There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
¶For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever gbelieveth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
¶He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God (John 3:1-21)
In this passage Jesus uses water, wind, light and darkness, and the story of Moses lifting the serpent in the wilderness to teach Nicodemus important truths. In class we focused on two concepts that teenagers relate with.
The first has to do with Jesus’ dealing with Nicodemus’ questions. Nicodemus should have understood what Jesus was teaching regarding being born again. Yet, despite Nicodemus’ training, he either did not understand what it was Jesus was teaching, or he was attempting to get more clarification. I taught this text with the idea that Nicodemus is a protagonist, not one who is approaching Jesus at night due to fear of being seen. Rather, Nicodemus, to me, is a busy man and he came to hear from Jesus at a time when he could. I take from other accounts in John’s record that Nicodemus is one of the good guys (see also John 7:50-51 and John 19:39).
Jesus sees Nicodemus reaching, trying to understand this idea that we must be born again. I like when Jesus asks, “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” (John 3:10) In other words, Jesus is asking Nicodemus (and all of us) to stretch. He is not satisfied with Nicodemus’ efforts. Teenagers relate with this. They too, are often not satisfied with the results of their efforts. When we do sit back and rest on our laurels, we should be concerned. The Savior came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.
C.S. Lewis put it this way:
Our Father in Heaven, who as Lewis taught is easy to please but hard to satisfy, will not allow those who come unto Him to remain as they are. “To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labor to make us lovable.” Jesus came to heal us with His love (see John 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:9; D&C 34:1-3) He came that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly (see John 10:10). Let me repeat: as C. S. Lewis observed, “that is precisely what Christianity is about. The world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.” That life, a new life in Christ, opens us to new feelings, new insights, and new perspectives on our existence here and hereafter. It enables us to see things as they really are. Thus Lewis confessed: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” 1
I like this teaching. It makes sense to teenagers. Contained within this is the understanding that the Lord is cheering us on while at the same time holding us to a higher standard. We can do better. And we will outperform our yesterdays as we look to him in all of our tomorrows.
The other idea that we spent time in class working through was Jesus’ comparison of the Holy Ghost to the wind. I asked students to share what both have in common. We generated a great class discussion as we looked at how the two are similar. In each comparison we were able to draw out students who commented on times that they felt the Spirit working through them or speaking to them. This was very beneficial to all of the students in class. It is important that young people hear of ways that their peers have experienced the Holy Ghost in their lives. They are not too young to have felt the influence of the Spirit, as every class had much to share!
Some of the similarities that the Holy Ghost and the wind have in common that were mentioned in class are the following:
We can put ourselves in places where neither (or both) can be felt
Sometimes it is gentle, like a whisper
You cannot control either
You cannot see either, but you can see its effects
You can use both the wind and the Spirit for positive ways
Sometimes the wind comforts, sometimes not so much- hence the Spirit sometimes will comfort, other times will correct, compel or constrain
You Cannot Force Spiritual Things
It is important to know that we can develop an environment where the Spirit can be felt, where we can be prompted to act, but at the same time, we cannot force the Spirit. Growth comes in stages, and it is good to be patient when it comes to spiritual things. Just as we cannot force the wind to go where we want it to, we should remember that after we are baptized we may strive with all our might to live in such a way as to merit the companionship of the Holy Ghost, but it is not something that may be programmed, plotted out, or manufactured. The things of God cannot be demanded or coerced. We cannot force spiritual things. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “a man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him” (D&C 130:23).
Such words as compel, coerce, constrain, pressure, demand do not describe our privileges with the Spirit.”You can no more force the Spirit to respond than you can force a bean to sprout, or an egg to hatch before its time. You can create a climate to foster growth; you can nourish, and protect; but you cannot force or compel: You must await the growth.”Do not be impatient to gain great spiritual knowledge. Let it grow, help it grow; but do not force it, or you will open the way to be misled. 2
1. Andrew C. Skinner and Robert L. Millet, C. S. Lewis, the Man and His Message: An LDS Perspective [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1999], 153 – 154.
2. Boyd K. Packer, That All May Be Edified, p. 338.