John 3: 1-3, 9-12, 19-21 (MsgB)
There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know You’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts You do if God weren’t in on it.” Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from Me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s Kingdom.”
Nicodemus asked, “What do You mean by this? How does this happen?” Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics? Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with My own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. If I tell you things that are plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe Me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see, the things of God?”
“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”
As I see it, in 30 AD, in the Holy City of Jerusalem, there was a true crisis in leadership. It’s not as though there was a vacuum or shortage of leaders present. That wasn’t the problem. There were plenty of men like our buddy here, Nicodemus. Leaders, scribes, rabbis, Pharisees, Sadducees. Holy men who had been appointed to leadership by a religious system that once had honored God-light. But now, here in 30 AD, this same group of ruling elders had the God-Light standing right in front of them, but they were as blind as bats and as deaf as deaf can be. Good-hearted men, I’m sure. Much like you and me in their passion to give God their very best efforts, leading with finesse and style. Serving as best they could as leaders for the people of God. Yet, unfortunately, they were unable, or worse yet, unwilling to see the God-light shining through the windows of their darkened existence.
At least Nicodemus, one of the prominent elders amongst the Jews, apparently had enough strength and awareness inside him to recognize that something unusual was occurring in Jerusalem. I like to call it the anointing of the Sons of Issachar. Back in Chronicles 12: 32, we find a group of men from the tribe of Issachar who stepped up in the midst of the darkness of the day and see that it wasn’t business as usual in the midst of God’s people. God was raising up a king for His people who would not govern like the past king had done. This man, named David the Shepherd-Boy, would have the Father heart of God as he governed. The Sons of Issachar were simply aware (as the writer of Chronicles states) that something was up all around them and, in time, they knew how they were to respond to this unusual season they found themselves in.
So it is with Nicodemus. Something’s up. The air is different. The ‘normal’ of doing church for God was being challenged by this young rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Like David of old, this new leader was saying and doing things that had God-light in them. Nicodemus, and apparently a number of others in the high circles of leadership, realized that Jesus was from God. But here’s the rub. What is an established leader of God to do when God shows up doing and saying things that are not on our radar screens?
John the Baptist, a very well established leader of the people, had demonstrated earlier the way a leader in the church should respond when God, the big CEO, shows up. He defers His leadership role to Jesus. He still was an overseer of ministry until the day of his death, but from the moment Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, John knew very well that his ‘leadership’ role was changing. He was no longer the visionary spokesman for God. He became a sub-servant to Christ. A ‘first-follower’, as Leonard Sweet defines it.
And now in the infamous chapter 3 of John’s gospel, it’s Nick’s turn to die to his former style of leadership, be born from above, and begin seeing his ministry in the temple as no longer his and his alone. You see, the ever-popular John 3: 16 verse, “For God so loved the world” that we use in telling others how they need to repent of their sin and be born again, is actually a verse that, in this context, is directed to a church leader, not a poor, lost sinner.
In truth, the ‘born from above’ language Jesus uses here is being directed toward a man who had, for years, served God in church leadership. He had, I’m sure, done an honorable job, day after day, serving God, as best he could, in the temple. Nicodemus, my friends, is not the evil, self-consumed, driving devil we so easily describe when we think of the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and assorted elders in the synagogue.
From my seat on the bench, Nick’s just a good man, serving God and His people, doing church business as usual, and then…Jesus, the God-Light, steps in and turns everyone and everything on its head. And in order for Nicodemus to be able to accommodate and defer to this God-Light, Jesus states clearly that Nick will need to be ‘born again’, or ‘born from above’ in order to work alongside this new Kingdom in-breaking.
OK, my friends. I’ll stop here. If you’ve not gotten my point yet, I’ll be more direct.
As I see it, we are in yet another season in church history when Jesus is coming, once again, to His church. You and I are the leaders of that church He’s coming to. He’s sitting down in our midst, and point blank, saying, “You can’t go on ‘leading’ My church the way you’ve been doing it. You’ve forgotten that I’m the Leader. I want My church back and, like John the Baptist and Nicodemus of old, you all need to take off those big leadership hats, step down off your thrones of ‘excellent leadership’ and let me drive! You, my dear friends, need to decrease, so that I might increase in this important season the world is in. The people out there don’t need to see you nearly as much as they need to see Me.”
And my response to this?
My prayer: Yes, Lord. I’m sorry. I repent. I need to be ‘born again’ so I can become the overseer/shepherd/elder/deacon/pastor-teacher you want me to be in this hour. I choose to stop ‘leading’ out of my personal drive and ambition, where I tend to use my own good ideas or ‘success tips’ given by other leaders for my source of ministry ideas. Help me to do much less ‘leading’ and a whole bunch more ‘following’ of You, the One True Way. Empower me Holy Spirit to assist the people You’ve put in my circle of influence to see You, and You alone as their Leader. May I decrease so that You may increase. Have your Way, O High Leader. Jesus of Nazareth. High King of Heaven. We agree. For Your name’s sake. Amen and Amen.
My questions to ponder: How can I take this infamous John 3 passage that has been used exclusively for evangelism to the lost, and now stretch this ‘born from above’ message into the realms of church leadership? What would ‘being born again’ look like in church ministry in America? What would need to change in order to ‘welcome’ the God-Light Jesus refers to here?
So what is God speaking to you today? Are you practicing the Kingdom presence of God?