Friday, 15 October 2010
See Jesus As The Face of Change
We’re hungry for personal change. That hunger gets sharper at the start of a new year.
Our society tells us that change is easy. “Just Do It!” To which we respond with a confident, “I got this.” We think change is a simple matter of learning and taking action. Some change can occur through that formula, but the deep change we truly want doesn’t. It’s not that easy.
Proof that change isn’t easy surrounds us. I’m hungry for a “better version of me,” so I go to my local bookstore, secular or Christian. In it I find shelf after shelf of books with advice on how to improve myself, my body, my appearance, my career, my parenting, my sex life, my marriage, my everything. If change were easy, there wouldn’t need to be so many books. Undeterred we turn from books to therapists. The cost goes up. Still we end up in cycles of effort–try, fail, quit, try, fail, quit.
“Just do it” and “I’ve got this” have failed us. Apparently words aren’t enough–the problem is will power. The Bible speaks directly to that problem. Let’s listen in on a session between Jesus and someone who knows he needs to change.
A Radical Diagnosis
A man named Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the middle of the night. He has a personal question for the rabbi and he’s careful to keep the meeting private. What kind of man is he? The text tells us he is a highly respected man, religious, ethical, and recognized as a leader in the community. He’s not the kind of person you would expect to be sneaking into Jesus’ house to ask for help.
What did he want? He didn’t actually get to ask the question. Jesus beat him to the punch with this answer:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3
“The answer is….” That sounds like a round of Jeopardy. How would you frame his question? It’s about the kingdom of God for sure. Possibly a “when is it coming” or “what will be my place in it” kind of question. As a religious leader he was assuming he’d get in. What answer do you think he was expecting? Perhaps he expected some kind of moral assessment from this Rabbi-who-came-from-God. Perhaps suggestions for how to improve his performance.
He wanted “God’s advice” from the Rabbi. Instead he was given a radical diagnosis.
You’re not in. You don’t need to improve. You need to be born again.
A Better Solution
This doesn’t sound like good news. It sounds far worse than the advice he was hoping for. But in the long run it’s far better. Jesus’ words come with these implications:
- There’s nothing you can do. Birth is God’s work, not yours.
- You won’t just get a better you, you’ll get a new you.
- You won’t just see the kingdom of God. You’ll see the King.
Nicodemus had come to the right person with the wrong question. He didn’t realize either fact. He didn’t know it was the wrong question. And he didn’t realize Jesus was the right person, not just a Rabbi-sent-from-God, but God himself. He stood before the face of God. And God the Son graciously gave him the answer he didn’t know he needed.
The Face of God
We’re just like Nicodemus. We come to the right place with the wrong question. We come for God’s advice. We want to use God to accomplish our goals. We have some sense of personal failure, some way in which we know we need to improve before we can inherit the kingdom. Maybe God could help us. We want will power. His power and our will.
Jesus interrupts us. He tells us about will power–that God’s will and God’s power go together in the true Kingdom. Our quest for improvement is too small. It’s a dead end objective for the already dead. God doesn’t want to make us better, he wants to make us new. He pronounces us dead so he can bring us to life.
Our will must die. There’s the “advice.” But it’s impossible to follow. As hard as we try to pretend that we want what God wants, in the end he’s not fooled and neither are we. We really just want his goodies.
So he repeats it. “You must be born again.” Or as John puts it elsewhere
But to those who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not by blood nor by the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13
The will power we need comes from his will and his power. “Born again” is a new life initiated by his will, not ours. Not a choice we make, but a gracious act he accomplishes. This is the word we need to believe, not the ocean of advice in which we are currently drowning.
Jesus is the face of change. Faith in him is the door to life and every deep change we’re hungry for.