Theme: The Word of God
In this week’s lessons we look at the story of Jesus and Nicodemus, and learn of the need to be born again, which can only happen by the sovereign working of God through the Holy Spirit.
Scripture: John 3:1-3
Yesterday we considered some ideas people have had about the meaning of water and spirit.
That leads us to ask what water does stand for in this verse. I would suggest that what it stands for is the Word of God. There are a number of verses that make that clear. Let me give you a few of them. In Ephesians 5:26, Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus, and he is describing what Jesus did for his Church. He died for it in order that he might sanctify and cleanse it by washing with the Word. So there you have, in Paul’s writings, an equivalent of the use of the word to provide the cleansing associated with water.
Another text is Psalm 119:9: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By giving heed thereto according to thy word.” So again you have the two ideas linked. Perhaps the clearest text is James 1:18. This is talking about the new birth, which is why this is so important a text for John 3. James writes of God that he “chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” Therefore, it’s by the Word that we are spiritually born again, according to James.
Now, what I would suggest is that this is what we have here in John 3. What Jesus is saying is that if we are to enter the kingdom of God, it has to be by this divine combination of the Word of God being taught to the hearer by human witnesses, by the power of the Holy Spirit. He uses that Word to bring forth the spiritual conception. We have a similar idea in 1 Peter 1:23, where he writes about the new birth: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”
I want to suggest that what you have here is a sexual image—certainly in Peter and, perhaps by implication, also in John 3. What happens is that God, in order to bring about spiritual life, first of all implants within the heart of the man or the woman to be saved what we might call the ovum (or the egg) of saving faith. We’re told in Ephesians that even this saving faith is not of ourselves, but is a gift from God. Then God sends out his Word, and the Word in this particular illustration of what happens in the new birth is like semen, the human sperm. When that penetrates the ovum of saving faith (the egg), then you have a conception, and there’s a new life, spiritually speaking. The work of God and the way in which it happens is by the preaching of the Word. In this case, what Jesus is really telling Nicodemus is that unless a man is born again from above through the teaching of the Word, and the activity of the Spirit in blessing that Word to the individual, such a person cannot enter the kingdom of God.
When Jesus speaks in the next verse about the wind blowing wherever it pleases, that reinforces what I said earlier about the metaphorical use of the words because the word “wind” is also the word “Spirit.” It’s a way of saying the Spirit of God is the breath of God and it blows wherever God chooses to have it blow. God, you see, breathed into the first Adam, so he became a living being. Now, that same God, by that same Spirit, needs to breathe into us, in order that we might become a living spiritual being. The Bible teaches that it’s God who saves. We cannot engender faith in anybody. Nobody is born again by our efforts. Nevertheless, God, for his own reasons, chooses to use the human witness. As we teach the Word, as we preach the Word, as we testify to Jesus Christ, God blesses that and brings forth the spiritual life in people.
This is exactly what we see illustrated in how Jesus answers Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus and wants to talk about spiritual things. However, Jesus tells him that unless he is born again he can’t understand them, regardless of how much learning Nicodemus might have. Then you see how Jesus handles the situation. Since Nicodemus has not been born again, Jesus keeps on teaching. And why does Jesus teach someone who is not yet born again and therefore does not understand spiritual things? It’s because it’s through the teaching that people become born again.
What idea is offered for the meaning of “water”? What evidences for this understanding are given in Scripture?
What does the word “wind” refer to in verse 8, and what does it mean?
Reflection: Why is it important and helpful to know that we cannot bring about faith in anyone?