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“Soar Like Eagles” The Gospel of John #4 – Attitude Is Everything!” John 3:1-15

19 Jan

god-is-loveThe opening ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem had attracted a great deal of attention, both favorable and unfavorable. Many of the people believed (2:23).

Jesus knew their hearts and that their faith was weak and unstable and so while He encouraged their belief, He did not trust Himself to them for more. They needed more time.

The story of Nicodemus is presented by John as a contrast to those who were described in John 2:23-24 (NIV)
23  Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24  But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men..

Nicodemus is an instance of Christ’s knowledge of men and of one to whom He could trust Himself.

THE INTERVIEW WITH NICODEMUS

John 3:1-3 (NIV) Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2  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.”

For the most part we see Jesus surrounded by the ordinary people, but here we see him in contact with one of the religious leaders of Jerusalem.

And “religious” people are often the most difficult to lead to Christ. They may be brilliant scholars, gifted leaders, or just “good folks,” but they can suffer from a blindness that is almost impenetrable.

He had an impeccable resume. If heaven could be earned from one’s accomplishments, Nicodemus would have had change left over!

But when he met Jesus, he, the leading teacher of Israel, would be the one raising his hand and asking the elementary-school questions.

There are certain things we need to know:

– Nicodemus must have been wealthy.

When Jesus died Nicodemus brought for his body “a mixture of myrrh and aloes about an hundred pound weight” (John 19:39), and only a wealthy man could have brought that.

– He was a Pharisee.

In many ways the Pharisees were the best people in the whole country. There were never more than 6,000 of them; they were what was known as a brotherhood. They entered into this brotherhood by taking a pledge in front of three witnesses that they would spend all their lives observing every detail of the scribal law.

– He was a ruler of the Jews.

This is to say he was a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a court of 70 members and was the supreme court of the Jews. Of course, under the Romans its power was limited, but they were still exclusive.

Nicodemus is the “cream of the Jewish crop.” One dare not dream of having life any better than he has it. He is a Jew, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin (the highest legal, legislative and judicial body of the Jews), and a highly respected teacher of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Can you imagine being Nicodemus and having Jesus tell you that all of this is not enough to get you into the kingdom of God? Yet this is precisely what Jesus tells Nicodemus.

John 3:3 (NIV) In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

If a man like Nicodemus is not good enough for the kingdom of God, then who is? That is the question, and Jesus has the answer, which John records for us. Let us listen well to the inspired words of this Gospel to learn how one must enter the kingdom of God.

There are two reasons why he could have come at night: First, it may have been a sign of caution. It’s likely that Nicodemus may not have wished to commit himself by coming to Jesus by day. We must not condemn him; the wonder is that with his background, he came to Jesus at all! It was infinitely better to come at night than not at all.

Second, (the reason I prefer) the rabbis declared that the best time to study the law was at night when a man was undisturbed. Throughout the day Jesus was surrounded by crowds of people all the time.

“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.” (3:3-6).

The reply of Jesus must have been startling because of its abruptness. At first the statement seemed almost irrelevant; yet it really was the expression of Jesus’ discernment.

Because “He knew what was in man,” He saw in Nicodemus a man who was truly seeking the kingdom of God!

To a Jew, the idea of baptism would be repugnant since it connoted the ceremony by which an unclean Gentile became a member of the Jewish faith. It would involve humiliation, and an acknowledgment that he, a Pharisee, needed to repent just like the Gentile “dogs.”

The water and the Spirit are the agents and instruments in producing the birth. The Spirit is living and active…the water is inanimate. The Spirit is the active agent, the water the instrument of birth. It is the fleshly part of man that is born of the flesh; but it is the spirit within man that must be born again or begotten of the Spirit.

And, without doubt, Jesus realized that He surprised him with the answer:

“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.””

In the Hebrew and Greek, the word for wind (“pneuma”) can also be translated “spirit.” It is likely that the evening wind was blowing as Nicodemus and Jesus sat on the housetop conversing.

One of the symbols of the Spirit of God in the Bible is the wind or breath (Job 33:4; John 20:22; Acts 2:2). When Jesus used this symbol, Nicodemus should have readily remembered Ezekiel 37:1-14. The prophet saw a valley full of dead bones; but when he prophesied to the wind, the Spirit came and gave the bones life.

Again, it was the combination of the Spirit of God and the Word of God that gave life.

No one has seen the wind, but all of us have seen its effects, the devastation caused by severe wind storms.  This mighty wind has lowered trees, razed homes, and destroyed lives. We have not seen the wind, but we have seen what the wind has done.

So one cannot see the quiet working of the Holy Spirit, but all who are saved can testify to the fact that its effects are visible.

Water is the symbol of cleansing. When Jesus takes possession of our lives, when we love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength…the sins of the past are forgiven and forgotten.

The Spirit is the symbol of power. When Jesus takes possession of our lives it is not only that the past is forgotten and forgiven; if that were all, we might well proceed to make the same mess of life over again. But into life there enters a new power which enables us to be what by ourselves we could never be and to do what by ourselves we could never do.

Water and Spirit stand for the cleansing and the strengthening power of God, which wipes out the past and gives victory in the future!

“”How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. {10} “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? {11} 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. {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 desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, {15} that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

Nicodemus came “by night,” and he was still in the dark! Our Lord stated clearly that his knowledge of the Old Testament should have given him the light he needed (vs. 10). Nicodemus knew the facts recorded in scripture, but he could not understand the truths.

Nicodemus has now responded in three ways:

– “Rabbi, you are a teacher from God…your signs show that”

– “How can a man be born old? Can He enter his mother’s womb again?”

– “How can this be?”

Nicodemus was earnestly seeking for answers…and was not afraid to reveal his lack of understanding. Christ did not answer him directly, but rebuked him for his spiritual incompetency…as if to say, “you ought to know.”

Nicodemus was not just an ordinary teacher…he was a well-known teacher of high rank and position, respected and ad

A special study of the attitude behind this important command:

Jesus often said in His ministry what I believe that these verses are trying to say; to show us in fuller form what Jesus said many times in His earthly ministry: “Unless you can humble yourself and become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

This metaphor about humbling self is expressed in the extreme context here with Nicodemus…and he even talks about grown ups, even needing to “be born again.”

This humbling process involves:

– starting their spiritual life from scratch

– seeking grace from God

– looking to Jesus for faith for what we cannot do of ourselves

– willing to accept a divine analysis of the human condition

– willing to accept the divine cure for the human ailment

Jesus was saying: “The fact that you are who you are could make it harder for you to enter the kingdom of God than some others. You need to forget everything you ever heard or thought about being saved…and listen to my commands and do them.”

Prostitutes and thieves may enter the kingdom ahead of someone with the background of Nicodemus. It will always be harder for those who stand on plateaus and have to step down, give up their position of pride, or give up the notion that men should come to them for answers, as they did to Nicodemus!

Humility! It’s the most difficult of all virtues!  YET it’s the foundation for the Christian! Remember Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It’s the first “Be-attitude” and it’s first for a purpose:

– to be “poor in spirit” means to be “poor in ego”

– without this attitude, the other be-attitudes won’t come!

This is difficult, isn’t it?  It’s difficult for anyone to admit they might be wrong, that we might need to change our viewpoint and our ways! And Jesus blows Nicodemus out of his saddle here. Nicodemus had all the credentials and they wouldn’t be the right ones!

When a person is unfamiliar with an idea, use something they are familiar with…Jesus went to the brazen serpent; He made a direct comparison between the serpent and Himself.

Numbers 21:8 (NIV) The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

On their journey through the wilderness the people of Israel murmured and complained and regretted that they had ever left Egypt. To punish them God sent a plague of deadly fiery serpents; the people repented and cried for mercy.

God instructed Moses to make an image of a serpent and to hold it up in the midst of the camp; and those who looked upon it were healed. The serpent was the emblem of sin, as Nicodemus would recognize. The destiny of the individual was determined by his  response to God’s invitation. The serpent seems to have been given as a test of their faith in Moses.

I wonder how many Israelites died on that occasion because the idea of looking at a serpent was so preposterous!?!

In both cases (Christ and the serpent):

– death threatens as a punishment for sin

– it is God Himself who, in His sovereign grace, provides a remedy

– this remedy consists of something (or some One) which (who) must be lifted up, in public view

– the belief or faith of the individual was crucial in the healing

The idea of being “lifted up” has a double meaning: Jesus was lifted up upon the cross; and  Jesus was also lifted up into glory at His ascension. The same Greek word (“hupsoun”) is used here relating to the cross (8:28; 12:32) and also of Jesus’s ascension (Acts 2:33; 5:31; Phil. 2:9). And the two are connected…for without one, the other would not be possible!

—————————————————-

The new birth begins and ends with the power of God. Jesus declared to Nicodemus that the new birth is both possible and available because of the power of the Holy Spirit (3:6-8). We can become so caught up in how to receive the gift of God that we forget how incredible it is that the Spirit of God is available to us in the first place!

Because being born again is rooted in the power of God, it also gives us hope of real and significant change in our lives. When we make plans to see old friends we have not seen in years, we always wonder how much they have changed. Having known them years earlier and having been acquainted with their basic personalities, it is easy for us to assume that they are still the same people we knew twenty or forty years earlier. Could they have experienced serious changes in their lives? For Christians, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” By the power of God we are being changed.

Faith is a crucial aspect of the new birth. This faith is not just any decision about Jesus (3:2), but the decision to trust Him as the Christ, the Son of God (20:31). Jesus compared this faith to the faith that was required of the Israelites in the wilderness when Moses raised up the bronze serpent (3:14; Numbers 21:4-9).

  • To all who think that basic goodness is enough for God, Jesus says, “You must be born again.”
  • To all who are comfortable with their cultural religions, Jesus says, “You must be born again. “
  • To all who seek only a personal, private religion, Jesus says, “You must be born again.”
  • To all who view baptism as a meaningless, irrelevant historic relic, Jesus says, “You must be born again.”

There are two kinds of misunderstanding:

  1. There is the man who misunderstands because he has not yet reached a stage of knowledge and of experience at which he is able to grasp the truth.

When one is in this state, our duty is to do all we can to explain to him so he will be able to grasp the knowledge which is being offered to him.

  1. There is also the man who is unwilling to understand.

There is a failure to see which comes from the refusal to see. A man can deliberately shut his mind to truth which he does not wish to accept. If a man does not wish to acknowledge his own failings or does not wish to be changed, he will deliberately shut his eyes and his mind and his heart to the power which can change him.

Did Nicodemus believe on this occasion? Verse 11 tells us that he did not accept Jesus’ testimony at that time. Verse 12 implies that the earthly should have made the heavenly easier. We don’t know for sure, but John’s style throughout the gospel up to this point says that if he had obeyed here, John would have told us about it…that’s been his pattern thus far.

But notice:

– Nicodemus spoke on behalf of fairness in judging Jesus (7:50).

– He assisted Joseph of Arimathea in removing the body of Jesus from the cross and burying it (19:38-42).

– He was willing to admit that Jesus performed miracles and that He was a teacher of God (cpt. 3).

 
1 Comment

Posted by on January 19, 2017 in Jesus Christ

 

One response to ““Soar Like Eagles” The Gospel of John #4 – Attitude Is Everything!” John 3:1-15

  1. Terry Davenport

    January 22, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    I enjoyed this very important study. Terry

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

     

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