Tonight we’re looking at John 3, which even to those who may be the least knowledgeable in Jesus and the church may find familiar. But tonight we’re going to look at why this passage is so massive and packed with transformative truth for our lives.
Looking back at the past two weeks of teachings, we talked about how Jesus was in the beginning with God, as God, creating all things for His glory with the purpose of human flourishing. When mankind was created, they had everything they needed to thrive, yet mankind pursued their own fleshly desires rather than choosing to be obedient to the King of the Universe. Because God is perfect and we are not, perfect and imperfect cannot occupy the same space, just as light and darkness cannot occupy the same space.
Sin entered the world and mankind was removed from the garden, spending the rest of our days longing for our reconciliation and return to the garden.
The prophets in the Old Testament, that is, people who were given the word of God BY God and spoke it to the people, foretold the coming of Jesus. Long before Jesus walked the earth, God promised a King who would save us from our sins. The earthly kings that ruled before were no match. They lied and killed and stole and were cowards and ungrateful and weak. But all eyes were on what was to come.
We read about John the Baptist, a man who pointed people to the coming King. He boldly confessed that he was NOT Jesus, but taught his many followers that the King was indeed coming. And when Jesus showed up, he wasted no time, saying “That’s the One. That’s the guy. Go follow Him.”
The disciples of John, Andrew and Peter, began following Jesus, not knowing what they were getting themselves into. Last week, we focused on 3 statements:
WHAT ARE YOU SEEKING?
COME AND SEE.
DO WHATEVER HE TELLS YOU.
Remember, Jesus asked the Disciples, and He asks us too: what are you seeking? Whatever the answer to that is, we’re are invited to come and see. Whether we’re confident or doubting, answers are found in Jesus.
We talked about the wedding at Cana that Jesus attended with his disciples and his mother. Remember, his mother gave this statement to the disciples: do whatever he tells you. Because she knew Jesus would begin to move. He would begin to show himself as the Son of God. At that wedding, Jesus took water that the Jews used to ceremonially cleanse themselves of their sin before the meal, and He turned it into wine, which he would one day stand before his disciples and hold up a cup of wine, telling them it was his blood that was shed for them. No longer would they need water to ceremonially cleanse them of their sins, and no longer would we need to focus on the ways WE are supposed to make ourselves clean. No longer would we struggle cleaning mud with mud, because we now had a Savior who, if we turned to him, would take our sins and wipe them clean. He would push back the darkness and bring us back into the light.
John 3 begins with this:
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews…”
We’re going to stop here, because this sentence holds two important facts. Nicodemus, who was probably called Nick by his close friends, was a Pharisee.
The Pharisees were a powerful branch of the Jewish religious community during Jesus’ time. They were considered to be religious experts, and the strictly obeyed God’s laws and all the traditions they had established. The Pharisees would’ve had the entire Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, memorized.
He was also a ruler of the Jews, meaning he was part of the Sanhedrin, which was the highest Jewish authority in Israel. The Sanhedrin had complete control over the religious affairs of Israel and had the final say in the interpretation of the Mosaic Law. It also governed civic affairs and tried certain criminal cases under the authority of the Romans.
All of this said, Nick was a pretty well-off guy in the religious department. Not only was he incredibly knowledgeable in Jewish law, having the first five books of the Bible memorized, but he was also part of the court that implemented these rules. He was in charge.
“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.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 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, “Truly, truly, 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. Do not marvel that I say to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
This man came to Jesus by night. This is significant. Because Nick, this man who was supposed to have it all together, who had the first five books of the Bible memorized, who was part of the court system that ruled on religious matters, this well-off man, he had questions. He had doubts. He had concerns. So he went to Jesus in the dark, looking for a new life. He knew Jesus was from God, and he wanted answers.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless he is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. And this baffles Nick. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Obviously, this isn’t what Jesus was talking about. But Jesus breaks it down like this:
You’ve already been born of the flesh. That happened the day you were born. Many years ago, on your birthday, you were born of the flesh.
But you haven’t been born of the Spirit. We were born physically alive but spiritually dead. The second mankind sinned and chose their desires over obedience to God, our ability to live in perfect nature with God was cut off. Mankind could no longer live forever, and our spirit died. We are born physically alive, but spiritually dead. And when the time comes for us to go home to Glory, our bodies are going in the ground. A Spirit that is alive, that is filled by Jesus, that’s what goes home to Glory.
But man, when we are born of the Spirit, when Jesus breathes new life into us, when the sin that brings death is removed and nailed to the cross, when we place our trust in Jesus and live our lives in obedience to Him, our Spirit comes alive. We’re given new life.
Have you ever been asked if you are a Christian? Or when you became a Christian? A Christian is simply someone who follows Christ.
So think of that. Are you a follower of Christ? When did you become a follower of Christ?
For many of us, our natural answer to that is, “of course I am, I always have been.”
But what Jesus says here could change that. He’s saying, “You’re physically alive because you were born. But you’re not spiritually alive just because you’re physically alive.”
You see, no one has always been a Christian. No one has always followed Christ. Because from the day we were born, our human nature has led us to sin. That’s what we’re born from and born into. We don’t have to be taught to be greedy. We don’t have to be taught to be deceitful. You don’t have to teach a toddler to snatch a toy from someone else. That’s their human nature. So our human nature is to be against God. Our human nature is NOT to follow Christ.
You weren’t born a Christian. You may have been born into a Christian family, raised up with Christian morals, raised attending church every Sunday, but none of those things bring spiritual life.
Jesus says you must be born again. Not of flesh, but your Spirit, the part of you that longs for something nothing on this earth can fill, THAT part of you comes alive when you give your life and your trust to Him.
Nicodemus says “how can this be?”
Jesus points out to him that Nick is a teacher of Israel and still doesn’t understand this. It’s not about his head knowledge at this point. Memorizing the Torah wasn’t putting his trust in Jesus, it was putting his trust in himself. And then Jesus sneaks in this little part in verse 14 and 15:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Jesus is referencing a passage from Numbers 21:4-9. Numbers is in the first 5 books of the Bible, the Torah, meaning Nicodemus would know all about this text.
But let me read it to you here:
“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against 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 worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he takes away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”
So Jesus brings Nicodemus back to this text that he would’ve known so well. Moses was leading the people to the promise land, and God was providing them with everything they needed. He was literally raining bread from Heaven to provide for them. They had everything they needed. Not everything they wanted, but everything they needed. But they weren’t satisfied. So the Lord sent snakes among the people, and if the people were bit by a snake, they would die. And so people started dying. And these people came to Moses and said “Bro. We messed up. You’ve got to help us out.” So God talks with Moses and has him take a serpent, a snake, and put it up on a pole. So anytime someone is bitten by a snake, they look at the snake on a pole, and they will live.
Back in the garden, mankind was in the presence of God, having everything they needed. But it wasn’t enough. Our selfish desires wanted more, and a serpent separated us from God. Sin entered, and eternal life was stripped from us. The people of Israel were being led to the promise land, being provided with bread from heaven, having everything they needed, and it wasn’t enough. Snakes entered, biting people and killing Israelites.
God had promised a Savior. He showed the Israelites His faithfulness is Numbers 21. If you get bit by a snake, look to the serpent up on the pole. Gaze your eyes to the snake on a pole, and you will live. You will go from certain death to assured life.
Nicodemus, remember that story? That wasn’t about a snake. That was about you and me. You have been bitten. You are sick with sin. And you’re no match to heal yourself.
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world may be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
John 3:16 holds so much more weight when you read the fifteen verses before it. The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. THE WORLD WAS ALREADY CONDEMNED.
Whoever looks at the serpent on a pole will not die. But whoever does not look at the serpent on a pole is already dying, right? That’s what God tells us in Numbers 21.
Your belief in Jesus is your acknowledgement that you can’t save yourself. Your belief in Jesus is your acknowledgement that you have fallen to sin that separates you from a Holy and Perfect God, but the blood of Jesus cleanses you and makes you new.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
Nicodemus knew everything there was to know about the word of God and the religious law. But this self-righteous man, under the cloak of darkness, approaches Jesus to learn how to receive new life.
Jesus’s answer to him is simple.
Just as you have been physically born, you must be spiritually born. We are born into sin, and therefore are spiritually dead. But when we place our trust in Jesus, when we step into the light, when we hand over our pride and our guilt and our shame, Jesus gives us new life. We become spiritually alive. And we live in the light from here until Glory. We gaze upon the cross and remember what Jesus has done for us, and we live our lives for Him.
We were born physically alive but spiritually dead. But Jesus breathes life back into us, bringing the dead to life and fulfilling the promise of eternity with Him. Life with Jesus is not something we can physically achieve. It’s not up to us. It’s the grace of God that redeems us, that buys us back.