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The Revolution – Be the Change You Want to Be

December 13, 2011

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 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.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 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?”
John 2:23-3:4

Jean Duplessis-Bertaux

The French Revolution - Jean Duplessis-Bertaux

John 3 is one of those passages I delight in reading. I wonder what Nicodemus’ motive for coming to Jesus by night was. Was it curiosity? Possibly, but at this point in John the Pharisees don’t appear to have beef with Jesus. I don’t see any hostility from the Pharisees until Chapter 5. As far as I can tell, at the end of chapter 2 everyone is pretty stoked on Jesus. So why at night? Barclay proposes it might be to get at him when the crowds aren’t near, or possibly because Nicodemus was a wealthy man of a ruling family in Jerusalem–perhaps he had a reputation to protect.

What makes me question Nicodemus’ reason for coming is Jesus’ response to Nicodemus’ greeting. It doesn’t seem to make sense with the rest of the passage. Nicodemus says, “we know you area teacher come from God.” Jesus doesn’t answer Nicodemus according to his statement. Jesus responds saying, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” What does Nicodemus come for that would lead Jesus to respond this way?

John 2:23 says that, “many believed in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.” The word used for “name” in Greek is onoma, which can mean name in the sense of what a person is called, but it also has meanings attached to it such as “authority, cause, character, fame, and reputation.” So many believed in his authority or cause or character or fame or reputation. This was during the Passover feast, which would have been a reminder to the Jews of their release from Egyptian bondage. Doubtlessly, under the Romans, their thoughts would turn to God for salvation and potentially to the messiah, who would lead them to freedom. Vincent’s Word Studies makes an interesting point in this passage, which is that they “believe on his name” as opposed to “believe on him.” Jesus matches their shallow affections for him by not entrusting himself to them either. Still, Jesus appeared to be the messiah and he was something they had been waiting for. It seems some or all–doesn’t say specifically–of Nicodemus’ colleagues shared in this sentiment with the people at the feast.

Is it possible that Nicodemus comes by night to show support for a possible messiah? The messiah would establish the kingdom of Israel and restore it to the glory days of David and Solomon, right? This is why I think Jesus responds with a statement about the kingdom of God. Jesus isn’t connecting the dots, he’s making leaps into the heart of the matter before Nicodemus can get to the point.

Jesus’ message to Nicodemus is simple: What you see me as and what you see me doing is based on a preconceived notion of what you expect. Nicodemus came to support what he thought was the messiah’s deliverance of Israel and the reestablishment of its sovereignty. He was there to support the revolution.

Jesus, though speaking in code, is clear–the man you are cannot see the kingdom of God. You must have a second birth or you will be blind to it. It’s more than a shift in perspective. Rebirth is a revolution. What Nicodemus wasn’t able to see, was that the revolution he was looking for had to happen in him.

I think that’s that applies to us too.

The revolution begins inside of you.

Before anything outside of you can change, you have to change first.

Revolution has to do with changing our outer circumstances, moving people, policies, and power around to change things. It’s a top-down transformation, i.e. if we dam the river upstream, everything downstream will be affected. What Jesus is talking about doesn’t call out the system as much as it calls out the individual. He has a grassroots approach. That’s exactly he’s getting at. You can’t see the revolution or appreciate it until you have new eyes to see it with. The revolutionaries have to be revolutionized, then they will see the revolution.

What’s being said here? Stop worrying about all of the things you can’t change. Stop trying to control the exteriors. Let people be who they are, you probably don’t want people “working on” you. Let God change you first. Let him revolutionize your vision, and let him put his spin on it. Let him change your desires, direct your life and give it significance. Let go of the chokehold you have on life and what you think it should be. Sit down for a moment.

Jesus says be born again. Birth by nature is something that you can’t do to yourself. No child is born of his own will. Someone gives birth to the child. The revolution Jesus is talking about is a birth, one that has its origin outside of your will. So we can’t make ourselves see the kingdom, it needs to be initiated outside of us. What Nicodemus thought needed to happen, the hopes that were inside of him, were his own.

One more thing about birth. Birth is not the invitation to join a government or a movement, but to a family. That invitation to family is planted with love and acceptance. Once we accept our place in the family our vision begins to shift. We begin to understand the revolution Jesus was talking about. The externals we want to change around us are easier to accept. We begin to love the person who mistreats us. We begin to accept the difficult people. We buck the system. Rather than shaming our enemies into changing their ways, we change our ways and bless them instead. Those people no one else will touch, rather than trying to clean them up, we welcome them. This is the revolution Jesus invites us to. It’s the revolution that turns the world upside down. The revolution isn’t about redeeming a man-made structure, it’s about redeeming real people, with real feelings, and real lives.

This is the revolution we’re invited to: It’s one that changes cities and nations. It changes things not by forcing things, but by changing people from the inside out. As we accept the offer of family, and receive the love of God, we begin to see that we’re already sitting in the catbird seat with Jesus. We don’t have to control everything. We receive the love of and acceptance of God that we desire so deeply, and we can’t help but give that love away. It begins inside of us. Love can overturn a nation without swords.  It can change your city.  It can even change your family.  It begins with one person at a time, and it begins with you.
This is the revolution we’re invited to.


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