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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 3:1–17

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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 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?” Jesus answered, “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.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (NRSV)

Let me try this without actually reading the text, knowing only the book, chapter, and verse: there’s a Pharisee who comes to Jesus at night (at night!) and says something like, “Wow, Jesus, you’re, like, a great teacher.” And Jesus is like, “You need to be born again.” To which Nicodemus answers, “Born again? What? How is that even possible?” So Jesus explains that it’s actually about being born from above and being born of water and the Spirit, and then he takes off on something of a theological sprint that breaks the tape at the finish line of “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that anyone who believes in him would not perish but would have everlasting life.”

OK, so now that I’m looking at the passage in the NRSV I see there are some details I left out or got wrong. The word begotten isn’t in there anywhere. I completely skipped Jesus’ “Are you a teacher . . . ?” takedown. And I forgot that verse 16 isn’t the end. There’s more (and more and more).

No matter. The exercise is about telling the story from memory. John 3:16 is probably cited more than any other chapter-and-verse in all the Bible. But it’s part of a story, not a dictum dropped from on high. It’s something Jesus said in a conversation with an actual person asking sensible questions (although his questioner quietly disappears from the scene). Do we know that? Do we know the story?

I had a professor in seminary who insisted on learning the Gospel at what he called the “discourse level” and not at the chapter or verse level. “For God so loved the world . . .” is part of a discourse. It’s more than a single citation.

Faith is lived out on the discourse level, too.

Make us ever grateful for the story of which you make us a part, O God, for the discourse and the drama of seeking and being sought, being found and finding. May we tell that story with conviction, for the healing of the world. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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