A Nicodemus Moment

Nicodemus was a Jewish leader, teacher and member of the ruling Sanhedrin. He came to meet Jesus under cover of darkness. The life-altering and life-affirming conversation that followed has changed the rest of human history. Nicodemus wanted to know how one could be saved. When Jesus told him that we must be born from above, Nicodemus replied with words that really hit a nerve for me.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” John 3:4

In a Bible study that I led on John’s Gospel many years ago we talked of how very human Nicodemus’ response was. Most of us under the same circumstances would ask or at least wonder a similar question. For those of us who have already buried our Mother it rings even more powerfully. How can we be born a second time?

Jesus was teaching a new thing. John the Baptist was baptizing with water alone for repentance.  Jesus was beginning to introduce the Holy Spirit.  The rebirth that Jesus was ushering in is different in character from what had existed before.

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above. ’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5b-6

By the power of the Holy Spirit we are made new. The water with the Spirit becomes a force that offers eternal life. The water and Spirit washes clean souls. It is miraculous. Baptism is beyond the ordinary even though it uses something as ordinary as
water.

church-window-1016443_960_720I often respond to challenges by planning my response. I create a plan. I strategize. I prioritize. I make back-up plans and worry. Nothing I do will guarantee success. When I first rely upon my own problem-solving ability I deny God the chance to guide me from the start. Only through the assistance of the Holy Spirit is real success to be expected. On far too many occasions I have resorted to prayer at the end of a planning session to ask God to bless my efforts. It galls me to admit how arrogantly I have acted.

What I do or plan is not what is important. I am not the one in control. God doesn’t exist to do what I want or to bless my endeavors.

When I try to be the source of all the answers I begin to play God. Only when I step back and allow God to exercise His rightful authority do I make room for His plans to take shape in my life.

Nicodemus recognized the problem of death. His practical question was for each one of us. Jesus told him that the Spirit is the answer. The ideas borne of the flesh are of finite value. The solutions born by the power of the Spirit lead to eternal life.

As I confessed to my Bible study friends I have had many a “Nicodemus moment.” Ever after when I find myself looking for human solutions to spiritual problems I call the problem what it is, a “Nicodemus moment.” That helps me to course-correct and make room for the Holy Spirit to have a place in the solution. I pray first and plan second. It is astounding what keeping things in the proper order will do.

This post is one for the If:Gathering study on the Nicene Creed. As we reflect on what it means when we say that we believe in,”One Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Nicodemus teaches us some of what that means. We must move out-of-the-way and let God accomplish our salvation because under our own power we cannot hope to win our salvation.

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Forgiveness

I’ve been looking at the daily Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. October 1st begins in the middle of the week with the text from Matthew 9:2-8 where Jesus heals a paralyzed man being carried on a mat. Jesus tells the man his sins are forgiven and the scribes are shocked. Who does Jesus think he is? Only God can forgive sins at the final judgement. Jesus tells them that He wants them to know that He has the authority to forgive sins in the world. That, Jesus says, was his point in forgiving the man to achieve healing.

My tendency is to become annoyed at texts that seem to reinforce the attitude that sickness is punishment for wrong-doing. Jesus clearly reprimands His disciples for this notion in the passage of the man born blind (John 9). Here in Matthew 9 Jesus is clearly making a point of His authority to forgive sins,now in this life. I think He is pointing out to all of us in this passage that we fall into a habit of thinking that we get what we deserve. The scribes believed that sins could not be forgiven until the Messiah came and made everything right in the end times. The Messiah was with them, but they missed Him because they were looking for a military leader to give them worldly authority. Jesus came to make us right with God, not give us authority over men. Our trouble today is that we often default to thinking like people still waiting.

Jesus has already died a brutal death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus has already risen on Easter, the first-born from the dead. Why do I live like it is Maundy Thursday, and I’ve just eaten my last meal and terror awaits? I fall into the trap of thinking I have not done enough good. I have lost too much time. It is too late for me to fulfill my purpose in life. Or, most often, I did not get enough checked off my to do list today. I call myself a failure. Jesus calls us all forgiven. We don’t have to wait until our life is over to see if our good deeds outweigh our mistakes. By the power of the cross we are forgiven.

Each day is a new start. Jesus, The Son of Man, The Messiah has the authority to forgive our sins. He has given me a new start in the waters of baptism. In baptism we are reborn children of God. Why do I act like I have to earn my approval? I can’t earn my way to salvation, I’m too human. I make mistakes. But, Jesus has redeemed me. I’m not a hopeless case. I am a redeemed child of the living God. I can start over. The rest of today is one of hope. Tomorrow is filled with possibility. Sure, I’ll make mistakes, those are opportunities to learn.

Lord Jesus, please heal me of my habit of trying to earn approval. I did nothing to deserve your love, but I accept it. I am willing to admit my unending need for you. I am complete in you. Make of my life what you will. Help me to try again. And again…Thank you for your eternal love and forgiveness. In your holy name, Jesus, I pray. Amen.