Monday, September 10, 2018

The Original ‘Nick at Nite’

This was the "Nick@Nite" logo
used by the Nickelodeon Channel,
Have you or your kids ever watched “Nick@Nite,” programs broadcast in the evening by the Nickelodeon cable channel? It features syndicated series, children’s-oriented films and some original programming. We rarely watch it, unless one of our grandkids is visiting, but did you know there was another “Nick at night” about 2,000 years ago?

This “Nick” was Nicodemus, a member of the Pharisees, the Jewish ruling council, in the days of Jesus. In an amazing encounter recounted in the gospel of John (chapter 3:1-21), Nicodemus went to see Jesus at night, under the cover of darkness, presumably so he would not be observed by his peers and open to their ridicule. This evening interaction revealed a foundational spiritual truth.

Nicodemus kicked off the conversation by stating, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” As He so often did, Jesus responded in a very unexpected way, answering a question the Pharisee had not even asked: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 

The religious leader’s first inclination might have been to do a double-take, thinking something like, “Huh? What?” But then he asked, “How can a man be born when he is old?... Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus quickly explained He was not referring to physical birth, but rather spiritual renewal and transformation.

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear the sound but cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).

In 1976, in the days leading up to the Presidential election, then-candidate Jimmy Carter brought the term, “born again Christian,” into mainstream consciousness when he gave an interview in the most unlikely of places, Playboy magazine. Over the decades since then, “born again” has been used – and misused – countless times. But there’s no mistaking what Jesus meant during his interaction with Nicodemus.

He wasn’t referring to a simple change of thinking, attitude or philosophy. Neither was Jesus insisting upon the adoption of a new ideology or belief system. He was introducing “Nick” – and us – to a fundamental principle of the Christian faith. We can’t have a genuine, life-changing relationship with God without being born again spiritually. 

In Ephesians 2:1-25, we’re told, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient…. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ….” In another letter, the apostle Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Grasping this truth, this reality, has been transforming for me, as I suspect it was for Nicodemus, who later became one of Jesus’ devoted followers. Being a person who does checklists and enjoys crossing off my “to-do’s,” I had been trying “to do” the Christian life, with very little success – but much frustration. Sometimes I still forget, or get distracted and fall back into my old “I can do this myself” habits. Then the Lord reminds me of what He said elsewhere, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). 

I know I’ve written about this before, but I remember how long it took for this truth to really sink in. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). I can’t overstate how freeing it has been to “get it,” knowing that it’s not about what I can do for the Lord, but rather, what He wants to do in me and through me. Understanding this makes all the difference, every minute of every day!

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