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Born to Be Wild
by Nancy Hastings Sehested
Nicodemus was a literalist. He was wondering how to enter the womb again. He misunderstood Jesus' words. He thought that Jesus said, "Born again." Lots of sandwich boards and books have used those two misunderstood words. On the other hand, if Jesus really said "born from above," what did he mean?
Nicodemus was under the influence of a religious tradition that taught a faith that was to be managed, protected, and guarded. Yet his late-night visit with Jesus revealed some heart longings that had not completely left him. Perhaps he expected a dialogue in dogmatics, but what he got from Jesus was poetry.
Jesus beckoned Nicodemus into God's wonderland of surprise and topsy-turvy living. To enter meant nothing short of a total transformation and being born of God's Spirit. When this Spirit takes hold, why, it can confuse the controlling and baffle the bigoted.
Nicodemus represented one of the many "secret Christians" of the synagogue. As a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, he was a high-profile person. Yet he took a low profile to make the risky visit to Jesus. The nocturnal discussion was like two ships passing in the night. They did not speak the same language. Jesus encouraged Nicodemus to be born of water, be baptized, pledging allegiance publicly to the community of the committed Christ-followers.
The rebirth experience Jesus proclaimed was not a dew glow of gushy feelings but a new action, moving into the community of the persecuted. Jesus saw Nicodemus as one of the thoroughly informed and utterly inert. Nicodemus' faith stayed within the tiny box of human possibility. Jesus' faith expressed a leap into God's Grand Canyon realm of impossibility. Jesus encouraged Nicodemus to throw caution to the wind and allow some real learning to begin.
Look out, Nicodemus! God is in the birthing room and all's wild with the world! "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16).
Nancy Hastings Sehested was pastor of Prescott Memorial Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, when this article appeared.
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