Tag: Christianity

Don’t get this whole “born again” business? (John 3:1-21)

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Nicodemus came to talk to Jesus at night.

FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONE AND ONLY SON, THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT PERISH BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE. – John 3:16

I always wondered if Jesus was really tired that night and just wanted to be in bed, but then Nicodemus showed up and so instead he had to stay up half the night trying to pound some serious theology into N’s thick skull, and then say the most famous verse in the Bible while he was at it.

I am way behind in my Bible studies and prayer time and feeling it. Over tired, run down, depressed, overwhelmed by all that’s happening in the world as well as my own little corner of it. My ability to cope is directly correspondent to how closely I am walking with God. I am nothing without my prayer time (my alone time with God), and without studying His Word. So back to it! Anyway I’ve read quite a ways past this chapter but keep coming back and re-reading it. “YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN.” Something is nagging at me. Something needs to be dragged out into the daylight and analyzed.

Nicodemus was a big shot. A Pharisee, and a member of the ruling council. He met with Jesus at nighttime. Why nighttime? Maybe just because the crowds would have gone home and he could have a peaceful chat. Maybe he was afraid of being seen by his peers. Maybe he was busy all day and the night was the only free time he had. We aren’t told, but I wonder.

It sounds like he’s just trying to lay the groundwork for the conversation he wants to have with Jesus when he says, “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.” (v. 2). I wonder what he’s tiptoeing around. Trying to get Jesus to confess whether or not he is the Messiah? Maybe. If Nicodemus had ever read the book of Daniel (chapter 9) and done the math, he would have known that it was just about the time that the Messiah was supposed to show up. 

There’s a lot of room for pure speculation here. Maybe Jesus didn’t look the way Nicodemus thought the Messiah ought to look. Maybe Jesus’ Galilean country accent and working-class family was off-putting to someone raised in elite society. Maybe Nicodemus expected a bold warrior like David. Maybe he thought when the Messiah came there would be no question who he was. And this modest man from Galilee, walking around like a beggar with his ragtag band of misfit disciples, didn’t fit that picture at all. But the Bible doesn’t give us Nicodemus’ inner thoughts so we can only guess. 

But then Jesus takes the conversation in a whole different direction. He starts talking about our need to be born again. This blindsides Nicodemus, who doesn’t have a clue what Jesus is talking about.

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 

“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!” 

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (v. 3-6)

There is a lot more in this passage that needs to be read, but for now I am thinking about what it means to be “born again.” As Christians we’ve heard it so many times we forget its powerful meaning. My NIV notes say that the Greek for that phrase can also mean “born from above.” There is so much in Jesus’ words and I can’t quite get my head around it. “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.”

My little nephew, if he heard that, would cock his head to one side, curl his upper lip up just a bit and say “HUH?” I think most people in my own society would say that, and we are considered a “Christian” nation. For people in different cultures, especially those ones that actively discourage Christianity, it must be completely baffling. It is a topic of upmost importance and I don’t want to blow off the significance of this passage without digging more deeply into the whys and hows of being born again in Christ. My next few entries are going to do just that, starting at the beginning. 

…Apple, anyone?

STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT EXCITING CHAPTER! or, HOW DID THIS PLANET GET INTO THE BIG STINKING MESS THAT IT’S IN?

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved . . . For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  – Romans 10:9-13

Jesus more than a Prophet

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I saw this in my local cemetery, at the grave of a very young man who died shortly after becoming a police officer.  My dad, an excellent man, was a policeman and I support our police wholeheartedly. Most are decent men and women who work hard to keep us safe in an increasingly dangerous world. God bless them.

John 1:14-15 – The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John [the Baptizer] testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me, because he was before me.”

Verse 17 – For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

Verses 19 through 28 are about the priests questioning John about who he is. They may have been wondering if he was the promised Messiah. He confessed to the freely that he was not the Christ. 

They then ask him if he is Elijah, and he says he is not. According to scripture, the prophet Elijah never died, but was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11).  They may have believed Elijah would therefore come back one day. (Like King Arthur returning to Britain at her hour of greatest need? I have no idea.)

Then they ask him if he is the Prophet. Who is the Prophet? My NIV text notes point me to Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18:18, which say: The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him (v. 15). I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him (v. 18).  My NIV notes on Deuteronomy say that these passages are a collective reference to all the prophets who will follow after Moses. What the Jewish people of Jesus’ day thought The Prophet meant, I don’t know.

Then John says this: “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:26-27)

There is probably a lot of deep thought and theology here that I’m not grasping, but one thing leaps out at me as loud as can be. Although he prophesied, Jesus is NOT a prophet in the same way as the line of prophets from Moses to John. John is saying just how unlike Jesus he really is. He’s not even worthy to tie Jesus’s shoes.

The next verse makes this even more clear: The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Verse 29).  I’ve read the entire Old Testament and no mere prophet was ever called the Lamb of God, or considered able to take away any sins, let alone the sins of the whole world.

So the first part of this chapter emphasizes that Jesus is God. Jesus is Creator. Jesus is Light. Jesus is Life. This second part, where we first see Jesus walking around as a human, we see him from another angle. Human and divine. 

Invaded! By God Himself!

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He leads me beside restful waters; he restores my soul. – Psalm 23:2-3

John 1:1-4 and 14

In the beginning was the Word,
   And the Word was with God,
      And the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

Through Him all things were made;
   without him nothing was made that
      has been made.

In Him was life, and that life
   was the light of men.

… The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.
We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only,
Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I think these are some of the most beautiful words in all of scripture. They are poetic, almost musical, but more importantly they state beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus is in fact God Almighty. 

If any Jehovah’s Witnesses ever see this, please test me on this: if you go to any Greek lexicon you will see that there is no article “a” in John 1:1.  It does NOT say “and the Word was a god.”  That would be blasphemy, anyway, for in Isaiah the Lord says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.” (Isaiah 45:5)  If Jesus was just “a” god, then there would be multiple gods and the Lord would have made himself a liar. I hope my Mormon friends might pay attention to this as well, for they believe the universe is filled with countless gods who rule their own planets. In that sense they are the most polytheistic religion in the world.

I think why not just JWs and Mormons but so many people stumble over this, is because our little minds just can’t or won’t accept the concept of an almighty, eternal God who would set aside his glory and enter into his own creation as one of us. The Muslims find it offensive. God, be a man? Suffer the indignity of being born a baby, having your diaper changed, having to eat and sleep and go to the bathroom? It is an indignity, no doubt. Nabeel Qureshi believed that becoming a man was more humiliating for Christ than what he endured on the cross. Perhaps; I’m not sure. But it was certainly humiliating for the God of eternal Glory to become like one of us.  Why did he do it?

For love.  

To do something for us we could never, ever do for ourselves. 

There is so much more in these first 14 verses — telling us how John came to testify about Jesus; How Jesus came to his own people yet [for the most part] they did not receive him; But how through Jesus all people can become children of God.

John is establishing here the tone for the rest of his book. He wants us to first understand that we are not talking about a mere man, or prophet, or great teacher. We are about to hear the story of God himself and what he did when he invaded this enemy territory.

Almighty, Eternal God!

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The Gospel of John, 1:1-13

The very first thing John is trying to get across is the fact that Jesus is God. He doesn’t start off by saying “Once there was a prophet,” or “Jesus was a brilliant thinker,” or even “Jesus was a very good man; a holy man.”  What he said was:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

So right off the bat John tells us that:

  • Jesus has ALWAYS been with God
  • Jesus IS God
  • Jesus CREATED everything
  • Jesus is LIFE and that life is our light

This is absolutely astounding to contemplate. That God is the creator of all the universe. A vastness too great for even the most brilliant human mind to fully grasp, was created by the mind and will of the living God and he holds it all in the palm of his hand. That Jesus IS God, and the humble Jewish carpenter who knew what it was to be tired and hungry and abused, is the one who made us all. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. No wonder the Bible says that

…every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and beneath the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  – Philippians 2:10-11

It’s why I could never become a follower of Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, Hinduism, or any other religion. Their gods are too small. What their versions of eternity are, are pathetic. Correct me if I’m wrong, but here’s what I know about some of these religions:

• Mormons think God used to be a man but worked his way up until he got to rule his own planet, and he is just one god among many. They think that Jesus is just one of the many spirit-children of this little planetary god. He didn’t save us from all our sins, we still have to rely on works, the cross definitely isn’t the center of history (ever seen a cross in a Mormon church?), and except for the few lucky men who get to be gods themselves the best we can hope for in eternity is one of three levels of country club pleasantness. As far as I understand it, the lucky women who get to attend to the planetary gods spend all eternity as breeding machines.

• Jehovah’s Witnesses think that Jesus is an angel, a created being. His death on the cross wasn’t sufficient to atone for all our sins and restore us into right relationship with God. We have to go house to house and whatever to earn points. From what I’ve read in the Watchtower magazines that JWs have left with me, the best we can hope for in eternity is some kind of Ozzie and Harriet suburbia. Nice house, nice job, nice life.

• Islam sees Jesus as a prophet. Not God. He didn’t die on the cross, he didn’t save us from our sins, and he can’t hold a candle to their prophet. Islam is totally works based; your good deeds need to outweigh your bad deeds, and on the last day Allah can send you to hell, anyway, if he wants. He can also cover up some sins and multiply good deeds if he wishes, but we have no assurance of his love or salvation. Heaven is a sensual paradise for men and the best women can hope for is to be good servants of their husbands. 

• I don’t really understand Hinduism but it does seem to revolve around multiple reincarnations until we finally get it right and then achieve whatever their idea of heaven is. Being one with everything and everything in us? It sounds like a total loss of identity to me. 

• Atheists claim they don’t believe in God or any kind of afterlife, but I have to wonder why they spend so much time thinking about a God they don’t believe in and why they’re usually so angry about it.

Now I know I’ve oversimplified these theologies and I’m scarcely an expert in Christianity, let alone any other religion. But what I do know is that they all are totally stifling in the end. I don’t want a nice little life. I don’t want to indulge in sensual pleasures forever. I don’t want to be pumping out babies forever. I would soon rage and rail against all of these things. I would be screaming for escape from these different versions of Hell.

I want unbridled JOY. I want to know the unsurpassable ecstasy of being in the very presence of the Almighty, Eternal, One True Living God of the universe. The God who created me and loved me so much he became human like me, paid the penalty for my sins, rescued me from death and hell, and fixed the relationship that I broke by rebelling against him. I want to be with Jesus, my creator and my redeemer. I want to worship him, adore him, love him, enjoy him, have fun with him, get lost in him. 

If you’ve ever been head over heels in love, I think that is just a tiny taste, a shadow, of the great Love we were all meant for.

The gods of these religions are too small, too dull, too petty. I want the real thing.

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…for, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  – Romans 10:9-13