• John 3
In “The Sound of Music,” the Von Trapp children are taught to sing by Maria, their live-in nanny. She sings that the very beginning is a very fine place to start. It is not surprising that we have gone to the beginning as we begin the series on “Growing Together in Christ.”
Our focal passage this week contains perhaps the most familiar passage in the entirety of Scripture—John 3:16. The conversation leading to this pivotal point of Christian theology is the beginning point for any who want to consider following Christ.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night (some say for timidity, others for convenience) to find out what is going on. There is something happening in his world that he cannot quite classify. His opening question to Jesus indicates both a spiritual foundation and a spiritual awareness. He knows God has been said to act. He knows that the activity surrounding Jesus’ ministry seems to point to something he has heard about.
But Jesus zeroes in on the heart of the matter. “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). The word translated “again” can also be translated “from above.” Jesus looks into the earthly qualifications Nicodemus has accumulated and declares them lacking. If this teacher and leader of the Jewish people really had God’s kingdom in mind, Jesus showed him what was lacking: a fresh birth that found its origin in the very kingdom the Jews were seeking—a birth from above that was predicated upon sacrifice and required a faith-response from all who would partake.
Nicodemus sought to understand the intricacies of this radical way of looking at things. Look at his exclamation in verse 9: “How can this be?”
Jesus offered him a familiar word picture from the collection of stories from the Old Testament. The bronze serpent was crafted as an object to bring healing—“Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live” (Numbers 21:8). The peril is real (snakes vs. sin). The punishment is death (venom vs. wrath). The remedy lies in faith (look to the snake vs. look to the Son). Neither earthly qualifications, education, nor positions of influence will get a person closer to the kingdom of God. It must be entered in by the path of faith: Trusting God to do what he promised (v. 17).
My children bring me a great deal of joy (and frustration). I enjoy watching them make sense of the world around them. Birthday parties are one of those occasions when I take pleasure in observing human nature kick in.
Who doesn’t like to receive a present? My youngest child celebrated her fifth birthday last month. As the guests brought the gifts in brightly colored wrapping paper, it struck me how quickly we lose the innocence of receiving.
My daughter was not concerned about the cost of the gifts. She did not seem the least bit bothered by those gifts that were more “practical” than others. She didn’t even object at duplications. She was enjoying her party to the full. She was gratefully receiving what had been offered by those who loved her.
We should learn a lesson from a 5-year-old. God comes offering the perfect gift to us. It’s just our size. We don’t have one already. It is precisely what we need. It never will wear out. It never will go out of style. We always will be able to use it.
God offers us the gift of “life abundantly” (John 10:10). Our responsibility is to receive it with gladness. To respond in faith. To be “born from above” and enter in to a love relationship with Almighty God.