March 2, 2022
Have you ever thought you were on right on track, that you were headed in the right direction, but then you found out that you were actually going the wrong way? That happened to me one day when we were living in Tacoma, Washington. I was in the midst of a bathroom remodel project. One Saturday morning I went to Lowes to pick up a vanity for my bathroom. However, when I arrived, I found out that the one I had picked out was not in stock, so they sent me to the Lowes in Lakewood, a bit south of Tacoma. No problem. I just had to go out on main road I came in on, turn left, take that road and eventually Lowes would be on my left. So that’s what I did. I found Lowes, turned left, went in and purchased the vanity, had them load it up and then got back in my car to head home with it.
Now when I got behind the wheel, I remembered that I had made a left turn to get in here. So naturally, I figured I just needed to turn right to head back home, so I made my way to the street, turned right and went about three blocks and it dead ended. So I turned my car around and headed back out, then turned right again. Before long I found myself going down one curvy road after another. I was now lost in a little town called Steilacoom. But being a guy, I knew I could find my way out of this maze. So I drove around until I found a straight road that looked somewhat familiar and that took me to another main road, and now I knew I was right on track, so I turned right onto that road and began to head home… But then I noticed something peculiar – the street numbers were getting larger, not smaller. And I wondered, “how can that be?” I was obviously heading north – at least that’s what I thought when I made the turn. But numbers don’t lie. I was headed the wrong way. So, I turned around again and was finally headed the right direction.
Now imagine if you were going through life thinking you were headed in the right direction; believing you were on the right track; that you’ve done everything the right way. Imagine, you’ve gone to church all your life, lived a morally pure life, even studied your Bible – a lot, so that now you know quite a bit about God. But then one evening you have a conversation with a friend who tells you that you’ve got it all wrong. Who tells you that everything you believe about life and religion has been leading you down the wrong track? Well, that’s precisely what happened to a man who thought he had God all figured out – that is, until he met with Jesus.
His encounter with Jesus is recorded for us in John 3:1-15, where Jesus teaches him how he’s got it all wrong, but as he does so, surprises him with the good news of how God works to remedy our greatest spiritual need.
So, this encounter begins with a man by the name of Nicodemus, a religious insider who comes Seeking Jesus under the cover of darkness. Listen to how John describes this encounter: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” John 3:1-3
Now, what’s obvious here is that Nicodemus has come to Jesus to check him out. But what’s not so obvious is why? Here’s where the author of this Gospel gives us some clues. John lets us know that Nicodemus is an important man. He is a Pharisee and is a member of the Jewish ruling council. The equivalent in our culture to someone like Nicodemus would be a Supreme Court Justice. This is no casual passing conversation. Not for Nicodemus, and definitely not for Jesus. So, when Nicodemus says, “We know you are a teacher come from God” Nicodemus tells us that Jesus has been the subject of backroom discussions and that Nicodemus may have been sent to come and see if Jesus is the real deal – to verify if Jesus is indeed the Messiah…
But then notice when Nicodemus makes his inquiry: He comes to Jesus at night – which leads me to believe that maybe… just maybe he’s not there on some ruling council assignment at all but has come on his own and doesn’t want anyone to know that he himself is curious about Jesus. But here’s the thing: no matter what the reason he has come, the point is that he did come – and he came straight to the source. He came to Jesus to find his answers.
And that’s the first observation I want us to note from this passage: When you come to Jesus, you are coming to the right guy! You see we live in a day where too many people just don’t do this. O sure, most everyone has an opinion about Jesus. But when you ask them how they formed their opinion, you discover that their ideas about Jesus have their origins in all kinds of places: from discussions with friends, from a professor in College, form some documentary on the History Channel, or even from their own imaginations. People today believe all kinds of things about Jesus: mostly that he was a good teacher or nice guy, but they have no idea who he really is and what he was all about. Because they never truly taken the time to go straight to the source – to check out Jesus for themselves – they’ve never read the Gospels, they’ve never listened to His Words or investigated His claims. And so, all they really know of Jesus has come second-hand. They’ve never really come to the source.
So, what’ so great here is that we see Nicodemus going straight to the source to learn directly from Jesus. But when he does, Jesus surprises him with the most important truth about life that he or anyone else will ever hear: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
So, to start things off, Nicodemus is a great model for us. If you have questions about Jesus: don’t just go to the history channel, don’t just listen to what your friends have to say; If you have questions about Jesus, go to Jesus for your answers. Open this book, read the Gospels, listen to his teachings, watch how he loves people… and I guarantee you that Jesus will reveal Himself to you in ways you never really bargained for.
That’s what happened with Nicodemus. He comes seeking answers about Jesus, and Jesus gives him way more than he bargains for. “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush. He gets personal with Nicodemus – very personal. Jesus knows what’s in Nicodemus’ heart, just like he knows what’s in your heart. And Jesus knows that Nicodemus wants to see the kingdom of God, but Jesus also knows that the way he’s been going about it has led him down the wrong path.
You see, to a Jew with the background and education of Nicodemus, ‘to see the kingdom of God,’ …well that was what he was living for. That’s why he was a Pharisee, a student of the Torah, and why he served on the Jewish ruling council. He had a zeal for the things of God. He had a passion for the kingdom of God. He wanted to see it and experience it – because seeing the kingdom of God would mean he was in the presence of God. So, seeing the kingdom of God meant everything to a guy like Nicodemus. That’s why Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Before we unpack this amazing teaching of Jesus here, there’s a second observation I want us to take note of here, and that is this: Telling the truth about the kingdom of God is the most loving thing we can ever do for anyone!
Most people really do want to know where they will end up when they die. But at the same time most people think they have a handle on what it takes to get there. But if you were to nail them down on it, they really are not certain… A lot of the time they are just like Nicodemus. They think it’s up to what you do, how religious you are, how moral you are, or even how zealous you are for the things of God. But like Nicodemus, every person, you – me – your friends, your neighbor next door – everyone needs to hear the truth that Jesus tells us here, that it’s not about what you do; it’s about what God wants to do for you: ”You must be born again.”
Jesus doesn’t want us to miss this: “No one can see the kingdom of God, no one can experience life with God unless God gives them a new life.” You must be born again.
Now, this truth shocked Nicodemus. And I can guarantee you, if you tell a friend this truth it will shock them too. But if you leave them in the dark, never tell them of this reality – you do them no favors. So, Jesus leads the way here – He shoots straight. He tells Nick the truth about eternal life. So then, saying “You must be born again,” was the most loving thing Jesus could’ve ever said to him. And THIS IS the most loving thing WE can say to those we love. But don’t be surprised that when you do, they won’t get it. I mean look at Nicodemus’ reaction. He was genuinely Surprised by Jesus: “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ John 3:4-7
Nicodemus didn’t get it. He took what Jesus was saying literally. He was caught up in the semantics of Jesus’ truth telling. He was thinking of physical birth. He missed the point. But let’s not miss it. Jesus doesn’t want us to miss it. When Jesus says, “You must be born again” He is stating a truth about our human condition. He is saying Our Humanity is broken beyond repair. He is telling us that our sin has left us spiritually dead. That is, we have no spiritual ability to know God, love God, or do what God wants. And we are POWERLESS to change our condition. We cannot enter the kingdom of God with our own abilities, our religious practices or our good works. It’s just not possible. A dead person cannot resurrect themselves. The same is true of a spiritually dead person. Only God can give new life. So then, just as Nicodemus needed to be born again spiritually then, every person born physically today also needs to experience spiritual birth from God to enter the Kingdom of God.
So then, Nothing you do can remedy your human condition. NOTHING You DO CAN CHANGE your eternal destiny! It doesn’t matter how religious you are, how moral you are, or how sincere you are. There is nothing in you, nothing in me, that has the POWER to impart spiritual life. So the truth Jesus is trying to hammer home for us today is this: It’s God’s Spirit, not our efforts that gives new life.
So, here’s the good news: Since it is God who imparts new life, the pressure’s off. You no longer have to be religious. You no longer have to strive to be perfect. You no longer have to hope you’ve done enough good things. All you need to do to receive the new life God wants to give you is look to Jesus.
So, let me ask you? Do you want this life? Do you want to see the kingdom of God? Do you want to know God personally not just know about God? Do you want to be certain that you will go to heaven when you die? If so, listen to the truth Jesus is proclaiming today: “You must be born again.” And the only way you can receive this new birth is by receiving the One God has sent. By looking to Jesus and putting your faith in Him. If you do that, God’s Word tells us, you won’t just be born again, but you will enter the kingdom of heaven. All you have to do is look to Jesus. Trust in Him and God will give you new life. That’s the good news found in Jesus.
Now, here’s the beauty of this good news that goes beyond you that’s also seen in this passage. And that good news is this: If God’s Spirit has the power to create new life in you, then God through His Spirit can reach anyone. In other words, no one is beyond the power of the gospel. God change the hardest of hearts. God can reach the worst of the worst and make them brand new. God can rescue lost causes. How do I know this? Because Jesus said it. Look now at verse 8, where Jesus compares the mystery of the Holy Spirit with the mystery of wind. He says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8
I love this metaphor. Wind is mysterious. It can be heard. Yet we don’t know its origin or destination. All we know is the effects of the wind and of the Spirit. AND WHAT THAT MEANS is that God’s wind can rise up anytime to bring about spiritual birth…
Are there people in your life that you don’t think God can reach? Think again. Are there people in your life who’ve messed up so bad that you think they are too far gone? Think again. Is there someone in your life who you think may never come to faith, someone who’s rejected your invitations, who’s refused to listen to you about Jesus? Take heart, for if God’s Spirit blows wherever He pleases, then no one is beyond the power of God’s quickening breath. God’s Spirit can blow upon anyone… God’s Spirit can blow upon that rascal neighbor. God’s Spirit can blow upon that lost cause. God’s Spirit can blow upon the hardest of hearts and most skeptical of sinners and change him or her forever. No one is beyond the reach of God’s Spirit. And that too is good news. And should encourage you to see everyone different after today.
Now, lets come back to the text so we can see how Jesus finally gets through to Nicodemus. At this point we now see that Nicodemus is about to be Schooled by Jesus “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? John 3:10 Obviously, Nicodemus is not just confused, he’s perplexed. But Jesus, knowing that Nicodemus is one of Israel’s master teachers, knows that Nicodemus should understand this truth. It’s taught throughout the Old Testament. He should know passages like 1 Samuel 10:6 that taught how God’s Spirit changed Saul. The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them, and you will be changed into a different person.
And he should know the prophecy of Ezekiel, that taught about how God would bring about spiritual birth in his people: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:25-27
But somehow Nicodemus had missed these teachings. Why? Because he, like so many others of his generation had become so focused on cleaning the outside by keeping external laws that he missed what God had said. For God had said, “You need to be clean on the inside-washed with water. You need your heart to come alive by my Spirit.” But the like the rest of the Pharisees he was blind to this truth. This is why Jesus was telling this religious scholar: “I don’t want you to clean yourself up. I want to make you brand new.”
So, to convince Nicodemus Jesus now unpacks his credentials. He wants Nicodemus to understand that He has the ultimate authority to teach this truth… to grasp that he is a far more superior teacher than even Nicodemus. So, he says, I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. John 3:11-14
Jesus takes this moment to drop one last truth bomb that would should awaken Nicodemus to what Jesus has been teaching him about being born again. It’s a truth bomb about saving faith. So, Jesus says, Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:15 There it is. The way to be born again – the way to receive eternal life from God, the way to enter the kingdom of heaven is simple: you must believe in the remedy God has provided. You see, the story behind the snake in the desert was well known. It’s recorded in Number 21:6-9. The Israelites were wandering in the desert. They had been rebellious. So, God had sent snakes into their midst to punish them for their rebellious hearts. Many people were bitten and dying. They became desperate. They could not save themselves. They cried out to God and God gave them a remedy. He told Moses to erect a pole upon which he was to attach a bronze snake. Those bitten by the poisonous snakes could be healed if they obeyed God’s command and looked upon the snake. But to look upon the snake they had to believe in God’s mercy. And those who believed and looked were saved. What Jesus was telling Nicodemus at this moment is what we want the world to know today: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:15
Jesus schooled Israel’s greatest teacher, and told him, that if he wanted to see the kingdom of God, if he wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven, if wanted this life with God that only God can give – then he needed to respond to the remedy God provided. For just as God made a way for Israel to be saved then, He’s made a way for us to be saved today. It was by faith then, it’s still by faith today. And the way anyone is born again, the way anyone receives eternal life is to believe in the One whom God has sent. Throw yourself on God’s mercy just like Israel did. Trust in what God has provided to save you – trust in Jesus’ death on the cross for you. LOOK TO JESUS – BELIEVE IN HIM – And you will be saved. So, let me ask you, Do you want this new life that God wants to give you? Then trust in the One He’s given for you.