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!