Friday

23 June 2017

“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’” (vv. 1-2)

Psalm: Psalm 23


Background

John 3:14 is a good place to start with its roots firmly in Hebrew Scripture; the Bible's Old Testament. In Numbers 21:6-9 the Lord sent poisonous or fiery (depending on translation) serpents to bite those who complained about food rations in the desert. The people recognised their sin of complaint. They asked Moses to pray to the Lord to take the serpents away. He did, but was told to give them another snake: a bronze model of one and put it on a pole. They would gaze on it fearfully but it wouldn't harm them. It would actually heal them. A strange but significant serpent-Saviour connection is then made. The Son of Man - Jesus - would be lifted on a pole/cross too: awful to look at but ultimately for the world's healing and salvation. John's Gospel presents a Jesus who daringly reinterprets Hebrew Scripture for Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews and a teacher of Israel. Nicodemus respected Jesus as a teacher (Rabbi), but was mystified by his signs and teaching such as the commotion Jesus caused in the temple by objecting to the trading going on there (John 2:13-25). No wonder Nicodemus visited this controversial Rabbi when it was dark. Apart from the serpent brainteaser, Nicodemus has to wrestle with new suggestions of what it means for Israel to "see the kingdom of God" (v. 3). In other words, to realise and appreciate what life under God's rule and in God's way is really like. To "see" in that new way needs spiritual rebirth. Water Baptism to wash away sins, as offered by John the Baptist, is part of that and a fine thing. But when the Father, having taken Jesus the Son back to himself, sends the Holy Spirit into the world, a whole new birth and Baptism "from above" (vv. 3, 7) will be on offer. Being 'born anew' promises fresh spiritual vision. Those "born of the Spirit" (v. 6) who catch that vision may come from many backgrounds and be sent in many directions, much to a teacher of Israel's surprise. After all, the wind blows where it chooses.


To Ponder

  • What do you think of the question, 'Are you born again?'? Have you ever asked it of someone or been asked it yourself?
  • If the Holy Scriptures of one world religion are interpreted through the lens of another world religion, what are the dangers?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Val Ogden

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