“From Ghoulies and Ghoosties, long-leggety Beasties, and things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”
This old 20th Century prayer is a reminder that we don’t like things that startle us in the night. A noise in the daytime is quite different than that same noise in the dark of night. Our imaginations can go wild about the source of night-time interruptions.
Movie makers take advantage of this. Think of how all the scary scenes take place at night! Have you ever seen the classic apocalyptic film The Omega Man? The fact that the creepy zombie people can only come out at night is one of the best plot twists of that film. Everything happens at night…none of it good.
In our scripture today we see that a man named Nicodemus interrupted Jesus late at night. This is an important part of this encounter. Why didn’t he approach Jesus during the day, when Jesus was out teaching on the hillside? Something was amiss:
John 3 (The Message)
3 1-2 There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.”
John is explicit about why this had to happen at night. He lays out Nicodemus’ credentials in the first sentence: Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a prominent leader among the Jews. Imagine what might have happened to his social rank and political status if he had been seen consorting with this untrained, radical teacher. It would not have been appropriate. We have to give Nicodemus credit, though, for acknowledging Jesus’ connection to God. It was remarkable for a Pharisee to point to Jesus’ teachings and attribute them to God. But he could only say it in the dark of night. His brothers surely would have persecuted him for thinking this way.
3 Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”
4 “How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”
In typical Pharisaical behavior, Nicodemus questioned the practicality of the premise. He was not quite ready to yield to the idea of new life in Christ. His hold on the Jewish laws and ways is too strong, and so he resisted being won over….just yet.
5-6 Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.
We are all like Nicodemus in a way. Some of us resist the complete yielding to God that is necessary for full conversion to new life. We like the idea, but we are not so sure we want to leave it ALL behind to follow Jesus.
7-8 “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”
What are you holding back? What habit or behavior do you still cling to that prevents you from truly being “born anew?” (Common English Bible) The Spirit of God calls us to enter a baptism into a new life through water AND the spirit. Only then do we become living, breathing spirits that are formed under God’s direction.
What do you need to leave behind in order to move ahead?