Tuesday 27 September 2011

You should not be surprised

You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
John 3:7

Why does Jesus tell Nicodemus that he should not be surprised? (1) Because he was surprised. (2) Because he shouldn’t be surprised. (3) And because Jesus wasn’t impressed.

1. Because he was surprised

“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!
John 3:4

Maybe Nicodemus simply misheard Jesus. Or some say that Nicodemus took him too literally when Jesus declared, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (verse 3).

But in actual fact, Nicodemus understood perfectly what Jesus was talking on about: Entry into the kingdom of God. This was a theological discussion between Nicodemus, a member of the elite council of elders, and Jesus, whom Nicodemus himself acknowledged as a “teacher... from God”. “For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him,” Nicodemus said to Jesus with the utmost respect and admiration (verse 2).

Nicodemus thought he saw the signs of God’s kingdom. Through Jesus’ miracles. Through his remarkable insight. Perhaps there was something about Jesus’ presence. External, authenticating, evidence. Jesus immediately replied: You cannot see anything of the Kingdom of God. Not unless you are born again. What is needed is a complete and total transformation of the individual from the inside out.

That surprised Nicodemus. This old man knew how impossible it was for people to change. From his own experience. From his own reading of Scripture. From the history of the people of God. Nicodemus knew that no one would make the cut.

Yet for Jesus, the Kingdom of God was not simply a new change in government. It consisted of men and women remade in the image of God.

2. Because he shouldn’t have been

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?”
John 3:10

Nicodemus was surprised but he shouldn’t have been. Scripture foretold the new birth. As “Israel’s Teacher” - a title equivalent to “Professor of Divinity” - Nicodemus should have understood that what Jesus was talking about was nothing new. These promises were written in God’s word.

This means that the Old Testament holds the clue in understanding the previous verses spoken by Jesus:

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.”
John 3:5-6

What does it mean to be born of water and Spirit? Some suggest a division between the natural and spiritual births: the “water” representing the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus, describing the physical nature of the first birth; the spirit representing the inner regeneration brought about by faith. More likely however, Jesus is clarifying his first statement in verse 3. In both statements, Jesus begins with “I tell you the truth, no one can...”

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
John 3:3

To be born again is to be born of water and spirit..

The prophet Ezekiel foretold the day when God would redeem his people Israel by cleansing them of their sin and giving them a new heart - through the sprinkling of “clean water” and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Ezekiel 35:25-27

This must happen. And Nicodemus should not be surprised because God has said clearly in his word that this would happen.

3. Because Jesus wasn’t impressed

“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.”
John 3:11

Nicodemus thought he was paying Jesus a great honour by recognising his theological credentials. He called him, “Rabbi”. He risked his reputation visiting this small-time preacher from Galilee (a small city of no great importance), hence the secretive appointment after hours. He even called him a man from God.

Jesus was not impressed.

Many today respect Jesus for his good teaching. Many today call Jesus a prophet from God. But like Nicodemus, many today reject Jesus by their show of respect. He is just a teacher. Just another good man.

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.
John 3:12-15

Again Jesus refers to the Old Testament. The book of Numbers records the time when the Israelites were travelling through the desert, being led by God to the Promised Land, but grumbled against God and rebelled against him.

They spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
Numbers 21:5-7

God then told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. If anyone was bitten, all they had to do was look; Look at the bronze snake - and they would live.

It was a strange solution to a serious problem. People were dying. Yet those who had been bitten were commanded to look at a replica of the very thing that had afflicted them - a snake on a pole - and they would be saved. It was a reminder of their sin. But Jesus says, it was also a picture of the cross.

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, the Son of Man must be lifted up”, Jesus says, “that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life”. When we look to the cross, we see Jesus taking the penalty of our sin, death; The only sinless one bearing my sin - and giving me life.

Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:4-5

We are not meant to look at the cross and be surprised - to see there, our sin and judgement. We are not even meant to be impressed when we see our Saviour - our God - on the cross.

We are meant to be born again. By his wounds we are healed.

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