John 3. Our Best Summary of the Gospel,
Taught to an Expert.
Key Notes: Jesus confounds a theologian talking of the Kingdom, genetics, and Old Testament history.
The intimate conversations of John 3 and John 4 give us an opportunity to watch a master teacher at work. We will try to understand His reasoning and to see if we could apply His methods. One-to-one conversations are an important method of evangelism.
3:1–15 Jesus was visited by a senior member of the Pharisees, a ruler of the Jews, probably a member of the Sanhedrin. He came at night, either to avoid being challenged by his fellow Pharisees, or in order to be free from the distraction of the crowds. He came as a seeker.
He started out with an evaluation of the young Rabbi. ”We know” implies that he is speaking for a group. “You are a teacher come from God” is a tremendous compliment. “For no one can do the signs that you do” tells us that Jesus’ works of power described in the previous chapter were well publicized.
Carl Rogers, a famous psychologist, would typically reflect back to the person what he had just heard. If he had been the interviewer, he would likely have said:
“You think I am a teacher sent from God...” ---and wait for the person to say more.
If Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher, had been the responder, since he always responded with questions, he might have said “The question is ‘who is God’”?
Nicodemus was expecting a murmur of quiet pleasure and a thank you for his generous compliment. He did not get it.
Jesus'reply was stunning.
“Unless one is born again , he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
He gave this seeker the key to the door of Kingdom at once.
Nicodemus’ word “know" and Jesus’ word “see” come from the same root in Greek.
The Kingdom of God would be a new concept for Nicodemus. He knew of David’s throne and the promise that it would be forever (IISam.7:13–16), but the monarchy was lost 500 years ago and there was no hope of its recovery under Roman government. We understand the Kingdom of God to be God’s rule over His saints and their submission to His Lordship, irrespective of time and space. That was hidden from Nicodemus’ eyes.
"Born again / anew/ from above” are all valid translations of one complex word (Gr. ”anothen”), and any one of these translations may be found in modern versions. Jesus used the word twice. The first time, Nicodemus understood "born again" biologically and reacted accordingly. The second time He used it, "born from above" would better fit the context.
Nicodemus plainly did not understand what he had just heard. He picked up the first words “born again” and began to talk about birth in concrete and mechanical terms. He was not tuned in on a spiritual wave-length.
“Can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mothers’ womb and be born? “
He was trying to stay with the conversation but his question was absurd, perhaps sarcastic.
Jesus took Nicodemus’ word “enter” and elaborated the answer.
“Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
Jesus did not explain “water” and “Spirit”. We understand the “water of regeneration” by the Word, and “renewal in the Holy Spirit” as in Titus 3:5.
Then He took Nicodemus’ earth-bound perspective and ran with it.
“That which is born of flesh is flesh; that which is born of spirit is Spirit.”
If Nicodemus thinks biologically, Jesus will speak of genetics. Like begets like. Human flesh begets human flesh. Elephants do not beget butterflies; ants do not beget woodpeckers. Only the Spirit of God reproduces the Holy Spirit in people. And The Spirit is like the wind, unpredictable, and uncontrollable.
Nicodemus was lost. He was in completely over his head. “How can these things be?”
Jesus pressed him. "You must be born again..." (3:7) is a command.
Four times in this short interview Jesus used the intense expression "Verily, Verily I say to you...." (3:3,5,7,11)
Nicodemus was a teacher in Israel and did not understand?
Jesus was the authority and Nicodemus did not receive His personal statement.
Jesus had spoken of earthly things, much less heavenly things, and he did not believe.
Nicodemus did not understand because he refused (and confused) what Jesus was saying and therefore he could not yet believe Jesus. In order to receive and believe, Nicodemus would have to “stand under” Jesus, and he was not prepared to do that yet.
Jesus finally gave him a simple object lesson from OT history 1400 years before. Vipers were killing the Israelites in the Sinai desert, a punishment for speaking out against God. (Num.21:1–9). Moses was instructed to make a bronze image of a viper and set it above the people on a pole. If they looked up at this viper replica, they would be healed of the viper’s sting. In the same way, the Son of man must be lifted up, and whoever looks to Him, and believes in Him, will have eternal life.
The bronze image was an image of the real viper that was killing the people. Adam, our progenitor, became the source of our deadly infestation by the Serpent. He is replaced by the Second Adam who, when lifted up on the Cross, will allow those bitten by the serpent of sin to receive eternal life.
Jesus said ”No one has ascended into Heaven but He who descended from Heaven, the Son of Man.” If we understand Jesus as the visible presence of God in the OT (Theophany)— then He descended and ascended to Heaven many times over the millennia. (Gen.28:12- for example). He alone can speak of heavenly things.
3:16–21 The narrative probably is broken at this point, as John summarizes and concludes the information.
“For God so loved the World, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This is the core of the Bible, the Gospel. Many sermons have been preached on it:
*God loved the World—long before Christ was actually given in His humanity.
*Although God loved the World, we are not to love the World. (I Jn.2:15). God can love the World objectively. We cannot. The World is in rebellion against God; we are to love Him. We cannot love both.
*God’s priorities for the World cannot be in doubt. He gave us the Nearest and Dearest to Himself to save our hostile and rebellious lives.
*The invitation to believe in Him is universal—whoever—Nicodemus, and yourself, for example.
Jesus did not come into the World to condemn the World, but to save it. However, condemnation is self-imposed by those who reject the Light. It appears that Nicodemus came to the Light and did not reject it. We think the slow chemistry of human reactions enabled him to absorb what Jesus had said and he became a quiet believer.
Nicodemus chided the Pharisees for judging Jesus without listening to Him. Jn.7:50
He brought an ointment for Jesus’ burial. Jn.19:39
3:21. "...he who does what is true comes to the light, but it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
"All wish to hide their sins, says Seneca [a first-century Roman philosopher], but a good conscience loves the light." (C.S.Lewis' Studies in Words. Cambridge,’60; p.188)
3::22–30 We return briefly to John the Baptist, who continued baptizing across the Jordan. Jesus was baptizing (though not personally, 4:2) with His disciples on this side of Jordan. Some disciples of John came to him and observed that people were leaving him and going over to Jesus (“the One who was with you beyond the Jordan, to Whom you bore witness”). Wouldn’t John be jealous?
John made a remarkable self-denying statement. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
He was not the Christ but the one sent to pave the way for Him. He was the “best man” in the wedding, rejoicing and applauding at the marriage feast, not claiming the bride, but cheerfully stepping aside in favor of the bridegroom. Lk5:33–35.
3:31–36 As before, we have a concluding summary which departs from the story-line, as if Jesus were speaking. Jesus is from above, bearing testimony which few receive; but those who do assert that God is true. Jesus is given the Holy Spirit without measure; His words are the words of God. The Father loves the Son and has given everything into His hand—including eternal life. Those who believe in the Son—obey the Son—have eternal life. Those who do not are under God’s wrath.
The message is clear. If you are to see the Kingdom of God and enter it, you must be born again. You need new eyes to see the Kingdom. You need a new spirit to enter the Kingdom. If you are not in the Kingdom, you have not received Christ and you are lost. If you are lost, it not not because Christ rejected you, but because you rejected Him.
Are we able to do what Jesus did? Probably not. We cannot read people the way He did. We would not attempt to confront a distinguished senior leader in the way He did. We do not carry His authority. But we have His words and as His ambassadors, we are to give out the message whenever and wherever possible.
If people do not understand what you are saying you should not be surprised. They probably cannot see the Kingdom. If religious people talk religious nonsense, you should not be surprised. They are likely not in the Kingdom.
If you give out the message, you are not likely to get an immediate response and should not feel defeated if you do not. Those whom God is calling are almost always contacted by multiple messengers. It took Nicodemus quite a while to become a disciple.
He was a heavy-weight convert, a big fish, and a trophy for the Kingdom. Pray for leaders everywhere, good and bad, as well as your relatives and friends. They must be born again.