Theology

Born From Above

Christian believers use a lot of terms and expressions foreign to nonbelievers. Even many who attend church regularly don't know the meaning of some of these terms.

A common one is born again. Believers will ask people, "Are you born again?" as if the person would know what they're talking about. Sometimes believers approach a person and tell them, "You need to be born again!" But unless it's explained, the term doesn't mean much to them.

Nicodemus, a Jewish leader well-trained in the Scriptures, discreetly approached Jesus one night. Jesus knew what he was seeking and told Nicodemus of his need to be born again to see or enter the Kingdom of God.

But Nicodemus didn't understand what Jesus meant. What Nicodemus heard was that he needed to be born from above—this is the literal meaning of the term born again. But he still didn't understand what Jesus meant.

Scripture

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish council. He came to Jesus one night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that God has sent you as a teacher. No one can perform the miracles you perform unless God is with him.”

Jesus replied to Nicodemus, “I can guarantee this truth: No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemus asked him, “How can anyone be born when he’s an old man? He can’t go back inside his mother a second time to be born, can he?” [vss 1-4]

Jesus answered Nicodemus, “I can guarantee this truth: No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Flesh and blood give birth to flesh and blood, but the Spirit gives birth to things that are spiritual.

Don’t be surprised when I tell you that all of you must be born from above. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where the wind comes from or where it’s going. That’s the way it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” [vss 5-8]

Nicodemus replied, “How can that be?” Jesus told Nicodemus, “You’re a well-known teacher of Israel. Can’t you understand this?

I can guarantee this truth: We know what we’re talking about, and we confirm what we’ve seen. Yet, you don’t accept our message. If you don’t believe me when I tell you about things on earth, how will you believe me when I tell you about things in heaven? [vss 9-12]

(John 3:1-12 GW)

 

Key phrase—

Don’t be surprised when I tell you that all of you must be born from above

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • Who approaches Jesus and when does this happen? How does their discussion start?

  • What does Jesus tell this man? What is this man's response?

  • How does Jesus answer this man's question? What specific things does Jesus tell him?

  • Do you think this man understood Jesus? Do you think Jesus explained Himself clearly?

Reflection...

Many English translations of the Bible use the term born again instead of the literal expression—born from above. This distinction is important! This birth "from above" is spiritual and different than natural birth (John 1:12-13) and tied to having a relationship with God.

When Jesus tells Nicodemus he can't see or enter the Kingdom of God without this new birth "from above" it didn't make sense to him. As a Jewish man descended from Abraham, Nicodemus assumed it was his right and privilege to be included in God's kingdom.

This is one reason Jesus tried to explain to Nicodemus that to be included in God's kingdom required a change—a change of nature. No one inherits this privilege and it can't be earned with good deeds or good morals—a spiritual rebirth from God must take place.

Much of what Jesus says to Nicodemus is in figurative language but it's not obscure or too hard to understand. Jesus is speaking of a spiritual process or work that God does in us. The Spirit of God is likened to the wind—we can't see Him but we can see and experience the effect or work of the Spirit of God in our lives.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Why do you think Nicodemus doesn't understand what Jesus tells him?

  • Do you understand what Jesus said and meant?

  • Have you experienced this birth "from above"? If not, would you like to?

  • If you understand what Jesus meant, how would you share this with a nonbeliever in your own words (IYOW)?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— What Jesus told Nicodemus about being "born from above" is true for anyone. It is a spiritual work of God in a person. It is a personal and experiential rebirth that takes place when God's Spirit regenerates a person's inner spirit—their spiritual heart.

Prayer Focus— If you have not experienced being "born from above," simply ask God for it. It does require a willingness of heart and faith, that is, trust in Jesus—God's Son. It is a relationship that is spiritual in nature and needs to be nurtured by God's Spirit and truth.

If you have received this new birth, ask God to help you see how to grow in your relationship with Him. He will guide you by His Spirit in you and through His written word—the Bible.

©2018—Word-Strong

Trouble at the Temple

Under the Mosaic Law even when Jesus walked the earth, Jewish men were expected to attend three feasts celebrated at the temple in Jerusalem—the Feasts of Passover (and Unleavened Bread), Pentecost (or Weeks), and Tabernacles (or Booths).

These were important as memorials of God's faithfulness to His people at pivotal points in their history. They were also events that held greater meaning and significance for the future of those who trust in the God of Israel—the Living God.

As with many events and miraculous signs in John's gospel, this event at the end of Chapter 2 was illustrative of the Lord's ministry on earth with eternal impact and significance.

At each of these feasts, stalls were set up to sell animals suitable for required offerings and sacrifices. The vendors and their patrons made a profit on these sales. Not only was Jesus physically protesting their manipulative marketing He was making a statement of immediate and future importance.

Scripture

The Jewish Passover was near, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. He found those who were selling cattle, sheep, and pigeons in the temple courtyard. He also found moneychangers sitting there. He made a whip from small ropes and threw everyone with their sheep and cattle out of the temple courtyard. He dumped the moneychangers’ coins and knocked over their tables.

He told those who sold pigeons, “Pick up this stuff, and get it out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that Scripture said, “Devotion for your house will consume me.” [vss 13-17]

The Jews reacted by asking Jesus, “What miracle can you show us to justify what you’re doing?” Jesus replied, “Tear down this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days.” The Jews said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple. Do you really think you’re going to rebuild it in three days?”

But the temple Jesus spoke about was his own body. After he came back to life, his disciples remembered that he had said this. So they believed the Scripture and this statement that Jesus had made.

While Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover festival, many people believed in him because they saw the miracles that he performed. Jesus, however, was wary of these believers. He understood people and didn’t need anyone to tell him about human nature. He knew what people were really like. [vss 18-25]

(John 2:13-25 GW)

 

Key phrase—

"Tear down this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days"

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What event did Jesus attend and where was it taking place?

  • How is what takes place in the Temple described and how does Jesus react to this?

  • Does Jesus explain why He reacts this way? Who questions Jesus about His actions?

  • What is Jesus' response to those who question Him? Is Jesus speaking of the same Temple as those who challenge Him?

Reflection...

This account of Jesus upending tables and clearing the Temple area took place at the beginning of His earthly ministry. He did this a second time right before He was arrested and sentenced to be crucified (Mark 11:15-19). Jesus turning over tables can also be an illustration of what God does in our life when our priorities need adjusting.

This first incidence of temple-clearing takes place for two important reasons. First, to establish the God's original intent for the temple to be a place of prayer and worship. The second reason is expressed in Jesus' response to the Jewish authorities who challenged Him.

As with so much of religion, the Jewish leaders saw the temple itself as sacred and more important than its intended purpose. Jesus was pointing to the resurrection of His physical body—"this temple"—when He spoke of "rebuilding" what they tore down at His crucifixion.

This event is an illustration of the simplicity of God's truth and its depth. Too often both are missed because we can't see past the immediate and obvious. The Jewish leaders had that problem but the disciples—the followers of Jesus—didn't. Why? They learned to trust in Jesus with childlike faith—a personal commitment and trust in Him.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Are you surprised by what Jesus does in the Temple? Does this seem out of character for Jesus or what you would expect of Him?

  • Why do you think Jesus didn't explain what He meant to the people in the Temple?

  • Do you understand what Jesus was referring to about rebuilding the Temple in 3 days?

  • Why would Jesus be wary of those who believed because of the miracles He did?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— The Jewish leaders saw the temple itself as sacred and forgot God's intended purpose for it. Jesus came to restore God's priorities and provide reconciliation for all humanity. What Jesus would "rebuild" was much greater than a physical building.

Prayer Focus— If you're going through a time where things seem turned upside down, ask God to show you what His priorities are for your life—ask Him to do whatever rebuilding is needed in your life.

©2018—Word-Strong

Water Into Wine

People throughout the world are intrigued by illusions, magic tricks, and sleight-of-hand artists. It's not just because they're clever and entertaining but something inside us wants to see something supernatural.

When Jesus did miracles in the Bible, they weren't illusions or magic nor were they for entertainment. His miracles were bonafide supernatural events with a purpose.

They affirmed the supernatural and divine nature of Jesus as God's Son (John 1:1, 14) and as the Savior of the world (John 3:16). Jesus' miracles also confirmed His message and mission.

Each of the miracles in the gospel of John is a sign in the truest sense. They illustrate some element of the Lord's purpose for coming on earth as the Son of God.

Scripture

Three days later a wedding took place in the city of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples had been invited too.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They’re out of wine.” Jesus said to her, “Why did you come to me? My time has not yet come.” [vss 1-4]

His mother told the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Six stone water jars were there. They were used for Jewish purification rituals. Each jar held 18 to 27 gallons.

Jesus told the servers, “Fill the jars with water.” The servers filled the jars to the brim. Jesus said to them, “Pour some, and take it to the person in charge.” The servers did as they were told. [vss 5-8]

The person in charge tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it had come from, although the servers who had poured the water knew. The person in charge called the groom and said to him, “Everyone serves the best wine first. When people are drunk, the host serves cheap wine. But you have saved the best wine for now.”

Cana in Galilee was the place where Jesus began to perform miracles. He made his glory public there, and his disciples believed in him. [vss 9-11]

(John 2:1-11 GW) [Context– John 2]

Key phrase—

He made his glory public there, and his disciples believed in him

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What stands out to you about this story? Are you able to imagine how it all took place?

  • What does Jesus' mother say to Jesus? Why do you think she would say this to Him?

  • Does Jesus' response to His mother seem rude or unrelated to what she says to Him?

  • Can you imagine the surprise of the servers who brought the water converted to wine the man in charge? What do you think your reaction would be?

Reflection...

This miraculous sign of the water turned into wine comes early in Jesus' time on earth and is never repeated. It is prophetic. It looks ahead to the purpose of the Lord's death on the cross. This is indicated by His response to His mother, "My time has not yet come."

But why did Jesus change the water into wine? Was He approving of and promoting drunkenness? Of course not! The purpose is revealed in the story.

Jesus had the servers at the wedding fill up jars used for Jewish purification rituals—a ceremonial washing of hands. After the jars were filled to the brim, the water was changed into wine and brought to whom we would call the master of ceremonies.

This man reveals the water the servers filled the jars with was transformed into wine. This first miracle in John's gospel revealed the Lord's glory and revealed who He was and His mission—the Messiah, the Savior of the world. 

The Law of Moses provided a limited means of forgiveness and reconciliation that needed to be repeated each year. Jesus' death and resurrection—called atonement—provided a permanent means of forgiveness and reconciliation between God and those who trust in Him (Heb 7:19; 9:9-12).

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Do you still wonder why this miracle is included in the gospel of John?

  • Can you see the redemptive illustration and insight of this miracle?

  • Do you find it difficult to understand what is figurative and what is literal in the Bible?

  • How is this miracle or story relevant in a practical way for you today?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— The miracle in this story declares how the internal work of the Lord's redemption through His blood shed on the cross far exceeds any external religious efforts of humanity.

Prayer Focus— Ask the Lord for further insight into how His redemptive work frees you from any religious effort on your part to gain His favor and love.

©2018—Word-Strong

When God Became Human

Generally, we all tend to not believe in what we can't see. Of course, this carries over to believing in God and the miraculous. Many will say it's not logical or rational to do so. And yet, we believe many things exist that are invisible to the naked eye and miraculous in nature—thoughts, atoms, and even feelings of love.

The reason it's not logical to believe in God is that it doesn't fit what we know in the natural world. This is our human dilemma. God is supernatural—He's above and beyond the natural realm. He will never fit within our limited logic. God's existence exceeds our capacity to know Him in a purely natural way.

The Word of God

The opening verses of the Gospel of John are important and significant to me. Though I believed in the existence of God from my youth, I had a nebulous, vague sense of God.

Throughout my teen and college years, I wandered in the darkness of my ignorance and whatever the world around me had to offer. I write about this in more detail in my book, but the short of it is—I was lost in my own darkness.