You Must Be Born Again (Part II)

NicodemusIn my LAST POST, we began looking at Jesus’ late-night dialog with Nicodemus (Jn 3). Highly educated and thoroughly trained, Nicodemus came curious about how one could function with the Kingdom Reign of God, of which Jesus spoke so often.

Jesus’ answer: You must be born again.

Nicodemus’ reply: How is that possible?

Jesus’ response: Similarly to how your father impregnated your mother, you must conceive this new life via a fertilization by the Spirit of God.

If this seems abstract, look into the flesh face of someone. The offspring around the planet are your proof. You have come forth from the union of your father and mother, and you likely look the part!  Animals produce appropriate offspring; plants produce seeds to match. THIS begets THIS; THAT begets THAT.  Flesh begets flesh, and spirit begets spirit. (Jn 3:6)

So what would it take to produce a man or woman tightly tuned to the voice and moves of God?

What would be required to create a man or woman filled from and fueled by the infinite well of wisdom, grace, and love?

What would be necessary to bring forth a man or woman whose life had such substance as to send ripples through the spiritual realms?

That requires a work of the Holy Spirit, nothing less. In this sense, rebirth is not optional but rather non-negotiable. (Jn 3:7)

The Wind Blows

wind-blowingAfter speaking of the womb, Jesus moves to the wind. Those who live on the Canadian prairies know wind more than most. Yet even to us, Jesus says that this oh-so-familiar wind is filled with mystery. We may feel it and see its effects, but we are clueless to its origin or destination.

I used to think that Jesus was comparing the wind to the Spirit.

But he is not.

What he says is: “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (Jn 3:8).” The wind’s mysterious nature speaks to the mysterious nature of those who live Spirit-filled lives.

As is the wind, so is the man or woman born of the Spirit.

You may have met such a man or woman. Their faith was alive in a way that was noticeable. A fire burned in them, but the blaze could not be accounted for by merely scanning their resume. Considering the sum of parts like personality, background, education, and experiences failed to square the equation. Some immeasurable force was involved. Something beyond calculation was blowing in this life.

The Spirit is that wind.

How Can This Be?

Nicodemus is struck dumb by this teaching: How can these things be?  Can it be that Jesus is right to speak of a realm far beyond ritual and regulation? Is divine fertilization really the game-breaker for our transformation and entry into Kingdom life?

Jesus’ answer: You’d better believe it!

In fact, Jesus now marvels (Jn 3:9-10). Is it possible that a teacher of God’s people does not grasp this truth that the Spirit alone births new creation?  The one who should be blazing trails for others and shining forth a guiding light is mystified by the vital and basic truth that the Spirit is front and center to the whole journey.

There is no question that God desires every redeemed life to be a model and an inspiration. There is no doubt that He wants every church to play such a role in their settings.  If we are play this part, it will be necessary to grasp one truth with two hands.

The Spirit Births

The Holy Spirit births life.

It is He who breathes it and brings it forth. The salvation of our city will not hinge on the number of our programs or quality of our preaching. The redemption of our region will not hang on our facility size or worship styles.  Of course, we are to strive for excellence in what we do as a church; less would be lazy.  And lazy would be unfaithful.

But more than exerting efforts, there is need to submit ourselves to the Spirit that churns under every surface.

Begin to attend to His movements in your little life, then stretch that attention to consider His movements in the little lives around yours.

Plead for stronger winds, tornado-force gusts capable of blowing down or tearing up the walls we build to take refuge from the Sheltering One.

Ask for spiritual fertilization and for healthy pregnancies. We do not want miscarriages or stillbirths on God’s work in our lives. We wish to see His wonders brought to term and maturing to multiply and fill the earth.

How It Is

factJesus closes the conversation (Jn 3:11) with Nicodemus by declaring that this view is not an opinion. Jesus is not hazarding a guess at how things work. He describes himself as a witness speaking of first-hand knowledge, perfect and complete.

He even says that it is not just HE who knows this, it is WE. Apparently, his followers are having firsthand experiences with the ways of the Spirit. They are tasting the wonder of rebirth for themselves.

I am praying today for you, my friends, that a similar sampling is being delivered into your homes and churches as well, even this very moment.

YOUR TURN: What have been your key takeaways from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus? How do you grasp the process of “being born again”?

You Must Be Born Again (Part I)

NicodemusOne of Jesus’ most intriguing encounters took place when a Pharisee named Nicodemus sought him out fin the wee hours for a private conversation.

John 3 records Nicodemus’ desire to learn from Jesus about how one enters or participates in the reign of God (His Kingdom).

Again or Above

Depending on your English Bible, you might see Jesus speaking of the need to be born AGAIN or from ABOVE (Jn 3:3). William Barclay hits the home run by keeping both terms: “Reborn from above.”  Jesus is emphatic: One enters the flow of God in a radically new fashion.  She cannot enter by striving or straining; he cannot evolve or inch his way past the threshold.

In other words: “Nicodemus, there is one path from here to there, and you can neither find it, nor walk it.  You must be born again.”

Not surprisingly, this fails to answer every question and raises several more. That list is headed by this query:  “How can this be?” (Jn 3:4)

Smarter than We Think

We have not flattered Nicodemus; we have laughed that he would envision a physical rebirth. But Nicodemus is no numbskull. Among the brightest and most educated minds of his nation, it is highly unlikely that this teacher is tone-deaf to metaphors and is instead visualizing a man being crammed back into a uterus.

Far more likely, Nicodemus has engaged the rhetoric and is actually on to something fairly profound. He might have thought it like this:

Each man is the sum of a lengthy equation. We are who we are today as a result of all our yesterdays. That lengthy equation is a bundled mess of doubts and dreams, hopes and hurts, faith and fear. It includes choices wise and foolish, and habits healing and harmful. All of this is layered and swirled over a lifetime. Surely, everyone longs at some point for a clean break and a fresh start. But that is a fantasy. I mean, if physical birth is beyond possibility, how much greater a miracle would it take to remake the core of a person?


Good question.

And accordingly, Jesus replied: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:5)

Water and Spirit

How are we to understand this phrase? The mention of water quickly takes many minds to baptism. This may be, but it is certainly not Christian baptism as we know it. That imagery would have meant nothing to Nicodemus at his point on the timeline. If any baptism is envisioned, it is John the Baptist’s work for purifying repentance.

That said, a better interpretation awaits.

The first clue is hidden in the Greek grammar. The words are cobbled together in such a way that one phrase is indicated, not two concepts. So we are not decoding water and Spirit; we are speaking of one thing. I call it Spirit-water.

And what might that be?

water_dropWell, it might be this.  Rabbinic writings often used “water” as a graceful euphemism to speak of semen. In other words, “You must be born of spiritual seed.”

The miracle of life begins with a woman’s egg cell being fertilized by a man’s sperm cell.  Within the woman’s body, there is a monthly potential for new life. What makes all the difference between life and no-life is the fertilization of that cell. In this light, Jesus is declaring, “As surely as you live and breathe in this world, you are here because one of your father’s cells fertilized one of your mother’s cells. With that same certainty, you will function in the Kingdom of God only if the Father fertilizes something. Within everyone lies the potential to participate in the divine nature, but mark it down: There is no such experience apart from the Holy Spirit’s awakening fertilizing.”

So yes, Jesus and Nicodemus were basically bouncing around sexual (ie: reproductive) innuendo filled with spiritual connotation. And the dominant point within it all: Nothing is happening minus the Spirit’s conceiving and birthing efforts.

Commentator extraordinaire Leon Morris says it like this:

”It is the perennial heresy of the natural man to think that he can fit himself by his own efforts for the kingdom of God. Jesus makes it clear that no man can ever fit himself for the kingdom. Rather he must be completely renewed, born anew, by the power of the Spirit.”

That is enough for today. Tomorrow, we will add one more layer.

See you then.