A little boy was asked if he wanted to serve God. The boy replied, "You bet. Id rather go to heaven up high than go see the devil and fry." Just like that boy, everyone wants to someday get to heaven, but how do we get there?
People throughout the ages have been asking, what must I do to be right with God? Job in about 1700 B.C. asked in Job 9:2, "How can a man be righteous before God?" The Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30 asked Paul, "What must I do to be saved?" And the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18 asked Jesus, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" John chapter 3 gives us the answer to this age-old question.
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
This verse tells us Nicodemus was "a ruler of the Jews" apparently a member of the Sanhedrin or ruling council. This is probably his first direct encounter with Jesus although he may have seen Jesus ministering on the streets or in the temple at Jerusalem. Nicodemus is mentioned two other times in scripture. A little later we find Nicodemus defending Jesus before the Sanhedrin in John 7:51 when he said, "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?" And then in John 19:38-40 we see Nicodemus openly taking a stand for Jesus as he helps Joseph of Arimathea prepare the body of Jesus for burial. Nixon suggests, "He seems to have been an earnest man attracted by the character and teaching of Jesus but afraid to allow this interest to be known by his fellow Pharisees."
This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "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."
Nicodemus came to Jesus. If we want to be saved, we must come to Jesus. We cannot enter the kingdom of heaven any other way. There are not many roads to heaven. Buddha did not die for your sins. Mohammed is not the resurrection and the life. The Yin and the Yang does not fill us with the power of the Spirit. Eastern meditation does not guide us into all truth. The sayings of Confucius are not quick and powerful. Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." He is the only way.
From verse 2 we can tell that Nicodemus had faith in Jesus. He says "We know You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." But a few verses later well see how Nicodemus has difficulty accepting everything Jesus is telling him. Why is this? Its because we can have faith in God, but not the right kind.
There are two kinds of faith.
1. We can intellectually believe. James 2:19 tells us, "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe-- and tremble!" Obviously thats not enough!
2. We can believe in our heart. Romans 10:9 says, "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
Nicodemus had faith he believed with his intellect, but he didnt believe with his heart, not yet. Pearlman gives this definition of faith, "A sure trust and confidence that Christ died for my sins, that He loved me, and gave Himself for me."
Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Now I think all of us here want to enter in the kingdom of God. But Jesus says we must be born again. In order to be born again, the Bible teaches there are three things we must do:
1. Repent. Mark 1:15. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." Acts 2:38, "Then Peter said to them, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. " Acts 3:19, "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord."
2. Believe. Acts 16:31, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."
3. Confess. 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Romans 10:9, "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
Do you still wonder what this all means? Well so did Nicodemus.
Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
Jesus explains that we have two births: one of the flesh and one of the spirit. You have all been born into the flesh. But we also need to be born into the spirit. There is a spiritual side of us that we may not understand too well. Its the side of us that longs to do what is right, that longs to be in Gods presence, and that longs to learn more about God. This is the part of us that must be made alive. We are born first in the flesh, and then we are born again in the spirit.
A peach is born from the tree. It could stay a peach for the rest of its life. But when its planted, its born again into a new peach tree. We can remain a sinner the rest of our life or we can become born again and reach our full potential in God.
Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.
Jesus uses the metaphor of the wind to explain how we are born again of the Spirit. The wind is used as a picture of the work of the Holy Spirit. Notice its the wind (the Spirit) that does all the work. Its not the trees that go chasing after the wind! Even though we have to cooperate with God to accept what he offers us, he is the one who does all the work to save us.
A man was once asked about what part he had to do and what part God had to do for him to be saved. He said, "I did my part for over 30 years running away from God as fast as ever my sins could carry me. That was my part. And God took after me till he ran me down. That was his part."
Here are some of the things God does for us:
Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"
This is why I earlier said Nicodemus believed with his intellect, but not with his heart. He had only come part of the way to God. He had repented enough to come and visit Jesus and even to admire him, but he hadnt repented enough to turn from his old way of looking at things. Often we do the same thing. Have you truly repented, or are you still hanging on to the old ways of doing things? Pearlman defined repentance as, "The true sorrow for sin, with sincere effort to forsake it."
Here are three stages of repentance with illustrations we can all identify with: driving down the freeway of life. .
Sometimes we reach the first stage of repentance and realize that we are living our life the wrong way. We slow down a little and think about it, but we continue heading down the same highway. We may reach the second stage of sorrow and guilt. We pull over to the side of the road and may even pray a remorseful prayer, but then we get back on the freeway and continue heading in the same direction. True repentance only comes when we get off the highway and change our direction and head down the Kings Highway the King of Kings.
Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?"
Jesus asked Nicodemus his question, but hes also asking us the same question: Are you a Christian and dont you know these things? We are not talking about head knowledge here. Nicodemus was highly educated and knew the Hebrew scriptures backward and forward. What Jesus is talking about is heart knowledge. You may know a lot about the Bible. You may know a lot about the Christian religion. You may be able to debate theology with the finest scholars. But do you have spiritual understanding? Have you felt the Lords presence deep inside of you, and do you sense a transformation happening in your mind and your heart?
We must turn over everything to God. We must give him our body, our mind, our spirit. Romans 12:1-2 instructs us, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
With this verse we can see that Nicodemus is not a believer yet. Jesus tells him "you do not receive our witness," and "you do not believe." When we read this account, we wonder how Nicodemus could not understand what Jesus is talking about. But I dont think he misunderstood. His reaction is like one who doesnt want to do it this new way. You see Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He meticulously kept all the rituals of the law. The Pharisees were much more diligent in obeying the smallest shade of meaning of everything written in the Old Testament. They had added a long list of regulations to keep to make sure they didnt violate scripture. They felt very holy and very righteous and very superior to the common Jew. The problem of course was that they legally kept the regulations, but their heart was far from God.
Jesus is hitting at the center of the problem: their righteousness is based on the works of their flesh, but their spirit is far from God. So Jesus informs Nicodemus that he must spiritually become alive. No doubt this offended Nicodemus greatly. He probably considered himself far more spiritual than all the rabble surrounding Jesus, and yet here is Jesus telling him that hes not even spiritually alive yet.
Now my feeling is that Nicodemus was a good and kind man. He was genuinely interested in serving God and doing the right thing, but he was doing it all the wrong way. He was trying to do it in his own strength by his own ability. He needed to let Gods Spirit take control of his life.
You see, when we try to earn our way to heaven by doing good works, we are bound to fail because none of us are good enough. Romans 3:10 tells us, "As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one. " And Romans 3:23 says, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." You see, we can do a lot of good things, and we can obey most of whats in the Bible but James 2:10 tells us, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all." We can never be good enough.
We all have failed God. The penalty for disobedience to God is eternal separation from him. But God in his mercy has provided a way for us. In the Old Testament the Hebrews were instructed to sacrifice a lamb as an atonement for their sins. They would have to do this often. This lamb sacrifice was a substitute which was looking forward to Gods true lamb sacrifice: his son Jesus who would be crucified on the cross for all of mans sins in the past, the present, and the future. Romans 6:23 informs us, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." We have earned eternal death, but God sent his son Jesus that we might have eternal life.
Perhaps you are trying to do things in your own strength or your own ability. You are a good person. You help others, you attend church, you even tithe. But have you been born again in your spirit? Have you allowed Jesus to come into your life and take complete control? Jesus said, until you are made alive in your spirit, you will not enter the kingdom of God.
No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
Jesus does something truly remarkable for Nicodemus here. As we mentioned earlier, Nicodemus was not yet ready to believe. So Jesus gives him a sign, that when he sees it, he will believe. Jesus refers to Numbers 21:7-9 where the nation of Israel was invaded by fiery serpents. God told Moses to raise a brass serpent on a pole. Everyone that looked at the serpent lifted up on the pole was healed.
The Hebrew word for pole < sn'> nes means standard or banner. It was a long pole often with a cross bar near the top to hold the ensign or flag of the tribe or military unit. Wilson points out that the standard was used as "a rallying point or standard which drew people together for some common action.... The standard was usually raised on a mountain or other high place. ... There, a signal pole, sometimes with an ensign attached, could be raised as a point of focus or object of hope."
Do you see what Jesus was doing here for Nicodemus? He was giving him a sign that he could not miss. Many Pharisees were at the cross when Jesus was crucified. I am convinced that Nicodemus was there too. As he looked at Jesus raised up on that cross bar lifted high on the hill of Mount Calvary, he had to see the picture of Moses raising the pole of healing for Israel. I believe it was at this point that Nicodemus was either persuaded to become a believer, or if already a believer, his faith was forever confirmed.
Jesus loves you just as much as he did Nicodemus. He will confirm himself to you also. In some area of your life he will reveal the reality of his love for you. It will be there if you look for it. Even though we follow Jesus in faith, it is not a blind faith. Over the years, God has shown me time after time how he has his hand on me: whether it was his protecting hand on me when I wasnt serving him, his healing hand on me when the doctors saw no hope for me, or his strengthening hand on me as I stepped out in faith each new day. God will reveal himself to you. We dont always see it right away. But after awhile our spiritual eyes are opened, and we begin to see clearly. It is never 20/20 vision. We must always walk in faith. But we have seen God perform his wonders in our life so many times, that we learn to trust him along the way.
That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Who has eternal life? Who is born again? Whoever believes in him. I would like to recap what we have covered here so far.
Why do we need to be saved?
How are we saved?
What happens then? Lets read verse 15 again, "Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Do you realize you have entered into eternal life? In John 5:24 Jesus promised, ""Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life." When you become a believer, you pass from death into life.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Why did the Holy Spirit draw you to God? Why did Jesus pay the price for your sins? Why did the Father offer you a way out from the penalty of eternal punishment. Verse 16 tells us why for God so loved the world. He loves you, he loves me. Psalm 103:17 tells us, "The mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting...." Gods mercy is extended to us.
Notice this verse says that God gave his only begotten son. Jesus coming and paying the price for your sins and mine was Gods gift to us. He gave his son. Why? So that we might be able to believe.
If you havent really made the full commitment to God yet, wouldnt now be a good time? God loves you. He wants you to be with him in heaven forever. He cares about your every need. He doesnt care how many bad things youve done. He doesnt care what great or small sins youve committed. He is offering you a way into his heavenly family. Wont you accept Gods free gift? What does he want you to do? Repent, believe, and confess. Dont worry, God will do the rest!
This study of John 3:1-16 © 1997 by David Humpall. All Rights Reserved.
All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the New King James Version
Nixon: The New Bible Dictionary pg. 886
Pearlman: Doctrines of the Bible pg. 225-226
Pearlman: Doctrines of the Bible pg. 223
I have adapted this illustration of driving down the freeway from Pearlmans illustration of riding on a train pg. 223
Wilson: Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2, pg. 583