Friday, October 09, 2009

Jesus and Nicodemus Part 4 (Jn. 3:1-12)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 20th September 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 3:1-12

This is the only time Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. Nicodemus was also the only Pharisee Jesus spoke to. The truth is revealed to the person who sincerely seek the truth. In the book of John, there are 25 times Jesus said “I tell you the truth” and within this dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus used it three times. (Jn. 3:3,5,11)

“I tell you the truth unless a person is born again he will not see the kingdom of God.”
“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and spirit.”

The most important word in Hebrew culture is the word “true”. The most important thing in is the true God giving true revelation, referred by the Hebrews as the truth. The Jews knew that truth is the most important foundation of all things and they received true revelation from the true God.

How did they become hypocritical? Because they replaced truth with knowledge and reason. Mere desire to be good does not automatically mean one is therefore good. When one equates his wish to reality, he is in deception. Similarly, when religious leaders consider their theology as spirituality, that is the beginning of the failure of their spirituality. They know the word of God is true but they cannot live up to His standard, yet they think they have it and they become arrogant. In the books of the Gospel, Jesus continued to rebuke the Pharisees.

The entire content of Christ’s dialogue with Nicodemus is based on truth. The Truth spoke truthfully to Nicodemus. Jesus sincerely spoke to Nicodemus and He could see what was binding the Pharisees.

When Nicodemus said, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God” (v.2) this ‘we’ does not refer to the Pharisees as the Pharisees rejected Him. He was referring to the crowd who also accepted Jesus because of the miracles He performed. This is a neutral, objective and sincere observation of Nicodemus. Yet when Jesus said “you must be born again”, He was referring to the Pharisees. He would not say any empty words. Every word was without compromise and pierced right into the heart.

Jesus was stating that the Pharisees needed to be born again. They were very learned and well-read. They had studied the words of Moses many times. They were so arrogant that they treated the Gentiles as though they were dogs. But Christ was showing Nicodemus that all these which made them proud are meaningless. They need a new life and without that their knowledge is empty knowledge and useless.

God-Incarnate has the authority to judge us as God. Let us not equate Jesus with another religious leader. He is the highest revelation of God to end all seeking of the truth and to judge. What Jesus said to Nicodemus is also a judgement for all religious leaders. Their true need is to be born again. Things that are great in the eyes of men are abominable in the eyes of God.

Their grace had become their stumbling block. Because they are intellectual, they oppose God. Grace of God given has become a curse to them. This is the crisis of grace. At the height of God’s creation, He made man in His image. Man is the greatest crucial creation of God.

Being born again is not our choice. It is a passive experiene. We must experience it individually but the source is not from us, it came from the sovereignty of God. It was God who gave us Christ. It was Christ who promised the Holy Spirit. We are not born by our choice. We are not man or woman by choice. This is a passive experience. Within this passive action we are able to choose. We are the most marvellous creature. After we are born, we have the ability to make choices.

Jesus said the wind blows wherever it pleases, you cannot see where it comes from and where it is going but you can see the manifestation of its power. You can the destruction it leaves behind. These visible human beings and material things have been moved by invisible wind. The invisible is more important and powerful. The dumbest people in the world are those who treat the material as god. In our lives we should place more emphasis on the invisible.

We cannot physically see the invisible God in His visible created world, but through His visible creation, we ‘see’ Him who is invisible. The invisible is the power behind the visible.

Jesus said, “Do not be surprised if I tell you that you must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (v.7-8). Here Jesus mentioned the wind, the Spirit and being born again.

There is a word to represent the wind, the breath, the spirit. God breathed into Adam’s nostril and he became a living being. The word used for spirit is ‘ruah’. It is the wind of God or the breath of God. The wind blows wherever He pleases. When He breathed into Adam, he became a living being who is both spiritual and physical. When this breath of God leaves us, we die. When we are alive we continue breathing. When we breathe the last breath, we die. When we die, the spirit leaves us. In the Old Testament, it was recorded that the spirit returned to the child when Elijah brough a child back to life.

What sort of living being is Man? He is a living being with the spirit. It means that the influence of spirituality is very strong. Socrates said that Man is the measure of all things. Aristotle said Man is the reasoning power of all things. Mencius said Man is the conscience of all things. And there is a saying in Chinese that Man is the spirit of all things. The Chinese term is closer to Biblical teaching.

When God made man, He gave man the spirit that has been created. But when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, He was not asking Nicodemus to train his created spirit. He was to be born again by the Spirit of God that made him.

So it is not sufficient just to nurture our created spirit where we have our knowledge, reason, understanding and character. When Jesus said we are to be born again, it is a promise that the Spirit of the Creator would come to His chosen ones.

This is a very profound revelation. But we often make it too simplistic. What does it mean to be born again? To quit smoking and drinking? It means the Spirit of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ brings about new life in you. And the Holy Spirit that gives birth to you will guide your entire life. This is not what the created spirit will experience.

What Nicodemus had is academic dissertation, but Jesus was speaking about life force. The problem with religion is that there is all the academic learning but no life. Just because we study Beethoven, it would not give us the ability to compose like him. Only when you have the life of Beethoven can you compose like him.

The Creator has come to you to give you new life, to be with you, to guide you and fill every part of your life with great abundance. May we not have fragmented and superficial understanding of Christianity. May we witness for Christ and live the life He has given to us. May the Lord bless us all.


At 2:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

keep up the good work! i really think grii should translate his sermons into english. that way more ppl would be able to understand. besides the younger generation of indos are increasingly proficient in english. whats stopping them i wonder. the internet has the potential to reach out to those thought unreachable..

At 4:52 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Hi Anonymous,

It's a good idea and I think nothing is stopping them except the availability of committed and able people to do it. =) If you ask him this question, he would probably ask if you would want to do it. =P

However, if you think about it, there are plenty of great reformed sermons in English available everywhere, but quite limited good ones in Indonesian and Chinese. In that sense, I think there is greater need for Indonesian and Chinese reformed sermons, which Rev Tong has done a lot of good work on.

Having said that, I think they are already moving gradually in that direction. I heard that there is a new English branch of GRII in Singapore now.


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