Summary: As Jesus ministered to Nicodemus, He focused on moving him from relgion to a relationship.
This morning, as we continue to learn how to be more effective ministers for Jesus by studying how He ministered, we’ll come to what is undoubtedly the most well known verse of Scripture in the entire Bible. We see the reference to that verse on signs at sporting events, printed on the bottom of your drink cup when you go to In-N-Out Burger or on your shopping bag if you go to Forever 21. Tim Tebow even put that verse in his eye black before it was prohibited by the NFL.
Of course, I’m referring to John 3:16, a verse that most of us can probably quote rather easily. As important as that verse is, however, this morning we’re going to focus more on the surrounding context and in particular we’ll pay close attention to how Jesus interacts with a Pharisee named Nicodemus and see what we can learn from that.
So go ahead and turn in your Bibles to John chapter 3 and follow along as I begin reading in verse 1:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 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.” 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?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
John 3:1-21 (ESV)
This morning we’ll consider two significant ministry principles that we find in this passage and take some time to develop them in some detail.
Jesus focused on the person, not the position
This is probably a good time to learn a bit about who the Pharisees were. We often talk about them, usually in a negative light, but they actually did some things quite well.
The Pharisees developed in the 400 year period between the Old and New Testaments, and grew out of their opposition to the increasing Hellenization of the Jewish culture. Their name, Pharisees, comes from a Hebrew word which means “set apart” which reflected their idea that the Jewish people should be set apart from the increasingly Hellenistic culture around them.
The Pharisees were hyper-legalists, not merely when it came to the Old Testament Law, but also the over 600 oral laws that had been developed to guide its implementation. Although the Pharisees were to be commended for their understanding of the Scriptures and their devotion to the law, they had one fatal fault, one that we see Jesus addressing consistently throughout His ministry. They were so focused on the externals that they failed to recognize their own depraved hearts.