I. John 3:1-17 You Must Be Born Again
II. 3:1-4, A Teacher Gets Schooled
A. V1a “There was a man of the Pharisees” Who are the Pharisees?
1. The Pharisees were a religious sect amongst the Jewish Religion at the time of Jesus. They had gained popular support for the zeal for the Law of God, their purity, their commitment to proselytizing, their impressive schools of learning and their frugal and humble manner of living. Contrary to popular belief the Pharisees typically lived a life of self-denial and poverty, which gave them a large support with the general population. The word Pharisee means “separated”, these guys had wholly devoted their life to living a life of separation in obedience to God’s Law. The problem is that they began to major in the minors. They would go to great lengths to publically make long prayers, keep oral traditions as if they were part of the Law, task the people with legalistic burdens that they themselves were unable to keep, and announce the world when they were fasting or tithing. In short, they were hypocrites; though that did not mean there were insincere men among them.
B. V1b, Nicodemus is one of the few sincere men among the sect of the Pharisees, not only that we come to find out that he was a ruler of the Jews. This phrase meant he was part of the Sanhedrin, the religious high counsel of the Jews comprising at the time of Christ of 71 members. This was the most powerful group of men in the Jewish world, since they not only were the religious leaders but were judges of the people (in all matters except exacting the death penalty). Nicodemus would have been a man held in great honor and respect, both politically and religiously.
C. V2, Nicodemus came by night, this could have meant he was too ashamed for people to see him coming to Jesus. It is also possible that Nicodemus came by night in order to have some time one on one with Jesus when he wasn’t surrounded by the multitudes. Whatever the motivation we see that Nicodemus was deeply impacted by the recent actions of Jesus in cleansing the temple and came to learn privately from this new amazing Rabbi.
1. “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.” Nicodemus was different then a lot of the other Pharisees we hear of from the scriptures, he recognizes that Jesus must be from God and that these signs proved it. Perhaps Nicodemus was one of the people that started to follow Jesus with superficial faith, the faith that Jesus could not commit himself to. Knowing what type of faith Nicodemus had currently, that is only based on miracles, Jesus is going to take Nicodemus deeper and explain to him the type of faith He wants.
a) Nicodemus says “we” which means not only is he a part of the counsel but he seems to have the authority to speak on the behalf of the counsel.
D. V3, The way Jesus responds seems completely out of the context. Remember though that Jesus knows what is in the hearts of men and He continues to show this in his conversation with Nicodemus.
1. Jesus discerns that Nicodemus is seeking the Kingdom of God. The Pharisees were banking on the Messiah coming and doing many of the signs that Jesus did, in fact they had even calculated the very day that the Messiah would enter into the gates of Jerusalem (which Jesus fulfilled to the day), but when Jesus came and offered first a spiritual kingdom is wasn’t what most of the Pharisees wanted and so they rejected Him.
2. Unless one is born again, Jesus is going to start at the very basics with Nicodemus. Nicodemus came to Jesus to learn, and maybe even to seek Him as the Messiah, but before you can teach a baby to walk the baby has to be born. Nicodemus, although the teacher of Israel, wasn’t ready to learn about the Kingdom of God… because he hadn’t been born into it yet.
E. V4, Nicodemus instantly misunderstands the words of Jesus. Before we are quick to judge him we should remind ourselves how often scripture doesn’t make sense to us until God helps us to understand it. It does not matter how much you know about the Bible or about Theology, it doesn’t matter how much religious training you have received, if Jesus doesn’t open your eyes to understand the scriptures then you will never fully understand them. Nicodemus questioned, how can I physically go back into my mother’s womb and be born again, that isn’t possible.
1. Luke 24:45 “And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.”
2. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Cor. 2:14
III. 3:5-8 You Must Be Born Again
A. V5-6, The only way to enter into God’s Kingdom is to be born anew into His Kingdom. Jesus starts this statement with “most assuredly” (amen, amen), He says this phrase whenever He is about to teach an important truth. There is no more important truth then this one.
1. Born of Water = born of the flesh. We know that being born of water here means physically birth because the immediate context. Jesus expounds his statement of verse 5 in verse 6, correlating being born of water with being born of the flesh and repeating being born of the Spirit with being born of the Spirit.
2. You must obviously first be born physically to be born of the kingdom of God, secondly you must be born spiritually to be born of the Kingdom of God. This is pretty simple and straightforward, yet Jesus is making it clear because it is the first and most important lesson we must learn from Him. If you have not been born from above you are not part of the Kingdom of God, to a Jew, especially a Pharisee of the people of Israel this would have come as a shock. If anyone had an in to the kingdom of God it would have been a Pharisees of the Jews, yet even they had to be born again.
B. V7, Apparently Nicodemus was in complete be wilderness at this statement. Being born again was something he was having a hard time understanding, probably because he couldn’t imagine what it would look like to see a person be born again or how it would work.
C. V8, Jesus uses nature to explain the supernatural, which God is so apt to do being that both are His creations. You can’t see wind, yet you can see the effects of it. You can’t see someone be born again with your eyes, but you can see the effect of being born again in their life.
IV. 3:9-15, How can these things be?
A. V9, Nicodemus still does not understand. Here we see the patient character of God, because Jesus continues to explain it to him. God is patient, and God is kind with us, even though we are slow to understand. To learn from God you don’t have to be quick to understand, you just have to be teachable.
B. V10, we see here that Nicodemus is “the teacher”. From this verse we can assume that Nicodemus was not just a teacher of the Jews, he was the teacher. Apparently he was an extremely influential teacher, he was the teacher. God is much harder on those who teach the scriptures, especially on matters of doctrine, because they should know better.
1. “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” James 3:1
C. V11-12, In verse 12 Jesus challenges Nicodemus that if he can’t understand earthly things, such as how an earthly man can be born again by the spirit, how could he teach Nicodemus heavenly things. Nicodemus had come to learn heavenly things, but Jesus has to start with the basics, and he can’t even understand that. In verse 11 Jesus throws out a spiritual thing, as an example of something heavenly he couldn’t understand. Jesus says We, and Our, hinting at the Triune God; a heavenly concept that Nicodemus was nowhere near ready to accept. The deity of Christ shines through the words of Christ in v11, it is a verse that you read and think, wow those are words straight from the mouth of God.
1. Jesus, The Spirit, and the Father (God the Trinity) speaks what the know to be true, since He created His Kingdom telling others how to enter it is something He would know. God the Trinity testifies what they have seen, Jesus knows heavenly things because He has seen it with His own eyes. Yet Nicodemus, and the Sanhedrin in general, did not receive His witness. It is almost scary how much of the divine nature reveals itself in this sentence.
D. V13, here we see another heavenly thing. Jesus retained His omniscience, his all-knowingness, even though He is in the flesh. Jesus speaks of the future as if it is already the past, only God can do this. If that doesn’t blow your mind I don’t know what will.
E. V14-15, To understand this verse we must first understand the reference.
1. V14, Read Numbers 21:4-9. The people of Israel had sinned against God, and the result of sin is death and judgment. God sent snakes into the camp of Israel, and when the people were bit by the snakes they died. Moses prayed for the people and God gave Moses the instructions for the people to be saved. Make a bronze serpent, set it on a pole, then everyone who looks at it will be saved. Pretty simple solution and completely miraculous. In fact it might have even sounded silly to some of the Israelites. How many of them chose to die since they thought it foolish that looking at a pole would save them from the poison coursing through their veins?
2. V15, Jesus used this story that Nicodemus would have been familiar with to help him to understand the simplicity of faith in Christ (Himself) to be saved from the sting of death. The snakes represented sin, the biting of the snakes the consequences of sin on the people which brought death. Just as Moses put the snakes on the pole, so Jesus took sin upon Himself on the cross. Bronze represents judgment, when Jesus took the sins of the world on Himself on the cross God judged sin once and for all. All who looked in simple faith to Jesus as their savior from sin and death would be saved, just as the people of Israel who looked in simple faith and obedience to the bronze serpent on the pole were saved from physical death. Looking to the pole was an act of faith and an act of repentance in the same moment, so is looking at Jesus as your Savior both and act of faith and an act of repentance.
V. 3:16-17 The Gospel in a Nutshell
A. V16 Let’s not just breeze through this verse, although many already know it by heart it deserves our full attention and study.
1. “For God so loved the world” Once you understand that Jesus died on the cross, taking your place of receiving God’s wrath and judgment, the first question to ask yourself is why? The only answer is because God loves us. God loves the world, not just the nation of Israel as Nicodemus probably thought, and not just certain people as some Christians think today, but the whole world.
2. “that He gave His only begotten Son” The love of God caused Him to give His only Son, His only unique Son. Begotten does not mean at one point Jesus began to exists, it only carries with it the sense of the extreme uniqueness of Christ. God gave His only Son, when someone gives something it means what they gave is a gift. A gift does not come with requirements, it is just something you receive freely.
3. “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Whoever means whoever. Anyone who wants to believing in Jesus can. Just as belief in God, through looking at the serpent on a pole gave life to the dying, so looking to Jesus in faith results in everlasting life, in eternal life. It is the simple faith of believing in Jesus as God and Savior that saves your from your sins, and nothing else. It is not all the good works you can do and there are no requirements attached to this, you just have to believe in Jesus.
a) The Greek word for belief here is Pisteou, and it means to 1. think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence i. 2. to entrust a thing to one. The faith Jesus was trying to teach to Nicodemus was more then the faith in the power of Christ, but a placing of confidence in Christ as his person savior from sin, entrusting his soul to the redeeming power of His work on the cross. To a Pharisee, this would be hard, since they first would have to admit they even had sin that they needed saving from.
B. V17, Here the mission of God is clarified in sending His Son into the world. Many think God is out to get them, and that as soon as we talk about Jesus it is because we are trying to judge them. That was not God’s intentions, God knew that we had been bitten by sin and that the consequences of sin is death (both physical and spiritual). Being that God loves us He sent Jesus not to condemn the world but that through Him it could be saved. Still though, this would be the individually choice of everyone to decide if they wanted to be saved or not.
A. Nicodemus had a shallow faith, but he was sincere in his desire to know truth. Jesus is willing to teach us and bring us into true faith, but we have to be willing to learn.
B. You cannot enter God’s kingdom except through being born again by the Spirit. This happens through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior from your sins.
C. You really can’t understand spiritual things until you are born again, this is why Jesus starts here with Nicodemus.
D. God loves you, so He came to die and take the judgment of God upon Himself for you. To receive this salvation all you have to do is look in faith to Jesus, and His death on the cross, as your salvation.