John 3.1 thru 17 We are Born of Water and the Spirit
We are Born of Water and the Spirit
John 3:1-17 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked. "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Nicodemus was a man that had a scholarly background...some scholars agree this man was a doctor. He was a member of the powerful inner circle of the Sanhedrin who were the ruling class of the time…he was a Pharisee. This man, no doubt, had great respect among his peers in Israel. Even his name means “Conqueror of the People.” Yet this is the man that slinked in darkness to go and see this new Rabbi that was teaching something new. He had a pretty good handle on what this Jesus of Nazareth had been up to. He knew of the miracles that had been performed. He even knew that they had to be of God. He showed a respect for this teacher and His works in the world. But what did he really know about Jesus? Did he understand how the Spirit worked in the world around him? Did he know the Fathers plan in sending His Son to this place in which he lived? Do we really understand these things?
Nicodemus was clearly a man of intellect. One would have to be to gain the respect of his peers and to become a “doctor,” Pharisee, and “ruler of the people.” He had seen evidence in the world of something that He did not understand and wanted to get to the bottom of it. Even if it meant risking his reputation and sneaking around in the dark to find out who this Jesus was, what He was doing, and what His connection to God was. So being a direct man, He went to the source and asked Him point blank. But the answer is something that even this learned, worldly man cannot get his mind around. Jesus tells him, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” This reply has been interpreted in many ways and given many meanings but the bottom line is the birth that Nicodemus and all people of the world know of as a physical birth is not how we are going to see heaven. We must be born again and Jesus explains further that this new birth must of be of “water and the Spirit.” Nicodemus immediately shows His misunderstanding of this new birth by asking how that can be possible…"How can a man be born when he is old?"
The problem here is that Nicodemus is relying on his human understanding with something that is not of this world. Jesus has lumped Nicodemus in with all other human kind and therefore he bears the commonality of a physical birth. The means by which God gives each of us life is frankly peculiar, even mysterious to our human reason. Most of us spent a portion of our childhood inquiring as to “how that happened that we were born out of our mommies?” These pesky questions are often met by well meaning parents with stories about storks and sidestepping. But eventually we discover the truth…and this truth is stranger than the fiction we might have heard! Likewise, the way we receive spiritual life is also peculiar to our human reasoning. For Nicodemus the physical realm is the place he resided in and this is the place he wanted to operate from in the conversation. This, even though he was the one who introduced God with his opening statement, saying “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God.” The spiritual is much more complicated than the physical and the flesh is what we as humans can relate to more easily.
There is an author, Dan Peretti, who helps us visualize the spiritual world in his books. He writes of demons and angels waging war around the characters going about their daily lives. These demons do everything in their power to drive the character away from God while the angels fend them off and help the individual to see all is not lost and God is there with them. This is all going on as the character in the book thinks they are alone in the situations they encounter. This visualization of the spiritual warfare that goes on around people in Peretti’s writing can help us to picture what is going on around us as we go about our daily tasks in our physical world. C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” is a great book that describes this spiritual battle through his depiction of the communications between two demons, Wormwood and Screwtape, who are doing there best to win souls for the devil while these souls are completely unsuspecting. Nicodemus had trouble visualizing this spiritual world that Jesus was trying to describe. He was firmly grounded in the physical world which he knew so well.
Isn’t this true of us? Don’t we try to think about our God in ways that keep Him in a physical box? We want to define Him in terms of our physical understandings. This is the natural limited scope of humanness. Those that are never “born again” are kept in this physical realm by their daily immersion in it and the need to think in terms of it throughout their lives. This is a natural reaction to the human condition on the one hand and it is also how the Evil One works on us. The Devil wants mankind to stay in the “fleshly” world and never enter the spiritual world that we, as Christians, are born into through our baptism. He would even try to distract those that are born into the spiritual heavenly world and have them lose sight of it so that they might fall away from it.
We have been trying to domesticate God and confine Him to an understanding that we can get our minds around for centuries. Our church fathers dealt with these attempts to tame God and put Him into a box. They tried to define him with words that are used to define things in our physical world. By saying, “He is one God but He is transcendent.” In this way they classified God and made Him distant to us by trying to make Him comprehensible to us. In Luther’s day people wanted to expose what he called the “hidden God” that was beyond our understanding. Luther argued that there is mystery and things that we cannot explain with God, but that we know He is a God of grace and does offer us this kingdom of heaven without our having to explain it in physical terms. This is what is happening with Nicodemus. He is trying to put God into terms he can understand in his physical world and Jesus is telling him he is missing the boat.
The kingdom of God is ours through Christ in our rebirth by “water and the Spirit.” He graciously offers this to those that have been born into the flesh and He offered His only begotten Son so that we might believe and have eternal life. Our God is a loving and kind God. He doesn’t allow us to stumble in the dark forever in our human ignorance, but He has brought us into an understanding of His kingdom through the Spirit. He sent the Holy Spirit to us so that we might have understanding beyond this physical world of this wonderful kingdom of Heaven and gives us access to it through the death and resurrection of His Son. This good news is the same gospel that brought Nicodemus into kingdom of heaven. We see through his later actions that he has some kind of understanding in that he accompanies Joseph of Arimathea, a “disciple,” in burying Jesus.
Through the incarnation, the creator and sustainer of the universe submits Himself to the confines of a human body so that He can show us His love and complete the plan of salvation. We have the complete triune God at work in our lives. God the Father wants us to call Him “Father” so that we are able to comprehend the relationship He desires for us with Him. So He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so that we might believe and have eternal life. And because we still look at spiritual things within the constraints and limitations of a physical body, the Spirit was sent to us and lives in us to communicate God’s truth and prompt us to understand the depths of His love for us. He loves us that much!
Now may that peace which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds unto life everlasting. Amen.