Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 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.”
3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
4 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?”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 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.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 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. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just 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, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 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.”
Now, let's review what we had discussed before. In the Prologue (1:1-18), we were introduced to this great metaphor of light and darkness: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (1:5).
In last Sunday’s message, we talked about this invitation, “Come and see.” Come and see for yourself who this Jesus is. And what follows after accepting this invitation is this sense of epiphany — the joy of discovery — and the beginning of this new relationship we have in Jesus.
Lastly, I want to recall the story I shared last year when we were talking about the table: the Samaritan woman at the well (4:1-42). You remember this video, right?
I received some feedback after showing this video that the actor who plays Jesus looked creepy and flirtatious, that he seemed like he was hitting on the Samaritan woman.
She is again a Samaritan woman. We do not know her name. She, being from Samaria, makes her an outsider to this Jewish religion. In fact, it was advised not to be in contact with Samaritans, which discouraged Jews from journeying through the region of Samaria.
She is not only an outsider to the Jews, but also an outcast of her own community. She, a woman, has been widowed and/or divorced five times and now living with a man whom she’s not married to. Our popular understanding of her being this terribly lustful woman is a lazy reading of who she is. As I explained before, she is more of a victim stuck in this very unfortunate situation, where she has been tossed around like property.
She is a social outcast; hence, she lives in this shame due to everyone in town knowing about her situation and her status. She has nowhere to hide. She is unwanted. She is undesired. For this reason, she goes to the well to draw water at the most unpleasant time: at noon, the hottest time of the day.
And there, it is Jesus who strikes the conversation, saying, “Give me a drink.”
Now, let's talk about Nicodemus from today's reading. We know his name. He is a man, a Jewish man, a pharisee, a leader of the Jews. Even in this description, we can tell that he is the very opposite of the Samaritan woman at the well. He is a man with status, privilege, and reputation.
Nicodemus heard about Jesus and his signs (miracles). So, he became curious. He wanted to know more about Jesus. He wanted to come and see for himself who this Jesus is.
The time of the day he chose to visit Jesus was by night. He did not want to be seen. He wanted this to be private. He wanted to hide himself from the public’s eye.
He chose darkness. Later in verse 19, the author reminds us with the theme of light and darkness introduced in the Prologue.
19 And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.
Nicodemus did not want to be exposed. That’s what light does. It exposes us. Our true self is reveled. Under the light, we have nowhere to hide. We are naked. We are vulnerable. We are helpless.
Nicodemus remained in the darkness. And this possibly tells us the motive behind his vitiation. He was curious about the signs and interested in Jesus’ gift of "grace upon grace" - an abundance of blessing.
To the question, “You must be from God for performing these signs,” Jesus answered, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” When Nicodemus asked how one can be born again, Jesus reiterated his point, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
These are the only instances where “the kingdom of God” is mentioned in John. The only other place is 18:36, but as “my kingdom.” It is said:
“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Jesus’ explanation of his kingdom in Ch 18 suggest that the kingdom of God is his relationship with God. It is the abiding place for God and Jesus and those who believe. It is not an alternative worldly kingdom with borders and walls, but it is a heavenly kingdom of abidance.
Remember in Chapter 1 where the disciples asked Jesus, “where are you staying?” and I said a better translation would be “where are you abiding?” And what Jesus responded with was: “Come and see.” And what these first disciples witnessed thereafter was the kingdom of God that is the relationship. Because of this witness, the first disciples accurately identified Jesus as the Messiah. Nicodemus, who remained in the darkness, could not see these things for his eyes were fixated upon the earthly things, the byproducts of the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of God itself.
Now let's go back to the Samaritan woman at the well. She has already been exposed. She has nowhere to hide. And so, this undesired outcast is at the well during the brightest time of the day. She is clearly seen but no on is around. Here, the well references the beginning of a new relationship, a place where two individuals are introduced and set up for things like marriage. And here at the well, it is Jesus who strikes the conversation to this undesired woman.
The two are talking, and just like Nicodemus, the woman asks for clarification. “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” (4:11).
Similar to the way he responded to Nicodemus about being born of water and Spirit, Jesus responds to the woman, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (4:13-14).
This living water, that is water and Spirit, is what is required to see the kingdom of God, to enter into this relationship with God. The epiphany that changes the course of our life story, because we are being born anew, born from above, and born again through this relationship.
The woman responds, “Sir, give me this water” (4:15)
And once the conversation is over, the woman leaves her jar at the well and runs back to the town, telling the townspeople, “Come and see” (4:29).
God gave His only Son so that we may come and see for ourselves; or in other words, so that we may have this new intimate relationship with God and Jesus, and that our new abiding place is this relationship.
I think what some of us picked up in the video is correct. Jesus is hitting on this woman. Jesus wants this intimate relationship with her for God so loved the world. Even when we are utterly exposed, feeling ashamed and helpless; even when we are stuck in the most unfortunate life situation, feeling undesired and inadequate to be loved, Jesus still comes to us seeking an intimate relationship with us, wanting to draw us the living water, extending this simple yet warm invitation of “come and see for yourself.”
And when we do, we are called to do it in the presence of light. Not doing it discreetly or privately in darkness, remaining and hiding in our shell, but rather doing it by overcoming our fear of being fully exposed and our fear of being fully known and our fear of being fully dependent and vulnerable. All relationship requires mutual dependence. And this is what abiding in the kingdom of God means, as we will read later in John 15, “Abide in me as I abide in you.”
Let us pray.