John 3:9
Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
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(9) How can these things be?—The answer to the previous question has spoken of a spiritual birth and a spiritual life and a spiritual kingdom, but all this is in a region of which the Rabbinic schools knew nothing. They were the authorised exponents of Law and Prophets; they knew the precise number of words, and the shape of letters; the form of a phylactery, and the width of a fringe; the tithing of garden herbs, and the manner of washing the hands: but spirit, life, a man’s soul born again!—“how can these things be?”

John 3:9-10. Nicodemus answered, How can these things be? — Christ’s explication of the doctrine of regeneration, and its necessity, made it no clearer to him. The corruption of nature, which renders it necessary, and the operation of the Spirit, which renders it practicable, were as great mysteries to him as the thing itself. And though he had acknowledged Christ to be a divine teacher, he was unwilling to receive his doctrine when it did not agree with his preconceived notions. Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man, and he is not only estranged from them, but prejudiced against them. Jesus said, Art thou a master Ο διδασκαλος, a teacher, or rather, the teacher, of Israel, as Dr. Campbell renders the expression; observing, “The article here is remarkable; the more so, because there does not appear to be a single Greek copy which omits it. As a member of the sanhedrim, Nicodemus had a superintendency in what concerned religious instruction, and might on that account have been called a teacher of Israel; but it is probably in order to intimate to us his distinguished fame for abilities in this respect, that he is styled by way of eminence, the teacher.” And knowest thou not these things — When so much is everywhere said in the Scriptures of God’s circumcising men’s hearts, creating in them clean hearts, renewing in them right spirits, and of the quickening and purifying operations of his Spirit on their souls? See Deuteronomy 30:6; Psalm 51:10; Jeremiah 4:4; and Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27. “Could it be proved.” says Dr. Doddridge, “that the Jewish rabbis, so early as Christ’s time, called a baptized person one born again, or born of water, that would strongly illustrate the passage before us.” But though several learned commentators give the words this turn, the fact, he thinks, is not proved. “However, it is strange to me,” says he, “that any should doubt whether proselytes were admitted into the Jewish church by baptism, that is, by washing, when it is plain from express passages in the Jewish law that no Jew who had lived like a Gentile for one single day could be restored to the communion of their church without it. Compare Numbers 19:19-20; and many other precepts relating to ceremonial pollutions, by which the Jews were rendered incapable of appearing before God in the tabernacle or temple till they were washed, either by bathing or sprinkling.” It is probable, however, that the reproof conveyed in this verse does not so much relate to the forementioned figures of speech, supposed to be in use among the rabbis, representing the baptism of proselytes as a new birth; as to Nicodemus’s being so entirely unacquainted with the doctrine of the Old Testament, respecting the necessity of a change of heart being experienced by all who would be the true people and spiritual worshippers of God; and respecting that effusion of the Spirit which the prophets had so clearly foretold would take place under the Messiah.

3:1-8 Nicodemus was afraid, or ashamed to be seen with Christ, therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion, there are many Nicodemites. But though he came by night, Jesus bid him welcome, and hereby taught us to encourage good beginnings, although weak. And though now he came by night, yet afterward he owned Christ publicly. He did not talk with Christ about state affairs, though he was a ruler, but about the concerns of his own soul and its salvation, and went at once to them. Our Saviour spoke of the necessity and nature of regeneration or the new birth, and at once directed Nicodemus to the source of holiness of the heart. Birth is the beginning of life; to be born again, is to begin to live anew, as those who have lived much amiss, or to little purpose. We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. By our first birth we were corrupt, shapen in sin; therefore we must be made new creatures. No stronger expression could have been chosen to signify a great and most remarkable change of state and character. We must be entirely different from what we were before, as that which begins to be at any time, is not, and cannot be the same with that which was before. This new birth is from heaven, ch. 1:13, and its tendency is to heaven. It is a great change made in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us, which we cannot do for ourselves. Something is wrong, whereby such a life begins as shall last for ever. We cannot otherwise expect any benefit by Christ; it is necessary to our happiness here and hereafter. What Christ speak, Nicodemus misunderstood, as if there had been no other way of regenerating and new-moulding an immortal soul, than by new-framing the body. But he acknowledged his ignorance, which shows a desire to be better informed. It is then further explained by the Lord Jesus. He shows the Author of this blessed change. It is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power of the blessed Spirit. We are shapen in iniquity, which makes it necessary that our nature be changed. We are not to marvel at this; for, when we consider the holiness of God, the depravity of our nature, and the happiness set before us, we shall not think it strange that so much stress is laid upon this. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is compared to water. It is also probable that Christ had reference to the ordinance of baptism. Not that all those, and those only, that are baptized, are saved; but without that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by baptism, none shall be subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The same word signifies both the wind and the Spirit. The wind bloweth where it listeth for us; God directs it. The Spirit sends his influences where, and when, on whom, and in what measure and degree, he pleases. Though the causes are hidden, the effects are plain, when the soul is brought to mourn for sin, and to breathe after Christ. Christ's stating of the doctrine and the necessity of regeneration, it should seem, made it not clearer to Nicodemus. Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man. Many think that cannot be proved, which they cannot believe. Christ's discourse of gospel truths, ver. 11-13, shows the folly of those who make these things strange unto them; and it recommends us to search them out. Jesus Christ is every way able to reveal the will of God to us; for he came down from heaven, and yet is in heaven. We have here a notice of Christ's two distinct natures in one person, so that while he is the Son of man, yet he is in heaven. God is the HE THAT IS, and heaven is the dwelling-place of his holiness. The knowledge of this must be from above, and can be received by faith alone. Jesus Christ came to save us by healing us, as the children of Israel, stung with fiery serpents, were cured and lived by looking up to the brazen serpent, Nu 21:6-9. In this observe the deadly and destructive nature of sin. Ask awakened consciences, ask damned sinners, they will tell you, that how charming soever the allurements of sin may be, at the last it bites like a serpent. See the powerful remedy against this fatal malady. Christ is plainly set forth to us in the gospel. He whom we offended is our Peace, and the way of applying for a cure is by believing. If any so far slight either their disease by sin, or the method of cure by Christ, as not to receive Christ upon his own terms, their ruin is upon their own heads. He has said, Look and be saved, look and live; lift up the eyes of your faith to Christ crucified. And until we have grace to do this, we shall not be cured, but still are wounded with the stings of Satan, and in a dying state. Jesus Christ came to save us by pardoning us, that we might not die by the sentence of the law. Here is gospel, good news indeed. Here is God's love in giving his Son for the world. God so loved the world; so really, so richly. Behold and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! Here, also, is the great gospel duty, to believe in Jesus Christ. God having given him to be our Prophet, Priest, and King, we must give up ourselves to be ruled, and taught, and saved by him. And here is the great gospel benefit, that whoever believes in Christ, shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and so saving it. It could not be saved, but through him; there is no salvation in any other. From all this is shown the happiness of true believers; he that believeth in Christ is not condemned. Though he has been a great sinner, yet he is not dealt with according to what his sins deserve. How great is the sin of unbelievers! God sent One to save us, that was dearest to himself; and shall he not be dearest to us? How great is the misery of unbelievers! they are condemned already; which speaks a certain condemnation; a present condemnation. The wrath of God now fastens upon them; and their own hearts condemn them. There is also a condemnation grounded on their former guilt; they are open to the law for all their sins; because they are not by faith interested in the gospel pardon. Unbelief is a sin against the remedy. It springs from the enmity of the heart of man to God, from love of sin in some form. Read also the doom of those that would not know Christ. Sinful works are works of darkness. The wicked world keep as far from this light as they can, lest their deeds should be reproved. Christ is hated, because sin is loved. If they had not hated saving knowledge, they would not sit down contentedly in condemning ignorance. On the other hand, renewed hearts bid this light welcome. A good man acts truly and sincerely in all he does. He desires to know what the will of God is, and to do it, though against his own worldly interest. A change in his whole character and conduct has taken place. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, and is become the commanding principle of his actions. So long as he continues under a load of unforgiven guilt, there can be little else than slavish fear of God; but when his doubts are done away, when he sees the righteous ground whereon this forgiveness is built, he rests on it as his own, and is united to God by unfeigned love. Our works are good when the will of God is the rule of them, and the glory of God the end of them; when they are done in his strength, and for his sake; to him, and not to men. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a subject to which the world is very averse; it is, however, the grand concern, in comparison with which every thing else is but trifling. What does it signify though we have food to eat in plenty, and variety of raiment to put on, if we are not born again? if after a few mornings and evenings spent in unthinking mirth, carnal pleasure, and riot, we die in our sins, and lie down in sorrow? What does it signify though we are well able to act our parts in life, in every other respect, if at last we hear from the Supreme Judge, Depart from me, I know you not, ye workers of iniquity?How can these things be? - Nicodemus was still unwilling to admit the doctrine unless he understood it; and we have here an instance of a man of rank stumbling at one of the plainest doctrines of religion, and unwilling to admit a truth because he could not understand "how" it could be, when he daily admitted the truth of facts in other things which he could as little comprehend. And we may learn:

1. that people will often admit facts on other subjects, and be greatly perplexed by similar facts in religion.

2. that no small part of people's difficulties are because they cannot understand how or why a thing is.

3. that people of rank and learning are as likely to be perplexed by these things as those in the obscurest and humblest walks of life.

4. that this is one reason why such men, particularly, so often reject the truths of the gospel.

5. that this is a very unwise treatment of truth, and a way which they do not apply to other things.

If the wind cools and refreshes me in summer if it prostrates the oak or lashes the sea into foam - if it destroys my house or my grain, it matters little how it does this; and so of the Spirit. If it renews my heart, humbles my pride, subdues my sin, and comforts my soul, it is a matter of little importance how it does all this. Sufficient for me is it to know that it is done, and to taste the blessings which flow from the renewing. and sanctifying grace of God.

9, 10. How, &c.—Though the subject still confounds Nicodemus, the necessity and possibility of the new birth is no longer the point with him, but the nature of it and how it is brought about [Luthardt]. "From this moment Nicodemus says nothing more, but has sunk unto a disciple who has found his true teacher. Therefore the Saviour now graciously advances in His communications of truth, and once more solemnly brings to the mind of this teacher in Israel, now become a learner, his own not guiltless ignorance, that He may then proceed to utter, out of the fulness of His divine knowledge, such farther testimonies both of earthly and heavenly things as his docile scholar may to his own profit receive" [Stier]. Nicodemus had before spoken as if he thought it a thing impossible, understanding our Saviour of a carnal generation, which he knew could not be repeated: perceiving that he spake of a spiritual birth, he is now posed at the mystery of it; it being a thing the doctrine of which he had not been acquainted with. His carnal stupidity hindered his understanding the first lesson of Christianity, though explained by the Sun of righteousness; and his pride hindered him from confessing his ignorance; he rather judges the doctrine to be absurd and impossible. The like darkness is in every unrenewed mind; regeneration being like that new name, which none understand but those that have it.

Nicodemus answered and said unto him,.... Remaining still as ignorant as ever, though Christ had explained the phrase "born again", at which he stumbled, by a being "born of water and of the Spirit", or of the grace of the Spirit of God; and had illustrated this by the free, powerful, and invisible blowing of the wind:

how can these things be? The Arabic version reads, "how can this be?" referring either to the last thing said, that a man's being born of the Spirit, is like the blowing of the wind; or to the explanation of the first expression, that a man should be born of water, and of the Spirit; or to the first assertion itself, that a man should be born again; which notwithstanding the explanation and illustration, seemed as impossible, and as impracticable as ever; or rather to them all, and so the Persic version reads, "how can all these things be?"

{3} Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

(3) The secret mystery of our regeneration which cannot be comprehended by man's capacity, is perceived by faith, and that in Christ only, because he is both God on earth, and man in heaven, that is to say, man in such a way that he is God also, and therefore almighty: and God in such a way that he is man also, and therefore his power is made manifest to us.

John 3:9-10. The entire nature of this birth from above (ταῦτα) is still a puzzle to Nicodemus as regarded its possibility (the emphasis being on δύναται); and we can easily understand how it should be so to a learned Pharisee bound to the mere form and letter. He asks the question in this state of ignorance (haesitantis est, Grotius), not in pride (Olshausen). Still, as one acquainted with the Scriptures, he might and ought to have recognised the possibility; for the power of the divine Spirit, the need of renewal in heart and mind, and the fact that this renewal is a divine work, are often mentioned in the O. T. Jesus therefore might well ask in wonder: Art thou the teacher, etc.? The article ὁ διδάσκ. and the τοῦ Ἰσρ. following designate the man not merely in an official capacity (Ewald), which would not mark him out individually from others, but as the well-known and acknowledged teacher of the people. See Bernhardy, p. 315; Winer, p. 110 [E. T. p. 143]. Hengstenberg puts it too strongly: “the concrete embodiment of the ideal teacher of Israel;” comp. Godet. But Nicodemus must have held a position of influence as a teacher quite inconsistent with this proved ignorance; there is in the article a touch of irony, as in the question a certain degree of indignation (Nägelsbach on the Iliad, ed. 3, p. 424).

John 3:9. This explanation did not satisfy Nicodemus. He falls back upon his bewilderment, πῶς δύναται ταῦτα γενέσθαι; This question stirs Jesus to a fuller explanation, which is reported in John 3:10-15.

9. How can these things be?] He is bewildered; there is no appearing not to understand, as in John 3:4. ‘Be,’ come to pass (see on John 1:6).

Verse 9. - Nicodemus answered and said to him, How can these things come to pass? He takes the position now of a learner, and does not by his query repudiate regeneration as absolutely impossible, but he asks the questions "why" and "how." He may reveal his continued ignorance of the subject matter, but he is willing to be taught. The idea we form of our Lord's reply is regulated by the strict meaning we assign to the question - (πῶς;) "how?" (cf. Romans 2:19, 29, and note on ver. 12). John 3:9These things

Such as the new birth.

Be (γενέσθαι)

Literally, come to pass.

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