Heavenly things are hard to learn John 3:7-12 Bright Friday 2013


Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.  (8)  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.  (9)  Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?  (10)  Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?  (11)  Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.  (12)  If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?"[1] [John 3:7-12]




Learning holy things is hard. the mind must be changed; we do not naturally think about heavenly things or reason in spiritual ways. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14)


Nicodemus was a good man, and very pious and learned. He proved his mettle near three years after his first encounter with Christ by having the courage, even though he was a secret disciple, to attempt to stay the blood lust of the Jewish leaders by reasoning with them, and then by helping to tend to our Lord's body after the crucifixion[2]. Both incidents who great courage and discretion. Even though he was such a man, he could not understand what the Lord was telling him, and was even rebuked about it.[3]


Many stories we read from the Gospels during the Paschal season drive home this point[4]understanding heavenly things is hard. Let's just flat out admit it – we are not spiritual people, and our spiritual understanding is limited, and our soul's senses are dull. If we do not work to understand the things of God, we will always be poor.


St Seraphim of Sarov, praying on a rock http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/seraphim-of-sarov-rock-01.gifPraying haphazardly, and rarely reading the Scriptures just won't cut it. Watching more TV than we read, pray or attend services (COMBINED!) just won't cut it. If my patron[5] spent 1000 days kneeling on a rock praying with tears, "Lord enlighten my darkness", why are we so haphazard and lackadaisical in living according to our professed faith?


Our life must be a quest to become spiritual, and understand things that are only "spiritually discerned".


This season should be a time of feasting and spiritual joy, but this DOES NOT eliminate an ESSENTIAL part of what should be in our character – a profound dissatisfaction with who we are, what we know, and how we act. This is the key to spiritual progress – for a man to know himself, measure himself (against Christ[6]), and find himself lacking. God will help us with what we lack, but we must labor with effort, and faith, and repentance and expectation. If we do this, we will have the "joyful sorrow" that is a profound part of true Christian spirituality.


Do you understand this? If you don't, then don't despair, nor pass off my words as idle tales, or legalistic, or only for monks, or whatever slander the Evil One tries to plant in your understanding. work! Read the Gospels, pray more, keep the fasts as they are prescribed, strive to be spiritual! God will help you.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2013     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

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[1] Our parish is being encouraged to read the Gospel of John during the Pentecostarion period. If we read 1/2 chapter a day plus the remainder (about 2 chapters) the day before Ascension, we will finish in forty days.

This small essay is a prayerful meditation on some part of the "assigned" reading. REMEMBER – read the scripture to apply it to yourself. This is all important. There may be parts you do not understand, but there will always be something that touches your heart if you read it prayerfully.


If you have comments about this verse or another in this selection (John 2:1-12), please add them in the comments, or email them to me.


[2] When the Sanhedrin were Hell bent (literally) on killing Jesus in any way they could (this they wanted to do almost form the beginning of Jesus' ministry), Nicodemus showed incredible courage here: Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him?  (46)  The officers answered, Never man spake like this man.  (47)  Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived?  (48)  Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?  (49)  But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.  (50)  Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,)  (51)  Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?  (52)  They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." (John 7:45-52). After the crucifixion, he showed even greater courage here, as to be associated with the disgraced and crucified Christ was to become a target for assassination: "And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.  (39)  And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.  (40)  Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.  (41)  Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.  (42)  There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand." (John19:38-42)

[3] Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.  (12)  If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? (John 3:11-12)

[4] This is a consistent theme in my homilies for good reason.  some many stories illustrate this – the doubting of Thomas, the Myrhhbearing women, the Samaritan woman, the healing of the man born blind, to name a few.

[5] St Seraphim of Sarov spent 100 days kneeling on a rock in the Forest, with this prayer being the only one on his lips.

[6] "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…" (Ephesians 4:13)

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