This word from John 3 is for you…for this exact moment. God is divinely interrupting your life to provide you with encouragement for the journey. Faith is a lifestyle, not just a prayer. Let’s see what God has to impress upon you as we study out this chapter verse-by-verse (sign up for more free, online Bible studies here).
If we were asked to read to a dying man who did not know the gospel, we should probably select this chapter as the most suitable one for such an occasion; and what is good for dying men is good for us all, for that which we are; and how soon we may be actually at the gates of death, none of us can tell. ~Charles Spurgeon
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
- From the outside, Nicodemus had it together. He was religious (a Pharisee), smart (Nicodemus is a Greek name, and Greeks were well-educated), influential (a ruler), and cared enough to seek Jesus. Nicodemus came to Jesus as a representative of all men. He embodied the people you read about online that have their life all buttoned up and tidy—at least from the Instagram photo. And he embodies you.
- But on the inside, Nicodemus was lost. He came by night. Maybe because it was in secret and he wanted the darkness to cover his identity—you know, so his Pharisee friends wouldn’t find out. Maybe because he desired uninterrupted time with Jesus. Maybe because he was ashamed that he felt empty when he was supposed to have it all figured out. Regardless of his motive, let us remember this: he sought Jesus. It doesn’t really matter why you genuinely seek Jesus; just know you’re brave to pursue His presence and it is only in His presence that fears are relinquished.
- Nicodemus acknowledged that Jesus was sent from God. I find it fascinating that he—and his Pharisee friends—knew Jesus was sent by God. Still, many did not believe. We’ve hit and re-hit this topic of belief (true commitment v. an intellectual knowledge) and it’s worth noting again in verse 2.
- I love Jesus. His responses are so perfect and pointed, yet totally baffling. You’ll notice that throughout John, Jesus will explain something figuratively (verse 3), which is then taken literally or misunderstood by the inquirer (verse 4). Jesus explains further, which only is more difficult to understand (verse 5). But then…for those who are willing to hear, He begins to explain. Goodness—don’t miss this. This is a parallel to the sanctification process we all experience. When we are new believers, we go literal, find some of the Word difficult to grasp, God then explains, we are perplexed again; BUT, then this amazing thing happens as we seek Jesus. It becomes real and personal and brilliant all in a millisecond.
- Have you experienced this before? If so, this is God’s Holy Spirit at work in you. If you and I were sitting down and drinking a cup of coffee together, you may ask: “Tiffany, why can’t God just be clear up front!?” I would tell you this: “Because He’s teaching you to listen to His voice. He’s teaching you to “think” with your spirit instead of your flesh. He’s wanting you to learn perseverance. He’s wanting you to experience the adventure and joy that pursuing Him brings. And each time you practice this, you die to yourself and learn to pick up your cross.” And then, we’d take another sip of coffee together again and just ponder the work of Christ as we smiled at the progress He’s made in both of us. He’s forever patient.
- Jesus’ response to Nicodemus totally rocked his world. The Jews believed that their racial identity—their lineage from Abraham—assured them a place in God’s Kingdom. #wrong
- I was recently asked during our ladies’ Sunday night Bible study (which is also covering the book of John) why the Jews didn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah. That was such a good question and I didn’t have a thorough answer (believe it or not, I must study this stuff out, too!). What I learned as I studied John 3 more in depth is that most Jews of that time looked for the Messiah to bring in a new world, in which Israel and the Jewish people would be prominent. Instead, Jesus came to bring new life in which He would be prominent (Guzik). See the difference? Man, our flesh just wants the glory and we naturally feed off the spotlight. Jesus had an upside down and inside out plan.
- Nicodemus then asked Jesus, “How can this be?” Meaning, Nico didn’t understand-o. He didn’t get what Jesus was saying about the re-birth or re-creation process. Here’s what Jesus said next:
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
- Jesus scolded Nicodemus because as a Pharisee—the Pharisees were the “best” people in the whole country; there were never more than 6,000 of them—he would have had the Old Testament memorized. There are over 300 prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament, yet Nicodemus didn’t comprehend the teaching of the new birth. Doh.
- It’s wonderful though, that even though Nicodemus didn’t understand, Jesus didn’t leave him in a fog. Jesus began to bring to life the connections, such as the bronze serpent in the wilderness, which was a picture of sin judged and dealt with (hallelujah!). Jesus began to point out Truth that Nicodemus never saw. He does the same for you, too.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
- John 3:16 is a wonderful verse. It’s probably one of the most recognized verses of the Bible and is the essence of our hope. In 2009, Tim Tebow wrote John 3:16 under his eyes and after the nationally-televised college football game, 94 million people had Googled that verse. We serve a big God.
- There are a few points about this verse I think are fascinating because, again, Jesus is among the Jewish people:
o The Jews didn’t think about God loving the world; they thought about Him loving Israel (which is also true). God’s scope is always bigger than our scope. His plan for your life is always bigger than what you’ve conjured up. He’s a big God.
o As much as I love John 3:16, I’d probably print John 3:17 on a t-shirt or windshield sticker today. There is such a misconception that God sends people to hell. Friends, we were already all bound for hell. God’s plan was to provide the Way to eternally be connected to Him (John 14:6). Hell was created for Satan and his angels, not man (Matthew 25:41). Those who believe the Biblical doctrine of hell is excessive are not fully comprehending the sinfulness of sin against a Holy God. We were born broken and God I will confess, I am one of them. My husband and I are currently reading The End of Me by Kyle Idleman and chapter 2 talks about mourning our sin. I don’t see my sin like the Father sees my sin. My sin (at least, in my mind), is rationalized. It’s got motive, reasoning, and isn’t as bad as it looks. Right?! Because, well, I’m a good person. Oh, friends…you are disgusting, just like me. You are broken, just like the Spurgeon quote at the beginning of this post talked about:
“If we were asked to read to a dying man who did not know the gospel, we should probably select this chapter as the most suitable one for such an occasion; and what is good for dying men is good for us all, for that which we are; and how soon we may be actually at the gates of death, none of us can tell.” ~Charles Spurgeon
- Let us mourn our sin, because we know we will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Praise God that He didn’t come to condemn us (for that was already done, thanks to Satan and the fall in the garden). He came to create the Way to live in an eternal state with Him. Repent! Rejoice! Remain in Him!
- One thing I realized as I studied out the story of Nicodemus—and this is where I state I’m not some super smart commentator or theologian who studies the scripture inside and out—is that it never provides an “ending” to the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. It doesn’t say, like in Matthew 19:22 with the rich man, that “he went away sad.” There’s never an ending to our conversation with Jesus, either. Jesus will always make time for you (literally and figuratively). He’s not too busy. He doesn’t need to you travel by way of a saint because He is the Way (John 14:6). The fellowship you can have with Him can be endless, just like it was for Nicodemus. We learn later, in John 19:38-42, that Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes (about 75 pounds!), to help with Jesus’ embalming process.
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.” 31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
- John’s account of Jesus focuses on what He did in the region of Judea, while the other three gospels focus in the Galilean region.
- There are some pot-stirrers in this verse. Disciples of John the Baptist were coming to him and saying, “Hey, you realize you’re ‘losing’ your disciples because they are leaving to follow this other guy, right?” They didn’t get far because John was quick to reply and say, “That’s the goal!” John knew he was fulfilling his purpose by proclaiming the Messiah—by pointing people to Jesus. And, when Jesus came, he wanted them to walk on by him. I love that. That is how we are to live: “He must become greater; I must become less.” John was like the best man at the wedding—He wasn’t the groom. He knew his place and he found joy in not being the center of attention. He realized that it was good for him to become less recognized and known and for Jesus to become more recognized and known (Guzik). John the Baptist was genuinely humble; he drew large crowds and followers, yet he focused on the work of God and Jesus coming from above.
- “Father, help us see our sin like you see our sin. Give us a heart that mourns over the brokenness that we are. Thank you for your Son, Jesus. I choose to follow the Way today. I want to decrease, so you can increase in my life. Amen.”