‘How can these things be?’

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ – John 3:17

‘How can these things be?’

Next week I have been asked to read at a Taize service at church as part of Holy Week. I thought, in order to portray the reading in a way that is understandable, I would look into the meaning of it in more detail.

The passage is John 3.1-17. This rang a bell for me as it contains one of the most famously quotes verses in the Bible:

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ – John 3:16

This quote is not only a reflection of God’s love for humanity, or agape, but the sacrifice He made of His only Son in order for us to have eternal life with Him.

As this verse is quoted so often as a stand alone one, I admit that I didn’t know the context of it in the Bible. Hopefully this analysis will make it clearer for you.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3 Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’

The whole passage is a conversation between Nicodemus (a pharisee, a teacher of Israel, and a ruler of the Jews), and Jesus. Their meeting was ‘at night’ shortly after Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple. Nicodemus’ visit as an important official was noteworthy as Jesus had made few friends among the leaders of Jerusalem. It is thought that Nicodemus came because he saw the miracles that Jesus performed and wanted to find out more.

4 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’

Nicodemus is still not convinced. He keeps on questioning Jesus and seeking an answer, whether it be God or not. He knows that a man cannot literally be born a second time, and by asking these questions he is hinting at a reply from Jesus at what these strange impossible miracles can mean:

9 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’

10 Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Jesus is quick to address the type of questions Nicodemus is asking. He says that by questioning these earthly things, how is he going to believe anything he says about heavenly things? He goes on to tell Nicodemus that He, Christ, is the only one who can teach about things concerning heaven, as He is the only person to have descended from it. All of us have not been there yet and our ascension is yet to come, so how can we teach about heaven?

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Luther calls this ‘the Bible in miniature’. It is the message behind the whole Gospel: love, sacrifice and eternity.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

It is through Christ alone that we are saved. We will be judged, but if we make Him our focus, we will be ‘saved through him’.

***

I will be back on Monday with my 40 day Lent series… Holy Week here we come!

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