In general people today have the wrong idea about the man Jesus Christ. They imagine him as being handsome and having a charismatic personality, a persuasive public speaker and a leader of men. He was none of that. Jesus was poor, a thing that was considered at the time to be a curse from God, a punishment brought upon lazy and morally deficient people. Jesus was not a persuasive public speaker. Most of the time even his closest disciples had no idea what he was talking about. Then as now those that are the accepted leaders of religion are those that have formally studied and have been “ordained” by the established theological leaders. Jesus, on the other hand, had no formal theological education. Even the people from Jesus’ very small home town had no clue concerning his qualifications as a teacher of Scripture. Every single outward appearance indicated that Jesus was nothing more than a typical person of the very poor working class. Do you know what the most popular female name was in Jesus’ day? It was Mary and that name means bitter, because their lives were so oppressed.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (NIV84)
This Scripture above is a prophecy concerning Jesus Christ. Read it carefully.
Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (NIV84)
Jesus had no house and no money. In worldly terms there was nothing that would induce anyone to follow him.
Nicodemus, a devout Jew, a faithful member of the synagogue, a man respected by everyone, was puzzled concerning Jesus. Then, as now, people considered the poor as people being punished by God for their lack of refinement. Nicodemus was refined; he was wealthy, he was a devout believer in Judaism, he considered himself as being in the very heart of the will of God. Then along comes this poor person, a person who had no formal religious education whatsoever, who came from the back-woods of the nation, as it were, but was performing miracles and signs and wonders, so clearly God was with him. What I mean is that to Nicodemus he was doing everything right and yet this Jesus fellow was the one who God was working through. How was that possible? Nicodemus, in his heart, wanted to know what was going on so he came to Jesus and asked him.
Before we look into Nicodemus’ questions I want to say something very important about asking Jesus questions. It is always perfectly acceptable to ask Jesus why on anything, provided you ask in faith. Asking a question in faith means that you truly ask a question, expecting that you will receive an answer. All of the other questions asked of Jesus by the leaders of Israel were not asked in faith. They all asked Jesus whatever hoping to trip him up or hoping to prove him wrong. Most people do not ask biblical questions in faith, but Nicodemus did, and so Jesus answered his questions. Whether or not Nicodemus understood the answers at the time is unimportant. The important thing was that he had questions, and he come to Jesus to ask them. He truly wanted to understand. This is a huge thing.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (NIV84)
I used to think that Jesus spoke in riddles so that only the devout and persistent (who would study the riddles) would eventually come to understand what Jesus said, but now I understand that the Bible’s words are spiritual, which makes them somewhat foreign to us. Spiritual things are not directly comparable to things of the natural world. Take for example the concepts of life and death. In the natural world we can identify most things as being either alive or dead by their metabolic processes, but spiritually speaking metabolic processes don’t exist. For example, you can’t check a heartbeat or pupil dilation on an angel because they don’t have natural physical bodies. Angels are eternal beings and not made out of energy in any form that we know or understand. Angels are beings from an alternate universe, as it were; heaven, to put a name to it. My point is that spiritual things cannot just be explained. They need to be seen in our hearts through pondering. I can say life and death, but how does that relate to beings that are not physical? It does relate, but we must read the Scriptures and let the understanding come to us.
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (KJV 1900)
The Bible says that in the day that man eats from the forbidden tree he will surely die, and yet Adam lived for some 900 years after he ate from it—what gives?. When you read the account of the fall of man in Genesis chapter three you can see that something happened, but what? The Bible said that immediate death would result, and so we must accept that death did in fact happen to them. So, if they died and yet lived, then the death spoken of must have been spiritual death and not physical death. This interesting thought is the beginning of understanding.
One of the reasons that the Bible seems so enigmatic is that it is speaking of spiritual things while we are trying to understand what it is saying in natural physical terms. If you want to understand the Bible you must, and I totally mean must, understand that you and I and every human person are in truth spirit beings, created in the image and likeness of God himself, but that we currently live in animal bodies. We are not animals. We are spirit beings. We are spirit beings that God put inside of animal bodies, while we live in the natural world. God has a plan and that is part of the plan. You are an eternal spirit being, made in God’s image and likeness that is temporarily in an animal body. It is so important that you fully understand this. Nothing in the Bible will ever make sense to you unless you begin your understanding from this fundamental truth. You are a spirit being.
Now, Jesus fully understood this truth and so every word that he spoke was spoken from that perspective. When Jesus speaks of being born again he is speaking of something spiritual, but Nicodemus was trying to understand his words literally and so they were confusing to him.
“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (NIV84)
You can easily see Nicodemus’ confusion and understand that he was trying to understand Jesus’ words literally. The problem here for Nicodemus was that he had his perspective totally upside down. He, like almost everyone else, viewed the physical as being more important than the spiritual. Jesus was speaking from the understanding that the spirit matters and the natural world does not. Relatively speaking, natural death is completely unimportant, and spiritual death is critically important. Everything natural is temporary and everything spiritual is eternal. What is more important: a week in a prison cell or forever in a prison cell? If you want to understand the Bible you must understand where it is coming from, that is, philosophically. The Bible is concerned with your eternal spirit nature and not your temporary physical nature. Nicodemus was trying to see spiritual things through physical understanding, and that is just not possible.
The whole physical universe is only a metaphor for the vastly more important spiritual reality. We must interpret the spiritual truths displayed through the natural world with the light given us from the Bible, not the other way around. The spirit is what’s important, relatively speaking. People who are focused on the things of the natural world are lost and fundamentally blind to the spirit, that is, to God and what God deems as important. The physical universe was created by God for a specific purpose and we must live with the understanding of that purpose lest we find that the true reality is as confusing to us as it was to Nicodemus.
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (NIV84)
In this passage Jesus is answering Nicodemus’ question concerning the mechanics of being born again. Jesus is telling him that the natural body gives birth to natural bodies, but that the spirit can be brought from death to life through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Please understand that Jesus is speaking with spiritual words, that is, metaphors and such, that point to spiritual truth, and the meaning of which must be understood in the light of all biblical understanding.
Water is frequently used as a metaphor for a human population, that is, physical human persons. Jesus is saying that a person cannot enter the kingdom of God unless they have been first born as a human animal person, but then they must also be born (again) by the Holy Spirit of God in their spirit person, that is, within their heart (which is another symbolic word). Jesus is also pointing out that God’s motivations cannot be understood by looking at the natural world. God does what he does for his own reasons and we must accept the Bible explanations for those reasons. The reasons cannot be determined through examination of the natural universe.
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. 10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know [the we being God], and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. [one must accept the Bible’s testimony because God knows] 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (NIV84)
Again, Nicodemus is confused because he is trying to understand things from a worldly perspective. Jesus then tells him that he (Nicodemus) must accept Jesus’ explanation because it comes from God himself. Jesus and the Bible reveal things to those who will listen, things that are impossible to understand any other way. The natural world is only a metaphor for spiritual heaven, and must be understood in the light of spiritual truth. Jesus goes on to inform Nicodemus of the only way a person can understand and that is through accepting the Bible’s truth as having come from God. If God tells you something then believe it. If God tells you something then ponder it until you do understand it.
Remember that events in the natural world are only metaphors for spiritual truth, and Jesus is reminding Nicodemus of the story in the Bible of Moses and the lifted-up snake [Numbers 21:8-9]. In the story, because of sin, venomous snakes were killing the people and Moses held up a long pole with a snake image on it and if anyone looked up at the snake they would be saved from death. That event in the desert was a shadow of the real saving event that would occur when Jesus (the Son of Man) is hung on the cross. Anyone who looks to Jesus as having died for their sins will themselves be saved from eternal death. This is all spiritual. The cross does not save us from physical death, but rather eternal spiritual death. In Moses’ day the people had to look up to the snake, in faith, to be saved, just like today. Faith in Jesus’ sacrifice can save today, just as it saved those long ago.
In the above Scripture Jesus is pointing out to Nicodemus that the reason for the miracles and signs and wonders was to point out to everyone that Jesus was the one sent from heaven, the one who would be speaking the words that must be accepted. A person must accept the Bible because it is the revelation that came down from above. The Bible is what sheds light on the world and not the other way around. One cannot understand the Bible with worldly understanding. It must be accepted. It is the Bible that can shed light on the world. These words that I am writing now are so very important. The Bible is the source of wisdom and true understanding. That is its purpose. The Bible and Jesus Christ are one and the same in this respect. One cannot overstate the importance of Jesus Christ, or the Bible, either are more important than the entire universe.
When I say that the Bible must be accepted I am not talking about blind faith. I don’t believe in blind faith. Faith that is blind is not faith.
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (NIV84)
I have faith in Jesus Christ so I totally believe that Jesus knows what he is talking about even if I don’t, myself, understand what he means. I believe that his words are right and true and so I expend great energy trying to understand his words for myself. When I do understand them then they become my words. When I do understand them they become my absolute faith. This is not blind faith because I can see what I believe in. First I see Jesus the Christ and then I see the meaning of the Scriptures. I hope that you understand the difference between what people call blind faith and true faith. If you don’t KNOW Jesus Christ then you cannot have faith in him, and if you don’t know the meaning of a Scripture then it does not increase your faith. Faith is knowing.
Now, Jesus and the Bible tell us that we must be born-again—it’s a must. Jesus told Nicodemus that being born-again is connected to Jesus’ death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection. How does this work? (Another good question.)
Remember that Adam and Eve died in the Garden of Eden when they took and ate from the forbidden tree, well what was this death that the Bible speaks about? Again, remember that the physical world is only a metaphor for the spiritual reality. We cannot apply physical truth to the Bible without biblical understanding. When an animal dies they are dead and gone forever, and they can’t do anything at all when they are dead. Dead physical things return to the soil from which they were made—end of story. But obviously things don’t work that way with the spirit. Life and death of the spirit being has to do with their connection with God. Beings that exist in God are alive, and those that cannot exist in God are said to be dead. God is like the blood in your body that flows invisibly supplying everything you need. God is like the water in the ocean that the sea creatures live in. God is like the physical universe that supplies what our bodies need to keep living. To be alive we must be in him, and he must be in us. God is life. There is nothing alive, either spiritual or natural, that does not have at least a spark of God within them. God may be with us, but for us to be spiritually alive, he must be in us.
It is interesting that with respect to human terms a male must enter a woman and deposit a seed for a birth to take place. This too is a metaphor for our born-again rebirth. Spiritually the male depicted God must enter into our separated (dead) spirit and deposit a spiritual seed, which can then grow into a living connection to God. The seed that God plants in us is the spiritual Word of God. When by faith we receive into our hearts the Word of God concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection, that seed takes root and grows into the born-again experience. The part of your soul that died in the Garden of Eden, because of broken faith, is restored with a new seed of faith that comes to us through the Word of God. It only takes the seed of faith to restore the living relationship between a person and God. Once the seed is in place it can grow and grow into a mature relationship between the person and God.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (NIV84)
This profound mystery that Paul refers to in this passage is the spiritual meaning of marriage. God (the bridegroom) proposes to a person (the bride) and because God is faithful and because the bride has faith in God’s faithfulness, accepts the proposal thus forming a death-do-us-part spiritual bond of faith between the two parties. In a biblical marriage a virgin woman has been living in the loving home of her mother and father when she accepts a marriage proposal from a virgin man. This proposal was made to her because the man believes in her, that is, he believes that she will be faithful to the union for so long has she lives, and the woman also gives up the security of her parents’ home and agrees to live with her new husband because she too has faith in her husband. This union between a man and a woman is a union of faith that is made before witnesses and shall exist so long as both parties live. This holy union of faith is almost exactly like the union between God and a believer.
But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (NIV84)
This confession and faith that Paul refers to above concerns our union with Jesus Christ and is exactly like the vows made in a marriage ceremony. In a marriage the man and the woman make a confession of faith before witnesses, and because of their faith in one another the union is a holy union. When a person understands the meaning of the cross and resurrection they have a basis for faith in Jesus Christ as Bridegroom and they the bride. When a person puts their faith in the lifelong union with God they become married to God, as is were. This is of course a metaphor, but represents a binding union of faith between the two parties.
As in a human marriage where a woman gains all that was her husband’s alone, so too in our union with God, through baptism, we become partakers of all that belongs to God. When a woman leaves the security of her parents’ home and enters into marriage she cannot go back unless her husband dies, and so too he who accepts God’s proposal abandons the world and becomes one with God forever, as God can never die.
We must take care not to read too much into the rebirth metaphor. When a human is conceived and born they start out, more or less, totally clean, but this is not the case with a rebirth. What I mean is that when a person accepts the Word of God and becomes born-again, because of their faith, they do not receive a new, undamaged, mind and heart. The born-again aspect refers only to our reconnection to God and not the complete removal of every scar within our brains or within our spiritual hearts. After we become born again we still have the same erroneous and sometimes self-destructive thoughts that we had before. The damage done to our self-image still exists. What I mean, is that if we had self-destructive thought patterns before our rebirth, they may still exist after. The rebirth of our soul is only the beginning of things and is not the end. After rebirth we have God within us as a Counselor and advisor. We must then listen to him as we read the Scriptures, and we must make ourselves grow through obedience, to what we see in the Scriptures. We must stop doing the destructive things that we did before and start doing the things that we know we should do. As we do this we will come to understand the lies that we were taught concerning ourselves and we can then grow into the person that God always wanted us to become.
Before rebirth we were, more or less, on our own; but after we can put our faith in God and trust him to watch over us. I don’t want to make this sound like it’s easy or fast. Frequently it takes a lot of time to grow. Before we were ruled by fear, but after by faith. Again, one is not born-again and then instantly becomes an obedient faith being. Fear is still there plaguing us.
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (NIV84)
You must make yourself grow. It takes courage. It takes courage because your greatest foe is fear. You must move through fear to get to your goal of obedience. Part of the born-again experience is to die to the world and live in God. Dying to the world means putting obedience to God above your own self. You do the right thing even if it brings you harm or weakens your sense of safety. Dying physically is less important than doing the right thing.
The fact that we have the same old brain and the same old heart is confusing to us, and to the world. The world sometimes sees professing Christians doing things that they should not be doing and so they feel righteous contempt for the hypocritical Christians, not understanding the process that must take place. I am not making an excuse for Christians who sin. I am just explaining what’s going on. Nor am I suggesting that everyone, or even most, of the people who claim to be true Christians, are in fact true Christians. I do know that those that are in fact true Christians have a connection to God, and through that connection they can hear in their innermost hearts, the soft and gentle voice of God. Those that are truly connected to God are living and all living things grow.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (NIV84)
One thing that all Christians have in common is that they all are growing in their understanding of spiritual things. Every Christian is born-again, and so they have an inner connection to God. There is not one true Christian that is not born-again, because it is the inner connection to God that makes a person a little-Christ, that is, a Christian.