Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

Molalla, Oregon

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Nicodemus and John the Baptist

August 9th, 2009 by Vic

John 3

“Nicky D and Johnny B in Chapter 3”

The narratives of Nicodemus and John the Baptist are closely related.  Both are respected Jews that meet Jesus.  We’ll begin with Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was a well-known man, a teacher, a member of the Sanhedran, a celebrity.  The very fact that Nicodemus came to Jesus was amazing, but as a man, he was like many other men who were impressed with the miracles that Jesus did, but wanted a logical explanation.  He saw the sign post and was trying to figure out who put it there and what it was made of.

A week or so earlier, Jesus did His first miracle in Cana.  In Jerusalem He cleaned out the Temple so sincere worshipers could pray without a lot of noise and clutter.  Many saw the signs He did and believed that He was a messenger from God, but they did not commit their lives to His teaching.  Jesus did not entrust Himself to those who believed only because of the signs.  They like His miracles.  They quote a lot of His sayings like, “Do unto others as you have them do unto you.”  or “man shall not live by bread alone.”  But men do not really trust Jesus as they should.  Many believe there is a God, but they have not made a radical commitment to obey Him in all things.

Relationships are reciprocal.  If you draw near to God, He will draw near to you.  If you trust Jesus, He will entrust Himself to you.  He gives Himself only to those who give themselves to Him.  If you stand from afar and believe in the miracles with your head, but fail to commit yourself to the teachings, you still have a need.  You may be an important person, but you still lack something?

John does not say, “There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus.”  John says, “Now there was a MAN of the Pharisees…”  He represents us.  He was really impressed with the miracles that Jesus was doing and had discussed them with his friends.

3:2 – this man

3:3 – unless any one is born again (the principle is for all)

3:4 – a man

3:5 – unless any one is born of water and the Spirit

3:7 – you all (plural) must be born again

3:8 – everyone

3:15 – whoever believes

John is saying, here is a typical person.

The story of Nicodemus is our story.  The truths are universal.  Nicodemus represents mankind.

Nicodemus was convinced that the signs were real, but felt something was lacking.  Next week in chapter 4 we will hear the story of the woman at the well.  Her story is also our story.

Nicodemus is the context of 3:16.  If you want to understand the majesty 3:16 listen to the story.  In 3:16-21 John changes the grammar to past tense and reflects on more of the universal teaching of Jesus that summarizes the truth that Nicodemus is learning.

God’s plan is for the world.  Whoever believes His word, not just the miracles, can have eternal life.  This is the summary of the first 15 verses.  It is not enough to be born a Jew or raised in the church; everyone must be born of the Spirit.  Sin kills your spirit.  Your spirit must be given life.

This may be the most comprehensive statement in the NT on what it means to be a Christian.  For everyone like Nicodemus in the world who is trying to do good and feels something is still missing, this one’s for you.  For everyone who has an answer for everything, but a deep hunger in your soul, this one’s for you.  For all who fear to make a commitment to Jesus because it might ruin your reputation, this one’s for you.  For all of you who believe that God created you and wants you to be happy, but you have not found the key to happiness, this one’s for you.  Jesus took time to answer every sincere seeker.  Do you have a dead spirit?  Do you hunger for more?  Is something missing?

This answer comes from Jesus, “You must be born again.”  It is not enough to admire the miracles and acknowledge Christ’s mission.  It is not enough to be educated, rich, and powerful.  It is not enough to be born in the church.  You must ask God to give life to your spirit.

3:1 – There were less than 6000 Pharisees during the time of Christ.  They had committed their lives to keeping all the laws that the Scribes had written.  They believed the Law was the word of God.  So if it was the word of God it must contain everything a man needs to know and do to please God.  So they took the principles of the Law and added by-laws and regulations to apply to  every situation and question.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee who dedicated his life to keeping the Law.  That was the way he knew to please God.

He was a ruler of the Jews, which means that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of the Jews.  This group had jurisdiction over every Jew in the world.  One of their duties was to examine false prophets.  But why would he want to talk to a carpenter with 6 followers?  Did they consider him a prophet already?

3:2 – He may have come by night for several reasons.  He may have been fearful of others opinions.  However it was common for Jews to meet at night, because there was less chance for interruptions.  Symbolically he comes from darkness to the Light.  But he brings all his definitions, categories, customs, worldview, and theology with him.  It is hard to move outside our world of darkness that we control and understand.

“Rabbi, we know…a teacher from God…”  The officials had been talking.  They decided it would be smart to become friendly with this one who is likely to bring honor to the Jews.  This miracle worker could be the Messiah.  Anyone with this kind of power would be handy to have on your side.  To call him a Rabbi and teacher was the highest honor they could confer.  This was like receiving an honorary doctorate from a university.  We like to give people honorary doctorates if it helps our school.

It is so easy to speak well of Jesus and convince ourselves that we know Him but still not commit our lives to the majesty of Truth right in front of us.  Nicodemus had just paid Jesus a great complement, but Jesus knew what was in man.  Nicodemus was offering Jesus the keys to the city, but Jesus saw the heart of man.

Compare 3 verses: Here’s what Jews said they knew about the Jesus.

3:2 – “We know that You have come from God…”

7:48-50 – “No one who is really important has believed, has he?”

9:29 – “We do not know where He is from…”  They contradict their earlier statement.

Nicodemus sounded like a disciple, but Jesus knew his heart.  You may talk like a Christian, but Jesus knows your heart.  And Jesus’ words to you are in 3:3.  Jesus did not complement him and relieve some of his stress or make him feel good with his present understanding.  Jesus builds on the limited understanding that Nicodemus had.

3:3 – To even begin to understand spiritual things you must be born again.  The word “again” has a double meaning.  It means ‘again’ and ‘from above’.  Again is on a temporal-horizontal axis (now/then) and from above is on a spatial-vertical axis (here/there).  One can only see the kingdom of God as a consequence of an experience that combines both the horizontal and vertical, but Nicodemus eliminates the meaning ‘from above’ by using the word ‘deuteron’, a second time (4).

You think you see God in the miracles.  You think you understand God with your mind.  You think you please God with your legalism.  Jesus says, before any man can understand the kingdom of God, he must be born again, spiritually from above.  Your Jewish heritage will not get you to heaven.  Shaking hands with a miracle worker will not improve your status in God’s eyes.  Knowing the right men will not get you a place in heaven.  Having a private interview with Jesus will not get you into heaven.

3:4 – Nicodemus was used to defining all the terms in a discussion.  But he was thinking horizontally.  His misunderstanding allows Jesus to explain further.

3:5 – Jesus goes back to the two meanings of ‘again’ and refers to water and spirit.  It is not a time thing, but a kind thing.  Not two of the same, but 2 births.  He said to see the kingdom of God requires a physical and spiritual change.  The water is different from the wind, but together they are a type of being born again.  The wind represents the voice and spirit of God.  The baptism in water is perfected in the baptism of the Spirit.  God is in control of the new birth.  John the Baptist preached pardon and Jesus promised the power of the Spirit.  Many have tried to define and separate the water and spirit, but Jesus was speaking to a Jew who understood parallelisms in Scripture.  Like the Psalmist used two ways of saying the same thing, so here Jesus is not discussing two new theological doctrines.  Only one, you must be born again.  Change does not come by wisdom or human power.  That involves cleansing forgiveness and God’s spiritual mystery.  It’s not about baptism and born again.  It’s about born again which can be illustrated with water and wind.

3:6 – You received physical life from your mother.  Your spirit receives life from the Spirit.  If you returned 100 times to your mother’s womb, you could not be given spiritual life.  Your mother could only give you physical life. To be a new person you don’t need new flesh and bones, you need a new nature.  God wants to give you a new heart.

3:7 – Jesus seemed to be amazed that Nicodemus did not understand.  He commands him, “Don’t marvel at this.”  Even you teachers and rulers must be born again.  Even you teachers don’t know all mysteries.

3:8 – There is mystery in the physical world; there is also mystery in the spiritual realm.  Just as you can’t explain where the wind comes from, so you can’t explain how you are born again, but the fact of the birth will be obvious.  The life will be changed.  God is in control, but the ‘how’ is a mystery to us, just like the wind.

The Spirit, like the wind, is entirely beyond the control and comprehension of man: it breathes into this world from another.  We cannot determine its origin or destiny.

3:9-10 – Jesus knew that Nicodemus did not know what to believe.  He was asking questions to avoid changing his paradigm.  If I don’t understand, then it can’t be true.  Jesus knows that we don’t understand because we are reading someone else’s mail.  He was having trouble moving away from his categories into a life in the Spirit.

3:11 – We have seen lives changed.

3:12-13 – Even your understanding of the Law is not accurate.  Moses did not go to heaven to get the Law; God came down.  Discovery of truth is on the basis of Revelation not discovery.  The truth from above will fulfill the truth you know from Moses.  Only Jesus came down to reveal the heavenly things.  The serpent on the stake was a gift from God raised to restore health.  In the same way Jesus is the gift from God raised to give life to all who gaze.  There is a raising on the cross and a raising in the ascension.  The revelation of God will reach it’s high point in the lifting up.

3:14 – There are 2 “musts” in this story 3:7 and 3:14.  Jesus had to die.  Every man must be born again.  We cannot heal ourselves because there is no medicine for it.

3:15 – Whoever believes with his whole heart in Jesus will be born again, receive life in his spirit.  Whoever believes with his whole heart in Jesus will have eternal life.  This is not a continuation of this physical life, but a new kind of abundant life, different from the horizontal plane of time.

Is that so hard to understand?  John describes it differently in his first letter.

I John 2:29 “If you know that He is righteous, you know that every one also who practices righteousness is born of Him.”

I John 4:7 “Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God.”

I John 5:1 “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.”

Do you know why John told us about Nicodemus?  John begins verse 16 with the word “because”.  He has told us all this for a reason.  Your faith does not have to be shaky and based on miracles like Nicodemus faith was.  Do you know why?

Because 3:16-17

The Son was sent that the world might be saved.  If you refuse to receive God’s gift there is judgment.  To refuse to believe brings self-condemnation.  The time of judgment is now.  We judge ourselves by acceptance or rejection of the Word.

Nicodemus never rejects the word of Jesus.  He had trouble thinking beyond his categories.  He has an immature faith.

3:22-24  Jesus moved to the countryside.  Jesus and John are both baptizing.  There is no hint that they were any different.

25-26  A Jew appears to stir up controversy.  The focus is on the two baptizers.  “All are going to Him” is an obvious exaggeration pointing out that John’s once-successful mission is falling away.

27-30  John does not try to defend himself.  He does not try to answer the question about baptism and purity, but directs the real answer to revelation and authority.  He received from heaven the role of a bridegroom.  His joy is full because the groom has come to receive His bride.

John the Baptist, like the mother of Jesus demonstrates authentic belief in the word of Jesus.  Both unconditionally accept the word of Jesus.  John is open to the word of Jesus, cost what may.  The words “increase” and “decrease” are commonly used for the rising and setting of the sun.

John is saying, “I am in the place of hearer; he, of speaker; I am as the one that must be enlightened, he is the light; I am as the ear, he is the word.” (Augustine)

31-36  The Son has come ‘from above’ to make the Father known.

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