John 2.23 – 3.12
23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. 24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. 25 No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.
3.1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”
I back tracked a bit to include the last few verses of ch. 2 because they make an essential point I don’t want us to miss. The people described in 2.23-24 are people who trusted (remember our theme – pisteuo/believed in) Jesus. Nicodemus may been among them because he was a leader of the Pharisees and also expresses a measure of trust in Jesus. Probably no less than the people did – seeing as how Jesus did not reciprocate their trust. John likely had in mind here the Ebionites he was writing to counter, as this describes them quite well – people who trusted Jesus to a point, who accepted him as Messiah – so long as they got to dictate the terms of what that meant.
Except Jesus tells Nicodemus this is precisely what his followers can’t do. Their partial trust in Jesus – trust on their own terms – won’t do (partly because trust on your own terms is really just trust in yourself). To see the kingdom, to follow Jesus, requires a change so radical it can only be described as being born all over again, this time from above, that is, by the Holy Spirit. Things pertaining to the flesh have only to do with the flesh. They have nothing to do with the Spirit (in that they cannot control the Spirit). Jesus did not trust his partial followers. This stands as an indictment on them, the Ebionites John was dealing with, and us with our own Ebionite tendencies.
Believing that Jesus came from God is not enough. Believing in miracles – then and/or now – is not enough. What is enough? Nothing less than trusting Jesus – trusting him as the Son of God with a vision for the kingdom of God, a radically different kingdom that tests that trust as followers participate in bringing it about.
Americans are accustomed to having things on our own terms. American Christians are no different – even in our relations with our Christ. The American church in all its forms – liberal, conservative, emergent, evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal, what have you – has modeled Jesus after our own image and reduced his way of salvation (the way of the kingdom) to our own self-affirmation. We are Americans first and Christians second. We have a hard time distinguishing the difference between the kingdom of God and the American project. We’re not sure if they are different and even if they are, which one might be better. We are probably more Ebionite than the Ebionites ever were.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.