The Better Part: John 3:17: Lent 2

The Better Part: John 3:17: Lent 2

Year A, The Second Sunday in Lent
March 5, 2023

Year A:  Genesis 14:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

CLICK HERE for links to video recordings of our services on Facebook. Available service bulletins.



“He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.”[1]

Now, Nicodemus was a devout Jew, a pharisee, and a member of the ruling council. He was an important, powerful man. That’s pretty much the extent of what we know about Nicodemus.

But here we have this encounter with Jesus, and there’s some debate on Nicodemus’ purpose in coming to Jesus.

Nicodemus came in the night. It was dark. If there was no moon out, it was very dark. So why didn’t he go to Jesus in the day? Jesus was undoubtedly teaching in the day. Some scholars believe that Nicodemus was ashamed; he was trying to hide. Others give him a little more credit and think he really did want to know what Jesus was teaching. And others say he was trying to trap Jesus.

I think I’m in the camp that says he really wanted to know more about Christ. He did go in the night because he didn’t want to be seen. That makes him human. I suspect there are some of us who, if we were members of the ruling council and wanted to hear this new guy talk, might not go out in broad daylight where everybody could see us, but we would wait until we could sneak in.

We have a bit of back-and-forth between Jesus and Nicodemus. We don’t know what more was said between then, but we do know that Jesus talks of new birth. He tells Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”[2] In some translations, it’s “born again” or “born anew.”

Nicodemus takes these words quite literally. Nicodemus is a very learned man and asks how this can be possible since no one enters the mother’s womb a second time and is born again.

Jesus goes on to talk about water and the Spirit; he alludes to new birth in baptism. The term “born again,” which has been around for a long time, is not bad. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean what some people take it to mean. To be born again means to be born anew in Christ, and that, my friends, is a good thing to be born anew in Christ – to surrender our will to God’s will and our lives to God. That’s what it means for me, no more, no less. To see the kingdom of God.

Now, I have never had the experience of childbirth, but what was I doing at 4:00 this morning; watching Call the Midwife. I’m on week #3 of Season 12. I don’t know how many births, maybe a hundred, I’ve watched, but I’ve never personally seen or experienced childbirth. Those of you who have experienced it know firsthand the paradox of pain and joy of this new life that has come with the complexity of childbirth; the preparation, the discomfort, the exhaustion, the eagerness, the joy, and the happiness that come with it. And I think that’s what our life in Christ is like.

We also often don’t know as much as we think we do about what it means to be walking with Christ and in Christ. I wonder if that was true for Nicodemus. Is it true for us in today’s world?

Jesus tells us a whole lot in these verses. Some of the most famous bible verses we know are in today’s passage. Lovely verses.

John 3:16. I quite literally had that verse tossed at me in an interview for the priesthood.

John 3:16. I had to think for a minute about what the verse was. Someone threw me a softball so I could focus on it and the question. Thank you!

But that verse is the one we hear often. “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.”[3]

Many people use this famous John 3:16 passage as an exclusionary line in the sand. I recall being challenged about the need to proselytize folks. For so many people, John 3:16 is proof that we all must be Christian, and if we’re not, we’re left behind.

Unfortunately, people seem to forget the verse that comes after. They always forget John 3:17. “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.”[4]

God did not send to condemn. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. God did not send the Son to condemn but to save.

That’s the verse we often forget and we often gloss over. We’re not to condemn, and no one else is to condemn. Judgment – there is judgment, but where does that judgment belong? It belongs to God, not to us.

And I know it is sometimes tricky because we have so much happening in the world. Talk about faith – I know people, and it may be true for you – we start life with very concrete beliefs. Then, as we go into the world, we see things that challenge our views of each other, and sometimes our faith gets tossed around. It’s certainly true of the last few years. Some of us have struggled. But here we are, and Jesus is telling us that God has sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save the world.

If you get a chance, look at this month’s Mountain Courier. We have an ad in it that we’ll be running throughout this year. It’s a simple message. God loves us. No exceptions. No exceptions.

God is pure love, yes? Jesus, part of the Holy Trinity, is God – fully human and fully divine. Love = God. God = Jesus. Jesus = Love. Remember that love as we leave this place today. Think about the tremendous advantages we have.

I know we’re used to having everything explained to us. Jesus explains life pretty well for us.

God loves the world.

Can we see and hear God in our lives? Can we be true to that new birth in Christ?

As we journey through this Lent, can we hear the questions of Nicodemus? Are they our questions? And we can we the answers Jesus is giving us. There’s so much to learn and experience on his journey.

As we move forward with Jesus, with Nicodemus in our minds, we learn of the Lord of life, the love and mercy of God, and the reality of the church and the people where we are so loved.

God calls us to be on this journey even when we don’t recognize it. God calls us to be with the water and the Spirit. Abram and Sarah certainly didn’t understand it at first. But God called them, calls us, and when we think our life is out of control, remember again about being born in the spirit. The wind blows, and you won’t know where it is or what it sounds like.

And all this we give thanks for in Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] John 3:2a, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] John 3:3, NRSV

[3] John 3:16, NRSV

[4] John 3:17, NRSV