“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” – John 3:3
When was the last time you flew in an airplane? Did you listen to the safety instructions at the beginning? When you fly a lot you begin to tune out the instructions at the beginning. But if you do listen, you will hear an interesting rule. If the plane has to make a water landing or something like that, everyone is supposed to file out and get in the rafts that come out of the exit doors. And when you do that, you are supposed to leave everything behind.
I thought of this as I read this famous passage from the Gospel of John, from chapter 3:1-17. Our familiarity with this story, particularly with verse 16, can cause us to be overly familiar. We use the language from this passage, particularly Jesus’ admonition that Nicodemus must be born again. That particular phrase has been said so much that it borders on cliché. But when we read it from Jesus himself, it takes on a new life.
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Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, who was a member of the religious elite. Not only that but in verse 7 Jesus uses a form of “you” that is actually plural. His words appear to not just be for Nicodemus alone, but for others like him. We might well include ourselves in that, we who sit in the seats every Sunday and go about “church” business out of long-held faithfulness. It is religious types like us, who Jesus says must be born again. We must start over, leaving everything behind and allowing ourselves to be made once again in the image of God.
That can be a sobering thought. Indeed, Jesus says that until Nicodemus and those like him are born again, they will be blind to the work of the Holy Spirit. (verses 11-12) But Jesus gives us an example of what it means to truly be “born of water and the Spirit,” as he says in verse 5. Later on in verse 8, Jesus says the following: “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.” What a powerful image! Those who have been born of the Spirit are unbound by the worries of this world. Like the wind, they defy explanation. The troubles of this world do not cause for sadness, but instead, show how those of us who leave everything behind can rise above such troubles.
As if to punctuate this beautiful news, John writes verses 16 and 17. God loves all of us so much, both the deeply religious and irreligious, that He sent His son to give us eternal life. His goal was not condemnation, but redemption. That is truly good news for those of us who struggle to leave behind everything that we have known.