Exegesis is not easy work. The men that weekly spend their time trying to honestly bring you the meaning of the Word of God have taken on a hard task. We are overrun with ‘pastors’ that only know the scripture from the topical point of view. Some, if not most of them, decry expository preaching as ‘lazy’ and the ‘easy way’. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Surely there are men that spend hours upon hours studying for a topical message, and there are those that are lazy in the realm of expository preaching. Yet the disadvantage the expositor has is he cannot type his main topic key word into the electronic search of his computerized bible and find and use every verse that happens to contain that certain word. No, the real expositor of God’s word wants to know what God has said, and wants you to know it too. As I was preparing for this blog, my 12 year old son was sitting next to me. I found myself showing him how to try and understand what John 3 was teaching and then telling him, “Silas, it doesn’t matter what this scripture means to me, it only matters what this scripture means.” So with that, let’s find out what our passage today means.
Now last time we determined “who” Nicodemus was. This post is going to be looking at John 3:3-8, building upon what we have already learned.
Nicodemus in verse 2 ended his statement “..for no man can do these miracles that thou does except God be with him.” What most of us would expect Jesus to respond with is “Yes you are right, I have come from God and God is with me, now ask me to come into your heart..”. Okay, maybe you wouldn’t think that, but what Jesus does do is devastating to the Israelite national pride. Jesus goes after his birth:
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
First off, we see the emphasis Jesus is putting on this truth statement. The Greek word is amen. Jesus is amen’ing the beginning of His statement. This should get us focused to what Christ is about to say. Truly, truly! Amen, Amen! What is this important phrase Nicodemus is about to hear? “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”. Born again? Now you have surely seen this phrase translated “born from above” or as ‘born anew’. Both are legitimate translations of the phrase that is used. However, context has to be the determining factor on what is being said here, but before I get to that, let’s look at what is meant by ‘kingdom of God’.
(I am using the question “Who is Jesus talking to?” to determine what the context is telling us)
The Kingdom that Christ brought was not a kingdom of flesh, it is a Kingdom of the Spirit. The Jews expected the Messiah to come and establish an earthly reign and restore the ‘kingdom’, that is Israel as a sovereign nation. However, Christ did not come to establish His earthly throne, but a heavenly one. This heavenly kingdom would be established by His crucifixion, burial and resurrection, not by the wielding of the sword, all that believe in Christ are in that kingdom.
By Nicodemus’ reaction to what Christ said, we find that the translation is better to be rendered ‘born anew’ or ‘born again’.
John 3:4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Remember, I said Christ goes after Nic’s birth, his heritage, but in Nic’s mind, it is his earthly birth that gives him the very right to be in God’s kingdom. He a Jew, an Israelite, circumcised just like Granddaddy Abraham. He has every right by his physical birth to lay claim to the promises made unto the patriarchs. When confronted with the idea of needing a second birth, he immediately points it back to his physical birth. “can he enter a second time, into his mother’s womb, and be born?”.
This ‘new birth’ however is not physical, which the Lord is about to tell us, but it is spiritual.
John 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
We have the emphasis on this statement as well. The ‘listen Nicodemus, this is important and true’, Amen Amen. We have seen the word ‘Except’ twice now. Except a man is born again he cannot see, and now, he cannot enter into the Kingdom. So Nicodemus’ pointing back to his physical birth has been eliminated as an opportunity. Men don’t enter the kingdom by who their earthly ancestry is, but only if they are born spiritually.
In John 1 we see this:
John 1:11-13 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (12) But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (13) Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
This birth is not something we do, nor is it the result of something we do. Let’s look at what John Calvin said about these verses:
12.But to as many as received him. That none may be retarded by this stumbling-block, that the Jews despised and rejected Christ, the Evangelist exalts above heaven the godly who believe in him; for he says that by faith they obtain this glory of being reckoned the sons of God. The universal term, as many, contains an implied contrast; for the Jews were carried away by a blind vaunting, (19) as if they exclusively had God bound to themselves. The Evangelist declares that their condition is changed, because the Jews have been rejected, and their place, which had been left empty, is occupied by the Jews; for it is as if he transferred the right of adoption to strangers. This is what Paul says, that the destruction of one nation was the life of the whole world, (Rom_11:12;) for the Gospel, which might be said to have been banished from them, began to be spread far and wide throughout the whole world. They were thus deprived of the privilege which they enjoyed above others. But their impiety was no obstruction to Christ; for he erected elsewhere the throne of his kingdom, and called indiscriminately to the hope of salvation all nations which formerly appeared to have been rejected by God.
He gave them power. The word ἐξουσία here appears to me to mean a right, or claim; and it would be better to translate it so, in order to refute the false opinions of the Papists; for they wickedly pervert this passage by understanding it to mean, that nothing more than a choice is allowed to us, if we think fit to avail ourselves of this privilege. In this way they extract free-will from this phrase; but as well might they extract fire from water. There is some plausibility in this at first sight; for the Evangelist does not say that Christ makes them sons of God, but that he gives them power to become such. Hence they infer that it is this grace only that is offered to us, and that the liberty to enjoy or to reject it is placed at our disposal. But this frivolous attempt to catch at a single word is set aside by what immediately follows; for the Evangelist adds, that they become the sons of God, not by the will which belongs to the flesh, but when they are born of God. But if faith regenerates us, so that we are the sons of God, and if God breathes faith into us from heaven, it plainly appears that not by possibility only, but actually — as we say — is the grace of adoption offered to us by Christ. And, indeed, the Greek word, ἐξουσία is sometimes put for ἀξίωσις, (a claim,) a meaning which falls in admirably with this passage.
The circumlocution which the Evangelist has employed tends more to magnify the excellence of grace, than if he had said in a single word, that all who believe in Christ are made by him sons of God. For he speaks here of the unclean and profane, who, having been condemned to perpetual ignominy, lay in the darkness of death. Christ exhibited an astonishing instance of his grace in conferring this honor on such persons, so that they began, all at once, to be sons of God; and the greatness of this privilege is justly extolled by the Evangelist, as also by Paul, when he ascribes it to
God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love
with which he loved us, (Eph_2:4.)
But if any person shall prefer to take the word power in its ordinary acceptation, still the Evangelist does not mean by it any intermediate faculty, or one which does not include the full and complete effect; but, on the contrary, means that Christ gave to the unclean and the uncircumcised what appeared to be impossible; for an incredible change took place when out of stones Christ raised up children to God, (Mat_3:9.) The power, therefore, is that fitness (ἱκανότης) which Paul mentions, when he
gives thanks to God, who hath made us fit (or meet) to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints, (Col_1:12.)
Who believe in his name. He expresses briefly the manner of receiving Christ, that is, believing in him. Having been engrafted into Christ by faith, we obtain the right of adoption, so as to be the sons of God. And, indeed, as he is the only-begotten Son of God, it is only so far as we are members of him that this honor at all belongs to us. Here again the notion of the Papists about the word power is refuted. (20) The Evangelist declares that this power is given to those who already believe. Now it is certain that such persons are in reality the sons of God. They detract too much from the value of faith who say that, by believing, a man obtains nothing more than that he may become a son of God, if he chooses; for instead of present effect they put a power which is held in uncertainty and suspense.
The contradiction appears still more glaring from what immediately follows. The Evangelist says that those who believe are already born of God It is not therefore, a mere liberty of choice that is offered, since they obtain the privilege itself that is in question. Although the Hebrew word, שם (Name) is sometimes used to denote power, yet here it denotes a relation to the doctrine of the Gospel; for when Christ is preached to us, then it is that we believe in him. I speak of the ordinary method by which the Lord leads us to faith; and this ought to be carefully observed, for there are many who foolishly contrive for themselves a confused faith, without any understanding of doctrine, as nothing is more common among the Papists than the word believe, though there is not among them any knowledge of Christ from hearing the Gospel. Christ, therefore, offers himself to us by the Gospel, and we receive him by faith. — Calvin’s Complete Comentary
This post is getting long, so I am going to end it here with verse 5. This verse has a tough phrase in it, but I think with the help of John Gill and answering the question of who Jesus is talking to, it has been made plain to me what Jesus is teaching here.
The first mistake that is made is trying to divide ‘born of water and of the spirit’ from each other. It is done because there are those that want to claim this as a reference to water baptism. However, we know from scriptural examples that one can be baptized and not be saved (Simon Magus) and that one can miss being baptized and by faith be in paradise with the Lord the day he died (thief on the cross). So we can eliminate baptismal regeneration or the necessity of baptism for salvation as being what the Lord is referring to. The phrase ‘born of water and born of the Spirit’ are being used together to describe the idea of being ‘born again’. Jesus is referring back to an OT passage of scripture, which Nicodemus an OT scholar would recognize it. He is in fact, describing to Nicodemus the sign and seal of the New Covenant.
Ezekiel 36:22-27 Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went. (23) And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. (24) For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. (25) Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. (26) A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. (27) And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Unless God does this to you, unless God births you into His family, you will die in your sins.
To be continued….