John 3:6-15 Before the new can come, the old must go
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 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. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. John 3:6-15
In this episode, Jesus explains to Nicodemus the things in the Spirit that concerns the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus finds it impossible to comprehend because he was receiving Jesus’s teachings with his religious and fleshly mindset as opposed to his heart. Jesus showed Nicodemus the importance of humbling oneself while putting aside his Jewish traditions. By doing so, he would be able to understand the things of God and experience a new birth in the Spirit. Today’s devotion teaches us the continual process of personal sanctification: before the new can come, the old must go
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Here, Jesus elaborates on the fact that unless one is born of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. By saying, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”, Jesus addresses the crux of the Jews’ inability to enter in. They suppose by their continual observance of the Jewish traditions with a fleshly mentality they can enter into God’s kingdom. The journey from the flesh to the spirit is never progressive. Just as a leopard can never learn to fly like a bird, no matter how hard it tries. Similarly, one that is born of the flesh, can never attain to the level of one who is born in the Spirit. Unless, he first terminates his life of the flesh and to be rebirthed into life of the Spirit. By those words, Jesus implies that what the Jews are doing no matter how persistent they are will amount to nothing.
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.
The Hebrew and Greek term for “wind” is the same used for “spirit” . Here, Jesus describes the ways of one born of the Spirit as the wind; whose behaviour and direction are indeterminate. They are indeterminate and incomprehensible to those born of the flesh because they do not follow the order of the earthly or fleshly mindset. Just as the wind is unpredictable, the ways of those of the Spirit are incomprehensible to those of the flesh.
Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?
Nicodemus, despite being the teacher of Israel, could not comprehend Jesus’s teachings even though He spoke plainly ( we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony). By these words, Jesus describes the dilapidated state of the Jews; their hardness of heart, their moral condition no longer permit them to perceive the truth. Here, we observe the distinction between fleshly knowledge and spiritual wisdom. One could possess much knowledge but devoid of wisdom and conviction concerning the ways of God.
No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.
Jesus points out the revelations of the Spirit are of heavenly origin. And His teachings concerning spiritual things are true because He came from heaven. And if the law that came from Moses demanded serious attention, how much more should the revelation of Jesus (who descended from heaven) warrant utmost regard and obedience. There were subject matter specialists in every category of science, music or culture. These claim to be authorities in their respective fields because of their heritage and expertise. However, as Jesus’s heritage is of heaven, thus, He is certainly qualified to speak on heavenly matters.
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
Jesus skillfully demonstrates the concept of faith by utilizing the Old Testament incident in the desert where the people were dying from snake bites. Despite God’s grace and forbearance, the people complained about the food that God provided and accused Him of bringing them into the desert to destroy them. God caused snakes to come out of the ground (as snakes are common in the desert places) to discipline them. The people having realised their sin said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord.” Then, God provided a way of salvation: They only had to lift up their eyes to look at the bronze snake in obedience and they were healed. This is faith: to recognise one’s own deprivation, and turn to Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus, in recalling the Old Testament incident alludes to the precarious situation the Jews are facing. And they should seize the opportunity to repent when the Son of Man is lifted up on the cross.
Before the new can come, the old must go
To enter God’s kingdom one must first put to death his ego, ambition, his perculiar personality and characteristics. He has to let go of everything he holds dear including his possessions and relationships. Spiritual rebirth requires the believer to rebuild his life on the new foundation of Jesus Christ. For life in the Spirit is diametrically opposed to life in the flesh. The death of everything albeit painful is necessary in the process of rebirth. Without which, man remains outside God’s kingdom no matter how hard he tries to get in.
It is regrettable that many, despite being baptised cannot experience the gifts of God’s kingdom. Although, they immerse themselves into the Christian culture of prayer, bible study and tithing, they still could not experience what is promised. The reason being: they are reluctant to go through the full dying and rebirthing process; they were half-hearted while holding onto their toys, entertainment, gold, their old attitudes and desires. Until a man lets go of the old, the new will not come. Paul said,
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
Although Christ empowers the believer in this rebirthing process, the believer still has to make that choice. A believer, in the process of renewal and sanctification has to lay aside his old self daily which is corrupted with the lust of deceit (see Ephesians 4:23). Nevertheless, it is mind boggling that people choose to retain the broken and rotten parts of themselves preferring to pass up on a new and glorious existence.
The life of one born in the Spirit will be incomprehensible to the world.
Jesus said one born in the Spirit will be like that of the wind, indeterminate and incomprehensible in the eyes of the world. Rightly so because he moves by heavenly wisdom which even the believer himself may not fully grasp. The life of one born of the flesh is logical as it appeals to earthly wisdom that is easily within reach. Man’s natural instinct is to understand everything in order to control their circumstances. However, that would also mean shutting out divine wisdom that is able to prosper him exceedingly. Divine wisdom makes judgment calls based on future events, not the present, and on resources and technologies not yet available. On the other hand, earthly and fleshly wisdom make decisions based on what his current understanding permits.
Another reason why the people of the world seek heavenly wisdom but cannot acquire it is because their hearts are fixated on earthly things. For example, the world cannot understand why some people would adopt children with special needs when they had healthy children of their own. Or live among the poor devoting their most productive years serving those forgotten by society. Put in a nutshell, the values and the things that hold most dear to one born of the Spirit is radically different to that of one born in the flesh. One born of the flesh ultimately puts his own interest above others. But one born in the Spirit does all things according to love and truth. Jesus displayed heavenly wisdom and virtues by putting the needs of others before His own to the extent of being unjustly executed as a criminal.
The acquisition of divine wisdom is more a moral and spiritual process than an intellectual one.
Jesus, in saying, “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” professes Nicodemus’s inability to acquire spiritual wisdom from what is ordinarily a birthing process. Indeed, this physical world, which is temporal is meant to educate us concerning the spiritual world, which is eternal. The earthly order of things should lend understanding to the divine order. The beauty of this world should inspire understanding of the beauty of the spiritual world. The riches and glamour of this world should help us understand the riches and glory of the eternal world. The brightness and energy of the sun should give us insights to the eternal glory and power of God. However, most could not transcend, being constrained by their fleshly mindset.
When one is born into the physical world, he lives under the constrains of the physical order. If he desires to enter the spiritual world of God’s kingdom, he has to die and lose everything in this physical world before being rebirthed into the spiritual world. Obviously, Nicodemus did not employ this spiritual processes (of understanding scripture) in his journey and growth in divine wisdom. This is the problem with Christendom today; many do not open their hearts to allow the Spirit to speak to them through the bible. Their minds are constantly working to understand the literal and theological aspects of the word that appeals to their intellect. The bible is meant to address man’s heart and his attitudes towards God and life in general. Scripture may speak initially to the mind, but ultimately the heart must receive the truth which transforms his behaviour.
1. We must learn to perceive our circumstances through divine wisdom, not natural wisdom. When we encounter problems that are bigger than our natural abilities and resources, our soul wells up with fear and anxieties. During such times, the Spirit imparts much needed grace through God’s word. The Spirit gives clarity of thought, hope and assurance that breakthrough is near. Thus, we must tear ourselves from our earthly instincts and set our minds on the Spirit. While man’s fleshly instincts are deathly, the Spirit’s instincts are full of life and peace. Paul said,
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6
Take a deep breath and be still, knowing that God is in control of all things and He has plans to turn things around for you. A calming wind of the Spirit will flow over you and reveal to you the way that you should go.
2. We must be focused and patient in the process of transformation and sanctification. As the values of the Spirit are radically different from the common values of society, we must be focused and yet be patient with ourselves. Pick one virtue a month and work on it. Hold yourself accountable to mature Christians so that they could encourage you. Some virtues of the Spirit are listed below:
a. Your life purpose is no longer to live for your own benefit but for the benefit of others. How does this virtue affect your church life, family life and work life?
b. Your attitude is humble and open in receiving feedbacks and admonishment. Pride and emotions of inferiority have no place in your life as your destiny is to attain the likeness of Christ. Express your willingness in receiving encouragement and admonishment from those you trust.
c. Your desire is to love God and to worship Him supremely. Identify hindrances like busyness, worry, bitterness that kept you from your time of worship. Set aside time daily to read the Word and to connect with God in worship.
d. Learn to appreciate weakness and your strengths. Identify your strengths and use them to serve the community. At the same time, when you identify and remove the weakness in your character, your true design that is found in Christ will emerge. By loving yourself and your distinctive qualities, you can begin to discover God’s calling and purpose for your life.
Dear Lord, help me to be more in tune with your thoughts and your power. I desire to take on your perspectives and to move in the way Jesus moved. As I am rebirthed in your Spirit, cause me to become the face of Jesus to the world. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.