Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

3rd Sunday After Denaho (Baptism of Jesus Christ)

Sermon / Homily on St. John 3:1-17

"Unless One is Born Again"

by Jerry Goebel, ONEFamily Outreach

John 3:1-17

[Jn 3:1 NASB] Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; [2] this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." [3] Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."

[4] Nicodemus *said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?" [5] Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. [6] "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [7] "Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ [8] "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

[9] Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?" [10] Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? [11] "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. [12] "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. [14] "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; [15] so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

[16] "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. [17] "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."

John 3:1-2
[Jn 3:1] Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; [2] this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."

A man of the Pharisees

Pharisee [5330] Pharisaios (far-is-ah’-yos)

The very word, "Pharisaios," means separated one. To be holy or a saint also means to be set apart, but that means for a specific and sacred purpose. The Pharisees were set apart from the people, they couldn’t be touched by the "unclean."

There were never more than 6,000 men allowed to be Pharisees at any one time and access to the schools was not only expensive but primarily a result of the right connections. The Nelson Illustrated Bible Dictionary describes Pharisee in the following manner:

PHARISEES

Pharisees observed the Law carefully as far as appearances went, but their hearts were far from God. Their motives were wrong because they wanted the praise of men [Matt. 6:2,5, 16; 23:5-7]. They also had evil desires that were hidden by their pious show [Matt. 23:25-28]. That is why Pharisees are often called hypocrites: their hearts did not match their outward appearance.

The Pharisees thought they could match God’s standards by keeping all the outward rules. [Luke 18:9] says they "trusted in themselves that they were righteous." This can easily happen when people think God’s will is the same thing as their list of what they can and cannot do. Their desire to keep all of God’s laws was commendable, but sometimes they put the emphasis on the wrong places. Minor details became a major preoccupation, and they forgot the more important things [Matt. 23:23].

Finally, because Pharisees thought they were doing their best to keep God’s laws while others were not, they often looked down on such "sinners"—especially people like tax collectors and prostitutes. Religious people need to remember that they, too, are sinners in God’s eyes, and that Christ died for everyone.

(from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Nicodemus

Nicodemus [3530] Nikodemos (nik-od’-ay-mos):

The name Nicodemus is very illustrative. It means; "victorious among his people." We’ll learn more about Nicodemus in the next paragraph, but it is interesting to see that even his name was indicative of his character. The character of this certain man points to the fault of all people. God does not call us to be victorious among men but instead, humble before the Lord.

A ruler of the Jews

Ruler [758] archon (ar’-khone):

Nicodemus was first, a Jew, second a Pharisee, and third a ruler of Jews. To be a ruler of the Jews meant he was chief among them. He was one of the highest-ranking Jews of Christ’s time. It is not hard to see how he earned that position (besides bloodline); his smooth and silver tongue must have made him a top negotiator and well-liked by his peers. However, we shall see that this trait became a character flaw – an impediment – as far as Jesus was concerned. Pride and a silver tongue are two of the greatest impediments to God’s kingdom. Better to speak simply and plainly.

36 "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil." - Matthew 5:36-37

Nicodemus also had to be very wealthy. When Jesus died, Nicodemus purchased "a mixture of myrrh and aloes about an hundred pound weight" [Jn.19:39]. It would cost a fortune to purchase those items that were to be used for wrapping Jesus’ body.

Came to Jesus by night

Night, [3571] nux (noox):

Here we are getting a hint into the nature of Nicodemus and the purpose of his visit. Using the night as a cloak, Nicodemus slinks into the presence of Jesus. There is little doubt that Nicodemus is coming to represent the Religious Leaders (see how he uses the collective "we" to introduce his flattery). Yet, there is also no doubt that this was a clandestine meeting. He came intentionally during the night hours to conduct business that didn’t belong to the day. Like Satan and his temptations, Nicodemus comes with flattery and compromise.

Jesus had no trouble dealing with the flattery of the Pharisee because he had already faced this same temptation in his confrontation with Satan. The Holy Spirit had prepared him for this temptation. It makes me wonder about a couple of things:

Do I try to "offer compromises" to Jesus?

Am I prepared for the temptation of compromise and half-truth that comes from the lips of leaders in this world?

"Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher"

Rabbi [4461] rhabbi (hrab-bee’)

This is an official title of honor such as Doctor (to someone with a Ph.D.), Father, Reverend, or Your Honor. It is not simply a sign of respect such as one might call another "sir." It is the first of a series of flatteries offered by Nicodemus to entice the Lord.


Do my prayers begin in this manner—filled with platitudes—but carrying a hidden agenda?

We know [1492] eido (i’-do):

The "we" is a "papal" we. In other words, Nicodemus introduces himself as an official representative of the body of the Pharisees and, no doubt, the religious rulers of Jerusalem. Nicodemus was obviously comfortable in each of these worlds. The political/economic world of Rome, the political/religious world of the Jews (chief priests and Pharisees alike), and now he was sent to be a liaison with this "new kid on the block."

Come from God [2064] erchomai (er’-khom-ahee); [575] apo (apo’); [2316] theos (theh’-os); as a teacher [1320] didaskalos (did-as’-kal-os)

Here, Nicodemus states; "We (the religiously and politically correct) recognize that you are close to God."

To Nicodemus, this was a compliment. To Jesus this was the beginning of the greatest mistake a person could ever make. Jesus was either a liar or the Son of God. He "testifies to himself" as the Messiah (as did God, the prophets, the works of Jesus, the scripture, the Holy Spirit and the Apostles). To confuse Jesus with Abraham, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, or Joseph Smith is to entirely miss the point. Jesus was, is, and will always be the promised and begotten Son of God.

Sliver-tongued Nicodemus reveals his mission. He tries to put Jesus in a box and (simultaneously) warn him that he shouldn’t operate outside of those parameters.

Do I consider Jesus a "great man" or do I realize that he alone has the power to open the door of my salvation? I can read the wisdom of the ages but if any wisdom points to a different road than reliance on God’s Promised One than I am deceived. Right motivation; wrong target.

"For no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."

Signs [4592] semeion (say-mi’-on):

With a weak man, flattery will get you everywhere. With Jesus, flattery was a deceptive waste of time. The more Nicodemus talked; the more Jesus must have wanted to cut to the chase. How uncomfortable it must have been for Nicodemus to see his words having the wrong effect. The more he babbled on, the more his silver tongue turned to molten lead, and the more he must have felt like he was becoming mired in his own flattery.

Each of us will experience the same thing when we face "the Truth" in our lives. Our rationalizations for judging others, for selfishness, for taking advantage of others, all of these things will certainly pale as we stand before the Judge of Eternity.

Nicodemus is about to quickly learn that knowing Jesus without doing his work is a very dangerous razor upon which to sit.

A Man of the Pharisees

In what way am I like a Pharisee—or worse—like a Nicodemean Religious Leader?

Pharisee’s used religion to put themselves above others. They separated themselves from all those who were "lesser" than themselves especially sinners and gentiles. Imagine the bone sticking in their neck when Christ (this upstart teacher who is doing miraculous works) does nothing except hang out with commoners, prostitutes, and tax collectors.

To Christ it was better to "be found with the lost then lost with the found."

Nicodemus took the whole mess one step further. He represented the Pharisee’s. His prestige and debate skills had made him one of the most illustrious teachers of Jerusalem. His silver tongue had placed him among the wealthiest of Israel. In his eyes, Jesus is simply another man to "win over"; to reason with. He comes by night to talk Jesus into becoming "one of us."

He is the master of superfluity and he lavishly attempts to bathe Jesus in worldly flattery. Yet, his true goal is to box Jesus into one of his own categories: To domesticate the Lion of Judah and to convert Christ into a Pharisee, one of the club.

Do I use religion to further my own goals? Is it yet another way that I can look down my nose at others? Or, do I recognize that I am "chief among sinners" and that I would have no hope of being in relationship with God if He had not sacrificed His son for me?

Does that information change my life from selfishness to selflessness? Would I be found where Christ was found or would I be sneaking into his presence late at night? Am I worried about what others would say if they saw me among the "least of these?" Or, am I radically "lost" in the pursuit of turning Christ’s love loose in the world?

Do I want to follow Christ or have I come—like Nick at Night—to make Him into my image? Am I trying to convert Him to my club—my boorish beliefs, my small prejudices? Did I come to argue with Him or to fall upon Him as Lord? Do I come to Him to debate or serve?

Jesus is less concerned about our daily failures than about our long-term attitudes. This does not excuse sinful behavior in any fashion. For sin will always be sin and ruin the harmony of our relationship with the unity of God. Yet, the great sin of the Pharisee’s and THE Pharisee – Nicodemus – was attitudinal. Pharisees were true to the laws, they followed the commandments, but they tried to USE God instead of loving Him.

John 3:3
[Jn 3:3] Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."

"Truly, truly"

Truly, [281] amen (am-ane’):

There is a couple of ways that you can interpret this phrase. Many interpret it as, "So be it." For example, a commander gives an order to an underling and the officer responds, "So be it! Consider it done."

The word can also mean; "Listen up!" The Apostle, Paul would often say; "Here is a trustworthy saying." At other times, it is written (in the King’s English) as "verily." However, whenever it is stated, it is stated with firmness and no sense of vacillation. In the case of Nicodemus, Jesus had simply tired of the Chief Negotiator’s diatribe. In essence, He wanted no more nonsense. We should imagine the full force of Christ’s stare coming upon the silver-tongued Nicodemus and emphatically commanding him to, "Listen… and listen well because your eternity depends upon it!"

"Unless one is born again from above"

One [5100] tis (tis )"

It is important to understand that Jesus uses this phrase; "Unless one is born again." The word, one, is a key word meaning each individual. Jesus was not saying, "Unless you are born again." He is saying, "unless a person (as in every person) is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God."

Born [1080] gennao (ghen-nah’-o); From above [509] anothen (an’-o-then)

To be born again "from above"

Now, let us look at what Jesus was saying about rebirth from above. The word for birth is "gennao," and it means to procreate or give birth. However, it is the result of two separate words,

1) Genos, which means to "spring forth" or "be delivered," and

2) Ginomai, which means to "fall and arise" or to "be ordained." In addition, ginomai, also means to "assemble" (as in an army) or "be called" (as in being called to a great cause).

Finally, we have the concept of being reborn from above. The word "above" meaning "on high" or "from the beginning."

The melding of these three words is critical. They must not be separated if we are to understand them. We are (a) delivered and (b) ordained for a new call by (c) God himself! To be "born again" means to hear the trumpet call of God’s assembly and throw our lives wholly into his service.

"Cannot see the kingdom of God"

Cannot [3756] ou (oo); have the power [1410] dunamai (doo’-nam-ahee); to see [1492] eido (i’-do); the Kingdom [932] basileia (bas-il-i’-ah); of the [3588] ho (ho); God [2316] theos (theh’-os)

Those who have not "accepted the call" and "changed their life" do not have the power to see the Kingdom of God. According to Christ, "they are incapable of being aware of the presence of God." That is not only a reference to the "future" reign of God; it is also reference to God in the immediate present. In addition, it means that a person who has not given their life over to God is incapable of seeing how God has worked in their past. In essence, they live blind to God’s presence in their life.

As with Nicodemus, when God is just conceptual His power is inaccessible. Change won’t happen until one "accepts the call" and "changes their life."

"Unless One Is Born Again"

Playing mind games with God

To be "born again" was not an alien concept to Nicodemus so why was he playing so stupid? Jewish proselytes were regarded as being reborn. Rabbis would say; "A proselyte who embraces Judaism is like a new-born child." The rebirth was so complete, that the sins committed before conversion ceased to exist. In fact, some of the legalists would argue that a convert should be able to marry his own mother or sister because he was completely restored.

What we are witnessing in Nicodemus is his love of argument surfacing. The Pharisees loved arguing about the law. The fine points of the law were their playground. It mattered not to them that their theology-games were confusing the lives of the faithful. They had complicated having a relationship with God so much that only a professional could "get it." Here are two examples of their "tricks" from William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible:

The kind of thing they did was this. To tie a knot on the Sabbath was to work; but a knot had to be defined. "The following are the knots the making of which renders a man guilty; the knot of camel drivers and that of sailors; and as one is guilty by reason of tying them, so also of untying them." On the other hand—knots which could be tied or untied with one hand were quite legal. Further, "a woman may tie up a slit in her shift and the strings of her cap and those of her girdle, the straps of shoes or sandals, of skins of wine and oil." Now see what happened. Suppose a man wished to let down a bucket into a well to draw water on the Sabbath day. He could not tie a rope to it, for a knot on a rope was illegal on the Sabbath; but he could tie it to a woman’s girdle and let it down, for a knot in a girdle was quite legal. That was the kind of thing which to the scribes and Pharisees was a matter of life and death; that was religion; that to them was pleasing and serving God.

Take the case of journeying on the Sabbath. Exo.16:29 says: "Remain every man of you in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." A Sabbath day’s journey was therefore limited to two thousand cubits, that is, one thousand yards. But, if a rope was tied across the end of a street, the whole street became one house and a man could go a thousand yards beyond the end of the street. Or, if a man deposited enough food for one meal on Friday evening at any given place, that place technically became his house and he could go a thousand yards beyond it on the Sabbath day. The rules and regulations and the evasions piled up by the hundred and the thousand.

William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, Westminster Press

What we need to understand about Nicodemus and the Pharisees is that they were not after a relationship with God they were after exclusivity and prominence won through the application of their expensive education.

Here is Nicodemus’ most comfortable turf (and his greatest hurdle to salvation). Ultimately, faith is not of the mind but from the heart. God doesn’t want repartee, he wants intimacy. He doesn’t want to be the exclusive domain of the educated elite. He doesn’t want an interpreter or an intermediary. He doesn’t want access to him blocked by hierarchy, empty traditions, or a complicated, cognitive, codicil system. He wants our love and our delight; what does any good father want from their child?

9 "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10"For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. 11"Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12"Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" - Luke 11:9-13

Nicodemus tries to keep Jesus in his own comfort zone. He starts getting really nervous when Jesus starts suggesting that Nicodemus must change. Nicodemus has to become a new person. Nicodemus must forget everything he knows if he is to know Jesus. That’s the last thing that wealthy, well-connected, well-educated, highly powerful, Nicodemus wants to hear.

Imagine studying all your life to be among the elite and powerful only to be told that all of your theories are based upon a completely false premise. The unfortunate thing is that many of us do experience this reality at some point in our life when we finally realize that life is really not "all about me," and that God could care less what I know but instead wants to know who we loved.

The heaven we might have mentally constructed that only includes only me (and those like me) is founded on a false premise. God is not our domesticated housecat.

Why does love scare the Nicodemus—the Pharisee—in us? Why do we wrap ourselves in exclusivity? What scares us about the radical, open (and opening), love of Jesus?

We all become Pharisaic when judgment overshadows love. We all become judgmental when we are afraid. When I am most judgmental, I am most afraid. So, Jesus comes to invite me out of my exclusivity, my close-mindedness, my judgmental attitude and to become like a child. We are all called to move from opinion to invitation, from knowledge to wonder, from judgment to love.

John 3:4
[3:4] Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?" [5] Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

"How can a man be born when he is old?"

When he is old [1088] geron (gher’-own):

This word for old was the same as the word for senility. It is as if Nicodemus were still trying to avoid the probing questions of Jesus. It is a common ploy to use humor to change the subject. Yet, the subtle truth of what Nicodemus is saying is often rephrased in the lame excuse of; "I’m too old a dog for new tricks." In churches, it sounds like this; "We’ve always done it that way" or, "We’ve never done that before."

Whenever we say that we are "too old to change," we should reflect on the miracle of Abraham and Sarah. God can change any heart that is willing even if it seems unlikely in earthly terms. Remember, Sarah laughed but she sure didn’t deny God’s capability. However, God won’t change the unwilling heart. What Nicodemus was really saying was, "I’m comfortable with my ways and unwilling to change."

A friend of mine used to say; "There’s no such thing as growing old, you’re either growing or you’re old." By those standards, I have seen people twice my age as vibrant as any child and people half my age who act like they are senile.

1. What are some qualities of people who are chronologically old but spiritually young?

2. What are the opposite qualities of people who act older than they really are?

Unless one is born of water and the Spirit

Water [5204] hudor (hoo’-dore):

To be born of water was to be cleansed of sin. Look at these references to water in the New Testament:

10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. - John 4:10

38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. - John 7:38

17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. - Rev 7:17

In each case we see that baptism is far more than just the symbolic act; to be born of living water is to be born of Jesus Christ.

But there was dead water too, it was a term used for any water that was stagnant. To be led to living waters was reflective of returning to the innocence of the waters of the womb and starting life all over again.

Note: For those interested in whether the reference is full immersion or sprinkling, the word hudor (water), which is used by Jesus, is the word for "rain shower." To ask, "Can true baptism be achieved only by immersion or sprinkling" is to become like Nicodemus. It is being trapped in triviality and losing the central message.

Spirit [4151] pneuma (pnyoo’-mah):

To be born of the Spirit is to change my allegiance from this world to God’s kingdom. When the Spirit comes upon us we begin to see the world as a shadow of the Lord’s brilliance. [1 Cor 13:12] For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (KJV) Suddenly, we recognize that we are dealing in a world of spiritual battles and we truly understand the concept of power, life, and death. This is how Christ and the Apostle Paul saw the world:

[28] And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. - Matthew 10:28

[10] And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. [11] But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. [12] Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. [13] For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. [14] For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. [15] For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. [16] The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. - Romans 8:10

[14] But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. - 1 Corinthians 2:14

[11] Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. [12] For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. - Ephesians 6:11

People who have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit understand that their greatest tool is the power of prayer accompanied by acts of justice and mercy. These people live contrary to the world because the world views power in terms of possession and position. Those who have been allowed the "power to see the Kingdom" know that an old woman in a crushed and atrophied body can have more power than the most high-ranking politician in eternal terms. In the same sense, those in the Spirit are able to identify the dark and undermining powers of the spirit of cynicism, sarcasm or exclusivity. They know their "battles" are not against earthly forces but with a far more devious force. They comprehend that the greatest power is the power of praise through trial and they constantly call on God’s arm to strengthen their hearts.

He cannot enter

He [3756] ou (oo); has no power [1410] dunamai (doo’-nam-ahee); to enter [1525] eiserchomai (ice-er’-khom-ahee)

Without cleansing the heart through Jesus and the ordaining power of the Holy Spirit, a person cannot even be aware of the power of God. The word "to enter" would best be stated as someone stumbling blindly in the dark. Like those in the depths of Plato’s caves, they think the darkness is the real world! They are not even aware enough to look for an exit and yet, the world outside is filled with light and joy.

Give an example of believing the darkness is "the real world."
How can we help someone who doesn’t even know that there is an exit to the "room of darkness?"

"How can a man?"

For years, I stumbled about in self-preferred blindness. "Doing my thing, my way." I felt comfortably in-synch with the culture around me. I even practiced my faith, but I never left the practice field. God was in my box and I used him as I needed to justify the opinions that allowed me to be "greater than thou."

How incredibly different that faith was from the faith that came when God allowed me to dash myself against the falsehoods of this world. As a missionary to Hispanic youth and families in the County of Yakima, God allowed me to experience prejudice and hatred firsthand. From drug dealers to city leaders and school officials who felt that my advocacy encroached upon their "systems." For the first time in my life, I truly saw the underbelly of prejudice on a local level in my own country and found myself a target of hatred. Yet, for the first time in my life, I also experienced the immense power of God and the joy of revealing heaven to inmates, the homeless, and those with broken lives. It was revealed to me how broken my life had been, how out-or-touch I was with God as a physical, spiritual, and mighty power, ready to be applied in this world.

In finally giving myself to his service, I truly "had the power" to experience this Kingdom of God.

When I was acting like Nicodemus, I never knew the power of God. I never could understand the incredible joy of working in my heavenly call and relying completely on His heavenly resources. I didn’t believe in "miracles," I questioned the power of prayer; God was a generic principle, not the motivating Principal of the Universe.

I lived in a stupor, thinking darkness was light; trusting in the tangibility of this world.

Now, I know… This is but a shadow.

Now, I know… The journey is so much greater, the joy is so much deeper, the power is so much grander and the stakes are so much higher than I ever could have perceived before asking God to forgive and lead me.

Now I know…

John 3:6-8
[Jn 3:6] "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [7] "Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ [8] "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Born of the flesh is flesh

Flesh [4561] sarx (sarx):

Born of the flesh means "all things carnal." It often referred to a man compulsive in his passions and victimized by his lust.

The flesh also meant the "carcass" of a dead animal; sort of like "Road Kill." It is what remained after the animal had been gutted and the meat used for cooking. The flesh is what Jesus had to put on to become one of us and to become the living sacrifice for His father.

Born of the Spirit is spirit

Spirit [4151] pneuma (pnyoo’-mah):

To be born of the Spirit was to be born of God’s breath. Originally, it was God’s breath that turned the clay into life. Satan has done all that he can to take the breath out of our sails. Look at the words used for curse in this week’s reading from Genesis:

Curses [7043], Qalal

The one who belittles you or treats you insignificantly.

Curse [779], ‘Arar

There are seven different words for curse. The combined meanings point to these three concepts:

To hem one in with obstacles:

To bind (with a spell):

To make one powerless to resist.

Here is Satan’s plan revealed, to blind us to our spiritual birth. He does this by belittling us and making us feel insignificant. Once we feel insignificant even the smallest obstacles seem unconquerable. Then, we act as if dumbfounded or spellbound by our helplessness. Finally, we cave in, feeling powerless to resist the ways of the world.

Jesus does the exact opposite. Look at the words "I will bless you to be a blessing" from the same story in Genesis:

I will bless [1288, Barak] you:

The root of the "to bless" is amazing. It combines these four words: Kneel, feeble knees, abundant gift and peace.

I put them in that order for a reason. When we get on our knees before our Creator, He gives us strength; he strengthens our feeble knees. His is the immeasurable gift that brings lasting peace. Now, let’s ask ourselves; "What gifts have really brought lasting peace to our lives? How do we pursue receiving and giving those gifts to others?"

You shall be a blessing [1293, B’rakah]:

As God blesses us we become a blessing to others. The root word (used above; Barak) means that we bring abundant peace.

Blessed or cursed? What am I? Do I feel God’s immeasurable peace? Do people who interact with me have a stronger sense of God’s peace in their life? Remember, biblical peace is not the lack of strife. Biblical peace is a sense of purpose and meaning even (especially) under persecution.

The wind blows where it wishes

Blows [3699] hopou (hop’-oo); it wishes [2309] thelo (thel’-o):

To blow where one wishes is different than James’ concept of a rudderless boat.

[5] But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. [6] But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. [7] For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord. - James 1:5-7

This concept is that the Holy Spirit is neither careless nor capricious. It is intentional and blows towards God’s "desire" or also know as God’s "delight (will)."

In my third musical CD, I used this concept in the theme song, "Riding A Dangerous Wind."

A Dangerous Wind is a simple translation of the Chinese symbol for the word, Typhoon. A typhoon will destroy you if you are confused and rudderless in the middle of it. However, if you’re out in front of it and know how to use the wind, then you can get to where you’re going twice as fast.

If I’m double-minded, indecisive, or timid, I have no hope. I will sink. However, with Christ as the Captain of my ship I can steer through any storm. So can everyone who is born of the Spirit. Everyone born of the Spirit is promised the direction and the ability to use even the worst storms to their advantage.

John 3:9-13
[Jn 3:9] Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?" [10] Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? [11] "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. [12] "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man."

How can these things be?

How [4459], pos (poce); By what power? [1410] dunamai (doo’-nam-ahee)

The game is over. Nicodemus is no longer representing the Pharisees or seeking to impress Jesus with his ability to argue. He is a man thirsting for the living water. Up to this point, Nicodemus’ life had to be little more than constant compromise and bargaining. It is great to be a peacemaker but not if the peace you are making is built on half-truths and subtleties. Nicodemus must have awoken each day, loving the robes he was wearing but fearing the collapse of the fragile house of cards in which he was dwelling.

Imagine his thoughts when he finally met someone without guile or duplicity. Normally, the intelligent consider the honest as naïve and continue to use half-truths as their sword (because "the ends justify the means"). Yet, here was a man with no cards up his sleeve and no knife under his cloak. It is to Nicodemus’ credit that he did not cynically "write off" Jesus.

This leads us to an even greater understanding about Jesus. Nicodemus did not come honestly seeking to learn from the Lord. He came to advise Him. Yet, the Lord wins the heart of Nicodemus. Over and over again, we see how God always responds to the honest searcher.

"Are you the teacher of Israel?"

Are [1488] ei (i); you [4771] su (soo); the great master [1320] didaskalos (did-as’-kal-os)

Jesus chides Nicodemus for his high-handedness and patronizing attitude. Once again, Nicodemus knows the quoted scripture; he just doesn’t know the meaning of it. It is impossible to understand the meaning of the scripture if you read it from the point of view of "How can I use this for my own glory?"

"I told you earthly things and you do not believe."

Earthly things [1919] epigeios (ep-ig’-i-os):

Continuing in the same vein, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he won’t be able to understand Jesus on an inward level if he can’t even acknowledge the outer signs that Jesus has displayed.

"How will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"

Heavenly things [2032] epouranios (ep-oo-ran’-ee-os):

To Nicodemus, Jesus was a worldly problem, not a heavenly solution. When we are ensnared in the trappings of this world the true Gospel is a threat. The morals of God’s way clash violently with the immorality of this world. Those who—like Nicodemus—try to live in between the ocean and the shoreline will most certainly be crushed by the breakers.

We cannot put God away as if He were a children’s toy or a tool in our box. We can’t take Him out when we want to entertain ourselves or impress others. The Old Testament points to Jesus and Jesus points to radical love.

Nicodemus had to leave with a decision: So must we. Is Jesus the Savior of all or is he a threat to all – a Deceiver-par-Non? If he is the Messiah then my life must change. I must quit the game-playing and selfish life.

"No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven."

Ascended [305] anabaino (an-ab-ah’-ee-no); Descended [2597] katabaino (kat-ab-ah’-ee-no):

The difference between Ascend (Anabaino) and Descend (Katabaino) is not a matter of going up versus coming down. It is a matter of "going in" or "sent from." We could not go to God because we were so lost in the darkness. In fact, so lost, we thought it was light. So Christ came from God to show us the true joy of life.

Between heaven and us there is an impassible chasm. Yet, remember, the Kingdom (the reign of God) is available anytime that I heed God’s will. More than a place, heaven is a relationship. We look forward to the day that heaven will be with us without the encumbrances of the "carnal world." Yet, we couldn’t appreciate that heaven in its fullness if we hadn’t grown through the spiritual trials of this world. Our place in this world is no accidental occurrence. God is not available to us someday – but on this day. He wants us to draw close to him now!

However, the chasm caused by our relationship with sin prevents our intimacy with God. He knew that would occur when He gave us the ability to choose love. So, because we could not "ascend" to him, Jesus "descended" to us. Because God’s nature is alien to sin. Christ took on our "sarx" (roadkill flesh) to bridge the gap.

"The Son of Man"

This is the most frequent messianic term that Jesus used in his personal testimony. Let’s look at some research on the term from Biblical Scholar, G.S. Duncan and others:

SON OF MAN

SON OF MAN (Gk. huios tou anthropou).

This is a term, like "the Son of God," which is now theologically chiefly associated with Christ and is used in both the OT and the NT. Christ employed this expression to designate Himself some eighty times. It portrays Him as the Representative Man. It designates Him as the "last Adam" in distinction to the "first man, Adam" [1 Cor. 15:45]. It sets Him forth as "the second man . . . from heaven" as over against "the first man . . . from the earth" [15:47]. "The Son of Man" is thus our Lord’s racial name, as the "Son of David" is distinctly His Jewish name and "the Son of God" His divine name. This term is uniformly used of Christ in connection with His mission [Luke 19:10], His death and resurrection [Matt. 12:40; 20:18; 26:2], and His second advent [24:37-44]; [Luke 12:40]. It transcends purely Jewish limitations and has application to the salvation of the entire race. Thus, when Nathanael owns Christ as "King of Israel" our Lord’s reply is, "You shall see greater things than these . . . the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" [John 1:49-51]. It is, for example, in this name that universal judgment is committed to our Lord [5:22,27]. The term also implies that in Him the OT prophetic blessings centering in the coming Man are to find their fulfillment [Gen. 3:15; Ps. 8:4; Isa. 7:14; 9:6-7; Zech. 13:7]. The term "Son of Man" occurs conspicuously in the book of Ezekiel, being used ninety-two times in addressing the prophet. The thought of going beyond the confines of Judaism is also involved in the phrase when applied to Ezekiel. When Israel was in her captivity, oblivious of her special mission [Jer. 11:10; Ezek. 5:5-8], the Lord reminded her by this term of address to Ezekiel that He would not forsake her but that nevertheless she was only a small portion of the race for whom He was concerned. As used of Ezekiel, the expression "the son of man" suggests what the prophet is to God, not what he is to himself. As "the son of man" the prophet is chosen, spiritually endowed, and delegated by God. These factors are also true of the Messiah as the Representative Man, the new Head of regenerated humanity.

G. S. Duncan, Jesus, Son of Man (1947); O. Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament (1963), pp. 137-92; F. Hahn, The Titles of Jesus in Christology (1969), pp. 15-66; G. H. Dalman, The Words of Christ (1981), pp. 234-67. (from New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright ©1988.)

What Jesus was tell Nicodemus was this, "The Son of Man is the prophesied one, the Messiah, who is ‘in’ God and ‘sent from God.’"

This would be a clear and unmistakable statement that Nicodemus couldn’t squirm his way around. This was a moment of decision for Nicodemus. "Continue in your self-deception or choose your salvation. You can’t have both."

John 3:14-15
[Jn 3:14] "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; [15] so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life."

Moses lifted up the serpent

The story of the Bronze Serpent can be found in Numbers 21:1-9.

[Nu 21:5] And the people spoke against God and against Moses: "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread." [6] So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.
[7] Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. [8] Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live." [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

The Israelites had (again) rebelled against God. To correct them, God sent fiery serpents among them. Yet, God did not send toxin without antitoxin. He had Moses make a bronze serpent and raise it above the people. Everyone gets bit, but whoever gazed upon the staff would be healed.

Eventually, the bronze serpent itself became an idol and King Hezekiah had it destroyed [2 Kin. 18:4].

Christ is the antitoxin to the "snake" released upon our world (Satan). Christ would be "lifted up" in what Satan thought was his triumphant moment. All are bitten by sin, yet those who gaze upon Jesus will be healed.

However, we are not supposed to stand and stare at Jesus either. As Jesus ascended, two men (angels) approached the disciples and reprimanded them for standing around. [Ac 1:10] And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. [11] They also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven."

Look up to Jesus, be renewed, then get about the work of God. As Paul would tell the Corinthians:

[1] And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. [2] I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not able, [3] for you are still fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
1 Corinthians 3:1

John 3:16-17
[Jn 3:16] "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. [17] "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."

For God so loved

So [3779] houto (hoo’-to); Loved [25] agapao (ag-ap-ah’-o):

Here is the heart of God revealed. God so loved... One cannot escape the incredible compassion of God as the predominant theme of the Old and New Testament:

[6] And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. - Exodus 34:6

[9] In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. - Isa 63:9

[3] The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." - Jeremiah 31:3

[9] As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. [10] If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. - John 15:9-10

[23] I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. - John 17:23

[5] And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. - Romans 5:5

[8] But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8

[22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith. - Galatians 5:22

[8] He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. [9] In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. [10] Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. [12] No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
I John 4:8-12

God is love and to be in God is to love.

I have often wondered how we—made by love and to love—have become so prone to judging. Yet, all we have to do is look at the Pharisee within each of us. Using scripture or religiosity as a tool of self-elevation or exclusivity is definitely the manner in which Satan tempted Jesus. Many have fallen and will fall into the pit of judgment versus the freedom of love.

The world

World [2889] kosmos (kos’-mos):

God loved cosmos—it wasn’t just the world—but the harmony of all things and beings in the world. The not only includes humans, but our interaction with all animals and the environment.

Included in that harmony was a direct relationship with us. God loved his intimacy with us so much that he gave his only son to restore the breach. Sin created chaos and, as humans, we continue to live in (and add to) the chaos. Yet, the power of the Holy Spirit through the death of Jesus is continually available to us for healing. Through the Holy Spirit, we can enter into the intimate harmony of God (the kosmos) and we can take it to others.

His only begotten son

Only begotten [3439] monogenes (mon-og-en-ace’):

God gave to us his most treasured love without a second thought. Certainly, God had the right to withhold this gift. When he called Abram to take Isaac to be sacrificed, Abram knew that God had the right to ask the ultimate sign of faithfulness. Nanna, the god of Terah (Abram’s father) was no stranger to blood sacrifice. Abram would have been in despair as he climbed the mountain but he wouldn’t be surprised. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was probably already thinking; "This has all been too good to be true. A baby at my age… I should have known."

Yet, God stayed Abram’s hand.

Isn’t it incredible that what God would not demand from us he gladly gave of himself. He offered his own son for our sins.

Which is harder? To suffer yourself? Or, to watch someone you love suffer? Can you imagine the love of God who "while we were yet sinners" sent his only son to redeem us?

We also need to keep in mind that this is Jesus’ testimony about his place in God’s cosmos. This is his witness to a Jewish Scholar who thinks Jesus was just "a good teacher." Nicodemus must now choose. Is Jesus who he claims to be or is he the greatest blasphemer? If he admits Jesus is the Son of Man then Nicodemus must follow him. If Jesus is The Blasphemer, then Nicodemus must argue for Jesus’ death. Jesus will not allow Nicodemus or anyone to stand in lukewarm territory. In one of the statements that seem almost designed for those trying to do a balancing act with faith, Jesus states:

[47] "And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, [48] but the one who did not know {it,} and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. [49] "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! [50] "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! [51] "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; [52] for from now on five {members} in one household will be divided, three against two, and two against three. [53] "They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
Luke 12:47-53

God gave everything to be "in harmony" (kosmos) with us. Jesus gave his life to be "in relationship" with us. Doesn’t that gift demand a passionate and appropriate response?

Whoever believes in him

Believes in [4100] pisteuo (pist-yoo’-o):

To believe in Jesus means to be "faithful" to him. It is not a cognitive response. It is a committed life change. One has to "plunge into" Jesus, not tepidly test his goodness with a toe.

Eternal life

Eternal [166] aionios (ahee-o’-nee-os); Life [2222] zoe (dzo-ay’)

Eternal life was not a concept of time. It meant "perpetual" and, even more, "abundance." To plunge into the love of Jesus means to finally know perpetual and abundant life. There is no more time for distractions and self-pity. Only hope, purpose and love!

Not to judge the world; but to save the world

Condemn [2919] krino (kree’-no); Saved [4982] sozo (sode’-zo)

Finally, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he has not come to judge the world… yet. He has come to offer it freedom, preservation from obscurity (or worthlessness). The selfish life leads to death. It is easiest to see this dynamic in the patterns of alcohol and drug abuse. People drink or drug their way out of every healthy relationship they have ever had until finally they crumple into a state of disease and mental corruption.

Jesus did not come to judge this state. He came to deliver us from it. Sozo (salvation) is also used for a colt let loose in a wide-open pasture. God is offering us the ticket back into Eden (the delicate beauty or kosmos). It is the greatest gift that can be offered. If we are going to live then let’s live ALL OUT. Let’s not be like Nicodemus playing word games with eternity. Let us give ourselves over to Jesus completely. Why flick the living waters of Christ with our forefinger when we could be wholly bathed in the joy? Let’s "GO FOR IT!"

Copyright © 2007 Jerry Goebel. All Rights Reserved.

See Also:

Exegetical Notes on John 3-1-17
by Brian Stoffregen

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 3:1-17
by David Ewart

The Free Will of the Wind
by John Piper

The Mysteries of the Brazen Serpent (John 3:14)
by Charles H. Spurgeon, 1857

The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up—Like the Serpent
by John Piper

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the 3rd Sunday after Denaha (Baptism of our Lord)

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