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Apr 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 6, 2014 – John 3:1-15

Questions, Questions!

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 have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him Jesus answered and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:1-3

Intro: First, we need to fix a problem

The entire process of becoming a Christian has been abbreviated to this shorthand phrase: born again
– in fact, for many Protestant believers it’s not enough to be a Christian
• they want to know if you are a “born-again Christian”
– Jesus did not use “born again” in this way
• He never preached to a crowd, “You must be born again”
• he said it to only one time to this one person
○ it is one of the many metaphors he used in reference to “heavenly things” (v. 12)
○ other metaphors in John: living water, bread of life, light of the world, good shepherd, true vine
– overuse of the term born again has worn out its meaning
• so we’re not shocked by it the way Nicodemus was when he heard Jesus say it

Two times in their brief conversation, Nicodemus began a question with “How?”
– three times Jesus began with an introductory affirmation, statement: “Truly, truly”
• John used a Hebrew word that he did not translate into Greek
(although our versions usually translate it into English)
• “Amen”: means true, reliable – repeating it adds force to the word

A nighttime interview

As a Pharisee, Nicodemus’ beliefs were well-formed and absolute
– he thought of himself as faithful to God — he was cautious and diligent
• the simplest explanation for him coming “by night” was to keep this visit a secret
– previously, Jesus had created a scene in temple – he was already a controversial figure
– Nicodemus was being careful, playing it safe
• it is characteristic of Jesus that he graciously accommodated Nicodemus

Nicodemus began the interview with a statement
– if he had a question, he left it unspoken
– why did he have to sneak off to Jesus to tell him that he and his colleagues knew Jesus was from God?
• what does his statement imply?
• “You are not here to merely work miracles, are You, Jesus of Nazareth? You have a message, don’t You?”

Jesus responded with his first “Amen, amen”
– Jesus immediately jumped into the thick of it, “unless one is born again . . .”
• one would not see “the kingdom of God” – Israel was waiting for this;
○ that is, for God to break into history and bring his rule to world
• for Jesus, the kingdom is the direct experience of God here and now
○ synonymous with “eternal life” (v. 15)
○ it is a quality of life – the life of God, shared with humans
– Nicodemus could continue on his present course,
• advance as far as humanly possible in his religion and theology, yet still never see the kingdom
• never experience the life of God’s Spirit

Vv. 4-8, Nicodemus first “how” question

There’s no way he could have anticipated the Lord’s requirement of being born again
– “How can a man be born when he is old?” how can people undo their own history?
• we sometimes say, “If I had my life to do over again, I would . . .” – but we don’t
• how can I not be determined by my genes?
○ how can I not be a product of my past? or be the person I have become?
– Nicodemus may have wanted to ask, “Can’t I just build on foundation I’ve already laid?”

Jesus responded with his second “Amen, amen”
– he doesn’t make it any easier for Nicodemus, but reiterates what he’s already said
• he doesn’t explain “how,” only emphasizes the necessity
○ although, this time instead of talking about seeing the kingdom,” Jesus refers to entering
– Nicodemus is up against what may be our greatest difficulty
• it has to do with our worldview: our internal reality, how we make sense of our world
○ it is formed and held together by culture, education, experience, and common sense
○ any new info, we judge by our worldview or we try to fit it into our worldview
• education is about learning new things
○ it is cerebral and mental
○ we are indoctrinated into the assumption that we must understand a thing in order to do it
○ we are predisposed to enter new fields or experiences head-first (intellect)
• like us, Nicodemus asked, “How can a person do this?”
○ he thinks he must understand born again before he can be born again
○ as if born again were something people must do for themselves
– we’re faced with what seems like an impossibility
• we cannot go head-first into a life with God
○ we have to go without having all the answers
○ without intellectual certainty
• we have to go in contradiction to our worldview
○ but the benefit of doing this is transformation
○ if we do not defy our worldview, we can make superficial changes, but we won’t be transformed

Jesus’ explanation reveals another flaw in Nicodemus’ method
– he tried to interpret Jesus literally
• Jesus tells him, in effect, “Literal thinking won’t get you there. Flesh gives birth to flesh; it requires God’s Spirit to give birth to spirit”
– then Jesus gives the analogy of the  wind that blows “where it wishes”
• we want to read this carefully
○ Jesus did not say the Spirit is like the wind
that would be redundant (spirit and wind translate the same Greek word, pneuma)
• the wind’s invisible path is like “everyone who is born of the Spirit”
○ you cannot see how a person is born again, you can only hear and see its effects
– in other words, there is no “how” – not for us anyway
• we cannot know how the Spirit gives birth to spirit, causing us to be born again
• we can only surrender to it
○ but surrender is extremely difficult when our intellect stands in the way

Vv. 9-15, Nicodemus’ second How question

How can these things be? happen? come about?
– without rituals? without religious training and religious controls? without regulations?
(and to be sure, there are no “regulations” on the Spirit, for God gives it “without measure”; Jn. 3:34)

1. Jesus responded first with a question
– “How can ‘these things’ be foreign to you?”
2. Next, he delivered his third “Amen, amen”
– “we” (Jesus and the Father?) – are not inventing these things or interpreting them according to our theology
• rather, we are describing what we know by experience
– but here’s the catch: “you do not believe”
3. A person must begin by believing – then a shift occurs:
– from reason to intuition, left hemisphere to right hemisphere, from earthly things to heavenly things
• faith opens the door to reason rather than the other way around
4. An analogy from the Old Testament — the serpent in the wilderness
(note: from “earthly” analogy to “heavenly” reality)
– Son of Man – we “look” to the Person, not the doctrine
– we have no map or manual to show us “how,” we have only Jesus
• Jesus frustrates our intellects to win our hearts

Conc: What is “born again”?

Not just a “new you” – not modifications to the old self
– not something that develops out of our human nature
• it is an experience of life that enters us from the outside and changes everything

Karl Rahner, it’s like “when I find another person repulsive . . . and then decide: no, I want to behave kindly toward this person, I want to like this person. This is perhaps a useful resolution; perhaps I’m setting a worthwhile goal. But it’s still a long way from the point where my whole being has changed into spontaneous sympathy for this wretch whom, humanly speaking, I’ve hated up till then.”

– we’ve been given the impression that born again is an event
• that it occurs in an instant
– but even our natural birth did not  begin in the delivery room
• my “life verse” regarding my spiritual passion for God’s work in you:

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you . . . (Gal. 4:19)

We do not have a “how” for what Jesus wants to see happen within us
– we only have a choice
• we can choose to allow the Spirit of God to guide our spirits into Jesus
• Jesus has come among us so that we might have this second, spiritual birth (Jn. 10:10)

I am finished, except that we cannot really end our meditation at verse 15
All that Jesus has said is rooted in love, therefore we must include verse 16:

For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish,
but have eternal life.

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