Puzzled but assured: Devotional Commentary for January 22-28
John 3:8-15 (GW)
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us wisdom and insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
3:8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where the wind comes from or where it’s going. That’s the way it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus continues. Jesus continues to answer Nicodemus' question reflected in John chapter three verse four. He had asked: How can a man be born a second time? After describing the difference between physical and spiritual birth in verses five, six, and seven of John chapter three, Jesus now draws Nicodemus' attention to a natural phenomenon of God's creation to illustrate the limitations of the finite human mind to grasp the mystery of Jesus' identity and the truth about the New Birth.
Because Jesus understood Nicodemus' bewilderment about the mystery of the New Birth, He referred to a familiar natural phenomenon, exposing man's incapacity to fathom Jesus and His work with the faculties of a fallen mind. Jesus spoke of the wind. We recognize it when it blows, but we do not know where it comes from or where it is going.
We do not understand what moves the wind, but we observe its effects. We see trees shaking in a violent wind. We hear the howling. We see the breeze gently waft across the face of a flower. Thanks to technological advancement, today we know more about wind movement but we are no closer to understanding what forms its behavior. We witness the outcome but not its source or destination. That is hidden in the treasures of the living God. Jesus affirmed to Nicodemus that the same is true of the New Birth.
3:9 Nicodemus replied, “How can that be?”
Still puzzled by Jesus' enigmatic words, Nicodemus simply sunk into a foggy daze and exclaimed: "How can that be?!" He was unable to grasp what Jesus was saying to him. Here he was one of the most educated men in all of Judea, but he stumbled over the truth revealed to him by Jesus. His own wisdom did not help him discern the mystery of God's Truth.
3:10 Jesus told Nicodemus, “You’re a well-known teacher of Israel. Can’t you understand this?
Nicodemus’ religious wisdom did not prepare him for such an encounter with the Messiah. Jesus reproved Nicodemus because, as a doctor of the law and a learned Rabbi, he should have understood that Jesus’ words were in harmony with God's eternal Truth. If his wisdom was real and from God, Nicodemus would have grasped the meaning of Jesus’ words. He would not have been confused by the Truth.
3:11 I can guarantee this truth: We know what we’re talking about, and we confirm what we’ve seen. Yet, you don’t accept our message.
Suddenly, Jesus addresses Himself in the first person plural, "We." Some suggest that He was thinking of John the Baptist since they both preached repentance. Others surmise that Jesus spoke as the Supreme Prophet of the long line of prophets including the apostles who were commissioned to continue His teaching after His ascension. Consider a third alternative: Jesus may have spoken of Himself as the atoning Sacrifice of our redemption by the Father, and of the Holy Spirit, Who regenerates our eternal souls.
Nevertheless, the meaning of Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus is true and clear. No one can either see or enter the Kingdom of God unless one is born again from above. Jesus had faithfully told the world about His Father's Will and confirmed it by the signs and the miracles He had done. Nicodemus, and perhaps some of his colleagues in the Sanhedrin, acknowledged that Jesus is a Teacher sent by God. But they doubted. They neither understood nor accepted His message of the New Birth.
3:12 If you don’t believe me when I tell you about things on earth, how will you believe me when I tell you about things in heaven?
Jesus further admonished Nicodemus by confronting him about his lack of understanding concerning the wind. He made it clear to him that, if he is puzzled about commonly known natural matters, it is impossible to understand that the nature of the wind resembles the work of the Spirit.
How simple it would have been if he had leaned on the wisdom of the One Whose counsel he came to seek! Nevertheless, Nicodemus was steeped in the fallen wisdom of rabbinical teachings and was blinded by uncanny ignorance. But Jesus did not forsake him. He did not abandon him. With Love, Care, and Patience that only Jesus can give, He showed him the way out of the darkness of his own wisdom, because He is the Light.
3:13 No one has gone to heaven except the Son of Man, who came from heaven.
Knowing that Nicodemus struggled to grasp the concept of the New Birth, Jesus proceeded to reveal to him His own identity and mission as the basis for validating what He said to him earlier. Jesus' words implied that He is not just a Teacher sent by God, but He came down from God to bring God's redemption to the lost. Basically, Jesus bid Nicodemus to trust in Him and receive wisdom from the Holy Spirit, before trying to figure out the identity of the Messiah and the mystery of the New Birth, on his own wisdom.
Because Jesus is with His Father in heaven and with Nicodemus on earth, He is the only One Who can convey what is in God's Heart to Nicodemus' empty and desperate heart. Only jesus, the Son of God, knows what is in God's Heart. Only Jesus, the Redeemer, knows what the empty and desperate heart of the lost needs. Jesus is not only the Messenger. He is the Word! He is also the Lamb of God Who came to set the captive free!
As a Pharisee, Nicodemus knew the Law. But he failed to understand the Scriptures even though The prophets had faithfully spoken for God. Now, Nicodemus was in a private audience with the One Who had come from heaven to reveal God’s Love. So Jesus revealed Himself to Nicodemus before continuing to expound more on the New Birth.
3:14 “As Moses lifted up the snake on a pole in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.
Once Jesus identified Himself as the One Who came from God, once Jesus told Nicodemus that he can neither see nor enter the Kingdom of God without the New Birth, Jesus affirmed that He came down from God to be the Way and the Means to the New Birth. But this time, Jesus did not just make a declaration. He drew Nicodemus' attention to a familiar incident which his forefathers experienced on their way to the Promised Land under Moses' leadership.
As the children of Israel wandered in the desert on their way to the Promised Land, God judged their rebellion with a poisonous snake. Once they repented, God directed Moses to hang a brass snake on a post and instructed the people to look at the snake and be healed. Certainly, the healing did not come from the act of observing the snake, but through faith upon God the Almighty Who judged sin and provided deliverance to those who acknowledged their rebellion and repented. Jesus told Nicodemus that He came from God to be lifted up like the brass snake and to be crucified on the Cross.
3:15 Then everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”
Nicodemus now knows:
- That Jesus is the Messiah Who came from God,
- that He is the Teacher Who is also the Way to eternal life,
- that He is the Sacrifice Who came to be crucified on the Cross for the sake of the lost.
Those who look to Him, acknowledge their sin, and accept His Sacrifice receive the New Birth of God's salvation. Everyone who gazes by faith upon the Sacrifice of God’s Lamb is set free from sin's deadly poison. Once free, the redeemed will not suffer the eternal consequence of sin because Jesus’ blood has purchased the pardon from God's judgment.
The person who accepts the atoning work of Jesus Christ and believes in Him is not lost but has eternal life. Jesus told Nicodemus that anyone who believed in the Word and the Work of God's Son Jesus Christ, will see the Kingdom of God and enter into the eternal rest secured by Jesus Christ.
That, is the New Birth! It takes place only through the cleansing blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and through the convicting and regenerating Work of the Holy Spirit, in the heart of the unbelieving sinner.
“You must be born again!”
Perhaps, no other phrase in Christian talk appears to be more offensive, even to some who profess to be Christians. Nevertheless, this teaching is fundamental to the Gospel. It comes from Christ’s own lips. Jesus told Nicodemus precisely that: No one can see or enter into the Kingdom of God unless one is born again from above. This Truth confronts us with penetrating questions, compelling us to ponder:
- Do we accept the Words of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the One Who came from the very presence of God the Father in heaven?
- Do we question Jesus Christ and doubt His Word?
- Do we follow what seems right to our thinking?
- Do we simply receive Christ's message?
- Do we resign to a noncommittal life of skepticism and summarily dismiss everything we do not know?
The Scriptures tell us why the doctrine of the second birth is subject to doubt or even rejection. Like Nicodemus prior to his conversion, those without faith cannot understand the things of God. The fallen mind of an unregenerate soul is clouded and unable to discern the Truth. The question before us is then, why do those who profess to be believers struggle with the same issue as unbelievers?
The answer lies in the difference between professed faith and saving faith. Profession of faith can be uttered by anyone who wishes to do so. But salvation is only from God Who chooses whom He saves and saves whom He chooses. An empty profession is the expression of man's wishes. But salvation is a transforming deliverance by God. Any statement can be professed regardless of the condition of the heart. But the Scriptures teach us that salvation is affirmed only when the profession of faith is made with the mouth out of a changed heart. The confession or profession of faith is validated by a heart which is genuinely transformed from death to life and from darkness to light.
Many people find the concept of sin, judgment, salvation, and the second birth somewhat puzzling, strange, and difficult to accept. Others reject the thought as outright nonsense or absurd. Still others entertain no opinion about matters of faith and simply deny the reality of sin, giving the false impression of no judgment and, therefore, no need for salvation. To such, the thought of the New Birth is a senseless drivel or a needless fantasy.
Others, claiming to be Christians, might view the New Birth as unnecessary standard imposed by an authoritarian dogmatic will. Such individuals might be members of a church organization and occupy positions of leadership and responsibility. They may be pleasant and very competent in executing tasks assigned to them. They may even have zeal to help the less fortunate and may appear to have a passion for the church and its work. They may skillfully and convincingly verbalize some form of a profession of faith. In the absence of true conviction, it would be spiritually unrealistic to expect a favorable disposition toward true faith in Christ from those who are not drawn by the convicting touch of the Holy Spirit.
When one is drawn to Christ like Nicodemus, one is born again and receives eternal life even though one might still struggle with the precepts of the Christian faith, without slipping into denial or rejection of the Truth. Once delivered, the words of Jesus, “You must be born again from above,” would no longer be condemning! His Word becomes alive in our hearts and cause us to celebrate our New Life in Him. Born again from above in His Spirit, we serve and worship Him with everlasting joy!
Like Nicodemus, we must be born again from above. The call to repent has been issued! Will you answer? Come to your Savior. Your heart will be delivered, and your soul will rest.