The Long Game

The Long Game

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Each weekday morning, we’re going to spend a few minutes in a passage in John. Here’s the goal: read it, pray it, share it. Every post will have a passage of Scripture, a short prayer, and a question to meditate on and talk about. In a few minutes every day, we can prepare our hearts for all that God has planned in this season of Lent. 

Read: John 3:1-21
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. [2] This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” [3] Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [4] Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” [5] Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. [6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [7] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ [8] The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

[9] Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” [10] Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? [11] Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. [12] If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

[16] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. [19] And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. [21] But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (ESV)

You’re probably familiar with the story of Nicodemus, “Nick at Night” as one pastor I know refers to it. A member of the Jewish religious elite - the Pharisees - comes to talk with Jesus under the cover of darkness. When Jesus tells him he must be born again he wonders what that could possibly mean. We don’t get to hear the end of this conversation. Does he believe what Jesus says? Is he born again?

The choice Jesus presents Nicodemus is one we all have to make. Do you want to be born again? Not by reinventing your image or making a few positive changes, do you want to be born again by the Spirit of God? When you step back, Nicodemus’ confusion is easy to understand. Is it really possible that your life could start over in the middle? Can you really become a new person? Could God give you eternal life just for trusting in his Son? That’s exactly what Jesus promises. 

Both Jesus and Nicodemus probably had Ezekiel 36:22-32 in mind as they were talking. There, God says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

You may not remember how the story of Nicodemus ends. Later in the gospel, we see Nicodemus again. In John 7, Nicodemus speaks up for Jesus among a meeting of the Pharisees. Something is changing in Nicodemus. In John 19:39, the transformation is complete. Joseph of Arimathea came to take the body of Jesus and put it in his tomb. And John adds, “Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes.” He wasn’t coming by night anymore. Now, he was all in.

There are a lot of “Nicodemus stories.” It’s not always a spur-of-the-moment conversion. Nicodemus came first with questions. Then he started to see Jesus’ perspective. Then he started to wonder if he might be right. Then he decided to follow him. Over time, Nicodemus was born again. 

Lord, you are the creator and recreator; you’ve made me new in Jesus Christ. Help me walk today as a new creation. When my old self shows through, help me to believe what you say about me - I am new, I am loved, I am looking more like Christ. Give me eyes for those like Nicodemus who cross my path. Amen. 

Nicodemus didn’t accept Jesus the first time he encountered him. Do you know anybody like him? Is there anyone in the middle of a “Nicodemus story” you can talk with or encourage?

To dive further into Nicodemus' story, check out this sermon, "You Must Be Born Again."
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