Word for the day by Christian Education Forum
Theological Education For the Confirmation of Faith
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? John 3:10
Although Nicodemus was a teacher of the Law and a member of the Sanhedrin council, he could not understand Jesus’ statement concerning the relationship between new birth and the Kingdom of God: “I tell you the truth unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). As a matter of fact, his answer revealed wonder and bewilderment: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?” (John 3:4). Jesus asked Nicodemus: “Are you the teacher of Israel?” Jesus addressing Nicodemus using a definite article (the teacher) points to his high distinction as a teacher of repute—“the well-known Rabbi”.
William Barclay opines that there are two kinds of misunderstandings. Some misunderstand because they have not yet reached a level of knowledge and experience that they can comprehend. There is also a misunderstanding among those who are not prepared to understand, and they fail to assess and accept the truth. There are numerous gadgets and search engines in this world that we use daily. We are unaware of how they work but our lack of understanding does not prevent us from using them and enjoying their benefits. Likewise, we may not be aware of the presence of the Spirit of God in our midst nor able to fathom how the Spirit works but the fact remains that the Spirit is a silent companion in our lives and we constantly experience its fruits.
The context of John 3:10–21 suggests that the truth about God’s purposes in Christ is perplexing and disturbing. Nicodemus finds this Good News confusing (John 3:10) because it demands that he let go of all that he has accomplished and understood — let go and become like a newborn, ready to receive the world on completely new terms. There is an ethical dimension to all authentic understanding. Some things are hard to grasp not because they are conceptually subtle, but because they ask so much of us. We don’t want to understand, because if we understand, we are implicated. Both formal and informal theological education will strengthen our faith if we are ready to pay the cost of Christian discipleship.
Just as the Israelites were paradoxically required to look upon the very thing that brought death to receive life, so we are asked to look upon Jesus’ “lifting up” in the humiliating crucifixion and receive it as part of God’s plan to glorify Jesus and save the world. What does it mean to “believe” this Good News that God seeks the world’s salvation in Jesus who is “lifted up”, and not condemnation (John 3:17)? We might say that it requires us to offer our intellectual assent to the proposition that all of this happened in just the way the story describes, and to accept that it means precisely what John claims that it means. To “believe” this Good News in a way that brings salvation requires more than “believing;” it requires “trusting.”
To “trust” in Jesus is not just believing in something that happened in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, but also letting our lives be transformed by the Jesus we encounter in this story. We must repent of the ways our self-satisfied religiosity becomes a barrier to comprehending the new things Jesus offers and asks of us. It also means confronting the inconvenient truth that God’s purposes are not synonymous with our common-sense values of happiness, health, and safety. The trial of faith that Jesus blazed reveals that, while there is nothing in this world worth killing for, there are things worth dying for. The “lifting up” of Jesus reminds us that the true life God has promised us is not the life that we can secure for ourselves through self-interest and caution.
Heavenly Father, Transform Our Lives as an instrument in your vineyard. O Lord, we repent that we have sinned in numerous ways but your everlasting love in Jesus Christ binds us with you over our sins. Help us O triune God to love you by obeying your word. In Jesus’ name, your humble people pray…Amen.
Rev Dr Mothy Varkey
Mar Thoma Theological Seminary,