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Posts Tagged ‘John’

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

Many Christians have heard the story of the Pharisee coming at night to Jesus.  Jesus famously told Nicodemus that he must be born again, to the befuddlement of that teacher of Israel.  A bit later in the chapter sits the most famous verse in Scripture: John 3:16.  In between is this little verse – not its own statement, but part of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus – a verse that gets little attention and less interpretation.  I used it after high school when people asked what I was going to do with my life; I didn’t really mean it in self-righteousness, but as a joke.  Still, I’ve wondered whether Jesus didn’t intend to warn us against lives that are too stable and predictable…  (Maybe He was warning us life isn’t stable and predictable!) 

You know the other thing that really gets me?  When someone in the Bible says that if only we had enough faith or understanding, we’d get what they’re saying – and I can’t make heads or tails of it.  I want to stand in self-righteous judgment over the blind first-century fools, benefiting from 2,000 years of Christian enlightenment, but I can’t.  Verses 10 and 12 are such a rebuke.  How am I going to understand heavenly things – I can’t even imagine what that would be – if I’m not getting this talk about wind and the Spirit? 

I believe that same Spirit indwells me, that I have been born again, and that this Spirit is guiding me into all truth.  And not me by myself, but the Church which the Spirit unites and employs.  A group of friends, a small section of the Church of our God, came together and looked into this verse – and not to be arbitrary.  Some core beliefs are either implied or contradicted by how one interprets this passage.  For example, if I don’t understand what Jesus is saying, does it mean I am not “born of the Spirit”? 

So we began to study.  I looked at the context.  Since verse and chapter numbers were added in the two millennia since John was written and are not part of the inspired flow of the narrative, this is usually a good idea.  First I expanded my reading to John 3:1-12.  But something stood out to me in verse 2 that drew me back into the preceding chapter.  John 3:2 says, “The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, ‘Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.’”  Jesus’ reply is the key that more was being said by Nicodemus than we think.  How on earth does “ye must be born again” follow a confession that Jesus comes from God? 

John is a unique gospel, everyone will admit.  It is the story of Jesus’ life that is not synoptic.  Not only focusing much more on the hard sayings of Jesus; it has an entirely different perspective.  Michael Card, in his book Parable of Joy, makes the case that whereas the other gospel writers quoted from the Law and the Prophets, John had a habit of quoting the books of poetry from the Old Testament, books some Jews in Jesus’ day discounted.  Jesus is presented as the manifestation of Paul’s words, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.

The Jews desire a sign.  John shows how early in Jesus’ public ministry, He turned water into wine.  But He did it quietly, almost reluctantly, unwilling to encourage the people’s enthusiasm for “signs.”  Afterward, Jesus goes to celebrate Passover at Jerusalem, and begins to seriously affront the Jewish establishment.  People might just be willing to accept this revolutionary, too, on conditions.  John 2:18 reports, “Then answered the Jews and said unto Him, ‘What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?’”  His reply in verse 19 was rather disappointing and non-immediate.  All the same, some did believe on Him that week, “when they saw the miracles which He did.” 

God gave signs for a reason: to point to something else, to call us to response.  The miracles aren’t the point in themselves, nor do they lend authority to teachings.  Rather, miracles accompany God-given authority.  Jesus had the authority to control all created things, and demonstrated it.  Knowing all men, Jesus declined to “commit Himself unto them,” despite their eagerness for Him as their miracle-worker. 

Some men spent so much time watching signs and figuring them out, that they were more like observers of life.  This man does what’s right, so he’s in the good category.  This man does what’s wrong, so he’s in the wicked category.  Do you know any information that would help us figure that fellow out?  Or that passage or prophecy?  They sort of preside over life as judges, not caring about men or God.  Proud to have discerned anything, they rush around discussing it.  I admit I’m tempted to do the same.  Nicodemus seems to be one of these men, a strong contrast to the Lord who “knew all men.” (John 2:24)

Our Bible study’s investigation had led us through a few commentaries and memories of sermons on the passage, all of which seemed to turn the verse around or omit words and phrases.  But one Bible study help proved immensely useful.  A friend of mine checked the cross-references in his margin, which led him to Ecclesiastes, one of those Wisdom Books John was so fond of. 

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.”  – Ecclesiastes 11:5

Here is where I began to feel like jumping up and down.  We have the theme of birth, of the spirit, and of the wind, all of which are found in John 3.  Nicodemus, as a teacher of Israel, ought to have seen the reference Jesus was so clearly making.  Scholars call this an intertextualization.  By quoting a portion of a passage, a good communicator is referring to that entire passage, giving context and color to his point.  Jesus had referred to all these themes, trying to make a point (with faceted meaning along the way).  What Jesus did not directly mention is the second half of Ecclesiastes 11:5.  If Nicodemus had been paying attention to this Teacher from God, he would have finished the thought in his mind, and gotten the hint. 

You, Nicodemus, do not know the way of the spirit.  You don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.  Out of your own mouth you admit that you do not understand birth or the spirit.  You, Nicodemus, do not know the works of God like you say that you do. 

No, Nicodemus was like the man in Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.”  There are some things, Ecclesiastes 11:3 teaches, that you cannot control (rain, trees falling one way or another, wind, new life).  But you can watch them happen.  You can even predict them when you see the signs.  If you spend all your time watching, you will forget to do something meaningful.  When harvest comes you will reap nothing. 

Back to John 3.  Verse 3, Jesus emphasizes two things.  First, He says that an event is required, a personal transforming event.  Knowledge isn’t enough.  Second, Nicodemus does not have knowledge.  He cannot see the Kingdom of God, only the works.  The Pharisee has stumbled, desiring a sign, but is facing “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 

Verse 8.  Don’t just watch the wind (Ecc. 11:4); be the wind.  Be born of the Spirit. 

Then the crux.  If you follow only what you can figure out for yourself, unwilling to believe the testimony of God about Himself, you will not see the Kingdom of God.  You are not born again of the Spirit.  Heavenly things will not be more real to you than what you see.  Faith is essential.  Whoever believes – not in signs or miracles or wisdom – in Him, the only begotten Son, has eternal life. 

Get up from your wind-watching.  Plant the seeds whose fruit you don’t know.  (Ecc. 11:6)  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I am fascinated having read chapter 197 of Godcast.  In it Dan Betzer makes a point from silence (not the best foundation for doctrine, but making for an interesting story).  Where the Bible is silent, we see a point being made.  Michael Card writes that when John is silent on events of Jesus’ life that the other gospel-recorders included, we should pay special attention.  John was substituting something else, a living parable.  In John 8 as John records Jesus’ encounter with the convicted adulteress, it mentions Jesus silently stooping to the ground before requesting that those without sin cast the first stone against the sinful woman.  What impact in his silence! 

 

So this Assemblies of God pastor communicates the impact of the silence covering 33 years of Abraham’s life after Sarah’s death.  Though they had their rough patches, during Sarah’s life Abraham was the faith father, involved in all sorts of actions, journeys, acquisitions, encounters, prayers, promises, and fulfillments.  Immediately after her death Abraham sends the head of his household (not just any old servant) to great distances to find a wife for Isaac.  This was very important to Abraham.  Why?  Maybe because his wife was very important to him.  He wanted Isaac to be blessed by a woman whose worth was far above rubies. 

 

And after that, we have a paragraph recording the last fifth of Abraham’s long life.  He married again and had more children.  But as far as we know he was the spiritual giant during his marriage to Sarah.  I caution again putting too much credence in this narrative factor. 

 

Pastor Betzer titles this chapter “Do Women have a Place in Ministry?”  If you think about Sarah’s support of her husband as her place in ministry, or if you consider the impact that her presence had on her husband’s faith, you get a beautiful picture of what I believe is a woman’s place in ministry.  (Sarah is also held up as an example to other women, especially in the way she submitted to her own husband.  I believe that women have a more direct ministry to other women as “teachers of good things.” – Titus 2) 

 

I shouldn’t be surprised that the semi-charismatic denomination has produced a man who, rather than interpreting the significance of the Sarah factor in Abraham’s life in light of biblical directives to women to submit, nor to teach or have authority over men; takes this beautiful picture of helpers meet for their husbands and finishes with a praise of the female ‘ministers’ and ‘pastors’ who founded very large, spiritual and missions-minded churches.  These women, he says, have positively impacted him.  Though he often mentions his wife in other chapters, this author fails to mention here her help in his ministry, which would be a more honest and biblically sound application of the Sarah principle. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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So the Saturday before Easter, the Sabbath between Jesus’ death and resurrection, is one of the most fascinating periods in the Bible to me.  I wonder each year what Jesus’ disciples experienced.  Scattered, afraid, sad.  Peter denied him.  Judas committed suicide.  John was no doubt taking care of Mary.  But there were others: the rest of the twelve, the band of companions who had seen to the physical needs of the group, including women who saw Jesus crucified and made plans to go to His tomb on Sunday.  What did they all thing?  How did they cope?  Did they just sleep?  Were they self-centered, worried Judas would betray them next?  Did they think?  Did they think they’d been wrong, that Jesus wasn’t Messiah after all?  Did they remember what He said about dying and rising again?  Did they believe still that Jesus was the Messiah, but had been defeated? 

The last question is part of the subject of a little story I wrote several years ago, and which I published on When the Pen Flows in July: Nathanael’s Dark Night

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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