Posts Tagged ‘born of God’

We are continuing on today exploring Jesus’ interactions with Nicodemus in John 3. As you will remember Nicodemus was a devout and serious Jew, and he was a religious leader.

We also saw last time how Nicodemus represents a person with mere “signs faith.” These are people who see the miracles that Jesus performs, but don’t see what they point to about Jesus’ true identity and purpose. So they “believe” in a sense – there’s something special about Jesus.

  • But they don’t get who he truly is, the eternal Son of God. He is something less than this.
  • And they don’t get what he has truly come to do, bring eternal life. He does something less than this.

Nicodemus himself says to Jesus in v. 2, “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.” He has some measure of faith in Jesus, but for him Jesus is only a teacher, who perhaps has some special teaching from God. So he has come to Jesus, by night, to see what he has to say.

Let’s look at our verses:

John 3:3-8

3Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” The phrase “truly, truly” means this is very important. “Listen up!,” Jesus is saying.

The word for “born from above” (anothen) can also be translated as “born again.” Born from above is the best translation overall in the Gospel of John (see 3:31), but it does have a double meaning as we will see, which includes the idea of being born again.

To be “born from above” is another way of saying “born of God” which John talks about in chapter 1. “From above” is a reference to God. “Born from above” also means the same thing as “born of the Spirit,” a phrase that is used three times in our verses (vs. 5, 6, 8).

Where does this idea come from? Well in the Old Testament there were many promises that God would one day pour out his Spirit on his people. For instance Ezekiel 36:26-27 says in part, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put within you. . . . And I will put my Spirit within you . . ..” So Jesus is saying, the promises are coming true ! This is the age of the Spirit that was foretold and this is the new birth I am talking about.

This fits also with the language here of seeing and entering the Kingdom of God (which is quite rare in John and is usually replaced with the language of eternal life). That’s because it is when the kingdom comes, that the Spirit is to come.

So Jesus isn’t saying that Nicodemus should have already experienced new birth. This is the new thing that Jesus has come to bring – the kingdom of God, the time of the Spirit, when all can be born of the Spirit.

Notice that Jesus takes the last part of Nicodemus’ statement in v. 2 and uses it to make his point here. Nicodemus had said 1. no one is able (translating more literally); 2. to do these signs that you do (that he has seen); 3. unless God is with him.

Jesus reworks these phrases. 1. no one is able (same word for able, with a negative); 2. to see the kingdom of God – what Jesus is really about, not signs but the coming of the kingdom and the Spirit; 3. unless one is born from above. It’s not about Jesus being authenticated by miracles as a teacher. The signs point out that Jesus is the one who brings the new life of the kingdom of God.

4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a person be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’” He takes Jesus’ word here as “born again,” and in a natural sense, as another physical birth later in life. (Is he being sarcastic? It is hard to hear the tone in a written document).

This is a common mistake noted in John. People misunderstand Jesus in an overly literal way.

5Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’”

Jesus responds that it is another birth, or second birth, that comes after our physical birth (so it is being born again). But it is a birth of the Spirit, not a physical one.

  • Our physical birth is represented in v. 5 by the phrase, “born of water,” the idea is that a child comes out of the waters of the womb. We all have this. But not all are born of water and “born of the Spirit.” This is another, different kind of birth.
  • Again, our physical birth is represented in v. 6 by the phrase, “that which is born of the flesh” (in parallel with “born of water”). We have all been born of the flesh. But not all are also “born of the Spirit.” This is another, different kind of birth.

John has already made this point in 1:12-13. “12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” This is a birth that is of God, not of the flesh.

Why can’t one “enter” the kingdom without new birth? The kingdom of God has to do with the life of God by the Spirit. Mere physical life is inadequate to experience this life of the kingdom. It is of another order and kind of life. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”

Only those who have the life of God in them now, and are a part of the kingdom begun, will be bodily raised on the last day to have eternal life in the fullness of the kingdom.

7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You (all) must be born from above.’”

“You” is plural, which is why I have it as “you all.” Here we see that Nicodemus represents a larger group or groups.

  • Even though he has signs faith it is inadequate. He, and all those like him, must be born from above.
  • Even though he is a Pharisee and religiously devout, he, and all those like him, must be born from above.
  • Even though he is a ruler and leader among the people of God, he, and all those like him, must be born from above.

And of course, Jesus has already made the point that “no one” can see or enter the kingdom of God without being born from above. That’s why it is a “must” or as it can be translated, a “necessity.” Everyone must receive the gift of new life that Jesus brings.

He then comes back to Nicodemus’ how question. As he just said, “do not marvel,” that is, don’ get caught up trying to figure out how it happens.8The 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.”

There is a wordplay in these verses. The same word is used for wind and Spirit, in both Hebrew and Greek. Like the wind, so the Spirit.

  • The wind is mysterious. You hear it, the effect of it, but there’s a lot you don’t know about it – where it comes from and where it goes.
  • So the Spirit is mysterious. You can notice the effects of the Spirit. But there’s a lot you don’t know about how the Spirit works. (“where it comes from and where it goes” sounds like what Jesus says about himself in several places in the Gospel)

When he goes on to say, “so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” he doesn’t mean that we are mysterious, but that how we are born of the Spirit is mysterious. Those born of the Spirit can’t explain everything, but they can see and know the evidences of the Spirit’s work in their lives.

The point

These verses teach us that Jesus is not just a special teacher from God, come to give some special teaching – although he does this in our passage. Nicodemus and the other signs faith believers have it wrong. Jesus has come to bring the new birth of the Spirit; he has come to bring in the beginning of the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ message to us is a straightforward challenge –

Are you born of the Spirit?

Jesus is saying to each one of us, “You are not an exception!” As he said, no one can see or enter the kingdom unless they are born from above.

  • You can be a good person. Nicodemus was. But he didn’t have it yet.
  • You can be deeply religious. Nicodemus was. But he didn’t have it yet.
  • You can be a part of the church or even a leader. Nicodemus was. But he didn’t have it yet.
  • You can think that Jesus is special and sent from God. Nicodemus did. But he didn’t have it yet.

There can be no exceptions, because it is an impossibility that we are dealing with. Flesh alone cannot possess the life of the kingdom. This is why it is absolutely necessary that you be born of the Spirit.

If you want the new life that Jesus brings, you must believe that he is the eternal Son of God who has come to give this to you. You must believe and then act on this belief by receiving the new life that he gives.

William Higgins

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Since I am teaching a class on the Gospel of John, I want to share with you as a whole congregation from this book here and there. And so today and next week, the plan is to cover John 1:1-18. And today we look at the first 13 verses. [These verses are called the “prologue,” which literally means a word that comes before the main body of the book. It’s a part of the introduction to this Gospel.]

These verses are poetic, profound and powerful. So much is packed into so few words! So let’s work at unpacking this. I can assure you that the reward of these verses is more than worth the effort.

Our theme today

If you will take your handout, we can look together at how this passage works. There are two sections and each has three parts that parallel each other.

  • In the first part of each section (A, A1) there is a statement about the Word, what the Word does and how the Word comes into contact with humanity.
  • Then the middle part of each section (B, B1), like an interlude, focuses on John the Baptist’s witness and his subordinate role in relation to the Word.
  • And then the last part of each section (C, C1) focuses on what is received from the Word, picking up on the themes of the first part of each section (A, A1). 

So for us today, the focus of vs. 1-13 is the life and light that the Word gives. Let’s look at our verses –

John 1:1-13

The Word, God and creation. “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

Here we are taught that the Word, which we later learn becomes a human being named Jesus (vs. 14, 17) was in the beginning of all things “with God,” as God’s agent in the creation of the world. The connection to Genesis 1 is clear in the repetition of the phrase “in the beginning.”

Now we know from the Old Testament and other ancient Jewish writings that it was not uncommon to speak of God’s Word, or Law or Wisdom (and these are really one and the same thing) as involved in the creation with God. And it was also not uncommon for these to be personified as a person next to God.

  • Proverbs 3 & 8 tell us that Wisdom, personified as a woman, was at the beginning with God and helped God in creating the world.
  • In Genesis 1 we learn that God speaks out his Word and creates the heavens and the earth. And in Genesis 1:26 the Word is personified. It says, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness . . ..” Here God is speaking with another person, his Word; his agent of creation, regarding the creation of humanity, and uses “us” and “our” language. (If the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs can be read as more of a literary device, it is reasonable to say that Genesis 1 goes beyond this. And this is, no doubt, a part of why John uses “Word” language and not “Wisdom” language.) (Like John 1, Proverbs 8 is also an interpretation of Genesis 1.)

So, drawing especially on Genesis 1, John is teaching us that the Word is with God, as a person, and is involved in the creation.

But John says more than this. For the Word was not only “with God,” he tells us that “the Word was God.” So there is sameness between God and the Word in terms of God-ness. 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong then (along with the Arians before them). The Word really is truly God, not just the highest of God’s creations. If there is a line between God and the creation, the Word in on the God side of the line. [Now, some contend that v. 1 simply says that the Word is “a god,” or divine; something less than God since there is no definite article in front of the word “God.” But if there was an article it would mean total equivalence with no distinction. Also, “definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article,” (J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John) so you can’t make a theological argument based on this. And also if John had wanted simply to say that the Word was divine there was a Greek word for that – Theios.]

So there is sameness, but there is also distinction, because as we saw, the Word can be said to be “with God.” The Word and God are not exactly the same. [This also likely come from Genesis 1. For here the Word is distinguished from God in that they are able to talk together and there is “our” language (“our image, our likeness”) – v. 26. But then when humanity was created it says “God created humanity in his own image, in the image of God he created them” v. 27. It moves from “our image” to “his own image”; from plural to singular. Here the Word and God are identified simply as God. This is very similar to John’s – the Word is “with God” and “was God.”]

How this all works goes beyond our understanding for sure, but the logic of what is taught here is understandable.

  • “was God” means the same in terms of being God. To use later language, the same in essence.
  • But “with God” means there is still a difference. To use later language, a difference in terms of person.

Let’s be clear, there is only one God. This is the most basic of all beliefs and Jesus strongly affirms this (5:44; 17:3; Mark 12:29). But this one God can be spoken of as God the Father and God the Son, and also, based on the rest of the New Testament, as God the Spirit. There is distinction within the oneness of God.

The Word, darkness and humanity. “4In him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” When John says “in him was life, and the life was the light of humanity” he means that the life that is the Word is the model for us of what true life is. In this way the Word is a light that shows us what true life is; what is right and what is good and calls us to this.

We have more echoes of Genesis 1 in these verses, the creation of life and the creation of light. It is through the Word that these came to be in Genesis. As v. 3 emphasizes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

But there is another reality involved here. For although “darkness” is mentioned in Genesis 1, it is subdued or passive. Here it has become an active force resisting God’s life and God’s light. So John is taking into account the presence of human sin in the world and the active presence of the evil one.

There is a struggle going on. Notice the present tense, “the light shines in the darkness.” It keeps on shining. And “the darkness has not overcome the light.” (Best translated as “overcome,” see 12:35)

And then we have an interlude, the witness of John. “6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

These verses communicate clearly that John only prepares the way for the Word’s coming into the world; for Jesus. He is not the light, but God’s purpose is that through him all would believe in the Word; in Jesus.

vs. 9-13 pick up the themes of vs. 1-5, Light and life from the Word. “9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”

The Word, who is “the true light,” is not yet incarnate here as a person, although he “was coming into the world.” Nevertheless, as the true light he “gives light to everyone.” As we saw in v. 5 he is the light of all humanity. And so just as the extent of creation is universal, and the extent of darkness is universal over the earth, so the extent of the Word’s light is universal, calling all people to the way that leads to life. (John 8:12) (Sirach 24:3-7; Wisdom 9:17-10:21)

“10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own,  and his own people did not receive him.” With v. 10 the Word has come to the world as Jesus. This marks the fulfillment of prophecy of the coming of the Messiah.

  • As Isaiah 49:6 says, “I will also make you a light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
  • And as Isaiah 9:2 says of Israel and specifically Galilee, “the people who walk in darkness will see a great light . . .” (Also, Isaiah 42:6-7; Isaiah 60:1-5).

But if anyone was expecting an overwhelming reception of the light, John quickly puts this to rest. “Though the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” The world is under the power of darkness and so most do not receive the light. And this is a terrible irony. Most do not even know who made them.

And even more painfully tragic is that he came to the Jewish people, the people of God, and most did not receive him. (This will be extensively chronicled in the Gospel of John.)

vs. 12-13 are more positive, however. “12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Some, a remnant from both the world and God’s people, did receive him. They “believed in his name,” that is, they accepted who he is. They received the light and life that the Word gives.

And the Word gives to these the right to become children of God; to be born of God. Now in the Old Testament it was the people of Israel who are the children of God. But it is no longer based on the flesh – John says, “not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man (a husband).” It is based on faith in Jesus and the provision of light and life that he gives.

The Word and the new creation

So John is telling a story here in vs. 1-13. He begins with the creation and the original presence of life and light, he talks about the falling of the veil of darkness that comes with sin and then he speaks of the continued shining of the light into the darkness. But most decisively he tells of the one “who was coming into the world,” our Lord Jesus who has come and saved us.

This is a story from creation to new creation. For what was lost in the original creation – life and light, he brings back to those who look to him in faith. And just as the Word was God’s agent of the original creation, so he is the agent of this new creation. And just as he was able to bring forth the original creation because he is God and is God’s Word, so he is able to bring forth the new creation that God is working through him.

The question I leave you with today is this – Where do you stand? There is still great darkness in the world. The world is dominated by sin and the evil one. But God’s light shines on and it shines purely and fully in Jesus. And you have to take sides in this struggle. You can’t be both in the darkness and the light at the same time.

Have you responded to the light that leads to true life? Have you come to Jesus in faith? Have you been born of God? Receive of the light and new life that Jesus brings. Be transformed from within to live a new life in him.

 William Higgins

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