When I was around 7 or 8, I told my parents that I wanted to be baptized. I don’t remember my thought process at the time, why I wanted to do it or if I knew what my baptism was saying. It might have been in part because I wanted to do everything that Brooke did, which included baptism in early elementary school. I suppose I’ll never know exactly what I was thinking at the time.
My view of baptism coincides with something the former pastor of my current church said (did you follow that??): “Baptism is an outward expression of an inward change.” We get dunked in the water in front of our church family or some body of believers to show that God has dunked our souls in the Holy Spirit to make us new and set us apart for Him. I don’t think it’s what saves me, but I think it’s important nonetheless.
And my parents did as well. When I told them that I wanted to be baptized, my dad made me a couple worksheets where I could express why I wanted to be baptized (maybe he understood even at this early age that I express myself best on paper). He gave me some verses to look up and asked me what I thought they were about.
One of them was 1 John 3:4, “Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God.”
But I wasn’t very aware of the 1 John and Gospel of John distinction, so I found this verse instead, John 3:4: “‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?'”
It still fits with the whole message of salvation and the way that God makes us new, but it wasn’t what my dad was going for. I now know the distinction much better.
Since then though, every time I read that verse, it strikes me that I really have been born again. I’m a new person because of what Jesus has done in my life. I think of what Nicodemus must have been thinking when he heard Jesus say, “You have to be born again.”
People typically paint Nicodemus to be a literalist. What? You mean I’ve gotta scrunch myself up and gestate for nine months in my mother’s womb and be born before I can see the Kingdom of God? I don’t think my mom will agree to that. But when I was reading that passage again this morning, I wondered if, perhaps, Nicodemus just didn’t believe that people could change.
He was a Pharisee, someone who believed that following the right laws and doing all the right things in the right order and after washing your hands was what made him holy. That’s why he met Jesus at night to chat about this. He had questions, and I don’t think he was stupid. He was intelligent enough to realize that he needed to get answers from this man who showed that God was with Him through his miracles.
The Holy Spirit probably wasn’t a part of Nicodemus’ life. He hadn’t experienced that kind of presence in His life, the presence that changes you and makes you new.
I think that’s why Jesus responds to him, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life… you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
Even after this response, Nicodemus still says, “How are these things possible?” He still doesn’t get it. So Jesus goes on to say that it’s not something that can be explained. It’s experienced. Then he gets to the most famous verses of all time: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. Got sent his Son into the world not to judge the world but to save the world through him.”
Ah. The hope. The hope that we can be made new. The hope that perhaps Nicodemus didn’t understand. He was surrounded by stuffy people who were living in old ways according to the laws that God gave and additional laws that man gave. He didn’t know how the Holy Spirit could make him like a newborn baby in spirit. Perhaps it seemed foolish to even desire a young spirit.
This is all my speculation, probably because I can relate to Nicodemus. It’s hard to believe that God can make you new…. unless you have experienced it.