Meditating on Great Themes in John: 6. The New Birth Bringer
John 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again
The object of these particular meditations we have said is to catch the big themes that come through in John’s Gospel. In chapter 1 we had a quick glimpse of Jesus changing Simon’s name to Peter, an indication of the change that was going to come to his life. In the first half of chapter 2 we saw Jesus change water into wine, a picture of what he has come to do with each of our lives. In the second half of chapter 2 we saw him speaking of his capability of bringing life to even a dead body, thus bringing us hope for eternity and hope that our spiritually dead lives can be brought alive by Jesus.
An now we come to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Here we will not focus on who Nicodemus was or even why he came at night time to speak with Jesus. In this context all we want to note is the area of thinking that Jesus led him into – which is more about new life, more about being transformed.
The conversation again starts with reference to the ‘miraculous signs’ that Jesus is performing (v.2). Jesus’ response is challenging: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (v.3) Now why does he say that? He says it, I suggest, because he sees into Nicodemus and sees a longing and a frustration. The fact that Nicodemus has risked coming to Jesus says he is a seeker. Yes, he wants to know but even more, he wants to experience. It like he was saying, “Jesus, you have obviously got it all worked out. You are a teacher but unlike any of our other teachers, you operate with God’s power. What is that all about?”
Jesus’ response infers, “Well yes, these miracles are clearly signs of God on the move, God ruling, God’s kingdom in operation, but if you want to operate in this realm you need to start life all over again on a completely different basis.”
“Hold on,” says Nicodemus, “how can that happen? The picture language you are using says I need to start life all over again. How can that possibly be?”. Well, says Jesus, you need the work of both water and the Spirit. (v.5). Many have speculated on that double suggestion because it is not spelt out. Yes, it is a mystery, like where the wind blows (v.8) but water in the Bible, apart from being a source of life, is usually associated with getting washed, and the Spirit is associated with power. So Jesus’ indirect references suggest this ‘new birth’ comes with a washing away the old and being renewed or rather brought to life from death by the Spirit.
That’s incredible, suggests Nicodemus, how can that come about? These are spiritual things discerned by spiritual people, people who have encountered heaven, is what Jesus implies and turns the conversation towards himself: “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. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (v.11,12) In other words, look, you are struggling when I try to convey these things in human terms, how will you do if I try to convey the secrets of heaven?
The answer, of course, in the light of what went before, is that you won’t, you’ve got to be born again first. It will only be when the Spirit enters your life and empowers you that you will plug into God’s wavelength and He will be able to teach you these things. But that still leaves Nicodemus and any other seeker feeling helpless. So what help is there to bring all this about?
It will be, says Jesus, when I am lifted up (v.14). Do you remember how Moses had a bronze snake that was lifted up on a pole so anyone who came and looked on it was healed from their snake bites? Well that is how it’s going to be with me. When I am lifted up – first on the Cross, then by resurrection, and then in the ascension – then you will have something to focus your belief on, and when you believe I am who I am, then my Father will grant you eternal life. It is that simple.
Wow! There is the personal life transformation spelled out. The name changing gave an indication of what was coming. The wine showed the power that was available to bring the change, the talk of resurrection pushed it to include spiritually died lives, and now the talk of new birth pushes it to its conclusion. It will come as a work of cleansing from the past, and power for the future, and it will bring a total life transformation. It all comes about when we are confronted with and come to believe in the thrice ‘raised up’ Son of God. When we see him as he is, and see ourselves as we are, we fall on our knees before him in surrender and in worship and he puts his own Spirit in us and we are reborn. Transformation! Hallelujah! He does in us what we cannot do ourselves. How wonderful!