Posts Tagged ‘coming of the Spirit’

We are continuing on in John 3  looking at Jesus’ interactions with  Nicodemus.

We saw last week that Nicodemus thought that Jesus was merely a teacher come with some new teaching, based on the signs he performed, and so he went to him by night to see what he had to say. Jesus responded to him by saying that he is not simply a special teacher who is being authenticated by miracles. He has come to bring the new birth of the Spirit. This is what his miracles, or signs point to about his identity and purpose.

Today we look at vs. 9-15 and the question, “How can people now be born of the Spirit?”

John 3:9-15

9Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’” He has already asked a how question in v. 4, how can one be born again? Crawl back in the womb and come out again? Jesus answered that it is a birth of the Spirit, and how the Spirit works is a mystery, even though you can know the effects of the Spirit’s work.

Now Nicodemus asks another how question, how can these things be? It’s a pretty broad question, but judging by how Jesus answers it, he means, “How can people now be born of the Spirit?” How is it possible that a person can have this experience?

10Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you (all) do not receive our testimony.’” Nicodemus has called Jesus a teacher come from God. Here Jesus calls Nicodemus “the” teacher of Israel, no doubt referring to his role on the Sanhedrin, as “a ruler of the Jews” – v. 1.

But he notes two key problems with Nicodemus. 1) Despite his role, he “doesn’t understand these things.” That is, how it is possible that the Spirit can now come and bring new life.

And Jesus is surprised that he doesn’t understand this, given his role. In several places in the Old Testament, the outpouring of the Spirit is promised (Joel 2:28; Isaiah 32:15; 44:3). And the Messiah is associated with the Spirit in Isaiah (11:1-2; 42:1).

And John the Baptist has testified that Jesus is “he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (1:33). And they have seen the signs that Jesus has done by the power of the Spirit.

2) And then, despite his lack of  understanding, he doesn’t listen to Jesus who does understand these things.

Nicodemus had said in v. 2, “we know that you are a teacher come from God,” speaking of his and his group’s so-called knowledge. Jesus echoes this “we” language in his answer. “We,” that is, Jesus and here also John the Baptist – “speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen.” (Undoubtedly the “we” of Isaiah 53:1 is a part of this plural construction here. This broader passage is alluded to in 3:14).

Both Jesus and John the Baptist have testified that it is the time of the Spirit and the Messiah. “But you (all)” – Nicodemus and the Sanhedrin – “do not receive our testimony.”

But there’s more 12If I have told you (all) earthly things and you (all) do not believe, how can you (all) believe if I tell you (all) heavenly things?” This is an argument from lesser to greater. If you don’t understand or believe the earthly things – what is simple, how can you understand and believe heavenly things – what is more difficult?

The earthly things here most likely refer to people being born of the Spirit, what happens in a person’s heart here on earth. This has stumped Nicodemus. But despite Nicodemus’ lack of understanding and unbelief Jesus goes on to say more in answer to his question, “How is it that people can now be born of the Spirit?”

13No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” These are the heavenly things of v. 12. Jesus is saying, speaking of himself, that he has descended from heaven and he will also ascend back into heaven. The “Son of Man” is the heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13-14, which Jesus uses to refer to himself. [Nicodemus had said to Jesus that you have “come from God.” Jesus explains here that he is from God in a much more significant way.]

When Jesus says that “no one has ascended into heaven,” except him, he is establishing his authority to speak of heavenly things. No one else can do this. As John says in chapter 1:18, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the beloved who is at the Father’s side, (referring to Jesus) who has made him known.” [However one wants to explain what happened to Moses, Enoch, Elijah, Isaiah or Ezekiel, who each had some kind of ascent experience – they did not ascend to the place where the Son of Man was and will go back to – beside the Father and seeing him. 6:46; 1 John 4:12]

14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” There are two Scriptures that are alluded to here.

1) There is an implied reference to Isaiah 52:13 (LXX) in v. 14. v. 14 says, “lifted up” and Isaiah says, “My servant . . . shall be lifted up and glorified exceedingly.”

Jesus takes this lifting up as a reference to his being lifted up on the cross. So here, the cross is the first step in his journey upward to heaven, which includes his resurrection and ascension (12:32). In the next few verses Isaiah goes on to speak prophetically of Jesus’ death on the cross. Isaiah 53:5-6 says, “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (This passage goes on to speak of “who has believed our report?” – Isaiah 53:1. As above in v. 11, they did not receive “our testimony.”)

2) There is an explicit reference to Numbers 21:8-9. Jesus sees this story of a snake on a pole as an analogy for his death on the cross.

Israel here is under judgment for complaining and speaking against God and Moses. They were dying from snake bites. Then they acknowledged their sin and asked for salvation. In v. 8 God tells Moses to “make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”

Jesus is saying, in the same way, he will be lifted up on a pole/the cross and people will live. As he says, he “must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Eternal life here, a very common phrase in John’s Gospel, means the same thing as being “born from above,” or “born of the Spirit.”

The point

Jesus is not just a teacher come with a special teaching that is authenticated by signs. 1) He is the one who brings in the time of the Spirit, when people can now be born of the Spirit. And even more specifically in terms of heavenly things, 2) He is the Son of Man who has come down from heaven and who will be lifted up on the cross, through the resurrection and through his ascension back into heaven from which place he will pour out the Spirit on his people. (John 7:39 – The Spirit is given once Jesus is glorified)

This is how people can now be born of the Spirit, or as he says here have “eternal life.”

So we learn from all this that –

Jesus has made it possible for you to be born of the Spirit

To be born from above; to be born of God; to receive new life, to be transformed in all your heart and life.

As we learn in v. 15 this is for everyone – “whoever.” It’s available to every single one of you. And you receive it by believing. This is what you must do. As v. 15 says, “whoever believes in him may have eternal life” Will you believe this morning??

William Higgins

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