Text: John 3:1-15
Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, opened blind eyes, multiplied food for hungry people, and the list could go on, but all of these miracles pointed to the greatest of miracles – showing people the kingdom. Because once someone saw the kingdom of God at work on earth then they were born again. Their blinded eyes were opened. Why do think Paul went blind for three days and had scales on his eyes after he saw Jesus?
Was it simply because the light from Jesus’ glory was so bright that it blinded and that’s just what happens when you see Jesus? Maybe, but I think it was more than that. I think it was so people could relate to Paul’s story more.
Everyone may not know what it’s like to have Jesus personally come down and knock you off your horse, but anyone who has been saved can say with a surety that they know what’s like for scales to fall from their eyes as a result of seeing the kingdom.
- That’s why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 that if the Gospel is hidden, it’s hidden to those that are perishing whose minds have been blinded by the god of this world. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
This morning, I want us to start a new series called, “Ministry Matters,” and I want us to start it off by looking at this passage because you can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t really minister to people unless you’ve been ministered to. People can’t encounter Jesus through you if you’ve never encountered Jesus.
So, we have Jesus ministering to Nicodemus, and what is it that Nicodemus needs more than anything? He needs a complete transformation. He needs renewal. He needs regeneration.
- If you don’t know what the word regeneration means, it’s a word that us stodgy Reformed use to describe what happens when Jesus comes in cleans house which is exactly what happens when someone is born again.
So, this morning, I want us to see that Nicodemus’ needs are our needs. His questions are our questions, and when we talk to other people, they’re like Nicodemus. They’ve got questions and Jesus has answers. They’ve got problems and Jesus has solutions.
It is no mere coincidence that this passage follows John 2:25 where John tells us that Jesus knew what is in the heart of man, then that is followed by this encounter with Nicodemus and this is followed by an encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.
We have in John 3, Jesus talking with one who represents the intelligentsia, the upper echelon of society. He’s a religious leader. He has money, power, prestige, but he does not know what it is to truly see the Kingdom of God.
We have in John 4, a woman who represents those in the lower class of society. She has had 5 husbands and now she’s shacking up with a man who isn’t even her husband. She’s broke, busted, and disgusted, all because she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places.
I think what John is doing here is illustrating his point in John 2:25. He’s essentially saying, “Jesus knows the very heart of man and if you don’t believe me, I recall a conversation He had with a man named Nicodemus, and then there was this other time with a Samaritan woman.” John is making it crystal clear that Jesus is looking beyond what we pretend to be, beyond what society says we are, beyond how everyone else sees us and He sees into our very soul and looks directly at our NEED FOR HIM.
So in this passage, we need to recognize the ways that we are like Nicodemus, and we need to see what it is exactly that Jesus is saying to us through this passage in John 3.
Ways We Are Like Nicodemus:
1. We Are Good At Being Religious
2. We Come to Jesus with What We [Think We] Know
3. We Must Listen to What Jesus Is Saying
We’re Good at Being Religious
We’ve got a lot in common with Nicodemus. First of all, we’re good at being religious. Let’s not get confused. There is a good religion and a bad religion. Good religion motivates us to serve God by caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27). There is a bad religion that even the best of us seem to fall into sometimes. It’s this kind of religion that Nicodemus is good at and a lot of us are good at. And it’s sneaky because it hides behind moralism so it looks good on the outside, but on the inside it leaves you full of dead men’s bones. (Matthew 23:27)
The good religion, the true religion that James mentions in James 1:27 is fleshed out more in the next chapter in James 2, and it doesn’t have to do with making sure your shirt is tucked in, or making sure you’ve not cussed, or making sure the Jesus fish on your bumper is on straight, it has to do with how you treat other people.
When we end up falling into Nicodemus’ religion instead of James’ ‘pure and undefiled’ religion, there’s some things that happen.
Church becomes somewhere we go, instead of who we are to be.
In the deep south, Bible belt culture of Arkansas, we’re good at being religious. Church is all most of us have ever known so we’re good at attending church, but we’re bad at being the Church. I know because I’m bad at being the Church. I’m going to be brutally honest. It’s much easier to ask someone where they go to church than whether or not they know Jesus as their savior.
Worship becomes the songs we sing instead of the life we live.
We always say, “Worship starts at 11 AM.” Now, we all know what that means. It means that the corporate worship service starts at 11 AM, but in reality, Worship starts when you become born-again and it continues all through eternity.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” – Romans 12:1, NRSV
The King James says, ‘reasonable service.’ Paul is saying that it only makes sense live as a sacrifice. Paul says earlier in Romans 8 that we are being killed all the day long (Romans 8:36). So, if you’re facing death, (and we all are because that’s what it means to be human) then you might as well live as a holy and acceptable sacrifice to God. You’re gonna die anyway you might as well lay yourself on the altar.
- That’s what it means to live a life of worship, but unfortunately we get in this habit of believing worship is simply what we do on Sunday morning.
Jesus becomes a good teacher rather than the God who saves.
So, when church becomes somewhere we go, instead of who we are, and worship becomes the songs we sing instead of the life we live, Jesus becomes a good teacher rather than the God who saves.
Nicodemus had no idea who he was talking to. “We know that you are a teacher sent from God.” He was right. Jesus was a teacher sent from God, but he was only half right. And that’s the only truth the devil likes, those truths that are half true, but they’re still whole lies.
Nicodemus was speaking to the very God who placed each star in the sky and called it by name. The same God that, by the Word of His mouth, called the universe in being, knew Nicodemus intimately, and knows us intimately inside and out, and He still loves us.
We Come to Jesus with What We Think We Know
Next, not only are we good at being religious, but we have a tendency to come to Jesus with what we think we know.
One of the most striking things about this passage is that the first things Nicodemus says is, “We know that you are a teacher sent from God.” And then Jesus proceeds to unravel everything.
“Nicodemus said, “We know.” Then he began to rehearse the things he knew (or thought he knew) and with which he wanted to begin the discussion: (1) that Jesus was continuing to do many miracles; (2) that these miracles were intended to authenticate him as a teacher sent from God; and that therefore, (3) Jesus was the one to whom he should listen. Unfortunately for Nicodemus, Jesus replied that such an approach to knowledge was wrong and that Nicodemus could therefore know nothing until he had first experienced an inward, spiritual transformation. “You must be born anew,” Jesus told him (John 3:7).”
– James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith
Do you know what this means? It means that it’s not that tell you who Jesus is, it’s the Spirit. All throughout the Gospels, there were people who saw the miracles, and yet they still wanted to kill Jesus. Even though they saw the miracles, they were still blind. They’re the kind of people that Jesus talked about when he said, “Seeing, they do not see… hearing, they do not hear.”
There have been atheists who have said, “I’ve read the Bible cover to cover and I just don’t see any evidence for God. I just see a bunch contradictory fairy tales.” Why? Because they approach God with what they think they know because their eyes haven’t been opened to see the kingdom.
“Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
– John 3:3, NKJV
When you’re born again your eyes are opened and the whole world looks different, and you begin to see God at work. You wonder why people don’t believe in God, it’s because God hasn’t opened their eyes yet.
So far, what we have in common with Nicodemus is that we’re good at being religious, we come to Jesus with what we think we know, and finally, like Nicodemus, we need to hear what Jesus is saying.
We Must Hear What Jesus is Saying
As we go from verse 5 on down to the rest of the passage, Jesus starts alluding to some Old Testament passages that Nicodemus should know, but he’s not picking it up.
Jesus even tells him in verse 10, “How is it that you’re a teacher of Israel and yet you don’t even know these things?”
So, we’re going to see the first allusion to the Old Testament in verse 5.
Born of Water and Spirit
“Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5, NKJV
Jesus knows that Nicodemus had memorized the law and the prophets so He wanted to use imagery that Nicodemus would understand.
The only possible meaning is that Jesus has to be referring to the imagery of water found in Ezekiel 36 where God promises to vindicate his name and sanctify His people by sprinkling them with clean water.
“I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. 24For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.
25“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”
– Ezekiel 36:23-27, NLT
Jesus is taking Nicodemus back to this portion of Scripture because although the Old Testament never uses the words, “born again,” Ezekiel 36 shows us what it means.
- When I was 15 years old I remember my grandfather, a Pentecostal evangelist, preaching a sermon from Ezekiel 36 entitled, “Open Heart Surgery.” As a prop, he had a Build-A-Bear teddy bear, and a rock that he had painted red to represent the heart of stone, and then he had a little plush heart to show the ‘heart of flesh.’ He spent an hour preaching faith and repentance to a packed house at a campmeeting in Reeds Spring, Missouri.
The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15, NKJV
Jesus alludes a second time to a passage of Scripture that Nicodemus should be familiar with, Numbers 21. As a matter of fact, “familiar” is an understatement. Nicodemus should be intimate with this passage because as someone who is a teacher in Israel he is required to memorize the Old Testaments scriptures front and back. Not only that, but these people being bitten by snakes were his people. His was immediately recalling this.
“Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. 5And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.
7Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” – Numbers 21:4-9, NKJV
I imagine that when Jesus is saying this, that, at least for a split-second, Nicodemus is picturing this incident from the scroll containing the Book of Numbers. He’s had to memorize it, he’s had to hear it taught, it’s been passed down from generation to generation.
God’s people becoming rebellious and complaining and then they are bitten and killed by these snakes.
It’s passages like this that skeptics of the Bible look to and say, “If God is so loving, then why did he send serpents to bite and kill His own people?” When we approach something like this and say that God is not loving because he does something like this, then we start with the assumption that we, as mortal, finite beings, are the ultimate standard of what love and justice is.
That’s where we go wrong. We start trying to interpret the Bible with our own feelings and preferences. So, we must always start with God.
Sin offends God. It’s not about the offense or the sin, it’s about who’s been offended by this sin.
And ultimately, in spite us offending Him with our sin and rebellion, He gives us Jesus. Jesus takes our wrath on Himself, and if we look at our sin as it’s laid on Jesus’ shoulders, then we will live.
Think about the philosophical implications of that for a minute: The Israelites had to confront the confront the very thing that was afflicting them, but they couldn’t do it on their own terms. If they did it on their own terms, they would die, but if they just obeyed Moses, and ultimately God, and did things God’s way, then they would live. And what was required of them wasn’t hard, all they had to do was look, and that’s all you have to do. All you have to do is look at Jesus.
“Behold the man upon the cross, my sin upon His shoulders.
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers
His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished.”
– How Deep the Father’s Love For Us
“Just as the bitten Israelites were healed by a look of faith, so the sinner may be saved by looking to Christ by faith… The moment a sinner does that he is saved, just as God said to Moses, “It shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” – Arthur W. Pink
How Do We Become Born Again?
Look to Christ in faith! In Isaiah 45, we have the most loving command that God has ever given humanity.
“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” – Isaiah 45:22, KJV
All you have to do is look to Him and be saved!! Then God follows this command with, “for I am God, and there is none else.” He’s saying that there’s no one else who can save you! There’s nobody who can provide an atoning sacrifice!!
John never tells us the conclusion of Nicodemus’ story, but it does tell us the conclusion of the story those who have been born again and those who have not been born again.
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” – John 3:36, NKJV
If you want life, eternal and abundant, then it’s yours in Christ.
I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to sing one more hymn together, and as we sing, these altars are our open. Let Jesus minister to you this morning, and let us pray for you.
Heavenly Father, we are Yours. As the old hymn says, “You have opened the life gate that we may go in” and we are grateful. This morning, I pray that You would grant us faith and repentance. Give us life and power by Your Spirit, and we’ll give You all the praise, glory, and honor. In the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.