The Gospels: John 3: An Odyssey of Faith
The Christian life is more than a simple path. It involves crises, transitions and surprises as well as victories and growth. Sometimes this never-ending odyssey with our Savior into eternal joy is a pleasant cruise, and sometimes it is a wild ride.
A new start for every person
Jesus taught that every person must have a fresh beginning. In John 3:3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Nicodemus would hardly have been surprised at the idea that there would be a resurrection at the end of the age — many Jews already held that idea.
Jesus was talking about something more surprising — a new birth or a new start that enables a person to “enter the kingdom of God” (verse 5) in this age. He told the Pharisees, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31). Even in this age, people are entering the kingdom of God, and they do it by accepting the good news that God offers his blessings on the basis of grace rather than law. But it takes a new start in life to experience the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus knew Jesus’ statement could not be taken literally. “How can a man be born when he is old?… Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (verse 4).
So Jesus said it again, adding some words of explanation: “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” (verse 6).
For physical life, a person needs a physical birth. For spiritual life, a person needs a spiritual birth. Nicodemus, and Judaism in general, focused on the physical. They were concerned about purity laws, time and place, rules and rituals. Although they knew that God was Spirit, they expected his kingdom to be a physical kingdom like the kingdoms of this world, with geographic territory, agriculture and the enforcement of laws.
So Jesus chided Nicodemus for not understanding (verses 7, 10). The Pharisees (just like the Samaritans — see John 4:2124) were too concerned with physical aspects of worship. Jesus is saying that there is more to the kingdom of God than having better crops, tame animals and people keeping rules and rituals. God is concerned with the spirit of a person, a transformation of the spirit, and that requires a new start in life.
Spirit, like wind, cannot be seen, but its results can be seen (verse 8). The Spirit changes people, and the change, although sometimes frustratingly slow, is evidence that the Spirit is working. We all need that kind of new start in life. As John 3 explains, it requires that we believe in Jesus, and trust that he gives us eternal life. When we put our faith in him, we are “born of the Spirit” — a new life has begun.
Believe in the Son
Jesus’ death atoned for everyone on earth (1 John 2:2), but only those who believe can experience the kind of life that characterizes the age to come. That is why Jesus came: God loved the world so much that he gave up his only Son, “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (verse 16).
God does not want to condemn us (verse 17). If we believe in Christ, we are saved; if we do not, we remain in condemnation, because our sins condemn us, and we have not accepted the only rescue that God offers (verse 18). The atoning sacrifice has already been given, but the benefits are not forced on people who don’t want them.
The new life in Christ is a wonderful, yet sometimes frightening journey — an odyssey of faith filled with many ups and downs — always strengthened by the confidence that Jesus is with us, and that he will help us weather all the storms.
Author: Joseph Tkach