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Birth “rights”

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God ...” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anothen [either “again” or “from above”] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”                John 3: 1-3


The Syvret name is in the news in Jersey these days. Former Senator Stuart Syvret is defending himself in Court with regard to a number of charges brought against him.


Balleine’s Biographical Dictionary of Jersey sets out the life story of another Syvret – Jean Syvret - who lived here between 1784 and 1862. At fourteen (1798) he went to sea on a Jersey privateer – a ship that was lawfully (at the time) empowered to seize any ship from France (Britain was at war with France) and, upon bringing it home, was entitled to share the value of that prize and its cargo.


This was the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1799 Napoleon staged a coup d'état and installed himself as First Consul of France. Five years later he was Emperor.


And Jean Syvret? He rose to be prizemaster on a bigger Jersey-owned ship and brought many prizes back to Jersey. When peace with France came briefly in 1802 he sailed to Newfoundland to engage in cod fishing. But in 1804 he was appointed second-in-command of another Jersey privateer. He was captured and despite many attempted escapes did not return to Jersey until 1814.


Around 1808 he was a prisoner in Verdun and Napoleon stopped there for an hour. As Napoleon entered his carriage he was able to deliver a message to Syvret and others like him. “So long as I remain Emperor, there will be no exchange for you.”


To say the least this message was not encouraging. Contrast it with Jesus’ message to Nicodemus in AD 30 – see bold above.


Because Syvret was born “British” and had confirmed his “Britishness” by privateering for Britain in its war with France) he was imprisoned for ever.


 What about Nicodemus? He belonged to the ruling class in Jerusalem. He was not constrained by his birth. Or was he?


Look again at Jesus’ words to him. “Truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born anothen he cannot [even] see the kingdom of God [let alone enter it].”


It’s the anothen that become important in deciding whether Nicodemus (and Jean Syvret and Napoleon) could enter the kingdom of God to which Jesus referred. All three men needed (in Jesus’ view) to be born anothen.


Interestingly, the highly-literate Nicodemus decides that anothen means “again”. So he says, “How can a man be born when he is old. Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Is that the only way into God’s kingdom? How Jean Syvret must, on hearing Napoleon, have wished he could have been born again as a Frenchman so as to be free in the kingdom of France....


But Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus makes matters much clearer. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [So it’s not to be born again in the womb; it’s to be born from above.]


Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind [same Greek word as “spirit”] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”


Birth “rights”? Yes, the Syvrets like Nicodemus had (and have) birth “rights” – from the womb.


They also desperately needed (and need) birth “rights” from above so as to enter Jesus’ kingdom of God.

‘Seeing we are born God’s enemies we must be new-born his sons.'  (Richard Baxter, writer and hymn writer, 1615-1691)
‘We cannot be changed by altering a few of our bad habits. Reformation will not do, for the disease of sin has captured our very life system. We need regeneration, a new heart.' (Will Metzger, minister.)
Richard Syvret

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