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Review: John 3:1-8

Preface:

  • U Gotta Pope? According to Catholic tradition, Jesus commissioned Peter to lead the early church as God’s authoritative representative. As such, one of the Pope’s most important (and dangerous) roles is serving as Catholicism’s official interpreter of the Bible. As Protestants, we recognize that the office of Pope is not a biblical office and that it is the responsibility of all Christians, individually and corporately, to rightly interpret the Bible. Despite that fact, when we uncritically sit under a teacher or a preacher who is walking us through the Bible, we — in affect — entrust to that teacher authority to interpret the Bible for us.
  • Moral of the Story: Remember the Bereans [Acts 17:10-12]? They were taught by Paul — you may have heard of him — but, despite that fact, they still examined all of his teaching to be certain that what he taught about Jesus fit with Old Testament Scriptures. Be like the Bereans, develop a healthy Berean critical eye and ear when it comes to sitting under the teaching of anybody.

Nicodemus (v.1-2)

  • Who was he? Pharisee, a ruling member of the Sanhedrin (he has hot stuff)
  • Why did he come to Jesus at night? Perhaps so his visit would be hidden by the cover of darkness, or maybe so he could have more time to talk to Jesus — who was quickly becoming known as a worker of miracles
  • Was Nic sincere in his statement to Jesus (v.2)? His curiosity is obvious but, it would also appear that the Spirit might be at work in him — according to [John 7:50, 9:39] — but the Bible doesn’t tell us everything that is going on with Nic)
  • Did Nicodemus become a follower of Jesus? Perhaps this is the beginning stages of Nic turning to Jesus and believing that he is Lord. Maybe the wind was blowing as Jesus taught Nic and, in the two passages listed above, we can see the grass moving, the results of the Spirit at work (v.8)

Jesus Schools the ‘Teacher of Israel’ (v.3-8)

  • Jesus doesn’t Mince Words: “Nicodemus, thanks for the compliment, but just so you know, your entrance into the Kingdom of God is not a lock, you must be born twice to enter the kingdom”
  • Hard Words: Jesus was a brilliant teacher (Matt. 12:38-42 actually says Jesus is wiser than Solomon). His usual way of teaching was to take an object or a simple scenario connected to common everyday life (and, not infrequently, pulled from the Old Testament). It was easy to understand Jesus’ teaching on an earthly level, but it was much harder to understand the application Jesus made of the earthly thing to the heavenly thing. Why did Jesus chose to teach using a method that is simultaneously quite simple and surprisingly hard to understand? According to [Matt. 13: 10-17] Jesus intentionally taught in this way so that some, who were graciously blessed with the ability to understand, would get it while others, whose ears and eyes were sealed by their sinfulness, would not.
  • That’s a Shocker: Nicodemus was stunned by these words, probably for two reasons: 1) He’s thinking “I gotta do what again? I don’t think Mama is going to appreciate that at all” and 2) “How can you tell me, the ‘teacher of the Jews’ (v.10), that I am not already guaranteed access into the Kingdom? I’ve earned it, I’m on the Sanhedrin, I deserve it, I am a lock!”
  • Water and Spirit: Jesus, a patient teacher, perhaps aware that eventually Nicodemus is going to understand, explains what being “born again” means, uttering one of the most debated sentences in the New Testament.

Break It Down: the Two Approaches:

  1. “Water (pause) and the Spirit” Some people interpret this phrase to be referring to the two distinct birth events, first birth (water) and second birth (Spirit). When this approach is taken some claim that “water” refers to physical birth, the water referring to the water breaking on a mother about to give birth to her baby. Others make the claim that “water” refers to baptism. Both of these positions would agree that the rebirth is salvation accomplished by the Spirit. (The first position is unlikely because there are no examples of birth being described in terms of water in Greek or Hebrew literature. The second is emphatically impossible because it corrupts the gospel of grace by saying we must do some sort of work in order to be saved, it does not fit with the thief on the cross — “today you will be with me in paradise”[Luke 23:43] — and confuses the New Covenant with the sign of that covenant, namely, baptism)
  2. “Water and Spirit” This position claims that only the rebirth is described by this phrase. If this is the case, what then does water and spirit refer to? Our best clue comes from Jesus’ expectation that Nicodemus, as the ‘teacher of Israel,’ understand “water and spirit.” If this is correct, the phrase refers to the Old Testament use of “water” to refer to cleansing from sin and “spirit” to refer to transformation and new life (See [Ezek 36:22-27]). This interpretation seems to be the most likely meaning given the context of the text.

  • The Spirit: After tackling the nature of rebirth, Jesus expounds upon the spiritual nature of second birth. There is debate as to whether “Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit or demarcates the spiritual (in contrast to the earthly). In my opinion, the Holy Spirit and the spiritual are so closely interlinked that it is perhaps a bit of a stretch to try to draw a clear distinction in this case (but I could easily be wrong).
  • Marvelous, Simply Marvelous: Jesus tells Nicodemus that he ought not to be marveling at Jesus’ teaching (which means that Nic is still stunned and marveling) and proceeds to give an analogy to explain the Spirit/spirit. Jesus brilliantly uses a play on words (pneuma = spirit or wind) to show that the work of Spirit, like the wind, is always happening but we cannot see it move, we can only hear it. In a similar fashion, the spirit is moving and sovereignly accomplishing spiritual rebirth, causing people to be born again of “water and the spirit”

Concluding Questions:

  • Why is it that birth is the analogy Jesus uses to explain salvation? The answer, I believe, is ultimately found in the Prologue of John’s Gospel: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” [John 1:12-13]. In the passage we studied tonight and John’s introduction to the major themes of the Gospel we are told that it is God who is sovereignly at work accomplishing his purposes for spiritually birthing children to be adopted into his family.
  • If you think about your own life, have you experienced a rebirth? Have you been washed clean of your sins and repented, turning from those sins and embracing, by faith, the new life, the spiritual life, found in Christ Jesus (see v.9-21)? Think about what we know of Nicodemus. We know that prior to his conversation with Nic, Jesus did not entrust himself to people who believed in his miracle working abilities. Then, one night, Nic visits Jesus in the night bringing compliments of Jesus’ miraculous abilities…and what does Jesus do? It seems that he entrusts himself to Nicodemus, who, as we proceed through the Book of John, seems to be experiencing a life change. (Could this be John trying to teach us, tuning our ears to hear the Wind?) The question for us is this: Am I Nicodemus when he comes with curiosity to visit with Jesus in the cover of night? Or, am I Nicodemus when he brings 75lbs. of expensive myrrh and aloe to anoint and bury the body of Jesus? I wonder what Nicodemus was like three days later when Jesus rose from the dead. I wonder what difference that made for Jesus…I wonder what difference the resurrection genuinely makes for us.
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