There is this wonderful scene in the movie the Matrix where Neo has an inkling about the existence of a reality beyond the one with which he is familiar. But the only way he can believe it is to experience it; the only way he can be converted to it, is to enter into it, experience it and participate in it. He has a choice, to take the red pill and wake up in his bed the next morning no more the wiser without any memory of what has taken place, or he can take the blue pill and enter into the world of the real.
It is quite likely that Nicodemus, a Pharisees and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (the religious legal parliament of the day for want of a better description), had come to accept the identity if Jesus in a positive way. He was probably one of ‘many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.’ (Jn 12:42) So we have the significance of the meeting taking place at night. The night speaks of the natural time of the day, but it is also speaks of the sense of secrecy. Nicodemus seems to be a believer, but he believes in secret and he is truly ignorant of the depth of meaning that Jesus is trying to convey.
Nicodemus recognises Jesus as ‘a teacher who has come from God,’ and, ‘no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ What is interesting is that Nicodemus has only indicated that he accepts Jesus as being from God. Jesus responds with, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see (meaning ‘experience’ or ‘participate in’) the kingdom of God without being born from above.’
The work of the preacher, to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed; well, here is Jesus doing just that. Nicodemus has made a very ordinary statement bout Jesus’ identity, and Jesus disturbs the comfort of his understanding.
Nicodemus, in all his own knowledge and understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, should have understood what Jesus was trying to tell him. Jesus seems to be saying that there is a need for conversion, what the old Pentecostals would say, ‘being born again’, a phrase clearly invented by Jesus himself, is necessary for being able to experience and participate in the kingdom God.
As the church attempts to respond to the changes that are taking place in the world, I don’t think that we can blame those outside the church for not coming anymore. We need to acknowledge that God is doing a new thing, as he always does as the world changes; God knows everything changes, nothing stays the same. Our God is a response-able God and we need to be response-able to act to meet these new things. Additionally, we have been asking people to participate in the idea of the kingdom of God but they have not been able to experience it or participate in it because we have not encouraged people towards a real conversion, being born again.
The shift that is and has taken place within the church is a shift from the idea that the whole of society is Christian, ie, that we are a Christian country and the norm is for people to attend church services. This understanding has been dubbed the Christendom model. What has been emerging is concerned with being and expressing the Kingdom of God in the midst of the world. This understanding is being called, logically, the Kingdom model.
No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born of the Holy Spirit, born from the heavenly Father, born from above. That is a statement of the need for personal commitment to God through Jesus the Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In order to be able to communicate the kingdom of God effectively we need to have had a real conversion experience, ‘be born again’, and experience and participate in the kingdom of God.
No one can see the kingdom unless they are willing to step into it and experience it; that is the journey of faith. We all start out with a limited understanding and we grow in our knowledge and love of God and his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. By this we also grow in our experience and participation of the kingdom.
The message of the good news that Jesus lost his life proclaiming, calling individuals to, and those who believe in him to implement amongst themselves and in the world around them is the kingdom of God. If you have any doubt consider the prayer that is at the centre of our prayer life, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven… for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,’ what Bp Tom Wright calls the Kingdom Prayer rather than the Lord’s Prayer.
Jesus is inviting Nicodemus, and therefore us, to choose between the red pill, and go on before as if nothing has changed to slowly come to the end, or to take the blue pill, and enter into the world as it was meant to be – that is, the kingdom of God. I warn you that the journey will be hard and sometimes confrontational – just as Jesus was confrontational with Nicodemus disturbing the comfortable and comforting the disturbed.