Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

IMPOSSIBLE: You Must Be Born Again, Part 3

Here's a quick re-cap:

Part 1 - We need to be saved, but we cannot save ourselves. New birth is required. Without it, we are spiritually dead and completely blind.

Part 2 - The new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will. Through the Spirit's mysterious work, we are made alive and brought forth into the kingdom of God.

And here's part 3 . . .

John 3:12-15 “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life."

Jesus continues to lay out His credentials as an eyewitness of heavenly things, and He alludes to His earthly mission of saving sinners through His self-sacrifice on the cross. Like the bronze snake that was raised up to save sinners in Moses' day, Christ would soon be "lifted up" to remove the curse of sin from us. Jesus CAN do these things, and He does KNOW what He's talking about. The most intelligent sinner is at a radical disadvantage when approaching such a capable and wise King. Better to surrender to His Truth than insist upon our own understanding. But Nicodemus is not ready to surrender.

During this entire conversation, a form of the Greek verb DUNAMAI (to be able, have ability or power) is used repeatedly.

v. 2 ... no one can (DUNATAI) do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
v. 3 ... unless one is born again he cannot (DUNATAI) see the kingdom of God.”
v. 4 “How can (DUNATAI) a man be born when he is old?
v. 4 He cannot (DUNATAI) enter a second time into his mother’s womb ...
v. 5 ... unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot (DUNATAI) enter into the kingdom of God.
v. 9 “How can (DUNATAI) these things be?”

Incidentally, we get words like "dynamic" from the Greek word, DUNAMAI.

Notice how our Lord reveals this man's weakness to him. Jesus uses DUNAMAI twice, both times in the negative - CANNOT. He is describing what fallen man cannot do apart from the work of God. Faith agrees with this human impossibility, then looks to God to accomplish the work. Unbelief strives to do God's part for Him, and suffers from frustration or self-deception as a result. Self-reliance and self-sufficiency are inherent in the pharisaical mindset, and Jesus sets out to break them. He is leading somewhere - by grace, through faith.

Jesus adds one more point about Nicodemus' blindness. He tells Nicodemus that his unbelief concerning the "earthly things" is a barrier to receiving further revelation. How can one hope to understand the heavenly things, which are outside of man's natural frame of reference, if he does not believe the earthly things that are within easy reach? The heart of Nicodemus has not yet been awakened by the Spirit's work of regeneration, so he's not able to receive the message of the kingdom - yet.

It would appear that rather than trying to teach this blind Pharisee any particular facts about the kingdom of God, Jesus simply wants him to see how blind he is.

After verse 15, the conversation melts into a new section which may contain the rest of Jesus' words to Nicodemus, or it may be John's additional explanation of Jesus' mission for the sake of his readers. No one knows for sure. Either way, no further response from Nicodemus is recorded. He will re-appear later in the book of John . . .

John 7:50-51 Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?”

Here Nicodemus is found defending Jesus when his fellow Pharisees are viciously condemning Him. He had heard from Jesus, and perhaps by now he did know what He was doing. After this statement, the Pharisees turned on Nicodemus like starved rats, accusing him of perhaps being from the despised region where Jesus was raised.

John 19:39-40 Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.

After the crucifixion, Nicodemus donated a sizeable amount of expensive spices for the Lord's burial. He was not ashamed to associate with the disciples. This does not prove that he was a believer, but it seems to imply that he may have come to faith.

The working of the Spirit in a person's heart is like the blowing of the wind. We don't know where or when the wind will blow, and we do not know who will respond to the Gospel. One who resists the message today could be in the beginning stages of regeneration and become a believer tomorrow. That is God's business. Our business is to follow Christ's example of faithfully proclaiming the Word whenever and wherever we can.

Spiritual blindness can be cured. The prescription is the same for modern man as it was for Nicodemus: COME TO JESUS IN FAITH. This is our message, and it is what God commands, and it is what the Spirit enables sinners to do.

Impossible? Yes, but thanks be to God, it happens everyday.

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