In contrast to the Pharisaical teaching that said men could affect their own rebirth through certain works, Jesus says it only happens by God through His Spirit. Nicodemus is hearing Jesus’ words, and I believe he understands what Jesus is saying at some level, about salvation but yet he’s amazed by it.
He must have been asking himself whoever heard of such a thing? More than that, whoever seen such a thing? In verse 7 Jesus tells him not to marvel at this concept.
John 3:7-8 (NKJV)
7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus is amazed at the prospect that the Spirit of God is out among men every day moving them, granting rebirth yet it’s undetected up to this point by Israel’s religious leaders. How can that be? In Pharisaical thinking, rebirth is a process of works, just like the sacraments of Catholic theology. Therefore it must be tangible, it has to be something men could see and understand.
Jesus just said it in a way that suggests it is happening all the time. But we know Jesus is speaking of something spiritual. He calls it a spiritual rebirth which is something God the Spirit does for us. If such rebirth was the only way to enter Kingdom, then we know it is happening. It had to happen to Abraham, it had to happen to Moses. It is happening.
That’s the problem Nicodemus is facing right now. So Jesus gives this parable and He says, look this is not that hard to follow. Let’s compare the Spirit’s regenerative work to the wind. The wind blows around you all the time. It does it as it will under God’s direction. You can’t see it or know where it is coming from or where it is going because it is invisible to the human eye. The only way you can sense it is by the force it exerts or the sound it makes. Jesus uses sound as an example. Jesus says so it is for everyone born of the spirit. We know this from our own experience and probably those we know around us who have come to faith. You cannot see the moment of spiritual rebirth. It is an invisible process.
We don’t know where the Spirit is going next in His mission to bring men to faith since those He chooses to regenerate are not announced in advance. But that doesn’t mean we can’t detect the Spirit at work. Just as the wind makes a sound as it passes by, so we can recognize the Spirit’s spiritual regeneration taking place in the hearts of men and women. We can see men and women brought to repentance. We can hear the resulting confessions of faith and see water baptisms. We witness lives, lifestyles, and priorities changing as sin is set aside. When we choose to follow the Lord we see the spiritual fruit of the Spirit working in the believer’s life. Those are the ways, in which we detect spiritual rebirth. Those things don’t preclude somebody’ life turning a negative direction at some later point. And hiding that fruit and putting themselves back in a position to follow the flesh. We see that in our own life from day to day. We know it’s happening to other people too. These indicators don’t change the underlined fundamental truth of whether there’s been spiritual change or not. Our inability to detect it perfectly is immaterial to the ultimate outcome. If you have some concern for somebody that they do not truly know the Lord and you thought perhaps they have been fooling you for a while. Well, keep preaching the gospel to them. At the end of the day, we may not know it perfectly.
At this point, the Pharisee is starting to get that idea himself, so he asks the question that every person should ask:
John 3:9-12 (NKJV)
9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”
10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
He asks how can these things be. But if you really want to get the sense of what he’s asking, you have to know the words a little differently in Greek. What it means is how do these things happen? He’s asking in other words, how can a person be born again by the spirit? You’ve told me how it happens, now I need to know how I get that. What set of circumstances lead to this wonderful outcome? What are the steps we have to take? You can sense in that the work-based theology that is still at the root of all they, the Pharisees, understand and all they ever taught. I have to do something now Jesus. How do I get that done?
This is the right and proper question for him to ask. In fact, this is the question every person should ask. Every human being should be literally obsessed with finding out that answer for every day they live on earth. Everyone should ask, How do I reach heaven? For there can be no higher purpose in our earthly lives than to answer that question before we reach the day of our death. As Christians, we often lament the fact that there are so many people we know who, when they do ask that question, they latch onto the wrong answer, they fall victim for the lies of the enemy, for the false religions of the world, and we wish we could bring them the truth in a way that pulls them out from the enemy’s lies.
But we should just as much lament the fact that is so few people even ask that question at all. Who gives any thought at all what comes after this life. Nicodemus asked it, he looks at Jesus and he asks Jesus, how do these things happen? Now it’s Jesus’ turn to be amazed. Jesus asks you are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know how to tell people how to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Is there no more basic question to answer in all religion than how do I escape death and reach the next life, heaven as we call it? Yet here’s a man who supposedly leading others in Israel to the answer to that question and he comes at night to ask Jesus that very same question.
You need no further evidence of how far Israel has fallen from understanding their own scriptures than to hear this man’s own testimony on that night. You shouldn’t be surprised, by the way, to discover that there are yet still teachers who are sometimes ignorant of the very material they are purposing to teach their own students. They claim to know how to find God but they themselves are far from God in many cases. The Pharisees were just one more group in a long line of wolves in sheep’s clothing. And those people still operate in the church today. The safe rule is don’t ever assume because someone is a pastor or elder or Bible teacher that they have the right answers to these central questions of faith. In fact, don’t be too quick to assume they even know the Lord themselves. Instead, you should look for the evidence of the Spirit in their lives As Jesus says in Matthew 7:15 –
Matthew 7:15-18 (NKJV)
You Will Know Them by Their Fruits
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
He’s asking us to be discerning, looking at the lives of those who we would turn to for teaching. Salvation
Then in John 3 verses 11-12, Jesus explains to Nicodemus why he is in this predicament of ignorance. How did you get to this point? Jesus says we have spoken of what we know and what we have seen, but you do not accept our testimony. That’s the problem. Of course, we are immediately asking ourselves who is “we?” It’s not the royal we, is it? He means it in the literal sense. Some have conjectured it is a reference to the Trinity, as in Christ and the Spirit have co-testified to these truths. Certainly, that is not a wrong thing to say. But I don’t think that is what He means. I think Jesus is referring to Himself and Moses, because of what comes next in the narrative. Jesus is referencing the teaching of Moses, the Torah, the very thing the Pharisees had memorized and studied to no end. And had set themselves up as experts in, for the needs of the people. The Old Testament. Principally the Law.
Moses, if you remember in the Law, he taught the way of salvation, even as early as Deuteronomy he talked about a coming prophet and about the need, you do not need someone to go up to heaven in order to obtain justification or go across the sea to find it for you. For it is near to you, it is in your mouth, it is the word of faith. Paul echos that teaching when he teaches on it in Romans. Moses had taught in the Scriptures how you reach the kingdom of Heaven through faith in the Messiah to come. Moses had testified of what he had seen and what God had done in the tabernacle and elsewhere in the delivery of the Law. And yet the Pharisees had not believed what had been given them in the word of God. They had all they needed. They had never taken it and understood it properly. They just memorized it and then distorted it. Of course, the words Moses gave were, in fact, the words of Christ, because the Word is Christ. He gave those words to Moses.
So Jesus asks Nicodemus if you are not willing to accept the words and signs given already on earth, that is through the word of God, then why would you expect Me to give you greater revelation now? What more could I say that would impress upon you the truth? Because if you are willing to look past the word of God for the answers about who God is and how you can reach Heaven, which has been given to you just for the reason you would have those answers. Then why do you expect God to give you a second opportunity in another way? That is what he was asking for. Nicodemus is asking for divine special revelation concerning how to enter Heaven. That’s always been the way it is with people. That’s how it is today, that’s how it has always been. Men are always seeking something special and unique revealed just to them when all they need has already been given through the Scriptures. As Paul says, Jews seek for a sign and Greeks seek for wisdom. Salvation
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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