Friday, August 21, 2009

Jesus and Nicodemus Part 2 (Jn. 3:1-8)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 16th August 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 3:1-8

Nicodemus said that those who wanted to know the truth would realise that Jesus came from God because of the miracles He had performed. Jesus was not bothered by Nicodemus’ courtesy and communicated consistently His message in one single direction.

Nicodemus’ words was indirectly an acknowledgement that the Pharisees did not have God with them. But they have the academic learning and theological knowledge. This is the irony of many seminars and theology schools in Christianity today. Before studying many people still want to preach the gospel but after graduation many people become cold. What then is the purpose of academic qualification? Nicodemus discovered that Jesus had what he did not have. This Galilean did not have the same academic credentials like them but He had the presence of God with Him. Before Jesus, Nicodemus found his weaknesses completely exposed.

Jesus declared to Nicodemus that unless he is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. The first time the kingdom of God was mentioned in the New Testament is the declaration to repent as the kingdom of God is near. That is the preaching of John the Baptist and of Jesus Christ. When John the Baptist declared that the Kingdom of God is near the whole nation went to him and was baptised. They were captured by the message of John the Baptist in the wilderness. John the Baptist preached the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ preached the kingdom of God. And the Jews were waiting for the kingdom of God. But what is this kingdom?

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Nicodemus could not understand and his immediate response was wondering how he could re-enter his mother’s womb. In the gospel of John, Jesus said 25 times the phrase “I tell you the truth” and this is the two times Jesus said this phrase to a single person.

Nicodemus’ response did not show a right understanding. So Jesus said to him the second time with more explanation, “I tell you the truth, if a man is not born of water and spirit, he will not enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus knew that Nicodemus came with a genuine heart. So Jesus gave him an honest answer. But some people are interested in the process of arguing but not the truth. Many Christians are interested in listening but not doing.

Jesus gave an honest answer to an honest question. We might not necessarily understand just because we are honest and sincere. If we find the wrong person, we will not get the right answer. The kingdom of God mentioned by John is the era of the New Testament. When Jesus mentioned the Kingdom of God, He meant the salvation that had come because of His sacrifice. When Nicodemus thought of the kingdom of God, he was referring to the political aspiration of the Jews. So the same words have different definitions. It is just like the word “justice” has different definitions to different people. For the Jews, justice is when God made them greater than all other people. For the Muslims, justice comes when all their enemies are destroyed. But for Christianity, justice came about in the forgiveness of God through the death of Jesus Christ.

Notice the differences between the words of God-incarnate and the words of an intellectual. Although an intellectual person has knowledge in many areas, he is not able to bring everything together consistently. The Word of God is the highest wisdom. Ethics and morality teach you how to live well, science teaches knowledge of nature and philosophy teaches how to be wise. But New Testament touches the issue of life and death and this question surpasses all others.

The revelation of the Word of God in the Old Testament will not go away, but Nicodemus needs to abandon the Jewish culture which had hindered his understanding. The gospel is not meant for the culture, it is the other way round. When the church is no longer faithful to God and His word, it will bind itself to the authority of the world. So Jesus tell Nicodemus that he is stuck in the letters of the law. He said these people need to be born again.

He explained that if he was not born of water and spirit he could not enter the kingdom of God. People who have been born again will see mysteries above all mysteries. But those without spiritual life so cannot see spiritual principles. People who do not understand think that Christianity is superficial. The Pharisees despised Christ and John. But the apostle John wrote this chapter, not Nicodemus. John is not an academic. The greatest tragedy of academic world is that in their generation they despise the non-academics who later became the objects of academic study for many centuries to come.

Why put water and spirit together? Water represents cleansing and spirit represents holiness. So it represent a new holy life after cleansing. Both come from above. John the Baptist said he baptised with water but the One who came after him would baptise with the Holy Spirit. So water represents cleansing. The Holy One use the Holy Spirit to cleanse us.

In the next portion on verse 6, Jesus said flesh gave birth to flesh but spirit gives birth to spirit. He led Nicodemus to understand step by step. He explained to Nicodemus that it is impossible for the flesh to give birth to spiritual life. We get our physical life from our parents. But the Holy Spirit gives us a new life in Christ when we enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that is being born again.

The Holy Spirit gives new life after a sinner hears the message of the gospel which contains the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through which salvation is accomplished.

The Bible has four terms for this: born of God (it is the will of God), born of the Spirit (it is how salvation is executed), born of the Word (from the angle of truth), and born of the gospel (which is the content of faith). God accomplished His plan of salvation by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross and resurrected by the Holy Spirit’s power, through which new life is given to believers. In another word, a born again person must have heard the gospel, and the true gospel must be about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ is not a religious leader but He is the Word becoming flesh. Only Spirit of God can give us a new life. Sin is put to death through the death of Christ, and we are made alive again through the resurrection of Christ. We have a new life because of the resurrection of Christ. Paul said that Christ was put to death for our transgression and resurrected for our justification (Rom. 5:25).

Jesus said flesh gives birth to flesh and spirit to spirit. This explains that there is no need to go back to the mother’s womb because one must be born again of the spirit, not of the flesh.

Hence Christians are born twice and die once. The first birth is physical life and the second birth is when the Holy Spirit gives new life and with this we will never perish. Physically we will die but spiritually we will never die. We will be with Christ forever. The wages of sin is death. So non-believers are born once and die twice. After physical death, those who have no relation with Christ will be separated from God forever. The first death is physical. The second death is everlasting. It is an eternal segregation from the Source of Life, the countenance of the Father.

The comparison between the flesh and the spirit also segregates the Old from the new Testament. The passover Lamb was sacrificed so that the angel of death would pass over the Israelites and they would not die. They were delivered from Egypt and went into the wilderness to worship God. But God allowed them to wander for 40 years in the desert before entering the Promised Land. They crossed the Red Sea and river of Jordan. These two water bodies segregate 3 regions. Leaving Egypt means freedom. But the 40 years in the wilderness is not the Promised Land. God allows His people to go through trials and God wants to see how they react.

First group who are in Egypt are unbelievers. The second group are the people who have faith but they are not complete. Many Christians are saved but they are still going around the desert for 40 years. They are wasting time, wasting grace and tempting God. Many christians are in this state. The last group are those who enter into Canaan. Does that mean they enter into heaven and relax? Not at all. In Canaan, they have a lot of enemies. They have to fight and overcome. Victory comes when Holy Spirit fights with your flesh and anxiety. So Christians are called to continue to battle against their flesh and overcome with the power of the Spirit.

The last portion of the sermon expounds on the error of trichotomy, i.e. human being constitutes of 3 parts, body, soul and spirit. This has been summarised in an earlier sermon
Honor of Humanity Part 2, 6th Aug 2006.

The unbelievers belong to the flesh. The believers belong to the spirit. The words “flesh gives birth to flesh and spirit gives birth to spirit” can be extended to Christians’ daily life. Those born of the spirit and live by the spirit are in Christ. After being born again, some believers still follow the flesh. So there is a battle between the spirit and the flesh. Paul was not referring to the physical and spiritual part of human being when he mentioned this battle. He was referring to those who are already in the status of a saint, and still have to fight the battle to come to full obedience to God.

After saved, we choose whether to obey the spirit or the flesh. We are in this state of contradiction. May God help us all. (To be continued…)


At 4:15 PM, Blogger Benjamin Ho said...

Hi Mel, great to see that you are still faithfully doing the transcripts. It has truly been a blessing!

At 1:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Appreciate your translations. Keep it up!

At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You, Mel. God Bless u.

Irene T


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