Summary: The scandal of grace forces Nick to look for abundant life outside himself rather than within. Jesus challenges him to think outside the box; to allow God to regenerate him by his power.
During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what belief, if any, was unique to the Christian faith.
They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death.
The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. "What's the rumpus about?" he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity's unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, "Oh, that's easy. It's grace." After some discussion, the conferees had to agree.
The notion of God's love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law all offer ways to earn God’s favor. Only Christ dares to make God's love unconditional.
A. It shocks us to hear we can’t earn our entrance into the kingdom of Heaven. Grace transcends human understanding; we want to earn or deserve God’s favor; that’s how we think. The scandal of grace challenges our thinking, and makes it hard to accept.
B. Rather than accepting what is hard to understand, many seek alternative ways into the kingdom. They substitute religious practice or spirituality for God’s grace.
1. We live in an age of unprecedented spiritual awareness, yet many choose spiritual practices that are contrary to God’s word (occult, witchcraft, pseudo-Christian religions)
2. Others believe that kindness or good behavior gain God’s favor. Warren Buffet once donated more than half his wealth to five charitable foundations saying “There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way."
C. This attitude places security in our hands—we like that—in control of our own destiny. It fits well into our line of thinking—but Jesus’ teaching challenges us to think and behave in new ways.
D. Today we meet Nicodemus, a religious man with a heightened sense of spirituality that Jesus challenges to think outside the box; OYBT John 3, and let’s meet Nick.
II. NICODEMUS QUESTIONS JESUS (3:1-4)
A. He is a Pharisee (v1): A particular sect (denomination) of Jews known for pious living and adherence to the OT Law. They develop a system of 613 laws and commandments—365 negative, 248 positive. By the time of Christ, it is producing a heartless, cold, and arrogant form of religion.
B. He is a member of the Sanhedrin (v1): The Jewish Court (Supremes) in Jerusalem from the Persian through the Roman period; it has religious and political power, and is comprised of the elite (priestly and laity) of society. It has 70 members, and the High Priest is its president.
C. He comes at night (v2), perhaps. . .
1. Out of fear or careful regard for others’ opinions. He is a prominent man; a teacher of the Israelites, well trained and equipped for teaching. It will not look good for him to acknowledge this untrained teacher.
2. To gain uninterrupted access to Jesus. Jesus always has a crowd around him, making a sustained interview difficult. Nighttime allows a long, private discussion.
3. In keeping with the tradition of study; i.e., learning into the night hours. It may even be symbolic of darkness coming to light; i.e., the lost state of Nicodemus, respected by the Jews, and guilty before a holy God.
D. He opens courteously, flattering Jesus by calling him “Rabbi—a teacher from God”. He comes as one teacher to another. Jesus cuts to the chase, trading small talk for substance.
1. He knows why Nicodemus came; he wants affirmation of his spirituality and pursuit of abundant life. Instead, Jesus challenges him saying, no one can see the kingdom of heaven unless he is born again (from above). In a single sentence, Jesus dismisses everything Nicodemus holds dearly, and demands that he be remade by the power of God.
2. “How can this be?” Nicodemus chooses to misunderstand (v4). It’s easier. To accept Jesus’ words he must erase a lifetime of hope, experience, success, failure and habits that make him the man that he is. To be remade (regenerated) by God’s power instead of personal effort is scandalous to him.
[The scandal of grace forces Nick to look for abundant life outside himself rather than within. Jesus challenges him to think outside the box; to allow God to regenerate him by his power.]
III. JESUS RESONDS: THE PROBLEM HUMAN SPIRITUALITY (5-8)
A. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit (6). Physical birth has limitations; it gives rise to only what is earthy. Jesus speaks of a spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of God. A spiritual birth is required for entrance into that kingdom.
B. You should not be surprised. What did you expect? There can be no other way but rebirth!