Short Meditations in John 3: 11. Jesus’ Testimony (2)
Jn 3:12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?
Jesus, we noted had moved from talking about spiritual principles to focusing on himself. He has presented himself as a witness, not like Nicodemus who knows things because he has used his eyes, but a witness who knows spiritual truths because he comes from heaven, the home of all spiritual truth, if you like. That will come out more clearly later in the gospel but the hint is here now and will shortly be made more clear still.
He now questions Nicodemus, putting him on the spot, we say, making him assess his position. He is going to point out that he has come from heaven and that is behind what he asks here. Basically he is saying, Nicodemus, we have a problem: “you do not believe” me. It’s not a question of mere understanding, you are hostile to the concept of rebirth that I have put before you. I have spoken using analogies of things that all human beings will know about – birth and the wind. There is nothing complicated about that. What you don’t like is the challenge I put to you that you need a completely new life, a life empowered and directed by God’s Spirit.
Now please note the logic in what we have been suggesting here: Jesus used human analogies that are easily understandable. Problems with those pictures is not with the pictures themselves but with the application of them, which is all about the working of the Holy Spirit. Of course we cannot understand how He works in bringing it about, but we can ask Him to do it for us, because we can grasp the outcome – a new life that is Spirit-empowered and Spirit-directed, a life that God is able to use to extend His kingdom or rule on earth.
But Nicodemus has baulked at this and continued to do so, but Jesus speaks of his wilful refusal to understand in terms of belief – “you do not believe.” Rejection of God and of His truth is unbelief but belief can have an element of the will behind it: we can choose to believe or not to believe. It is an act of will.
Now the problem, Jesus says, is that if Nicodemus baulks at the pictures that Jesus presents to him, pictures “of earthly things”, how can Jesus possibly explain to Nicodemus “heavenly things”? Note here a problem we may all struggle with. It is a problem of the heart that affects the mind. If our heart is not wide open to Jesus, then our mind will struggle with spiritual truths presented to us. We might think the order ought to be understanding opens the way for obedience, but in reality we are called to be obedient and then understanding will follow. That is what is behind Nicodemus’s struggles here.