“You Must Be Born Again” – Pt. 2

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John 3:9 – 15

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.

 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

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In last week’s study (click here), we already saw how both Nicodemus and Jesus were surprised at what the other had to say.  Jesus said to him that a person had to be “born again” to be able to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, and Nicodemus asked how it was possible for a man to go back into his mother’s womb. 

Jesus was referring of course to the spiritual birth of a person, and He used an analogy of life to try to get Nicodemus to understand.  Except that he didn’t understand.  In our passage today then, we see that Nicodemus is again surprised at all of Jesus’ teachings, and Jesus in return is surprised that such an important Jewish religious leader could not understand these spiritual truths through these down to earth analogies.

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Now Jesus is ready to speak directly about some important spiritual truths of Heaven without the use of earthly analogies.  To make it clear to Nicodemus that Jesus has the ability and the authority to teach spiritual truths, He offers His credentials to Nicodemus.  No human has ever been able to go up into heaven to know firsthand God’s divine truth, but Jesus makes the claim that He was already with God in heaven and descended, or came down, to earth to disclose these truths to mankind.

(Take note of how the pronouns go from singular to plural in verse 11, including the “you” which is a plural in Greek.  This is probably a comment of John himself many years after Jesus had now ascended back up into heaven.  John and the other disciples not only listened to these teachings of Jesus, but they witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus.  So this is a third party testimony to the truth of Jesus’ divine origin and authority.)

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Verses 14 and 15 now reveal the deep spiritual truth that Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand, and by writing this, John wants all of us to understand.  To be able to receive eternal life, a person must have faith in Jesus (who has given himself the title “the Son of Man”.)  To get the full impact of the teaching though, we must understand the historical event to which Jesus refers regarding Moses and the serpent in the wilderness.

This event is recorded for us in Numbers 21:4 – 9.  Let’s take a look at it together:

4 The Israelites left Mount Hor by the road that leads to the Gulf of Aqaba, in order to go around the territory of Edom. But on the way the people lost their patience 5 and spoke against God and Moses. They complained, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We can’t stand any more of this miserable food!”

 6 Then the LORD sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many Israelites were bitten and died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Now pray to the LORD to take these snakes away.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 Then the LORD told Moses to make a metal snake and put it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and be healed. 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten would look at the bronze snake and be healed.

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It is quite clear that the Israelites were sinning in their rebellion against God.  As a holy and just God, sin must be dealt with and the Bible tells us that the consequence of sin is death.  (Read Romans 6:23)  When the people repented of their sin and ask for deliverance from God, He does provide it.  But there are a couple of very important things to notice.

God does not remove the serpents (the consequence of their sin), but He does provide the solution for salvation.  When they were bitten (stung by their sin) they should have died.  But if they had faith in God and turned to look at the bronze serpent, then they would live.

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This is the great truth that Jesus is making for all of us in this passage in John.  All of us are sinners and we deserve death.  Just as the raised bronze snake would save the Israelites, so too when Jesus would be lifted up (a metaphor for His crucifixion) anyone who has sinned but turns by faith to Jesus will also be saved from death.

But the death we will be saved from is not physical death (seeing as all people do die).  We will be saved from the penalty of spiritual death and will cross over to experience spiritual life with God forever.  Now that is a deep truth.  My hope is that you have accepted Jesus into your life and are already a part of God’s eternal family.

“You Must Be Born Again” – Pt. 1

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John 3:1 – 8

3  1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

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Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John begins with a fascinating dialog between Jesus and one of the religious leaders named Nicodemus.  The entire dialog goes from verse 1 to verse 21, but I will split this up into three Bible study articles.  There are surprises in store for both Nicodemus and Jesus in this encounter as we will see.

Throughout the dialog, there are some very important themes raised, such as light vs. darkness, regeneration (or the “new birth”), earthly things vs. spiritual things, and the Jewish concept of Rabbi or “Teacher”.  I hope to touch on all of these themes in my three articles.  But first, to give us some context to this story, we must take a close look at who is this man, Nicodemus.

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There is a lot we can learn about Nicodemus in verses 1 and 2.  Immediately we are told that he was “a man of the Pharisees”.  There were many religious groups that existed during the time of Jesus and the most predominant one was the Pharisees.  In Katherine Barnwell’s book “Key Biblical Terms”, she writes this:

Some Pharisees were priests, but many were lay people. They were the party of the common people, in contrast to the Sadducees who were from the rich “upper class”. The leaders of the Pharisees were scribes, but most Pharisees were not trained as scribes; they were ordinary traders and workers.

Now although not all received formal training like the Scribes, most all of them would have received great quantities of informal oral training by literally sitting at the feet of older Pharisees who passed on the traditions of Judaism and their interpretations of the Old Testament scriptures.  In fact, to be a Rabbi, one had to have studied under other well recognized Pharisees.

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Nicodemus though, is not just any average Pharisee; for John writes that he was “a ruler of the Jews”.  He is one of the top leaders of this religious group, very possibly a scribe and perhaps even a member of the Jewish ruling Council, the Sanhedrin.  And yet, notice how he comes to Jesus and approaches him.

We note that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, and that he has great respect for him since he addressed Jesus as “Rabbi”.  This is quite surprising, seeing as the Pharisees would already have learned that Jesus had not been trained within the Pharisaical order.  Therefore, many scholars think that he came to Jesus during the night partly out of fear of being found out.

So we have a prominent religious leader meeting secretly with Jesus to discuss spiritual matters of great importance.  We learn from verse 2 that Nicodemus has seen (or at least heard about) some of the miracles that Jesus had performed in Jerusalem, and he states his belief that only a man who has been sent by God could perform such mighty acts.

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Then in the next two verses, we see that Nicodemus and Jesus are definitely not on the same page together.  Jesus mentions “entering the Kingdom of God”, a very important topic to the Pharisees.  But Jesus says that a man must be “born again” to be able to enter in.  Nicodemus’ answer shows he lacks the ability to comprehend this statement by asking Jesus how it could ever be possible to re-enter a mother’s womb to be reborn.

Jesus goes on to tell us that there are two realities, the things that pertain to this life and this world (i.e. “the things of the flesh”), and there are things that pertain to spiritual life and the eternal realm (i.e. “the things of the Spirit).  Another way of looking at this is that the “flesh” deals with the physical and the external practices (which the Pharisees were so stuck on in their ritualism), while the “Spirit” deals with the spiritual and inner person.

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Jesus is surprised that Nicodemus is surprised at this teaching.  Then Jesus ends this first part of the dialog by stating that while we cannot see a person become spiritually renewed, just like the wind, we can see the effects of a life that has been transformed and become brand new, or reborn as Jesus would say.

Let me ask you who read this article: does this all make sense to you?  Or are you feeling lost just like Nicodemus was?  Christianity is not a set of rules or regulations to be kept (as the Pharisees believed), but rather it is a relationship between God, who is Spirit, and us, who are also spiritual beings.  Being reborn in our inner self is our “entry ticket” into Heaven.