Naturally, when we enter any new season, we seek to improve. We put on new routines and habits to improve our health, financial standing, and spiritual walk or faith. Several people will enter our purview and offer us some fad diet, new financial scheme, or even some new spiritual way to engage with God, but through the instruction of Jesus, the only way we truly become new is to give ourselves over to the radical transformation we are offered in following Christ Jesus.
Lent offers many of the same opportunities that the new year promises, but we must be aware that this is not just a time to start something new for the sake of starting something new. Rather we are called to reflect sincerely on what we have in our lives that draw us near to Christ and what things pull us away. Just as God made the Sabbath for humanity, God also gives us Lent to reflect on becoming a new creation and put ourselves in a position to serve God more fully.
We now reflect on the transformation Jesus offers Nicodemus and, in turn, the promise God makes for humanity by sending Jesus to the world.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, 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 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And 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, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Nicodemus saw the ministry of Jesus, and based on the face value, he knew that Jesus was more than just a good teacher, but that he had something different than the other teachers. Even today, we see teachers and leaders that show or promise great things, and we have a strange appeal to them. We often find ourselves looking at these teachers like Nicodemus looks at Jesus. However, when Jesus opens His mouth in response to Nicodemus, we see the difference between Jesus and someone just telling us something that sounds good because Nicodemus is befuddled by Jesus and needs further clarification.
Literalism and preconceptions often tie us down to our current understandings, or they cause us to throw everything out and fall into a lie. While Nicodemus certainly did not think Jesus was saying that one needs to come out of a literal womb a second time, he did need help guiding him to the fact that we all need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus explains and does not rebuke. If we have trouble understanding, don’t settle for a literal understanding that doesn’t make sense, but rather we must go before God and ask for guidance.
As we seek guidance from the Lord, we must allow ourselves to be made new: mind, body, and soul. Some preconceptions need to be let go. As we encounter Jesus, we must be willing to let go of everything that we once thought and cherished for the sake of the kingdom of God. When we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us inside and out, we come face-to-face with our need to embrace our need for God in all areas of our life and not just superficially call out to God.
It was here that Nicodemus still struggled to hear what Jesus was proclaiming. He still wanted to hold onto the teachings, but Jesus said you need to be made fully new and let go of everything you held onto. Jesus tells him that he needs to give up everything and follow him and that if he chooses to continue in his old ways, it would be worse for him if he had never encountered Jesus and His teaching. Often the teaching we grew up on is ultimately the hardest thing to give up.
Jesus, throughout His ministry, asks people to give up everything and follow Him. This is the only way we can truly embrace the transformation of the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus struggled to let go of teaching, and the rich young ruler struggled to give up possessions. What do we struggle to give up? During the season of Lent, we often embrace giving up for a season, but Jesus asks us to give up everything to follow Him. However, Jesus gave up everything for our salvation.
God sent Jesus to save us, not condemn us. This requires a change of our mindset and a transformation of our hearts. God’s mission for us is to become new and transformed by the Holy Spirit. We are called to share this good news with the world and invite them to a relationship with the Holy One, the Creator of the Universe, because God loves us and His creation. May we not tarry to partake in this transformation, but may we be a people that are transformed and continually transforming into the new creation God calls us toward.