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Gospel Wind 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones
03/20/11

Genesis 12:1-4
John 3:1-17


This nighttime encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus is so rich and so full! Nicodemus, of course, is described as "a leader of the Jews," a member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee. He may well be coming by night because it would be embarrassing, unseemly, for a man of such authority and standing to come to see Jesus by the light of day. There are so many directions we could take with this encounter, as Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be "born from above," or "born anew," or "born of the Spirit."

In the Passion Play in Oberammergau this summer, I kept my eye fixed upon Nicodemus, who was one of the most interesting and intriguing characters in the play. Where the rest of the Sanhedrin members were dead set against Jesus from the start, Nicodemus is torn, he is not so sure about Jesus. He never takes his eyes off Jesus in the play. He cannot stop looking at Jesus, cannot resolve where he stands with regard to Jesus. Maybe we should do the same. Let's look at one simple sentence by Jesus in this passage that calls us to be "born again," "born from above," or "born of the Spirit." Here is it: "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

That Jesus, a Jew, would speak of the Spirit of God as wind is natural. For in Hebrew, the word is rich with meaning. The word "Ruach" means "breath," as God breathes the breath of life over the face of the waters at the dawn of creation. It also means "wind," as the wind rips across desert sands in the Middle East, and it means "Spirit," that power of God that sweeps across the ages. Jesus tells Nicodemus three times in this passage that he must "be born of the Spirit." Whatever being "born from above" or "born again" means, it apparently is the work of the Spirit of God and not our work. So let's listen to this incredible sentence that tells us of the Spirit of God.

First, Jesus says, "The wind blows…." Jesus here is affirming the ceaseless action of the Spirit of God. This indeed is the most basic fact of life. Never is there a moment or a time in which the Spirit of God is not actively at work. Look at the Bible. In Genesis we are told, "The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." Then at the end of Revelation: "I am the bright morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!'" From beginning to end, the Bible sees the Spirit at work. "The wind blows…."

The Psalmist knew this. In Psalm 139, we read, "Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Thy right hand shall lead me…." God never lets go; God's Spirit never stops working. Indeed, God's Spirit holds human life together. "The wind blows…."

God's Spirit is working now, in ways we see, and like the wind, in ways we do not see. God's Spirit is working in Japan in the wake of these multiple tragedies, and somehow, God's Spirit is blowing, working in the Middle East, as war threatens our planet once again in Libya.

In the New Testament, when the Spirit comes at Pentecost, it comes "like the rush of a mighty wind." We wonder sometimes, maybe this very morning, "Where is God in this frightening world?" And Jesus says, "Listen to the wind, Nicodemus." "The wind blows," ceaselessly, constantly, the Spirit of God is at work.

"The wind blows where it chooses." Jesus here is secondly affirming the sovereign freedom of the Spirit. No human can control or direct the wind, and so no one can dictate the action of the Spirit, save God alone, whose Spirit it is. We are always tempted to try to domesticate or limit or control the work of the Spirit, to state that our way of conceiving God is the only way God can rightly be understood. But God's Spirit is always the Spirit of Christ, and Jesus tells us here that "the wind blows where it chooses" or "where it wills."

Isn't this the story the whole Bible tells? God uses the most unlikely people in the most extraordinary of ways to do incredible things. I gave up a long time ago pretending that I understood or had any control over God! "The wind blows where it chooses." God's Spirit is utterly free. And this is the essential hope of Christianity. The Spirit of Christ can revive the hardest soul, renew the most weary spirit, change any dreadful situation. I have seen it again and again. Indeed, I have lived it! There is no winter death of the soul that God cannot revive into a blooming spring, no dry bones that God cannot raise up to new life. Do not count anyone out, and do not give up on God. The presumption of despair is always premature. This is the sovereign freedom of the Holy Spirit. "The wind blows where it chooses."

"The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it." This is the third thing Jesus is saying about the Spirit. You can always mark evidence of the Spirit's work. "You hear the sound of it." When the wind is blowing, it makes its presence felt. When I drive into the church, I always look at the flagpole. It tells you which way, and how strongly the wind is blowing. So it is with the Spirit. You can hear the sound of it blowing; you can see its activity. You know when the Spirit has moved in a person's life. There are people in this church whose lives I have seen change, people who have been utterly transformed by the Spirit.

This is actually what brought Nicodemus to Jesus by night. He had heard of the signs and wonders Jesus had wrought. Maybe he had seen them, too. "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Always there are signs, unmistakable evidence, when the power of the Spirit blows. "You hear the sound of it." You wonder why someone found the strength to forgive you. "You hear the sound of it." You look at a child or a grandchild, and wonder how you could be so blessed. "You hear the sound of it." You witness healing in another person's life, where you wondered if they would ever get well again. "You hear the sound of it." This is the unanswerable argument for the work of the Spirit.

But fourth, Jesus says, "You hear the sound of it, but you do not know from where it comes." This speaks of the mystery of how God works. The Spirit of God is often inscrutable. The Spirit can move in some of the most unexpected places, some of the most God-forsaken circumstances. People are visited with tragedy and unspeakable sorrow, and yet out of it, the Spirit blows. We want an explanation, or we want some warning, some map we can follow. This is not how the Spirit comes. We know not "from whence it comes."

Maybe this was what Nicodemus wanted from Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the people, and yet he sees in Jesus signs and wonders that are of God, while Jesus is just a carpenter's son from Nazareth. Nicodemus wants to know where Jesus' power comes from, and Jesus himself recognizes the mystery of God's ways. We do not know where the wind comes from; we can only catch the Spirit, and worship the Living God. Remember when Peter got the words right to Jesus' question, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus said, "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." Why Peter? We do not know. "Why me, Lord?", we ask. We will never know. "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from."

One more word on the Spirit from Jesus: "You hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes." This is the unknown, unknowable, incalculable destiny of the Spirit. You can never tell where this Spirit of Jesus is apt to take you. When John Chancellor retired from NBC, looking back over decades as a news anchor, he said, "If you want a good laugh, tell God your plans." Life is as unpredictable as the NCAA basketball tournament, which I am now calling, "March Sadness."

You never know where the Spirit will take you, or what God is at work preparing you for right this very minute. Nicodemus had no idea when he stood at Jesus' door where the wind of the Spirit would carry him. It finally took this leader of the Jews to Pilate's chamber to claim the body of Jesus – one of the bravest acts in the Gospel – and beyond that to be a part of the story that would totally change the world.

We know so little about the plans God has for us, and the mysterious, unexpected ways in which God works. But that Spirit is at work in your life – the wind blows – Jesus promises – and where it will take you only God knows. I love the way Dr. Seuss puts it! I return to it again and again. I read it to Josh and Sarah as children. I read it now as an adult, who can feel just as lost and overwhelmed by the mystery of life that can loom so large. You know the title of one of his best books: "Oh! The Places You'll Go!"

In this four hundredth anniversary year of the King James Version of the Bible, the best work ever accomplished by a committee, hear the word of Jesus, the word of the Lord today:

"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 everyone that is born of the Spirit." Everyone!

"Oh! The places you'll go!"

AMEN.
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