On a recent long drive to Findlay Ohio, I was reflecting on John 3 and the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus. To be sure, many sermons and books have been offered on this well known passage. Folks at football games tend to hold up banners shouting John 3:16,“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.” (John 3:16 NLT) There is also in this passage Jesus’ instruction that we must be “born again” or “born from above” to see or enter the kingdom of God (v 3,5). We have often treated this injunction as a single moment or declaration as fire insurance or a ticket to heaven. (More on that later) But Jesus intended something far deeper. (More on the Jewish roots of “born again” later)
As I was meditating on this familiar passage of scripture on my drive, the Spirit seemed to whisper these words and thoughts to me. “Thom, I’m not really interested in caterpillars with wings.” An interesting image came to me or a fuzzy little caterpillar with wings attached. They were out of place and could not lift the caterpillar off the ground. The message was clear, we, like Nicodemus, need to enter into the place of darkness to be totally transformed much as a caterpillar enters into the cocoon to becoming a new creation. God is not asking us to add anything to what we are: He wants us to become something totally new—a complete exchange. God is not interested in our remodeling projects–adding something different to an existing structure. He wants to tear down the house and make something brand new that looks like Him! As I considered this later statement it occurred to me that the probable reason that Nicodemus came out to talk to Jesus in the darkness was two-fold: In John 2 Jesus turned or overturned the tables on mere religion declaring that the temple, that was designed to be a connecting pace with God, had become a house of merchandise. Something that was intended to be internal and transformational had become a sideshow. As Jesus looked at the temple, devoid of the presence of God, He declared, “Tear down this (religious and empty monstrosity) and I will rebuild it in three days!” (John 2:19) In fact, this was the very charge the legal types lodged agains Jesus in the kangaroo court of religion. His accusers shouted, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” (Mark 14:58 ESV) Beloved, When Jesus is instructing us to be born again, He is talking about a total transformation.
There is a difference between change and transformation. Change leaves the essential structure alone and adds something to it. Transformation however, means a total exchange from caterpillar to butterfly. We know when that transformation has taken place because we no longer think like caterpillars with wings. We think and feel what Jesus thinks and feels. We are no longer caterpillars who strap on make-shift wings to try and soar a little higher spiritually. We are becoming spiritual people. Transformation is not a temporary shift; it’s a permanent reality. Lord, help me to enter into the darkness of the cocoon as Nicodemus did coming to you at night. I’m not always comfortable in the dark, but it is the venue of transformation. Lord, I enter the darkness of transformation beyond my understanding by your grace alone knowing that even in the darkness your hand will lead me (Psalm 139).