Sunday, August 31, 2008

Similar Experiences


Don W., Jerry, Stephen, Toby...Nicodemus. What do these folks have in common with Nicodemus? Seeking Jesus. Why does the story from John 3 inspire us so? Is it the innocence? Is it the one on one...meeting Jesus? Is it that we can relate to this man in so many ways? I have always loved this story because Jesus sets Nicodemus straight. He tells him about Christian baptism -- be born of water and Spirit -- and that settles it, right? Get it right Nicodemus! I guess I have always thought that Nicodemus was somewhat clueless. What is wrong with him? Why doesn't he get it? (And this always has been easy enough to say, since I/we have had the benefit of the 2000 years since the Word became flesh :-). After all, he should at least understand the "water" aspect of baptism, since he was a teacher of the Jews, he should have been aware of mikvah -- the ritual purification washings which the Jews would undergo. Also, he should have been aware of what was taking place concerning the baptism of John. Still, he thinks that being "born again" is to re-enter the womb and go through the process all over again -- ugh! But, it is the Spirit...that is also causing him to stumble. There is not a great deal of mention of the Spirit's work in the Old Covenant...enough that Nicodemus should have been familiar with Him, but in this context? No. The Ephesian disciples (Acts 19) would also be "brought up to speed" by Paul in relationship to the connection of the Spirit to baptism. As with the Ephesians, the Spirit is an important part of the equation for Nicodemus to consider (v.8) as it relates to understanding Christian baptism.

It is likely that the wind was blowing the evening that Jesus and Nicodemus were having their may have been an easy segue for Jesus to talk about the Spirit. It is interesting to note that the word "wind," (pneuma in the original language), is the same word used for "the Spirit," as well as "breath." In fact wind or breath are symbols of the Spirit of God elsewhere (Job 33:4, John 20:22, Acts 2:2). Like the wind, the Spirit is invisible, but powerful -- He is subtle at times, and at other times, mighty in His work. We can't fully explain or predict how the Spirit is going to work in the life of a believer...but we know that he does, be it like a breeze, or like a storm. This is precisely why so many people resist Him. Many Christians want their "faith" and "religion" to be nice and comfortable. Yet, as we see with Nicodemus, even, this is not always going to be the case. Striving to live by faith is requires allowing God "to tip over our religious box" so that His Spirit can really begin working in our lives. Nicodemus had to know that this was going to take place, as He came to Jesus by night, so as not to upset the Sanhedrin apple cart.

The key to the whole discussion is found in v.10. Nicodemus came at night, but he is still in the dark. He has difficulty understanding "new birth" even after Jesus has fully explained it to him -- "are you the teacher of Israel, and you do not understand these things?" He should know the truths from the OT Scriptures, but this "teacher" knows only the facts. One of the great struggles for Nicodemus is that he, being one of the religious leaders, would not submit to the authority of Jesus (3:11). I believe that this is why Jesus says what he does to him here. After all, why wouldn't Nicodemus think just like the other "religious Jews" -- "Rabbi we know that you have come from God...because no one could do the signs you do unless he was from God" (v.2). Always looking for signs were the Jews. So, perhaps, it is not so much that Nicodemus is "innocent" here, as much as he is "ignorant," which is a significant difference.

I am convinced that Nicodemus did not have an easier time seeing Jesus and grasping what the Lord was sharing with him, in part, because he could not let go. He would or could not let go of his human reasoning, his pre-suppositions of things that he had already been taught. In this case, he was not going to understand what Jesus was saying until he let go of what he had already known and accept Jesus at face value -- by faith. How many others did Jesus have contact with where the same general situation was evident...the Samaritan woman(?), the rich, young ruler(?), the man born blind(?), the centurion(?). And what about us? How many of us in our own day and time have to let go of what we have been taught by good, well-meaning people in order to see Jesus by faith? How many of us are willing to ask the Nicodemus questions or some similar and be taught by and about the Spirit of God? We have to be willing to lay it all on the table, as Jesus challenges Nicodemus -- all of our reasoning, pre-suppositions. This isn't fact, I have heard that it is often painful, difficult. :-) Jesus was as straightforward with Nicodemus as anyone in the Word. The facts were indeed all laid out on the table for him. Did He come to understand? Read John 7:50-53, 19:38-40 and consider. Blessings,


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