The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of
the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 3:1 “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a
ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him,
‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one
can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’ 3 Jesus answered
and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he
cannot see the kingdom of God.’ 4 Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a
man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his
mother’s womb and be born, can he?’ 5 Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I
say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into
the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that
which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you,
You must be born again. 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear
the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is
going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9 Nicodemus said to Him,
‘How can these things be?’ 10 Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you
the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11Truly, truly, I
say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen,
and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and
you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13
No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven:
the Son of Man.14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even
so must the Son of Man be lifted up;15 so that whoever believes will in
Him have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His
only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have
eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the
world, but that the world might be saved through Him.’” (NASB)
Those of you who are regulars in the adult class, might recall a story I told
about a conversation I had with one of the regulars at the little bar a three blocks
from the parsonage. For those of you who might have missed that story, I will
give you the shortened version. One night, one of the patrons, a nice guy, asked
me a sincere and simple question. “So you Lutherans are like Catholics, right?”
The patron was a practicing Catholic, attending Mass and other services almost
I told him that real Lutherans are Catholics minus all the rules, regulations,
and works-righteousness. That led to more questions/statements, to which I
repeatedly replied Lutherans believe in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus
Christ alone for Christ’s sake alone. We are saved by grace, apart from works.
Salvation is God’s work. Faith, forgiveness, and eternal life is God’s free gift.
Jesus does everything for our salvation and we do nothing.
After almost every assertion, this nice man would reply with the same basic
two refrains. “So you’re saying that we have to accept Jesus.” “No I replied, I am
saying He makes us acceptable to His Father. “Oh you’re saying we have to do
good things to be acceptable.” Around and around and around we went, till I
simply gave up and finished my beer.
Now some might think the man dumb. I admit, he is not the most intelligent
man I know, but he’s not stupid either. He just can’t see, yet. He just can’t hear
clearly, yet. He is hearing and vision impaired in regard to spiritual matters and
the right interpretation of Scripture. He struggles with the same old sinful nature
that we do. The one that is hardwired to a lawlessness on the one hand and worksrighteousness
on the other. Add to that problem that he has been taught a way of
seeing and hearing that is rooted in a formal and organized doctrine of workrighteousness.
That is the same problem Nicodemus had when he went to visit Jesus. It was
Passover. Jesus and His disciples had made camp on the Mount of Olives over
looking Jerusalem. Already by John chapter three, Jesus, His doctrine, and His
miraculous works were well known. No one was denying what Jesus had been
teaching or doing.
As we all know, Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests, Levites, and Scribes were
not fans. With few exceptions, they were universally opposed to Jesus, to His
doctrinal “innovations,” and to His preaching.
Nicodemus was one of those rare exceptions. Out of fear of being seen with
Jesus, Nicodemus comes to Jesus on the Mount of Olives at night. He states what
is obvious to most. “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a
teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
The first thing that is different about Nicodemus is that he asks an honest
and sincere question. That was rare for a Pharisee in the Gospel records. It is a
given that when a Pharisees or scribe asks Jesus a question, it is usually a trap.
Not so with Nicodemus.He comes in humility and respect.
Jesus doesn’t give Nicodemus a chance to actually ask a question. Jesus
knows what Nicodemus needs to learn. I am reminded of something I once heard.
A good teacher answers your questions. A great teacher knows what question you
need to have answered and does so. Jesus is a great teacher. He knows that the first
thing that has to happen in order for Nicodemus to believe and understand to hear
the Gospel and know that forgiveness of sins and eternal life is God’s work, not
Nicodemus’s or any other human beings.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the
kingdom of God.” The Teacher surprises and confuses the student. In the system
of religious and moral thought that Nicodemus has been schooled in, one enters
the kingdom of God by devotion to God through the obedience of the 613 rabbinic
laws of Torah.
Nicodemus misses the first truth set in front of him by Jesus. Truth #1. The
infant that is born has had nothing to do with his or her own conception and has
nothing to do with being born.
In regard to “being born,” the mother is the one doing the work. The modern
world has tried to persuade fathers that they have something to do with the birth of
the child, but that’s all an illusion. Mama does the breathing, the pushing, the
yelling, and the pain bearing. Truth one. The new born doesn’t give birth to
Nicodemus blows right by lesson one and unwittingly goes to lesson #2, the
Second Birth. Nicodemus shows that he is indeed a product of Judaism’s doctrine
of works-righteousness and its idea of what the Messiah would say and do. Jesus
deals with both of these false doctrines in His response.
Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot
enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”
Jesus doesn’t answer “how a man can be born again.” He tells Nicodemus
how God gives birth to the new man. “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.”
A mother of flesh and blood gives birth to flesh. The Holy Spirit gives birth
to spirit, that is to the new nature, to the new creation, which is in the image of
Jesus Christ. Nicodemus doesn’t get it.
7 “Do not be amazed [surprised, marvel] that I said to you, ‘You must be
born again. 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but
do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is
born of the Spirit.’ 9 Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’”
Nicodemus wasn’t stupid. He did not think that a person could go into the
womb and come out again. He was trying to get Jesus to clarify what He meant
because he, Nicodemus was still fumbling around in the dark.
Nicodemus was in fact one of the most esteemed leaders in Jerusalem. He
was Pharisee, as such educated. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling
religious council made up of seventy of the brightest and best within the Jewish
system of church and government. He was also a scribe, which meant he was a
scholar of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Nicodemus was also aware of current events and what the most popular
preachers were preaching and teaching around Jerusalem. He know what John the
Baptist was preaching and teaching in regard to Jesus. It is obvious he also knows
what Jesus is teaching and doing.
Jesus the Nazarene was accomplishing things that God could empower a
man to do. But Jesus’s doctrine just didn’t fit, it didn’t work with the accepted
orthodoxy of the day. Secondly, Jesus didn’t fit what Nicodemus and his
colleagues had in mind when they imagined God’s Messiah and Israel’s Savior.
Remember my friend from the bar. He couldn’t understand because he had
stuck in his head the belief that salvation is a co-operative work between God and
man. A person has to do his part in order for God to do His. He couldn’t get
around that belief. That is exactly the problem Nicodemus had.
“‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you the
teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? . . . 12 If I told you
earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly
Faith, repentance, baptism, conversion, being born again is God’s work.
Jesus uses a Greek word, anothen, translated in most translations “again.” But the
primary meaning of the word anothen means “from above or overhead.”
That’s the thought that lead to Jesus’s statement in verse 13. “No one has
ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”
Sinners can’t ascend to God. God has come down to them. So much for the
works-righteousness system. Verse 13 also serves as a transition statement.
Having destroyed the religious system that has taken Nicodemus’s mind
captive, Jesus now turns His attention to the second problem. Nicodemus doesn’t
understand what the Messiah of God, Israel’s Savior has come to do. Jesus takes
Nicodemus to the cross by way of Moses.
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of
Man be lifted up.” Being born again of the water and Spirit is the work of God
not sinful mankind. It is no more the work of man than is the obedience, death, and
resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is from the cross that all the benefits of God’s grace
and love come.
14 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son
of Man be lifted up. 15 So that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 16
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever
believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the
world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall
not perish, but have eternal life.”
The popular English translation of John 3:16 is a much beloved verse and a
beloved translation, but this is also an accurate translation. “God loved the world
in this way, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Jesus spoke His Word to Nicodemus. He corrected Nicodemus’s theology.
Having corrected and taught him, Jesus left His Word to do its work.
The same Nicodemus who had come to Jesus by night, also came to Jesus in
the light of day on Good Friday. John 19:39 “And Nicodemus came also, who
had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a
hundred pounds weight. 40 And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in
linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in
the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new
tomb, in which no one had yet been laid.”
All the requirements for entering into the kingdom of God were
fulfilled—perfectly—in the person and work Jesus Christ. Through the Water, the
Word of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the water and Word, you have
been born from above. You who believe in Him shall not perish, but have eternal
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in
Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of