Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on February 28, 2016
Open your Bible to John 3:22-36. Today we are taking another look at the role of John the Baptist. Before we read our text, I want to spend some time refreshing your memory regarding the Baptist. If you recall, in chapter 1, there was a substantial amount discussion about John the Baptist not being the Christ.
Whispers in of the Garden
If you recall, in at the end of chapter 2 and the beginning of Chapter 3, Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem, the epicenter of all things Jewish. In two briefs stories we see Jesus cleanse the Temple and then put in place the presumable foremost teacher of Israel. We also were told that while Jesus was in Jerusalem his popularity was growing. The reason for the rise in interest in Jesus was because they saw the “signs that he was doing.”
As verse 22 in our text says, “After this Jesus and his disciples went in the Judean countryside.” Their location in the Judean countryside is noteworthy due to next week’s sermon regarding the Samaritan Women at the well, and how they ended up there. Also in the countryside, as we have already mentioned, was John the Baptist. This Judean countryside was the “wilderness” that John mentions in Chapter 1 verse 23. The specific location of John is mentioned, “Aenon near Salim.” Aenon is the Greek word for Springs, which makes sense because we are told that water is plentiful there. It is possible that Aenon was an Oasis of sorts. The reason I say this is that the comment that water was plentiful there seems to imply that the area around Aenon, water was not plentiful. The springs of water made it unique is the potentially dry terrain.
And it was in the midst of Aenon, these springs, this Oasis, a very interesting dispute arose. The dispute began between a Jew and of the disciples of John the Baptist. The dispute was over purification. Now if you recall, this was not the first time John’s group had been questioned about their baptizing. In chapter 1 we were told the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to question his authority to Baptize people. We cannot be sure about all the specifics about what the debate was over regarding baptism and purification, but we can perhaps read between the lines because it was the dispute that caused John’s disciple to approach John. The dispute was the catalyst to the question. And there statement, which is really a question, was centered on the new competition, Jesus. Verse 26, ““Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”
These disciples had been caught up in the movement around John the Baptist. My guess is that it was a very exciting time for these disciples. Each day this movement grew and grew and it seemed like something amazing was going to happen, and then all of the sudden the movement peaked out, and slowly started to lose energy, lose momentum, lose people. As the disciples watched the people’s curiosity shift and be go to Jesus, it merely took one man to pose a question regarding what God had said about purification to gain a foothold in their heart. Perhaps the Jew simply compared the Jewish purification, to John's purification, and now Jesus Purification, and simply asked, “What, did you purification not work?”
The tone of John’s disciples question seems to be one of disappointment. It seems to be one of jealousy. Not wanting all the people to go to Jesus, they wanted all the people to stay with them. They desired the glory that they had tasted. They coveted what belonged to Jesus.
As I meditated on this text, I could not help but see the connection to the Garden of Eden, an Oasis of its own. If you recall the snake crept into the garden and whispered a subtle question into the ear of Eve about what God had commanded. And as Adam and Eve dwelt upon who God was, and the glory that was His, and they heard the whisper of Satan, “you will be like God,” they thought that sounded pretty good, and grabbed for it.
Instead of accepting the parameters of God’s will, Adam and Eve rejected Him and attempted to grab hold of something that was not theirs to possess. And what Adam and Eve thought would produce joy, in fact, produced the opposite: guilt, shame, separation, and death.
What is happening in John 3 is merely the echo of the Garden. These disciples were coveting the glory that belonged to Jesus, and the subtle question over purification started to spread. Starting with the Jew, then the John’s disciples, and now to John. The question is will John’s response be like the response of Adam’s and fall prey to Satan's attack?
Founded Upon the Sovereignty of God
Look at verse 27, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” In the face of the temptation of coveting and pride, ground zero for John the Baptist was the Sovereignty of God. He goes right to the bottom of the well and drinks deeply. And his statement leaves no wiggle room. “A person” means everyone. “Even one thing” means everything. “Given him from heaven” means God does it all.
The way in which John addresses the temptation of coveting and pride is to recognize who holds his destiny. He recognizes his assignment. He recognizes his role, and he restates his role again in verse 28, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’” The assigned role of John was to come before Christ, not to be the Christ.
The word Christ, is not the last name of Jesus. It is a title. The Hebrew word for Christ is Messiah, which means anointed one. The word Christ is used over 500 times in the New Testament, and each time it in referring to Jesus of Nazareth. This man, Jesus, is declared to be the Anointed One. But what does it mean to be the anointed one?
In the Old Testament, the Kings and the Priests would be anointed with oil. This was to symbolize their designated and chosen status. The oil, symbolizing the anointing, was just that, a symbol. When Christ came, God did not use, oil, he used something far greater to display his chosen. Look at verse 34, “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” The oil of God, is the Spirit of God.
Do you recall what I read earlier in John 1:32-34, what does John the Baptist say is the reason he knew that his half cousin, Jesus was the Christ, “And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”
Some of you, who are thinking critically, may now say, but wait, there are many Old Testament people whom the Spirit of God came upon. And in fact, John the Baptist, himself was filled with the Spirit while he was in his mothers womb. And this is true, but what is different about the anointing of the Spirit on Christ? It is without measure. What does this mean? It means that there is no holding back, it is all the Spirit that has come upon, and remained upon Jesus. All that God is, the fullness of Him is in this man, Jesus.
However we must understand that the full and perfect anointing of the Spirit is not the only privilege of being the Christ. Look at verse 35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” Another reality of being the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One is that God has given everything into his hands. God the Father, has given everything to His Son Jesus as a gift.
Perhaps the most explicit picture of this fundamental truth is found in Daniel 7:13-14. Turn with me there so that you can see it for yourself. This passage is a vision that Daniel was given by God, 600 years before Jesus was born.
So as John the Baptist sees this start to unfold right before his eyes, and people begin to leave him and go to Jesus, he gets it. He understands that this World, this Universe, is not created for him. The world does not revolve around man, it revolves around the Son.
The Increase of Christ is the Increase of Joy
Now what I want us to understand is the way in which John saw the unfolding of God giving people to His son. It was not robotic, it was romantic. Verse 29, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.” John viewed this relationship as an intimate one, as one that was bound by love. To John it was a beautiful union, and as he saw the Bride walk down the aisle to meet they groom his heart swelled. Verse 29, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” The source of John's joy was the fulfillment of Daniel 7. As he watched Jesus given dominion, glory, a kingdom, people his soul was satisfied. It was the ultimate love story. In fact, it is this engrained and eternal love story of the Anointed and His Bride that all other love story's flow. This is why movies like the Cinderella and Notebook resonate with us. The destiny of this love is in our spiritual DNA.
And this type of joyful reaction by John is not unique to him. It exists for everyone who is born of the Spirit. One of the reasons, I believe, this text follows the discussion on the new birth is because God wants us to understand the radical difference between religious people and someone who is born again. God desired to show the difference between a Nicodemus who didn't get and a John who does.
Are You Religious or Romantic
So the question is whose camp are you in, Nicodemus or John the Baptist? Do you spend your days focusing on sacraments, or is your heart for For Christ? Do you pridefully love yourself or do you humbly love Christ? Do you seek joy in religion or does your joy come from watching Christ increase in your life, in your family, in your community, in Eastern Iowa, in the World?
For some of you, whether you realize it or not, you are here for the wrong reason. You are pursuing something other than Christ. He is not central, preeminent, in your heart. You have exchanged the Anointed One for something else. This decision to create your own dominion, your own Kingdom, your own glory will not produce joy. John tells us this very clearly in in verse 36, “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
For the rest of you, and I hope this is a majority, you are here for the right reason. You want more of Jesus Christ. And John's battle cry is your battle cry. God has given each of you a destiny, an assignment, a role to do all that you can to make much of Christ. This is the purpose of the Universe, and this is the purpose of you. This is why God created you. You are to be a Bride who gushes over her Groom. Everything you do should be oriented towards the increase of Christ, and the wonderful reality is that as you do this, you will find your joy. For this is your destiny. This is your purpose. This is why you breath. To make much of Christ. The more you surrender to this reality, the more your joy will overflow.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on February 21, 2015 .
Turn in your Bibles to John 3. We will be reading verses 14-21. However, before we unpack that section, we must spend a short time reviewing what was discussed last week. Last week, we began analyzing the conversation between the Nicodemus and Jesus. As we saw, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, part of the Sanhedrin, and was known as the Teacher of Israel. He was very comparable to the Roman Catholic Pope in many ways.
Having said that, despite Nicodemus' religious pedigree, and rise to the top, Jesus made it very clear that Nicodemus was completely in the dark. Nicodemus wanted to know about getting into the Kingdom of God, and Jesus told him that you cannot get into the Kingdom of God through works of the flesh. The only way into the Kingdom was through the new birth. This new birth, Jesus teaches, is from God, and Jesus says it is like the Wind. It blows into your life, out of nowhere, and gives you the eyes to see Jesus as King, and submit to his rule.
As John puts it in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” God's love for us is the cause of our love of Him. God is the ultimate and decisive reason why we love Him. Without God first loving us, we have no ability in our depraved, stone hard hearts to love God. Therefore, it is impossible to enter the Kingdom apart from being born again.
Listen to how Jesus says it in Matthew 19:25-26, “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Man cannot save themselves, it is impossible. Only God can save. Nicodemus was trying to do the impossible. He was trying to save himself through his religion. He was depending on works, religious sacraments, and this was a lost cause. It was as if he was trying to swim across the Pacific Ocean, it doesn't matter how good a swimmer you think you are, you just can't do it. The only way to see and then enter the Kingdom is to be born again.
And this portion of the conversation that we unpacked last week is so crucial as we step into the second portion. So many people will read John 3:16 without the first 15 verses, and when they do this, their theology gets all twisted. The new birth is the prerequisite for the verses we are about to unpack. So with that said, let us read our text for today, pray, and examine God's Word.
A Serpent in the Wilderness
In verse 14 we see Jesus say, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” What is Jesus talking about?
What Jesus is doing is exactly what he did earlier in the conversation with Nicodemus. In an attempt to help Nicodemus understand the Gospel, Jesus is dropping Biblical references. Last week, Jesus dropped two words, “water and spirit” and these two words, as we saw, were references to Ezekiel 36. As we saw, these two words have nothing to do with Baptism or physical birth, these two words were to refer Nicodemus to the Old Testament's description of the new birth, whereby God cleanses you with water and puts his Spirit in you.
Jesus, in verse 14, is doing the exact same thing when he refers to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. Turn with me to Numbers 21:4-9. Last week I quickly touched on this reference, but did not go into it due to time, and I felt that today we needed to look at it a little closer.
In this passage the nation of Israel is in the midst of their 40 year wandering in the dessert. This was prior to their entry into promise land. This brief text in Numbers is a great window into the relationship between God and Israel during this 40 years. For in this brief story we see the rebellious nature of the people of Israel, the justice and wrath of God, and the love of their covenant God.
As many of you know, Israel, as described in the Old Testament, was a stiff necked people. They were constantly rebellious and ungrateful for all that God did for them. God's response to their sin was not to ignore it. God, being a just God, punished Israel for their rebellion. Numbers 21 is just one example of His justice. In or passage, the wage for Israel’s sin was death by poisonous snake. Moses, in response to God's justice and wrath, stood between a sinful Israel and a Holy God and asked God to take away the serpents. What is interesting is that God did not take away the serpents. God did not take away the punishment. Instead he had Moses make a bronze image of a serpent and put it on a pole. Why?
The reason was, in my opinion, is that the root problem for Israel was their lack of faith. Their impatience and their complaints against God was a direct result of their lack of faith in God. So what does God do, instead of taking away the serpents, he institutes a plan of salvation that requires an act of faith.
When an Israelite was bitten, they knew that they were as good as dead, and in that moment of realization that their destiny was death, they had a choice to make, believe in the power of the bronze snake to save them, or try something else. They had to make a decision: God's way, or another way. My guess is that after many people dieing they quickly realized that there was only one way to remove the death sentence. They had to trust God's way, and run to the bronze snake and set their eyes upon it high and lifted up. The means of God's Grace was faith in His plan. And God, desiring them to understand both his justice and his grace, uses the image of death (the snake), to overcome death.
The story of Numbers 21 is literally the cross reference that Jesus uses to help Nicodemus understand what he must do to enter into the Kingdom of God. Verse 14 , “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” The lifting up of the Son, is the lifting up of Jesus upon the cross. Numbers 21 is a foreshadowing of the death of Jesus, that overcomes the sting of death. Nicodemus and anyone else bitten by the snake to believe in God's plan of salvation and put their faith in the power of Christ on the cross.
We Have Been Bitten
Whether the world realizes, the universal truth is that all of humanity has been bitten by the serpent of old, otherwise known as Satan. And his poison has spread from Adam to all of us. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned--“ Sin has been passed down from one generation to the next, to the next. Sin is a spiritually genetic disease.
When we look Numbers 21, we must not only see a foreshadow of the cross, but we must also see a foreshadow of ourselves. For we have all spoken against the Lord, and we have all rejected his rule in our life. We have all chosen to live our life independent of him, grumbling all along the way. Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned.” Romans 3:10, “None is righteous, no not one.” Ecclesiastes 7:20, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” Perhaps Proverbs 20:9 says it best, “Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”?” The answer to that question is no one. There is no doubt that Satan's fangs have pierced each one of us.
And this is why in verse 18 it says, “but whoever does not believe is condemned already.” The word condemned in Greek is Krino, which means judged, concluded, determined. The gavel of God has fallen and he has declared everyone that does not believe in Jesus condemned.
The world is oblivious to this reality, just like Nicodemus. He didn’t understand that as he stood in that moment, he was not neutral before God, he was guilty, and no level of religiosity was going to save him. So many of us have heard people say over and over again that they are going to heaven because they are a good person. I don't know where they get this, because Jesus, who knows the hearts of all men, says that everyone who doesn't believe in him is siting on death row, waiting for their name to be called. There is no innocent party on God's death row. Everyone has earned their place of condemnation.
And oh how important is this!? If people do not recognize the severity of their condition, then they will never seek a cure. People must be told this truth. Our Gospel must include this crucial message. Everyone has been bitten, your children have been bitten, your parents have been bitten, your neighbors have been bitten, you co-workers have been bitten, and we must tell them. If we do not, who will? When we do this we are not judging them, for judgment has already been made. God has already declared them to be guilty. Our role is to be the messenger of this biblical truth and love them enough to tell them the truth.
Faith Alone, Christ Alone
And we must not forget that this truth of their condemnation does not come alone, nor should it. We do not declare guilt to rub salt in the wounds of the brokenhearted, we do it in hope that they cling to the cure, Jesus Christ.
And we should be very clear, that there is only one cure. For Israel, the only answer that God provided was the Bronze Serpent. It was the only thing that would take away the poison of the fiery serpent. Likewise, Jesus is the only way that God provided to deal with our condemnation. It is terribly common for people, such as Oprah, to say blasphemous things such as Jesus is one way, but not the only way. This is absolutely false. The God of the Universe, has chosen a single cure for our depraved condition, and the cure is his son Jesus.
Verse 17 says, “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.” This is why Jesus came, to save us through him. Not through our good works, not through our religion, not through our baptism, not through communion, not through Islam, not through Budism, not through Hinduism, not through technology, not through money, not through our nationality. Our salvation hinges on Christ alone. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. I have heard so many people say, it is not important what you believe in, but just that you believe in something. Imagine if that was the message of Moses as he walked among the corpses of Israel.
Later on in the book of John we will here the famous words of Christ himself in John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the bronze serpent, and we must hold him high in the wilderness of this world, and plead with people to believe in the sufficiency of the blood of Jesus as poured out on Calvary.
Some people may find this hard to believe, that simply believing in Jesus is enough, but it is. The Bible could not be more clear on this point. Verse 15 “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” Verse 16“that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Verse 18 “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.” Everything hinges on faith in Christ. The Gospel can be summed up with the phrase Faith alone, Grace alone, Christ Alone.
For God So Loved
And this leads us to a very important question, why? Why would God save wretched, rebellious, depraved sinners like us? There is no doubt that we deserve Hell. What is the motivation behind his radical action of not only saving us, but saving us through the death of His Son? In between verse 15 and the end of verse 16 we see perhaps the most beautiful words in all of Scripture, “For God so loved the world.”
Without getting into all the the linguistic details of Greek, the phrase behind “so loved” stresses the intensity of God's love towards those who believe. He is driven by his love. His love compels him to act. And to emphasize even more the weight of his love towards those who believe, the gift God gives in the display of his love is of the absolute highest value. For there is not a greater gift that can ever be given, by man or by God, then the gift of His Son, is truly the pearl of great value and it is placed upon the finger of his Bride.
And I hope that this sinks in, especially as Easter approaches and we, with a more heightened attention, focus on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The reason why, the Son of God was beaten, spit on, mocked, torn to shreds, nailed to a tree, and left to die is because God loves you.
And this word love in Greek is agapao, some of you are familiar with another form of this word, agape. This word agape is a love that is not based upon conditions. It is a love that is freely given by grace alone. It is a love that cannot be earned, only received. I liked the way DA Carson put it, “the love of God is not the consequence of their loveliness but on the sublime truth that God is love.” As sinners, this kind of love is beyond our comprehension. It is beyond words. It is simply something to be praised.
Earlier this month, a group of us were at a conference hosted by Desiring God and during that conference a speaker quoted a hymn that none of us were familiar with, and afterward we were talking about how beautiful the words were and we wished we knew the name. Well, by God's sovereignty, during my study this week, I came across them again, and feel compelled to end today with them. These are the words of F.M. Lehman in his hymn, “Love of God.”
“Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall for evermore endure
The saints' and angels' song.”
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on February 14, 2016
Open your Bibles to John 3:1-15. We continue to work through the wonderful Gospel of John and today we find ourselves in the midst of one of the most interesting conversations to have ever taken place. For this conversation is a display of the Wisdom of God and the ignorance of man. Due to the theological depth and importance of this conversation, we will actually break it into two parts. Having said that, today we will be scratching the surface of an immense topic. Therefore, let us get right to work and read our text, and ask the Spirit of God to blow on us and reveal to us the heavenly things found in these verses.
The Belief of Man
If you recall, in the first two chapters of John we saw Jesus stepping onto the scene in bold fashion. First, their was an endorsement from the most influential Prophet of all time, John the Baptist. Next, in Chapter 2 we saw Jesus standing in the midst of the Temple on one of the Holiest days of the year for the Jews and put down his stake in the ground and established his absolute authority. While he was at the Passover he began to show signs, or miracles, just like he saw would happen in John 1:50-51, “You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Last week our text ended with in 2:23 with these words, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”
The people of Jerusalem observed the signs and believed. Now our tendency is to assume that the belief that John is talking about is belief unto salvation, but in this case, it is not. How do we know? Because we are told that Jesus did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people. This belief of those who saw the signs was not a belief that caused a union between man and Jesus. This belief in Jesus, to use James terminology, was a dead faith. It was a faith of the flesh, a belief of the mind, a worldly belief.
This type of worldly, fleshly belief is the same belief that caused Nicodemus to go to Jesus in the darkness of night. You can see this verse 2 of our text this morning, Nicodemus says, “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.” The belief of Nicodemus was no better than spiritual curiosity, and Jesus knew it.
The Ignorance of Man
Before we get too far into it, let’s spend some time talking about Nicodemus, because who he is and what he knows, helps us in following the logic of Jesus. First we are told that Nicodemus is a Pharisee. What is a Pharisee? A Pharisee was a Jewish religious sect. The Greek word is Pharisaios, which means separatist, or purist. A Pharisee would have been very well versed in the Old Testament and their focus was on keeping all of the law, in hopes that by keeping the law they would be found worthy to enter or remain in God's. Therefore they were a very pious group, and therefore, there were very few of them. According to Josephus there were only about 6000 Pharisees at the time of Jesus. If you recall, it was estimated that over 2 million people were at the Passover, and only 6,000 of them were Pharisees. So to be a Pharisee was to be the cream of the Jewish crop, so to speak.
Second, we are told that not only was Nicodemus a Pharisee, but in verse 1 it says that he was a ruler of the Jews. The Jewish people was a part of the Roman empire, however, Ceaser gave them great deal of latitude and allowed the Jews to maintain their own form of government. The group who oversaw this government was a group of 70 men that made up what was called the Sanhedrin. They were the Supreme Court of the nation of Israel, so to speak. Therefore, not only was Nicodemus the cream of the crop, he was the cream of the cream of the crop.
But if that isn’t enough, in verse 10 we see Jesus say, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” The way in which Jesus says this seems to imply that not only was Nicodemus a Pharisee, and not only was he a part of the ruling class, but he was also a well known teacher. In fact, Jesus does not say A teacher, but THE teacher of Israel, almost as if, Nicodemus was the foremost scholar of all things Jewish.
So in summary, Nicodemus was the cream of the cream of the cream of the crop. Therefore, within the kingdom of man, there was no one who was more qualified than Nicodemus. So, on this dark night in Jerusalem, Nicodemus the embodiment of the wisdom of the World came to seek answers from the Maker of the World.
Jesus Knows What is in Man
As we mentioned before, Nicodemus started the conversation with a general statement found in verse 2, “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.” What is interesting about this statement is Jesus’ response. Take a look at verse 3, “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
What is so interesting about this answer given by Jesus is that Nicodemus did not ask a question. Jesus seems to be off on a tangent. Which is not uncommon for Jesus. What is going on here? Do you recall what we said earlier? John 2:25, Jesus “knew what was in man.” As Nicodemus shows up and starts the conversation with a sort of small talk, Jesus bypasses the white noise and gets right to the heart of why Nicodemus was there. As Nicodemus stood before Jesus, Jesus knew exactly what the real question was. Nicodemus wanted to know how to get into the Kingdom.
Nicodemus, a seasoned, educated, politician, stood before this 30 year old Carpenter’s Son, and Jesus read him like a book. How? Because he is God. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” And the question on Nicodemus' heart was how to get into the eternal Kingdom of God.
And this hidden, heartfelt, question of Nicodemus makes complete sense. As a Pharisee, ruler, and teacher, his entire life was oriented around that question. How do I enter the Kingdom? He scoured the Scriptures hoping to find eternal life, and now he stood in the presence of the King and could not see that the answer was right before him. For the Word that Nicodemous had scoured had become flesh and dwelt in his midst, he just couldn’t see it. Why?
You Must Be Born Again
Jesus tells us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The key to seeing the Kingdom is being born again. If you are not born again, you can’t see the Kingdom. If you are not born again, you can’t see the King as he stands before you. You are blind to his Royalty. You are blind Majesty. You are blind to his authority. Nicodemus was truly a train passing Christ in the midst of the darkness of his life. And Jesus inform us that everything hinges on being born again. Therefore we must figure this out. What does it mean to be born again?
First, let us first declare what it is not. Being born again is not religion. Jesus flat out tells Nicodemus that he is not born again. Take a look at verse 10-12.
Throughout Nicodemus' life had immersed himself in religion. Whatever sacrament was thrown before him, he did it. He was a Pharisee, a purist. Nicodemus was more religious than the Pope, yet he was completely in the dark, just like the Pope. So it is clear, a life of religion is not what it means to be born again. And this is crucial for so many of your friends and family. So many people are just like Nicodemus, they are looking for the Kingdom in the dessert of religion. Their religion won’t save them!
So what will? Verse 5, “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Because Nicodemus doesn’t understand what being born again means, Jesus helps him out. Jesus says that being born again is the same as being born of the water and the Spirit. Those two things are the same. To be born again is to be born of the water and the spirit.
Next verse 6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” So being born again is not of the flesh, being born again is a spiritual thing. The flesh is just another way of saying we do it, works based. Jesus is saying that nothing we do can birth us. This birth of the water and spirit is totally spiritual. Therefore, because water and spirit is totally spiritual, and not flesh, it also rules out natural birth and baptism. Both those things are of the flesh, and not of the Spirit. Both those things are acts of men.
This makes sense, doesn’t it? Think about the word that Jesus chose to use to describe the way you see the Kingdom…born. How many of you played any role in your birth? None of you. You were completely passive in being born. It is just something that happened to you. It was a gift that you were merely a recipient of. You had nothing to do with your new life. It just happened and here you are. This is the picture Jesus chose to use to describe the first step into the Kingdom. So what is this spiritual, born of water and spirit, birth that Jesus is talking about? Turn with me to Ezekiel 36:25-27. As I have said many times before, this is a section of the Old Testament that all of you must know.
Jesus, talking to the foremost expert on all things Old Testament, drops two words that should have raised a flag for Nicodemus, water and spirit. There is only one place that those two words are used in the Old Testament when speaking about the Kingdom of God, Ezekiel 36, and in this text who do we see doing all the work? God. Just look at the text, “I will sprinkle,” “I will cleanse,” “I will give,” “I will put within,” “I will remove and give, “ “I will put and cause.” To be born again means that God does it all. To see and enter the Kingdom of God is all about Grace.
This was the primary message that Jesus was proclaiming into the life of Nicodemus. Nicodemus has spent his whole life trying to earn his way to heaven, and it had gotten him absolutely no where. All of his religious pursuits that he inherited from his parents traditions did not have the power to give this spiritually blind man sight. Only God can make the blind see. Salvation is completely and utterly an act of God, and man is merely the recipient. This truth is the core of the Gospel; God gives all the grace and therefore gets all the glory.
And this is not the first time that John speaks of this fundamental truth regarding salvation. John 1:12 – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Being born again is based on the will of God, period. If someone receives Jesus, if someone believes in his name, it is not because they are smarter than everyone else, it is because God has chosen to set his irresistible grace upon him. Jesus reiterates this fundamental truth in verse 8 of our text, “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.” The word for wind is pneuma. It is the same word that is used for Spirit. This pneuma, this wind, this Spirit has a will. Jesus says, it does what IT wishes. When someone turns from everything they know and places their entire life at the feet of Jesus Christ, the only explanation is Ezekiel 36. God has put his Spirit in them an caused them to walk in his way and follow his Son.
Why does God want us to know this truth? Because God does not share his glory. He saves for his name, not for mans. He is God and his Grace will not be robbed from him and turned into a wage of man.
Don't Ask the Wrong Question
This leaves many people with a question, “What must I do to be chosen?” This is the wrong question, no where in the Bible does God command you to be chosen. Likewise, people may ask, “Am I chosen?” Once again this is the wrong question, no where is the Bible does it command you to wonder if you have been chosen.
Instead what we see in the Bible is the testimony of Jesus Christ. And this is what Jesus starts to unveil to Nicodemus in verse 14 when he said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” The fountainhead of the Grace of God is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The command of God is to look upon his Son who has been lifted up on the cross. Setting your eyes upon Jesus and trusting in is crucifixion will save you from eternal damnation This is the command of God. If you do, than you have been born again. And if you have been born again, then thanks be to God!
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on February 7, 2016
Open your Bibles to John 2:13-25. John MacArthur wrote a book titled, “Jesus You Can’t Ignore.” There is a copy of that book on the back table, if someone has not already picked it up. On that back of the book it says this, “Our view of Jesus affects the way we view God, the world, ourselves, and every one of our decisions. These days, Jesus is often portrayed as a pacifist, a philanthropist, or a docile teacher. He strikes a plastic-and sometime pathetic – pose in the minds of many. Some prefer the meek and mild Jesus who heals the sick, calms fears, and speaks of peace and goodwill. These things do represent a portion of the Messiah. But tragically, too many have never been exposed to the rest of him. They have never seen a full 360-degree view of the Savior.”
Oh, how true that statement is today. We, as a culture, have transformed Jesus into a false idol. We have manipulated who he is to suit our own desires. Why does this happen? For several reasons, but one is because so many people refuse to read the Book that reveals the One True God. We instead write our own book and create the Jesus that best fits our needs. So with this in mind, let us set our eyes upon the true account of Jesus as it is laid out in John 2:13-25 and examine this Jesus we can’t ignore.
As we have mentioned before the Passover celebration for the Jews was the pinnacle of their festivities. This festival commemorated the birth of the nation of Israel out of the womb of sinful Egypt. The means by which God freed Israel from the chains of Egypt was through death. The firstborn son of every family would die upon the arrival of the Angel of Death, however, it you killed a Lamb without blemish and put the blood of that lamb on the doorposts of your home, then the Angel would see the blood as a sign that death had already come upon this house, and would passover the home. The lamb was the substitute for the Hebrews, and because of the Lamb death would enter into the homes of the Hebrews. 1500 years later, Israel was still celebrating this event.
The Passover could be viewed, in Geo-political sense, in the same way we view the Fourth of July. We celebrate the Fourth of July because it commemorates when we, America, officially declared our independence. The Passover was likewise the celebration when Israel became an independent nation. Having said this, the Passover celebration is also unlike the fourth of July in many, many ways. One way that it is different is location. The Passover was not celebrated in small towns throughout Israel, or in the backyards of quaint neighborhoods, it was celebrated in Jerusalem. The people were expected to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem so as to participate in the Passover festival, hence why we see Jesus, Mary, his half-brothers, and his disciples making their way to the City of David.
No one knows for sure, but Josephus, a Jewish historian claimed that there could have been upwards to 2.7 million people in Jerusalem at the time of a Passover. Because of this there would be people everywhere. Some even say that the city limits of Jerusalem were actually expanded so that people could claim to be in Jerusalem and fulfill the requirement to be in Jerusalem, yet still find a place to lay their head. Therefore, it would be an understatement to say that Jerusalem, at the time of the Passover, would have been a bustling city, the houses would be filled, the streets would be filled, and of course the Temple would be filled. For the Temple was ground zero for the celebration.
As many of you are aware, the Temple was the central location of all things Jewish, and as we can see in our text, it was a very impressive building. Verse 20, the Jews claimed that had taken forty-six years to build the temple. The temple of Jesus’ day is referred to as Herod’s Temple. The reason it is named this is that Herod is the one attributed to constructing such a marvelous building. The building of this temple by Herod was believed to have begun around 19 B.C. and continued through Herod’s death in 4 B.C., and was not actually completed until around 63 B.C. Seven years later it was destroyed by Titus, the Roman General. If you do the quick math, 46 years from 19 B.C. is 27 A.D., and this could be a decent estimate of what year it was when this took place.
The Temple was a marvelous building. If you want to get a feel for it, many of you will have a picture of it in your ESV Study Bible. The Temple itself would have consisted of the most Holy Place, which only the High Priest would enter once a year, the Holy Place, which only priests could enter. This would have been where John the Baptist’s dad, Zechariah, would have received the message from the angle about the conception of his son. Surrounding the actual Temple were different courtyards; first the courtyard of the Jewish men, then the courtyard of Jewish women, and then the courtyards of the Gentiles. When all of this was added together the Temple with all of its courtyards was something to behold.
Most likely, the events for today's text took place in the courtyard of the Gentiles. This is the one place that everyone was welcome. No one was excluded from this place, not even the animals. The reason for the animals and the money-changers being present in the courtyard of the Temple was that during the Passover sacrifices would be made at the Temple. For the thousands, hundred of thousands, and perhaps million people who came to Jerusalem, they did not bring an animal to sacrifice with them. Instead they would purchased these per-approved animals on site.
In order to do this, you had to have the right money. The only money that was accepted on the Temple grounds was the Jewish currency, the shekel. This currency was not the common currency in Rome, therefore many of the pilgrims, did not have shekels, but only coins with Ceaser's image upon it. Therefore, upon their arrival to the Temple, they first would go to the money changers and exchange their Romans coin for shekels. On top of this exchange was a handling fee. As you would guess, the fee was not cheap. It was estimated that the cost to exchange would be up to one man's average daily wage.
From there, you would then go and purchase a pre-approved animal that was a substantially higher price than its true value. As you can also expect, because of the monopoly that existed within the Courtyard, the prices were fixed so to speak. So the whole ordeal would have cost an average person a great deal of money. Which leads us to the question, who was behind this whole thing. The answer to this is the High Priest. He was the one in charge of the entire event. The buck, or the shekel, stopped with him. IN fact, I found this interesting as I was reading a commentary by Kent Hughes, that the Temple was sarcastically nicknamed the “Bazaars of Annas.” Annas was the high co-high priest during Jesus' time. And for Annas the Passover was like the Superbowl. It provided a great opportunity to fill the coffers that paid for his bread.
So hopefully, with this picture you get a sense of what Jesus was walking into when he stepped foot onto the Temple grounds. People everywhere, money flying, grumbling, perhaps bartering, the bleating of sheep the the bellowing of oxen. It could, perhaps, best be described as a combination between a sale-barn and a casino.
Which leads us to another question, is this what God intended when he first established the tabernacle, which was later followed by the Temple? The answer to this is clearly no. Jesus tells us himself in verse 16, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” The intent of the Temple was not about filling the coffers of the Sanhedrin. It was not about fund-raising for temple construction, comfortable lifestyles for the priests. No, the Temple was about worship.
After God brought Israel out of Egypt, he commanded Moses to construct a tabernacle, which was a pre-cursor to the Temple. This tabernacles was to be the center of the Israeli culture. When they moved from place to place, the tabernacle was to be in the center of the camp. The purpose of the tabernacle was so that God could have a relationship with sinful Israel. The tabernacle provided the means by which God and man could have a relationship. Later, during the life of King Solomon, the tabernacle was replaced with the Temple. The ascetics were different, but the function was the same. The temple was the means by which a Holy God could have an ongoing relationship with His sinful people. As Jesus stepped onto the scene that day, what he saw was a far cry from worship.
Now, it should be noted that when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for this specific Passover, it was not his first time there. He would have first seen the Temple 30 years early when he was brought to the Temple to be presented to the Lord shortly after his birth. Following his first experience with the Passover, he would have participated in many more. In Luke 2:41 it says, “Every year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.” Therefore, most likely Jesus had been observing the Passover and the Bazaar of Annas for a number of years. So that question is, why now? Why does he wait until he is around the age of 30 to unleash.
I believe the answer is found in last week's text with Jesus' semi-rebuking statement to his mother. John 2:4 - “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” We can't be for sure, but I believe that the hour Jesus was referring to was the hour of this Passover. This, in my opinion, was Jesus' coming out party. This is how Jesus would burst upon the public scene. Up to this point, John had been announcing his coming and to those who were within earshot declared him to be the Lamb of God, but as Jesus arrives in Jerusalem we see the teeth of this Lamb as he shows his colors as the Lion of Judah.
And this Lion was not happy with what he saw being done in His Kingdom, and he was consumed by his righteous zeal for his Father's house, so what he do? He was going to clean house. As his disciples ponder this roaring Lion, driving out animals and flipping tables, the Spirit of God reminds them of Psalm 69. In our text today, only verse 9 is quoted, but the entire Psalm drips with prophetic utterances of Christ.
This calculated action by Jesus drew the attention of those who were in charge of the Temple grounds that day and they asked Jesus in verse 18, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” This question is quite telling. Notice what they didn't do. They didn't arrest Jesus. They did not accuse Jesus as being crazy. They didn't even throw him out, they asked for a sign. Why? Because the Spirit of God was upon him. They may not have recognized him as who he was, but in a sense they knew. Perhaps they could not put their spiritual finger on it, but the presence of God was not something that could be ignored. From children, to fisherman, to tax collectors, to prostitutes, to rulers, and Kings, every knew that this man was more than a Man.
Credentials of Christ
So what was Jesus' response to their request for credentials? Verse 19, “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” What does Jesus mean by this? Verse 21 tells us, “ he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”
Jesus in this statement speaks to two great truths, the purpose of the temple and the power of his resurrection. First, the purpose of the Temple. As we stated earlier, the purpose of the tabernacle and later the Temple was to allow a Holy God to have a relationship with a sinful people. Having said that, the tabernacle and the Temple had no power to permanently remove sins. These things were merely a shadow of something greater than the Temple, Jesus Christ.
The Author of Hebrews speaks to this in Hebrews 8:5, “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.”
It is no coincidence that just a few pages before John 2, it tells us in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That word dwelt is actually best translated as tabernacled. Jesus has pitched his tent amongst his people. He is the true tabernacle. The tent and the temple are just copies of Him. They were merely foreshadows of the better covenant and the better promises of the unbreakable love of God found in Christ. Jesus was and is the only way that a Holy God can have a relationship with a sinful people. Therefore, if anyone had authority over that Holy Ground it was the Holy One of God.
The second credential that Jesus flashes is his resurrection. The Jews asked for a sign. The greatest sign of the authority of Christ in this world is the empty tomb. Why? Because in the resurrection of Christ is the power of God to overcome sin and therefore overcome death. The root cause of all problems is sin. If sin is removed then the Garden of Eden is restored. The Lamb who was slain, has defeated sin and death on the cross and the resurrection is the manifestation of that power. As Paul so rights says in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19.
Why should this world repent and believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, because the temple of Christ body was destroyed and three days later it was raised in glory. Cornerstone, that is the truth in which we stand and that is the sign in which we proclaim. The Lamb of God has authority over all things because the Lamb has the power to lay down his life and the Lamb has the power to raise it up again.