Do you ever look for something so hard that you can’t find it? Maybe it’s just my age kicking in but sometimes I’ll lose something in the most obvious place possible. I think so hard about where I put it that I forget to look in the most likely place. I figure that I would have remembered easily if I’d put that thing where it belonged. So instead, I go searching around in drawers or under beds and cabinets-in places I haven’t opened or looked under in years. Finally I just stop. I stop looking and fretting and let my mind catch up a little and start over thinking more logically and less frantically. That’s when I find it-right where it should have been all along. My own mind had blinded me from seeing it because it was too easy!
As we look at chapter 3 of the gospel of John, we find that kind of a situation. A man who is part of a group that should have known that Jesus was the Messiah was blind to the obvious even though it was right in front of them. Therefore, Jesus has to lay it out using very simple terms. I’m actually glad because those words in John chapter three form perhaps the most important words in the whole Bible when it comes to understanding God’s new life. It starts with a nighttime visit from Nicodemus.
1 - 3
Nicodemus comes with a complement; he is cautious but respectful and open. Jesus answers with a riddle. "Born again" can also mean "born from above". Nicodemus comes with a statement about who Jesus was. Jesus moves the conversation immediately to what each person must do in response to Jesus. Jesus’ credentials were, and are, not open for debate.
To be able to live in a world you need to be adapted to its conditions. To be a part of God’s kingdom you have to be born into it-you can’t immigrate.
What did Nicodemus know about the kingdom of God? He would have been familiar with passages like Isaiah 65 which talks about life in this new kingdom. Essentially it is something ruled by God, on earth, and involving God’s people. However, what he and the Jews didn’t apparently grasp was that it was not a kingdom you inherited because of the family you were born into. It came from being re-born into a new family. It is individual in nature, not national.
4 - 8
It seems as if Nicodemus stopped listening when Jesus suggested being born a second time. Do you ever stop listening when you read something in the Bible that floors you or you don’t understand? Instead of rejecting it outright, reason with God, meditate on what you read, ask for help in understanding it.
"Water and Spirit" might refer to John’s baptism of repentance, and Jesus baptism of the Holy Spirit. It might refer to physical birth, the spiritual birth. Or water might refer to the cleansing the takes place through Jesus. Notice this verse from Ezekiel - something else Nicodemus should have been familiar with:
Ezekiel 36:25-28 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. ESV
It could be that the evening winds were blowing when Jesus talked with Nicodemus. You can feel the wind, but you cannot understand or control its origin. It’s the same way with this new life-you can experience it but it isn’t understandable or controllable by human means.
9 - 13
Nicodemus isn’t answering from incredulity but wants to know how. Jesus rebukes him slightly. Nicodemus was a smart man, a learned man, and a respected member of the ruling council of the nation. The implication is that as he studied the Old Testament he should have known.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee-one of the two ruling classes in Jewish society in that day. The Pharisees strictly adhered to their interpretation of the Law while missing the intent entirely-sort of like not being able to see something right in front of your face.
We don’t know if by saying "we" in verse 11 that Jesus is speaking of Himself and His disciples or "we" meaning the Trinity. Nevertheless, notice this: Jesus is not speaking of things that are theories or conjectures. He speaks by observation. He has been in heaven and speaks authoritatively about it.
14 - 15
This is one of the most important verses in John because it sets up for Israel, and for us, the need for salvation, our position, and Jesus provision.
The story of the serpent is found in Numbers 21:4-9. Israel had become impatient with God and complained about their conditions, their food, and all the usual things about which they regularly complained. God sent deadly serpents among them-you know, snakes on a plain-the plains of Edom. The people came to Moses and said they had sinned. God told Moses to create a bronze serpent, put it on a pole and hold it up. Anyone who looked on the bronze serpent would be saved.
This becomes a symbol of the purpose of the Messiah.
1. Israel was guilty of sin
2. They were under God’s condemnation and punishment for their sin
3. The snake was the object of their condemnation (bronze=judgment)
4. They could not save themselves
5. There was no antidote for the venom of the snakes
6. They were to "look" on the snake in order to receive life.
Can’t you see the parallel to us? We are all guilty of sin (Romans 3:3), we are all under God’s condemnation and punishment for that sin (Romans 6:23, wages), Jesus is "lifted up" (used for crucifixion in 8:28, 12:32) and became the object of the condemnation (2 Corinthians 5:21 "he who knew no sin"), we are unable to save ourselves (Romans 5:6 "while we were still weak Christ died â€¦"), and there is no antidote for the wages of sin outside of Jesus, but if we "look" to Jesus we receive life-it isn’t something we do, it is something we accept.
16 - 21
16 These are probably among the most important verses in the New Testament. We don’t know if this is a continuation of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus or John’s comments on Jesus’ words, but either way they are vital to our understanding of who Jesus is, and how we must relate to Him.
In essence, 3:16 says: God loves so much He gave a gift of life available to anyone whoever receives the gift. Belief is more than just an acknowledgement of the truth of something, it is trust and confidence. I can believe that a boat will float but unless I step into it and launch out I am not putting my trust and confidence in it.
17 Jesus didn’t need to condemn the world, it is already condemned.
18 Some people believe that everyone will be saved unless you are really really bad like Hitler or something. That’s sort of the opt-out plan. But it’s really an opt-in plan. You have to opt-in to God’s gift of life through Jesus or you stay in the state you are in: condemned, which basically means you can’t have anything to do with God in eternity (God who happens to be source of all good).
19 God isn’t judging us on what we do. Here he clearly says we will be judged on what we do about Jesus.
20 - 21 What is holding you back from having the evil in you exposed? Are you embarrassed, feel weak and unable to make yourself better? Or do you secretly really love those things that you know are not in concert with God’s character? To do what is true is to come to the light: Jesus. If we come to Jesus and trust in Him then He does the cleansing and in the end what we do is done by God through us.
22 - 36
John may have been baptizing in northern Samaria. "Aenon" means "place of many waters." Verse 26 reveals man’s natural competitive nature. John responds that he is only doing that which God told him to do, what else is there?
In fact, look at John’s attitude. He is the "best man" for Jesus, rejoicing that Jesus is getting the credit. And, in fact, he puts himself at a lower position than Jesus. What is out attitude about what we do for the Lord? Does it bother us that as time goes on people will forget what we’ve done and remember what Jesus did as a result?
What is it to obey the Son, in verse 36? What does the Son tell us to do? Believe. In the end it is really very simple. Jesus came to tell us that he was providing a free way of escaping the consequences of our own evil. If we don’t obey him by taking that free gift then the consequences of our evil stay on us, which is the separation of all that is good forever.
The two important statements from this chapter are the two most vital pieces of information a person could ever possess: 1. God gives new life (3:16) 2. You must have God’s new life in order to exist in eternity. (3:3)
How do you approach Jesus?
I really like the fact that Nicodemus, despite his obvious place of authority, came to Jesus with three very good qualities that we can emulate:
1. He came with humility, not arrogrance
2. He came to engage in conversation, not confrontation
3. He came with a heart open to the possibilities
Notice something else starting here and for the next two chapters, Jesus comes to individual people with individual world views and needs: Nicodemus the national ruler and Scripture expert, the Samaritan woman at the well who was an outcast and a foreigner, the Jewish synagogue ruler about to lose it all, and the invalid who had already lost everything but was about to gain it all back.
The point is that Jesus knows you, individually. He knows what makes you tick. He knows how you think, and He knows what is holding you back from loving or serving Him right now. Like Nicodemus, have an honest conversation with Him. Don’t cover it up with what you think He wants to hear. Speak frankly to Him and He’ll speak frankly to you. It will be among the most refreshing and life changing conversations you ever have.
For more Bible studies, visit our website at: www.CalvaryChapelNewberg.org