THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE WIND
Has the wind ever caught your attention? Was it the sound of it, the suddenness of it, the power of it, the things being carried along by it, the refreshment it gave, or some other aspect that caused you to observe it’s workings and be fascinated by it? Were there times when it caused fear and apprehension because of its power and unpredictability. I have personally experienced a tornado and a typhoon. The memories of those two experiences are still fresh in my mind, and come back into focus whenever the wind gives me another reminder. In that little town in Iowa, no one could deny, the next morning, that there was a tornado in their town the night before. It took weeks to clean up the mess and months to repair the damages. On the island of Okinawa, Japan, no one could deny that a typhoon had struck the island. We heard the winds, saw the water from the ocean coming across the island, and witnessed the damage that occurred in its wake. Both experiences left unforgettable reminders on the landscape and in our minds.
The wind has often been the subject for poets, songwriters, movie producers, and photographers. The wind has been used to express feelings of exhilaration (“the wind in my sails”, “the wind at my back”), of frustration and hopelessness (“try and catch the wind’), of sudden and irreversible loss (“gone with the wind”), or the experience of being drunk and out-of-control (“three sheets to the wind”). In each case the wind is depicted as something that is outside our control and can have an effect upon us.
The Lord Jesus has been having a discussion with Nicodemus on the subject of being “born again” or “born from above”. Nicodemus is not getting the picture, and it is not an easy concept to grasp. So Jesus is about to give him an illustration that will use physical realities to help explain spiritual realities. That’s where we left off in the previous sermon (John 3:1-7). The Lord Jesus said to him in verse 7, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.”
I. THE ILLUSTRATION (verse 8)
The Lord Jesus and Nicodemus may have been sitting in the courtyard talking, and an evening breeze may have been blowing. This would make the illustration not only appropriate but timely. Jesus says to him in verse 8, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” He’s telling Nicodemus that being born again, “born of the Spirit”, is much like the wind. One cannot control it. Like the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, it is invisible but powerful. You can’t see it taking place but you can see and feel the effects and results. The Greek word that the apostle John uses for both “wind” and “Spirit” is the word pneuma. They are the same word and they work in the same way. But Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus in Hebrew (Aramaic), and the word He used was ruach, which also means both wind and Spirit. So there is nothing lost in translation!
II. THE REPLY (verse 9)
In reply to Jesus, Nicodemus says in verse 9, “How can these things be?” He’s giving Jesus an abbreviated version of what he said before. This time I think that Nicodemus is getting the message but he doesn’t want to put the pieces together. Because of Jesus’ response to follow, I think that Old Testament Scriptures dealing with this subject are popping into the mind of Nicodemus and he’s trying to set them aside rather than deal with them. Just as he is unwilling to admit that Jesus is the Messiah, addressing Him as a “Teacher from God”, so also he is not willing to consider those verses in his mind as being addressed to him personally and conclude that the Messiah is the One who is speaking to him right now. What are those verses that have come to his mind? For one, Ecclesiastes 11:5 says, “You do not know the path of the wind , , , so you don’t know the activity of God who makes all things.” It’s almost as if Jesus was quoting from this passage of Scripture – the words of Jesus and Solomon are so closely-related. Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” David expresses his need to become a new person with a new heart and spirit from God.
The words of the prophet Ezekiel should have immediately come to the mind of Nicodemus. God tells Ezekiel in Ezekiel 11:19, “And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them”. By using the word “them”, God is addressing, not only the nation of Israel, but also the individual members of that nation. Ezekiel 36:26-27 is probably the clearest Old Testament reference of them all. It says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.” This prophesy points out that before there can be a change on the outside, there must first be a new heart and spirit given by God to each person, and immediately the Spirit of God will indwell and empower His people.
When you’ve heard or seen something amazing or startling, have you ever used the phrase, “That really blew me away”? The Free Dictionary defines the phrase in these words: “to affect someone intensely in mind and emotion.” When I’ve used the phrase, it was my way of expressing a joyful amazement, a happy surprise and excitement about a new revelation. Why wasn’t Nicodemus “blown away” as a result of the things he just learned? Why isn’t he showing appreciation and asking questions, wanting to know more about Jesus and His teachings?
III. JESUS’ REACTION AND RESPONSE (verses 10-13)
In response to the “ignorance” of Nicodemus, Jesus chides him with these words: “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” Every teacher, every Jew was familiar with the words of Ezekiel 37: The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. Every Jew was looking forward to the fulfillment of that prophesy. The wind, the Word of God, the Spirit of God, rebirth, the breath of God, and the kingdom of God are all included in this passage of Scripture. “Ignorance was no excuse” for Nicodemus. To rephrase His words, Jesus is saying, “Nicodemus, how can you not know these things? There is no excuse!”
In verse 11, Jesus says “truly, truly, I say to you.” The King James version uses the original Greek words: “Amen, amen”. That’s what it says in the Greek text. He uses those words 25 times in John’s Gospel. When we say an oath in court, we say “I swear to God” or “as God is my witness”. By saying the words “Truly, truly, I say to you”, Jesus is swearing to them on His own authority. Only Jesus could use those words to attest to the truth of what He was saying. He didn’t have to swear to anyone higher than Himself because there was no one higher than Himself. Therefore, every time He used those words, He was declaring Himself to be God. The apostle John doesn’t tell us any reaction from Nicodemus when Jesus said those words.
I don’t mean to come down harshly on Nicodemus for his answers. I think he wants to know the truth, but he’s trying to get an explanation for things that can’t be understood completely. That’s why Jesus is using illustrations to give him a basis for comparison. If Nicodemus did not want to know the truth, he would have left in anger after Jesus’s first statement. The fact that Jesus is continuing to give illustrations says to me that He wants to continue to expose Nicodemus to truth for as long as he is willing to listen. The Holy Spirit will bring clarity and conviction in His time.
After swearing an oath to Nicodemus, Jesus says, “We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness.” Why does the Lord Jesus use plural pronouns and adjectives in this statement? Is He referring to the Trinity, He and John the Baptist, He and His disciples, He and other teachers, He and the prophets, or He and all those born of the Spirit? Is Jesus being rhetorical or generalizing? Could there be a reason other than these? That’s a lot to choose from! It’s hard to say for certain. Looking at the immediate context of His words, I personally think that Jesus is including Himself with the prophets who came before Him (including John the Baptist). My second opinion is that He might be including His disciples. Those are only opinions. In any case the focus of Jesus is on the rejection of the witnesses and their testimony (Himself included). We’ll find in verse 32 that the prophet John the Baptist echoes those words of Jesus when he says, “What He (Jesus) has seen and heard, of that He bears witness; and no man receives His witness.” He is identifying his witness with that of Jesus.
In verse 12 Jesus gets to the point behind His illustration. “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Jesus is not rebuking Nicodemus here; He’s proving His point. Jesus is saying, in essence,, “I’ve shared with you the illustration of the wind, which you can see, hear and feel, but can’t explain. If you have to accept the workings of the wind by faith, since you can’t explain its source or how it happens, but can experience the results, how much more is this true of spiritual realities. You also have to accept them by faith in the promises of God’s Word, and by faith in the Person who is explaining them to you.” I would also add the words, “Do you see what I’m saying? Is that making more sense to you”? Nicodemus knows that Jesus is being respectful, and is trying to help him realize the need for faith. There are many things in this world that we cannot understand, but we accept them by faith because we cannot deny the results.
Jesus concludes His illustration of the wind in verse 13 by saying,
“And no one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.” I wondered, “why does it say ascended into heaven first, and then descended from heaven? Didn’t Jesus “descend from heaven” first, at his conception and birth, then “ascend into heaven” later, after His death and resurrection. The literal Greek text will help us to understand the meaning. The translation of the Greek text word-by-word says: And no man has gone up into heaven except the (one) out of heaven having come down, the Son of man.” It is true that no man (no human soul) had yet gone to heaven. No human soul could go to heaven until the Lord Jesus satisfied the wrath of the Father by dying on the cross for sin, and then rising from the dead. The Scriptures speak of a place of waiting for the righteous, sometimes called “Abraham’s bosom. It was a place of contentment, but not yet the joy of being in the presence of God.
I also think that Jesus had another reason for saying those words in the order that He said them: “ascended . . . descended”. He’s referencing Proverbs 30:4, a proverb written by Agur, and one that, I’m sure, Nicodemus was familiar with. After saying those words, Agur gives an awesome illustration about God, His Son, and the wind. He says, “Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know!
“Gathered the wind in His fists” – that description really blows me away! Try to imagine that! We may not be able to catch the wind, but God can! In fact, He doesn’t have to catch it because it has already been gathered in His fists! What a description of God’s greatness, power and sovereignty! If you want to put yourself in an attitude of worship and focus your thoughts on God, that’s a good verse to bring to mind. Then Agur ends his proverb with the words “Surely you know!”. You should know, Nicodemus; you’re sitting right next to Him! The Son’s name is JESUS!
Jesus concludes this illustration of the wind by referring to Himself as the “Son of Man”, a title that was given to the Messiah by the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel. Every time Jesus uses that term to refer to Himself, He is declaring that He is the Messiah.
Bob Dillan wrote a song in 1962, which was released as a single in 1963. Many singers have sung that song, and the Trio of Peter, Paul, and Mary made the song very popular. In 1994 the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004 it was ranked on Rollin’ Stone Magazine’s list of the top 500 songs of all time. As you probably already know, the name of that song is “Blowin’ in the Wind’ If you would like to hear that song, type “blowin’ in the wind” on your web browser. Many questions are asked and many social issues are faced and the conclusion given after each one is: “The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” In other words, there doesn’t seem to be any answer.
With all due respect for the author and singers of that beautiful song, the answer isn’t “blowin’ in the wind”. That’s the illustration. The answer is “BEING BORN-AGAIN”. If that’s the answer, then what’s the question? Actually, there are many questions that are answered by those words of Jesus. Here are just a few questions that can be answered by being “born again”, “born from above”:
How can I find peace of mind? How can I be delivered from my fear of death? Where can I find purpose and meaning to life? How can I be delivered from my addictions? Where can I find unconditional love? What’s the solution to hatred and wars? How can I escape from my fatalistic attitude toward life? How can I be sure I’m going to heaven? How can I keep from going to hell? How can I break away from my conformity to this world? How can I ever forgive myself for the things that I have done? What can be done about this emptiness I feel inside?
If none of those questions relate to you, maybe there are other questions you might want to add to that list. Whatever the case, the Lord Jesus wants to make things new for you. He wants to change you into a new person if you will let Him do so. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus isn’t over. There are other illustrations that He is going to use to make that decision clearer for Nicodemus and for you. I hope you will come back to see the picture more clearly. The best is yet to come. There was a price that had to be paid in order to make that new birth possible, and Jesus will pay it all.
If you are a born-again Christian, as I am, let’s remind ourselves of what it was like in our lives before that wonderful day, and pray for others around us who are experiencing the emptiness and frustration with life that we once faced. Let’s ask the Lord Jesus to make us more like Him – loving and caring for everyone who came His way, and communicating the truth in love.
Thank you for visiting and I hope you’ll come back to visit other completed construction sites I have a complete series of messages on Philippians, James, Jonah, and other assorted messages here from the last four years of Bible study. Thank you for giving me the privilege of sharing with you. Having this opportunity to share with you the results of my Bible study has encouraged me to study all the more, as I try to put the things I’ve learned into words that I hope everyone can understand and apply to their lives. May the Lord be with you, and may His Spirit control and empower you like the wind at your back today! May He fill your sails with a steady breeze as you sail through your day with joy under His control!