Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?( John 3:9-12)
The third chapter of John allows us in on a conversation between Jesus and one of the great Rabbis of Israel, the Pharisee and Sanhedrinist, Nicodemus. The topic is the Kingdom of God and entry into it. Jesus’ teaching is that a New birth is necessary to enter into it, or to even see it.
Jesus has thus far taught, that the New Birth is a revelation from God, an enablement to “see the Kingdom of God”, and to enter into it. It is a work of the Sovereign Spirit of God,(The Wind blows where it listeth). The new birth is nothing less than the renewal promised to the returning captives of Israel, in the book of Ezekiel, when God said,”I will wash you with water” and “I will take out of you a heart of stone, and put within you a new heart of flesh”. Furthermore, God said to them, “I will put my Spirit within you”.
Nicodemus was well versed in Ezekiel, and the prophets and law of God, having dedicated his whole life to learning and teaching them. But He raises an objection, “How can these things be?”.
It is instructive to note the way Jesus handled this objection, for almost universally, the world objects to the call for and promise of a new birth from God!
The objection pleads ignorance, but Jesus isn’t going to allow that, especially from the “Master of Israel”, that is, the supreme Rabbi. To loosely paraphrase Jesus’ reply, “Are you telling me you don’t know these things?…You? The expert in the law of God are going to plead ignorance of this basic promise and the need it presupposes?”
What things are Nicodemus pretending to not know? The promise of a New Heart for Israel, and the idea that it was needed. The truth that not all Israel is Israel, and that circumcision must be of the heart. The utter inadequacy of the Law to fit the nation or the Rule of God. Nicodemus would have been all too familiar with scripture such as ;
And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.(Deuteronomy 30:6)
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. 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. 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.(Ezekiel 36:25-27)
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
The acceptance of these promises with all of their implications; Israel’s hardness of heart, deadness to God, the inadequacy of formal adherence to the Law of God, and Israel’s lovelessness would have been humbling, but would eventually lead to the recognition of the New Birth.
Why doesn’t Nicodemus, Israel’s teacher, and typically representative of all of Israel’s sages, see what Jesus is calling for? Not because of ignorance, but willful ignorance. Jesus puts his finger on it in his reply to Nicodemus,
…We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not,how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
Nicodemus cannot seem to receive the testimony of the Word of God, that Israel’s kingdom will not be realized until they are given a “new heart” by God ,(Earthly things). But Israel is a micro- cosm of all of humanity. How will Nicodemus be able to accept the broader revelation that all men everywhere, Jew and or Gentile, must be born again by the Holy Spirit to enter into the (Heavenly) Kingdom?
So it is with man. Particularly the ‘wise’ and learned, that rather than not being able to understand the things of God, the real problem lies in an unwillingness to receive them. The refusal to accept the implications of Jesus’ gospel of a new life, bars millions from the way to heaven.
Hell itself echoes with the rationalizations of unbelief, such as, “If I believe that , I would be admitting I was wrong all this time?”, and “If I accept that I would have to admit I was a sinner!”, or ” Too many people look up to me as a ‘good moral person’ for me to become as a child and start all over again”. I told one man He needed to be born again, and his reply was “Why should I when I got it right the first time?”.
The difference between unbelief and ignorance is the difference between not knowing, and refusing to know. Ignorance can be cured, but unbelief requires repentance.
more to come…