Formations 03.06.2022: Born from Above

John 3:1-17

In the sliver of the Baptist family in which I grew up, Lent was something you brushed off your clothes. Honestly, anything past Christmas and Easter were looked upon with suspicion (though, for some reason, Mother’s Day and the Fourth of July were set in stone).

I’ve since come to appreciate the rhythms of the liturgical calendar. To tell the truth, it’s one of my favorite aspects of my Christian tradition. Every year, I join the worldwide Christian family in telling the story of Jesus. We prepare for his coming (Advent), wonder at his incarnation (Christmas), announce his appearance to the world (Epiphany), listen to his teachings (Lent), remember his death (Holy Week), celebrate his resurrection (Easter), and serve the world in the power of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).

Strictly speaking, the theme of Lent is not the death of Jesus. That’s what Holy Week and especially Good Friday are for. Rather, this is a time to hear and respond to Jesus’ teachings about discipleship. This year, our guide for this exploration will be the Gospel of John and some of the many characters in that Gospel who met Jesus face to face.

This week, we’ll begin with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and “leader of the Jews” who comes under cover of night to quiz Jesus about his teaching. We’re never told why Nicodemus was interested in Jesus. Was he genuinely seeking spiritual answers, was he hoping to trap Jesus, or did he have some other motive? We can only speculate. Whatever the case, however, Jesus sets his own agenda by announcing, “You must be born from above” (v. 7).

He goes on to discuss the difference between earthly things and heavenly things. Ultimately, he turns the conversation to himself: those who believe in God’s Son will have eternal life.

And this is where the Lenten theme comes into play. Jesus offers eternal life. That’s a promise not for a blissful hereafter, but for life in the trenches today. Whatever else “eternal life” means, New Testament scholars are unanimous that it is something we experience in this life. The Greek word translated “eternal” is not so much about duration but quality—it is a life that partakes of heaven even while grounded on this earth.

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? This Lenten season, we’ll ponder several answers to that question. But let’s begin with this: Jesus’ followers set their minds on heavenly things, not earthly ones. And we let those heavenly things shape the way we live. We long for eternity…and by God’s grace we practice it each day.

Discussion

• Why do you think Nicodemus came to see Jesus? Why do you think he came at night?
• What does it mean to be “born from above” (v. 7) and possess “eternal life” (v. 16)?
• How have you experienced the transformation that Jesus describes?
• What holds you back from a deeper relationship with God?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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