A little less than a week ago, I was teaching a group of high school and middle school students about Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus in John chapter 3. But if we call this Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus we might miss something about, what I would argue to be, one of the most significant points of Jesus’ teaching here. The vital teaching that Jesus gives is that Nicodemus cannot really ‘encounter’ Jesus, unless Jesus encounters him first. The new birth is something we have to let God do to us. It is something passive. To illustrate I used the story of Eustace, the unpleasant boy who turned into a dragon in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. One of the strangest yet somewhat magical lines in that book is the Lion’s advice to Eustace just before he is changed back into a boy: “you’ll have to let me undress you.”
When I said those words to these students I suddenly discovered that there was an imprisoned giggle all over the room. Grins and open teeth began instantly forming. I felt that I needed to break the ice so I said it was okay to laugh. Immediately, students began to laugh aloud, look at their friends, and express to each other how strange this story was. Even more laughter exploded when I began to go on with the story and describe how Eustace laid down and let the Lion actually undress him. I’ll admit, the words are a bit scandalous. Our entertainment culture would have fun with a line like that. I can see a sly joke forming in Jimmy Kimmel’s mind already. The words may have been a bit less scandalous to Lewis when he wrote them, and most likely to the children he was targeting with them. But, considering what I have written below, this might be one of the crucial reasons Jesus tells us to be like little children in our faith.
It began to occur to me later on, that those words that the lion spoke were perfectly suited to describe the new birth, which is one of the most intimate things that can ever happen to anyone. The new birth is quite a scandalous thing. It is here that you have to let God make new the ugly and dark parts of your life. But before you can let God do that, you have to give those things to God. But before you can do that, you have to touch and look at it like the underbelly of a large rock. That’s something scandalous and uncomfortable if I’ve ever heard it. Perhaps, this is why we see Nicodemus outraged by Jesus’ response that in order to see the Kingdom of Heaven you have to be born from above. The new birth, in some sense, is never easy for anyone.