Gospel Quest #14: Jesus and Nicodemus
Text John 3:1-18
You may not realize this but today is Super Bowl Sunday. I can honestly and proudly say that I have never stayed home and missed the church to watch the Super Bowl. Nor have I, as a pastor, had a super bowl service in the Lord's House. I'm sure that one day when I get that crown of life, there will be a stone engraved that says, "He never stayed home to watch the Super Bowl instead of going to church."
So how do "real" preachers feel about members missing church to watch the Super Bowl? Well this story kind of recreates the feeling they have.
As a man takes his seat at the Super Bowl. He looks to his left and notices that there is a spare seat between himself and the next guy.
“Wow, I can’t believe anyone would ever miss the Super Bowl?” he says to the next guy.
“Well, you see that was my wife’s seat. We have been to the last five Super Bowls together, but sadly this year she passed away before she could make it.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. That’s really terrible, but couldn’t you give her ticket to another member of the family, or friend, or someone close to the both of you?”
“I did think of that, but they all said, they were going to her funeral.”
So lets not talk about grown men playing a children’s game for millions of dollars, instead lets talk about something truly important and worth much more. Let’s talk about the new birth. What exactly does it mean to be “born again?”
Sometime there can be some misconceptions about what it means to be born again. Like the true story I heard about a doctor in west Texas during the late 1800’s who heard that a patient of his had gotten religion, been “born again.” The man owed the good doctor a bit of money so the doctor thought this would be a good time to collect on the bill. He road out to the former drunkard, now a Christian’s house. He met the man on his front porch.
“I heard you got religion down at the church the other day.”
“That’s right doc. I dun give my life to the Lord.”
“Well that’s good, Tom. That’s real good. Now that you are a good honest, Christian. I was wondering if you might be paying what you owe me now.”
The man looked thoughtfully at the doctor then slowly got up from his chair walked over to his horse and mounted it. He then began to ride off and as he did he began to sing so the doctor could hear, “Jesus Paid it all. All to Him I owe….”
Background of John 3
Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover (John 2:13). Jerusalem at the time had a population of around 80,000 to 100,000 citizens. But hundreds of thousands of Jews, living in other countries would come to the ancient capital for the yearly festivals, 3 of which every male was required by the law to attend. Passover was by far the most important of all the festivals and holy days and it has been estimated that Jerusalem would swell with upwards of 3 million people, visiting Jerusalem during the Passover. (It was a much bigger deal than the Super Bowl. Have I already told you how I feel about the Super bowl?) Jesus at the Passover Holy Day sees the money changers in the temple area, with 3 million people having to come through the temple and exchange their money for temple money in order to buy a sacrificial animal, this was a major source of income to the Temple and especially the Temple officials. Jesus in anger, flip over the tables, scatters their money, disrupts their business and then drives them physically from the temple. You better believe, with around 3 million people in the city, this got noticed. Jesus will also do this same thing again, at the end of his earthly ministry and that event is recorded in Mat 21:12 and Lu 19:45. So these two times of disrupting the commerce and profiteering of the Temple mark the beginning and the end of Jesus work on earth.
This action at the Temple and the miracles we read about in John 2:23, caught the attention of everyone in Jerusalem, especially the Pharisees and in particular, one Pharisee who was also a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jerusalem ruling council this man was named Nicodemus. And it is no wonder that John records this story, Nicodemus was an important man. Probably, later that night or at least while Jesus was still in Jerusalem, Nicodemus came to talk to Jesus. Many think this took place in the house of John the brother of James, or perhaps in the home of a relative. If this is true, John, the disciple who was always the closest to Jesus, may have been quietly sitting in the same room while Jesus talked with Nicodemus and recalled the event years later and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit recorded the event for us to read today.
Seeking Salvation John 3:1-3
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus And the Quest
Nicodemus comes at night because he fears his peers, the Pharisees. After Jesus had turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple, the Pharisees would see Jesus as someone who opposed their authority to oversee not only the commerce of the Temple but also their moral leadership of the Jewish people.
We can see that he was looking for a great teacher, there is a deep sincerity in his seeking. He calls Jesus, Rabbi, which means, teacher or master in the sense of someone who leads disciples.
He also seems to be looking for a way to eternal life, for he says, “You are come from God.” But in reality, he was ignorant of even how to recognize heavenly truth or a teacher who brings that truth, for Jesus tells him, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Ie. “Let me set you straight, Nicodemus, you can’t even recognize what is from heaven unless you are born again.”
Nicodemus is what today is often called a seeker, someone looking for answers in about spiritual things and like Nicodemus, they don't know how to even recognize what they are looking for. The sure don’t know how to attain it. Some are think that they are seeking happiness, peace, or some kind of fulfillment. Many are seeking escape from pain, fear or hopelessness. They think they can find the solution to what they seek in many different ways some good and many very bad, but in the vast majority of the cases they don’t find the help they need because they don’t really know that they are looking for.
For too many, the wrong answers and the wrong searches bring them to terrible solutions for their pain, fear, sorrow or loneliness. Somewhere along the way their search ends horrifically.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States among people from the age of 10 to the age of 34. Overall for all ages in the United States suicide is the 10th leading cause of death.
Alcohol abuse is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. In 2014 16 million adults, 7% of the population was using alcohol to deal with their life problems.
As of 2013 24.6 million Americans over 12 years old, 9% of the population had used illegal drugs in the past month. Marijuana use has risen from 6% in 2007 to over 7.5% in 2013 and that number is soaring now that several states have legalized pot.
Nor is it just alcohol and drugs that people use to try and find the answers they need for the questions of their soul. Some turn to promiscuity, some are driven to succeed in business, some to risking their lives for thrills some seek answers in cults and religions that only deepen their need and take away their soul instead of saving it.
Like Nicodemus these people are searching, but too often they don’t even know what they really need, and they certainly don’t know how to find it. What they are seeking is salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation with God, but they can’t find it because they are not seeing Jesus Christ as He truly is, or they are seeking Him for the wrong reason, the wrong way or in the wrong place.
Illustration: the Crowd seeks Jesus after the loaves and fishes. John 6:26
After Jesus fed the 5000 with the 5 loaves and 2 fish, the crowd tries to take him by force and make him the king of Israel. Jesus leave them and goes up into the mountainside. The next day the crowd finds Jesus and ask him where he was. He tells them in John 6: 26-29 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
Transition: What are you seeking today? What are your family and friends seeking?
The only place anyone can find joy, peace, fulfillment, and escape from the fear and sorrow of this life is in the person, the man, the savior, Jesus.
Go back now to John 3:4-11 and listen as Jesus breaks this down for Nicodemus and points him to the work of the Holy Spirit in fulfilling his quest.
Sensing the Spirit John 3:4-11
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
Nicodemus and the Spirit
As Nicodemus listens, he naturally thinks that Jesus is talking about two physical births. He asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus then explains there must be two births, one of water (this is the physical) and one of the Spirit (the is the spiritual, being born again or born from above).
Jesus tells him, that this new birth is through the power of the Holy Spirit and he explains it with an illustration of the wind. It could very well have been that as they talked the desert night wind may have been blowing outside and Jesus then uses this as an illustration of the new birth.
He says, “Just like the wind the Holy Spirit, can be felt and experienced but not fully comprehended or predicted. “The wind blows where it wills and you hear it but can’t tell where it’s going or where it’s been. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit”
Nicodemus had to understand this vital truth and you must we. We must know about the ….
The New Birth and The Spirit
To find answers that I seek, to fill the emptiness of my soul, I must understand the truth that Jesus was teaching Nicodemus. It begins by understanding the two natures of man; physical and spiritual, corporeal and incorporeal.
Once I realize that there are two parts of me, then I must understand that the spiritual part of me needs a new birth, a new beginning. I need to be born again, not physically but spiritually. That new birth, Jesus says, is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I can experience it, just like one can feel the wind on their face, but I cannot control it. I can accept it, but I cannot seize it. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and it is not my own.
Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Warren Wiersbe, the prolific Bible scholar and teacher, who passed away just a few months ago, said this about this passage in his commentary on the book of John, “The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and, when the sinner believes, imparts the life of God.” – Warren Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary - Be Alive (John 1-12).
Illustration: C. S. Lewis’ conversion
The famous atheist C. S. Lewis describes his experience of salvation: "You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the trinity term of 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore the Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation."
Now few are as eloquent as CS Lewis, but the working of the Holy Spirit in bring us to Christ and in showing us our need for Christ, works in the same way, whether it is a gently breeze or a blasting hurricane, the Holy Spirit must initiate the new birth.
Transition: Jesus has explained how the new birth works but there is one thing left before the new birth can actually occur we see that in vss 12-18
Seeing The Savior - John 3:12-18
If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Nicodemus And The Savior
Nicodemus had to believe three things in order to be saved according to what Jesus told him that day.
First, He had to believe Jesus words. Jesus begins the last part of instructing Nicodemus by telling him. “I have told you.” He had to believe what Jesus told him. He had to believe that Jesus was who He said he was, One come down from heaven. This means He was much more than just a teacher, He was God, come in human flesh to save sinners.
Secondly, He had to believe the scriptures.” Jesus reminds Nicodemus of a story in the Old Testament. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.” That story was about faith, trusting and believing that God would provide a means to save his people.
Finally, he had to believe that Jesus was that means. That He had been sent by God to be the salvation of mankind and just as the Hebrews looked upon the serpent that was lifted up, so must Nicodemus look to Jesus Christ when He would be lifted up. That look of faith would save Nicodemus.
Have You Seen Jesus Lifted Up?
All seeking will stop at salvation. The quest ends when we believe the things Jesus told Nicodemus to believe.
1st, Believe what Jesus said. “Ye must be born again.” He is still speaking to us today. The words he said in that upper room somewhere in Jerusalem, are the words He is speaking today in Calvary Baptist Athens, Texas. “You must be born again.” Those are His words and you or your friends or your family members who are seeking must believe them.
Secondly, I must believe that Jesus was died for me.
Isaiah 53:4-6 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Jesus said this in John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. Whereever the Gospel is preached, whereever the story of the cross is told, the Holy Spirit sweeps like wind over the hearts of the hearers and moves us, shows us, and convicts us, that Jesus died for me.
Finally, I must believe that I am also dead in my sin, as those in Moses time were dead from the bite of the serpent. Their death sentence took place in moments, mine may take years but it is still a sentence of death for the sin of unbelief in God.
So important was it to believe that John emphasizes it in verse 16-18
John 3:16 -18 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
What does it mean then to believe in this way? I think there is a great illustration that explains this.
Illustration: The Tightrope walker
One day in 1860, there was a huge crowd preparing to watch a famous tightrope walker from France, Charles Blondin. 25,000 people gathered at the Niagara Falls on both the American and Canadian sides, where Blondin had stretched a wire from one end of the falls to another. As they watched, he crossed the Falls on the rope several times, a 1,000 foot trip one way, and over 160 feet above the raging waters. He walked it backward, blindfolded and even stopped in the middle, make an omelet and ate lunch. Finally, he asked the crowd if they believed he could take one person across. After seeing all that he had just done, the crowd clapped and cheered showing, “Yes, they believed he could carry someone across.” Then he pointed to one man in the crowd and asked him to get on his back and go with him. The man refused. He pointed to another and another and another. They all laughed and shook their heads no. They didn’t really believe at all. His manager then calmly walked out from the crowd got on Blondin’s back and together they walked across the chasm. He believed in Blondin.
When it comes to our salvation, it is the work of Christ accomplished upon that cross and all I can do is look up and put myself in His grace and love. I can accept the gift, but I cannot earn it. I can only believe as the Holy Spirit sweeps across my heart and be born again. I must put my eternal soul fully into the hands of Jesus Christ for that is truly believing.
Jesus said, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” – John 3:7
The new birth is salvation and unless you have experienced it, then you are not saved, you cannot be saved.
The new birth is salvation and unless you have experienced it, then you are not saved, you cannot be saved.
The Holy Spirit, through God’s word and the Gospel, brings you to a place in your life where you realize that before God you are a sinner. That Jesus the son of God came to earth and lived a life without sin so that He might pay the price for your sin on the cross. Finally, you must accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord. You must believe. If you have lost friends, co-workers, neighbors or family, this is what they must believe.
Don’t we all grow tired of seeking for something that we will never find? Don’t we all crave the answers our souls so desperately yearn for? Did you feel the wind of the Holy Spirit as the story of Jesus and Nicodemus was told? Look up, for Jesus has been lifted up before you this morning and if you will look to Him in faith, you will find what we all seek.