Sermon Notes and Audio
Scripture Focus- John 3:1-15
Religion from the world’s perspective, is putting your hope in human practices thinking your performance will make you acceptable to God. Religion from this perspective cannot save anyone, it can only condemn.
In the latter part of John 2, it says that many believed in Jesus as they saw the signs He was doing, but Jesus didn’t believe in them because He knew their hearts. Vv24-25 Jesus knew all men, and He Himself knew what was in man. These verses give us an introduction to the encounter of Jesus with Nicodemus. Jesus saw through the religion of Nicodemus and knew that Nicodemus needed to be born again.
The only way to God, is to be born again, to be raised from death to life in Jesus.
You must be born again to enter the kingdom of God.
Vv1-3There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Him at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.”
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and was a ruler of the Jews. He belonged to the Sanhedrin, the ruling council in Jerusalem that had 71 members from the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Sadducees were mostly aristocracy. The Pharisees were more middle class men who followed the Jewish law and had separated themselves from common people by their strict adherence to the law.
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Most likely he was afraid of what the other members of the council would think of him. Nicodemus was impressed by Jesus and the signs He was performing. For a man of that caliber, to address Jesus as “Rabbi” and acknowledge He had come from God was significant. Yet his perspective of Jesus was not where it needed to be yet.
Jesus went straight to the point- He answered a question that Nicodemus had not even asked! He knew what was in the man’s heart and answered accordingly. Jesus uses the phrase “I assure you”- also translated “truly, truly”. It was used to confirm the words of someone else. Jesus wanted Nicodemus to see, he didn’t need more instruction in religion. He needed to be born again! You have to see yourself as a sinner who needs new life from God. Nicodemus clearly respected Jesus, but He hadn’t believed in Jesus.
To be “born again”= born from above.
William Barclay- “Reborn from above.”
Jesus said we must be born again to see the kingdom of God. V3 and v5 are the only references to the kingdom of God in John. It is a significant theme in the other Gospels.
Romans 8:6-8 For the mindset of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mindset of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
The manmade religion of the world cannot solve our deepest need. We need to be transformed, not just have our behavior adjusted. Your natural birth, your religious devotion, and your religious studies mean nothing. You must be born again.
Genuine Christianity is, as Puritan Henry Scougal titled his book, nothing less than The Life of God in the Soul of Man. Scougal wrote the book in 1677 when he was 27; he died of tuberculosis when he was 28.
In the early 1700’s, a 21-year-old Oxford student realized that his sinful life was not good. He resolved to change. He denied himself every luxury; he wore ragged clothes; he ate no foods except those that were repugnant to him; he fasted twice a week; he gave his money to the poor; and he spent whole nights in prayer, lying prostrate on the cold stones or the wet grass. But he felt like he was putting a coat of paint on rotten wood. His outward deeds only hid his inward corruption.
Then a college friend, Charles Wesley, gave the struggling young man, George Whitefield, a copy of Scougal’s book. White- field read Scougal’s book with amazement and delight. It told him that true Christianity is the union of the soul with God. It is Christ formed in us. Whitefield said, when I read this, a ray of divine light instantaneously darted in upon my soul; and, from that moment, but not till then, did I know that I must become a new creature. After having undergone innumerable buffetings by day and night, God was pleased at length to remove my heavy load and to enable me, by a living faith, to lay hold on His dear Son. And oh! with what joy—joy unspeakable and full of glory—was I filled when the weight of sin left me and an abiding sense of the pardoning love of God broke in upon my disconsolate soul!
Whitefield’s favorite Scripture became John 3:3 Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. He went on to preach more than 18,000 sermons, often on that text, sometimes to outdoor crowds of over 20,000 people (with no microphone!). He made many trips to America and was used greatly in the First Great Awakening. In one of his final sermons, he said “I am now fifty-five years of age and I tell you that I am more than ever convinced that the truth of the new birth is a revelation from God Himself, and that without it you can never be saved by Jesus Christ.”
A friend asked him one day, “Why do you so often preach on You must be born again?”
“Because,” replied Whitefield you must be born again!”
Nicodemus was taken aback by what Jesus said. So he replied. . .
v4 But how can anyone be born when He is old? Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born? How can a man be born when he is old?
Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus was talking about. Jesus drew a clear line between physical birth and spiritual birth.
Vv5-7 Jesus answered- I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again.
Born of water (referring to physical birth) and born of the Spirit (refers to spiritual birth).
In the OT in Ezekiel, Ezekiel predicted a time when God would cleanse His people from their sins and give them a new heart and new spirit so they would walk in obedience to His Word.
Ezekiel 36:25-27 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances.
The promise was fulfilled in Jesus when He fulfilled the New Covenant with His blood and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell His people. Nicodemus would have been well familiar with the prophecy in Ezekiel.
There is a significant difference between the physical and the spiritual. Being born as a Jew was not enough for Nicodemus. For us, being born into a Christian family is not enough. There has to be a second birth in your life.
John 1:12-13But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.
John 6:63The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.
You must be born again by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Vv7-8 Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
Maybe Jesus was drawing an illustration that night from a cool breeze that was blowing. Maybe He was saying, Nicodemus, do you feel that breeze blowing? You can’t see the wind, or control it, you hear its sound but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.
The Holy Spirit works according to the Sovereign will of God. You can’t control Him, but you can see His power when He brings life to a dead soul. The changes are not the external effects of religion. The change is an internal transformation that results in an outward life change.
Nicodemus- v9 How can these things be?
v10 “Are you a teacher of Israel and don’t know these things?” Jesus replied.
For years, Nicodemus had taught others the way into God’s kingdom was to keep the commandments and traditions of the elders. Jesus is telling him he is on the wrong path. Jesus is making the point that Nicodemus should have known these things from the Scriptures. He should not have been amazed at what Jesus was teaching. People can be in church for years, around the faith, and miss the main point of the Bible.
John 5:39-40 You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.
Jesus came from heaven to earth.
V11-13 I assure you: We speak what We know that We testify to what We have seen, but you do not accept Our testimony. If I have told you about these things that happen on earth and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about things of heaven? No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven- the Son of Man.
Interesting- Jesus speaks from the first person “I” in v11 and then begins to speak from the plural “We” in v11.
The testimony of Jesus is reliable and trustworthy. If you do not believe what Jesus is saying about your need to be born again, you are saying you know more than He does. What is Jesus referring to by “earthly things” and “heavenly things” in v12? Jesus used two earthly illustrations, birth and wind, to explain the spiritual truth of new life in God. According to v13 no one besides Jesus has every ascended into heaven to be able to give heavenly truth on earth. Jesus alone has come down from heaven.
You must be born again by looking to Jesus and believing in Him.
Vv14-15 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.
For sin to be dealt with, justice has be satisfied. The Son of Man had to be lifted up to satisfy God’s wrath on behalf of sinners who believe in Him. The context here is Numbers 21:4-9. Edom had denied Israel permission to cross its land on their way to Canaan (Numbers 20:14-21). God told Moses not to fight against Edom (Deut 2:4-5). Moses turned the people southeast. The Promised Land was to the northwest to make a long and arduous journey around Edom.
The Israelites became impatient. They had witnessed a victory over some Canaanites (Numbers 21:1-3). Why not just march through Edom and take care of business? They started grumbling against God and Moses. Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.
In judgment, the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people as judgment, and many died. The people acknowledged their sin, came to Moses and asked him to pray for a solution to the problem. People were dying. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. Everyone who had been bitten would live if they looked to the symbol of deliverance. Frankly, this is kind of a strange story, an unusual situation. Yet Jesus takes the story and applies it to Himself.
Sin and rebellion against God put us under the curse of death. We can’t do anything to save ourselves. God provided for a way for the Israelites to be delivered. When they confessed their sin and asked Moses to intercede for them, God provide the way out. God graciously provides deliverance through His Son. It is a supernatural solution from God. The cross is sufficient for the salvation of the worst of sinners. Look to Jesus in faith.
V15 is the first of John’s first of ten references to eternal life. Eternal life is forever, it is abundant, joyful life in the presence of God forever.
In his Exposition of the Gospel of John, A. W . Pink wrote:
Man became a lost sinner by a look, for the first thing recorded of Eve in connection with the fall of our first parents is that “The woman saw that the tree was good for food” (Gen. 3:6). In like manner, the lost sinner is saved by a look. The Christian life begins by looking: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa. 45:22). The Christian life continues by looking: “Let us run with patience the race which is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of faith” (Heb. 12:2). And at the end of the Christian life we’re still to be looking for Christ: “For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). From first to last, the one thing required is looking to God’s Son.
So the question is, “Have you looked to the crucified, risen, and exalted Lord Jesus to save you from the curse of sin?” Are you still looking to Him as you run the race of faith?