golf ball again. That original ball is in the woods or the lake. But I have been given the opportunity to swing again. And hopefully, this time I will follow Jesus.