New Birth

By Sherry Black

A Reading from the Gospel of John 3:1-21

1 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 unless God is with that person.” 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 the 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. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, 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.”


Jesus is in Jerusalem during the Passover, doing many signs, and many were coming to believe in him. Word of this miracle-worker had reached the upper echelons of Jewish leadership — especially because Jesus had recently disrupted the temple business by overturning tables of the money changers who had made the temple into a marketplace.

Nicodemus had heard of Jesus, and as a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin leadership, he visited Jesus to find out what was going on. Because he was a well-known leader and didn’t want to be seen, he went to Jesus under the cover of darkness.

A man of knowledge, Nicodemus the Pharisee would have been versed in Scripture and tradition; he knew his relationship with God and with the world. Even so, he had a hard time following or accepting Jesus’ words. It seems whatever Nicodemus was looking for initially was not what Jesus offered. Like many of us, I think Nicodemus was looking for words and teachings that fit his worldview, that meshed with his theology. What he got instead was Jesus talking about new birth and mystery and the Spirit.

For those of us in positions of leadership, it’s easy to use as blinders what we’ve learned through education or denominational affiliation. It’s comfortable to be comfortable in our beliefs. But God calls us to be born again, to have open and tender spirits sensitive to God’s leading. We must always be ready for the prospect that the Holy Spirit wants to do a new thing with us. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). And may it be so! Come, Holy Spirit, set our hearts on fire!

The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for 10 years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.

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