NOTE: for a video presentation of this message, click here.
NOTE: for an audio only podcast of this message, click here.
“MUST” is not a rule to follow, and “MIGHT” does not indicate only a possibility.
“Must & Might” are two English words for which we have limited understanding, but they have other shades of meaning.
When we think of might as a verbal, we think of it as a possibility.
When we think of must as a verb, we think of it as a requirement.
You will probably come away with a different view after reading this.
Today’s gospel reading from John 3:1-17 includes not only a famous story, but also probably the most famous verse in the Bible.
You can see this verse on billboards on the highways and usually in the end zone stands at a football game.
It is so famous that sometimes only the address is given—Jn. 3:16.
For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish
but have eternal life.
Hopefully, you are somewhat familiar with the whole story of Nicodemus coming to talk with Jesus at night.
They have a back and forth conversation which John records in this gospel, but it is not recorded anywhere else.
Scholars disagree about who is speaking in v. 16.
Some say it was Jesus talking and some say it was John’s added statement to what he understood from being with Jesus.
I don’t think that really matters to us as far as understanding the intent of the passage.
However, it is incredibly important that we understand this passage and what Jesus was telling Nicodemus.
Most every Christian has a basic understanding of being born again or being saved.
Much of that understanding can be found in this passage.
So, let’s take a very brief tour through this passage in John’s gospel to see if there are some jewels we might want to add to our collection.
This man came to Jesus by night and said to him,
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God,
for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered him,
“Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless one is born again
he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
This set Nick to wondering what Jesus could possibly be talking about.
How can anyone be born twice?
Legitimate question, don’t you think?
But, Jesus was trying to get Nicodemus to raise his sights off the natural and into the spiritual realm.
Finally, Jesus puts it to him plainly and says
Do not marvel that I said to you,
‘You must be born again.’
This is where it begins to get sticky for modern English-speaking people.
Look at the word “must”.
This has been taken to mean something like a command or a moral obligation which humanity is required to do.
Our western mindset is so limited!!
Of course, requirement is the most common and most often used meaning of the word, but there is another meaning which is more in line with what the Greek language brings out in this verse and others like it.
Lets’ try it this way.
You must not drive at 55mph in a school zone.
Can you move your car through a school zone at 55mph?
Of course, you can.
It is a voluntary action—one over which you have complete control.
Or, on a positive note, we tell our children that they must behave.
Is there an option for them to misbehave?
Of course, there is.
Yes, there are consequences in both scenarios for doing the opposite of what was required; but the point is that there is no intrinsic force in the command which would render our obedience absolute.
Let’s consider “must” from a different angle—one that is not often used.
You must breathe in order to live.
Can you violate that requirement?
You can hold your breath, but it is impossible for you to hold it until you die.
There is a must involved which you cannot violate.
It must happen as sure as night follows day.
This is the meaning of the Greek word used in this passage in John when Jesus said. “You must be born again.”
It is not a moral obligation on our part to be born again.
It is not a command which we may choose to violate.
Jesus stated a fact of life, which ol’ Nick was not able to put into his framework of knowledge.
However, Nicodemus expressed what we all should come to understand about being born again.
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can a man be born when he is old?
Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Yet, it is along this same line of thought that modern evangelicals follow when trying to persuade someone to accept Jesus.
They present it as a requirement that the seeker must do.
How can that be?
Is there any possibility that the term “born again” would have some relation to being born the first time?
Of course, there is.
QUESTION—what did you do to get born the first time?
How much effort did you put into it?
Some of you may have put in an effort to resist your arrival on this plane and given your mother an extra amount of grief, but other than that, you did nothing to aid the process.
Your coming into this world was something that happened to you.
It was something that MUST happen in its appointed time, and there was nothing you could do about it.
So, when Jesus said we MUST be born again, He was stating something about which we have no control, not something that we are required to do.
And that is the meaning of the Greek word which is used in this verse.
There is a different Greek word for the idea of moral obligation.
There is also another word in this passage before us which also causes problems when we consider the usual English meaning.
That is the word “might.”
We find that word used in v.17
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but in order that the world might be saved through him.
We see the word “might” in that verse and we see only the possibility of being saved.
We do not see the guarantee that the world will be saved.
The world was not in a very lovable situation when Jesus came.
In fact, it was at least as bad as what we see today in our society with all the governmental corruption, sexual promiscuity, drug and alcohol addiction and the myriad other problems afflicting civilization.
But the world was in this condition when the Father sent Jesus because He loved this world which He had created.
Again, most evangelicals focus on the last part of Jn. 3:16, which says that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Jn 3:16b
Rather than recognize everything else that is said in v.16-17, they put the emphasis on man’s obligation.
They then try to use the force of logic to convince the seeker into a belief.
I won’t go into how illogical that whole concept is, but suffice it to say that belief in anything is not the result of logical reasoning.
Let’s get back to the word “might” in v.17.
Our most common understanding of this word as a verbal is that of possibility.
I might go to the store tomorrow.
She might not want to go out with me.
Both of those express the possibility of something, not the guarantee.
And, to be honest, that is often the meaning of the word as it shows up in our Bible.
However, there is a particular Greek construction of syntax which renders this specifically as a guarantee without the possibility of it not happening.
First, though, let’s look at a different verse which uses the same Greek construction.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood,
he himself likewise partook of the same things,
that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death,
that is, the devil,
Without trying to consider anything from an egghead standpoint of Greek construction, let me ask a question.
Did Jesus destroy the one who has the power of death or did He not?
Was Jesus successful in His ministry and assignment, or was there a possibility that He may have failed?
Hopefully, you have no doubt about the success of Jesus in His fulfilling the will of the Father.
He didn’t just give it the old college effort.
He succeeded in doing the Father’s will and completed all that He was sent to do.
Or what about this verse a little later on.
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect,
so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God,
to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
Does the meaning of this verse indicate only a mere possibility?
Or, do we realize the certainty of this statement?
The word “might” here in these two verses in Hebrews and back in John 3:17 are in the exact same construction, which when used in this way mean it’s a done deal.
We find the exact same meaning in the first chapter of John.
He came as a witness,
to bear witness about the light,
that all might believe through him.
We have been taught to go through life hoping that people will believe, but this verse says that they will without a doubt believe.
I know that is difficult to accept when we look at things from our side of the veil.
Let’s not forget that there is a “now and not yet” aspect of scripture, which recognizes that from God’s viewpoint all is complete, while from our view, it is not yet a reality.
When will this happen?
We don’t know.
We do know that God has an order for things which we may not be able to completely understand.
But each in his own order:
Christ the firstfruits,
then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
When Jesus was talking with Nicodemus, Nick was hearing things about which he should have had an understanding; but they came as a shock to him limited as he was by his natural mind.
We too can be limited by our natural mind so that these things come as a shock to our fixed form of thinking.
It is this limitation of the natural mind for which Paul prayed.
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,
what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,
Notice that Paul spoke of God’s greatness as being immeasurable.
That begs the question—at what point do you choose to limit what God can do?
At what point do you think His love for the world which He created is constrained?
Whatever limit you may place upon it is purely the limitation of your own imagination.
We should know by now that God simply will not be confined within our little boxes of theology or knowledge.
For God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus so the world would be saved, and Jesus has not failed in His mission.
We may not understand it all, but we believe it.
We may not understand all the meaning of communion, but we believe it and practice it as a sign of our faith that Jesus is who He says He is.