This weekend, through the kindness of one of our church members, I was able to attend the Psalm 119 Conference which was hosted at a nearby church. One of the speakers, Denny Burk Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, spoke on the importance of the new birth from the text we’d expect him to use, Jesus’ interchange with Nicodemus from John 3.
I’ve heard this text taught and explained, in fact, I’ve taught and explained it myself, but never quite like Burk did. Why? Because I have always started with John 3:1 – “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus…” There is no “therefore”, “for”, or “if then” to point you back to the previous chapter for crucial context, but, as Burk demonstrated, that does not mean crucial context is not there. The last three verses in John 2 help draw out and emphasize Jesus’ teaching on the need to born again in chapter 3.
We read in 2:23 that “many people believed in [Jesus’] name when they saw the signs that he was doing.” That’s nothing new, right? There are other verses like that in the Gospels. What comes next, however, sets up chapter 3. John tells us that “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them.” Why did Jesus not entrust himself to these people? Verse 25 tells us – “he himself knew what was in man.”
Jesus did not accept the belief of these people as true belief because he knew what was in their hearts and it was not genuine. John says they “believed”, but based on Jesus’ refusal to entrust himself to them, we must conclude that this was not saving faith.
Enter John 3 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3). The people who believed in John had not been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their “belief” was about the signs, not about Jesus… because they were not given a new beginning.
At the realization that John 2:23-25 are in the context of John 3, we should pray more for the lost. Not a weak “Lord, help them believe” prayer, but rather a “Lord, make them new” prayer. These verses reinforce the truth that God must change a person or they cannot believe on Christ for salvation. So Church, let us strengthen our prayers for those who need salvation, that God would create life where there is only death. Only God can do this, so let us plead for them.