God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Author: 
Fr Alec
Date: 
Sunday, March 16, 2014 - 9:30am

 

 

It is a common misconception about being a Christian that the main aim is to be good. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that the main point of being a Christian is to be bad- far from it. Rather, we must not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of thinking that the Church is a place for Good people, because good people go to heaven. The goodness is secondary, a by-product, if you like, of the main aim, which is to recognise and receive, and to grow in communion with Jesus. If we put our trust in Jesus, if we believe in him, we are on the path to salvation…

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that all who believe in him might not perish, but have eternal life.’

 

When we begin to live that eternal life in the here and now, that is what goodness looks like, because it is God’s life.

 

The church, then, is a place of seeking to know Christ. A place where we must be humble enough to ask silly questions. And a place where it is safe to make mistakes because we are amongst others on the same path. A school for sinners, not a club for saints.

 

It was an anxious Nicodemus who skulked round to see Jesus by night, aware, no doubt, of the risk to his reputation as a Pharisee, and an influential man. Yet he had seen the ‘signs’, the miracles of Jesus, and he needed more. Who was this man? He felt he had an answer…

‘We know that you are a teacher sent from God,’ he said ‘for no-one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God’

 

It must have seemed like a good opening gambit. He could have dismissed Jesus like the others. He could have talked down to him. Instead he greets him as an equal. ‘We are both teachers,’ he seems to say ‘We both act under God’s authority’. He talks about the presence of God, and yet the presence of God is exactly what he doesn’t see.

 

Nicodemus came by night, like a moth attracted to the light, but in his darkness, he doesn’t recognise the Light of the World. Because he assumes that he knows the answer, he cannot hear it when it comes.

 

Jesus responds with obscurity. He mirrors the darkness of this encounter by talking in a way that is completely beyond poor Nicodemus. He challenges Nicodemus’ sense of equality, and offers a correction: ‘No-one can see the kingdom of God, without being born from above.’

In Greek, ‘from above’ also means ‘again’, ‘without being born again.’ Nicodemus, confused and unsettled takes this all far too literally.

 

We, however, are in on the joke. We can see that Jesus is talking about baptism rather than a physically impossible (or at any rate, very uncomfortable) return to the mother’s womb. But how can Nicodemus know this? He has yet to learn that he has a lot to learn.

 

Jesus compounds his frustration by throwing in another double meaning. In the Greek ‘pneumatos’ means both wind and spirit.

‘You must be born of water and the Spirit’ says Jesus.

‘Water and wind?’ thinks Nicodemus ‘how?’

 

The wind, the spirit, blows where it will. We cannot command God. We cannot bind him or oblige him, we can only receive him and let him do his work. We must be open, release our preconceptions and accept him like a child. We must be born again.

 

Nicodemus came by night. Faith is a question of Either/Or, Jesus seems to say. You cannot hedge your bets by safeguarding your position under cover of darkness. If you want to understand, step out into the daylight- stand up and be counted. Don’t try to extrapolate a bridge from what you already think you know- begin again. Make a leap.

 

Jesus is speaking of heavenly things. Nicodemus is still ready only to hear of earthly things. The process of salvation is going to be a process of recognition, of changing the way he sees and hears Jesus. He must learn a new humility, and approach him on different terms if he is to grasp what it is that has brought him here. He must be born anew by the Holy Spirit if Jesus is to make sense to him.

 

The same is true no less for us. By harking back to Moses’ bronze serpent in the wilderness, which saved from death all those who looked upon it, Jesus casts our eyes forward to the time when the Son of Man will be ‘raised up’- to his own crucifixion. Here is the moment of truth. The Day of Judgement. What do we see when we look at the cross? The shame of defeat or the glory of victory? The end of a life or the conquest of death? What Jesus does depends on who he is- will we take up our cross based only on his promise?

 

This is the question at the heart of discipleship. Who is Jesus to you? Are you prepared to stake your life on the answer? Will we come to Jesus by night, or do we have the courage to step out into the light and to carry our cross with Christ?