Lesson 20: Nicodemus
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A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. Welcome to lesson # 20. Beginning in John ch. 3. Are you ready for a long reading? The story of Nicodemus. Twenty-one verses. Are you ready? Beginning in John 3:1, let's read. "There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is sprit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If Ihave told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reporved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God."
Here in v.2; Nicodemus made reference to "these miracles that thou doest." Nicodemus had seen some of those miracles mention in v.23 of the last chapter. Thus, John selects a most interesting case that will convey to us the teachings of Jesus. Let's try doing a quick profile on the man, Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee (v.1). Back in Matt. 3:7 we learned that some of Nicodumus’s kind, i.e. Pharisees (as well as Sadducees) came to John' baptism. John called them a generation of snakes. Do you remember the priests from Jerusalem that interview John the Baptist (John 1:19)? They were Pharisees. Undoubtedly you understand by now that the Pharisees were one sect of the Jewish religion. They were by far the majority sect. They believed in the resurrection of the dead, immortality of the soul, spirits and angels. And, the Pharisees put much emphasis upon the traditions of the elders, i.e. the customs of their ancestors and they considered their traditions as binding as scripture. Nicodemus was also a ruler of the Jews; you observe in v.1. The Sanhedrin court, usually called simply "the council" was the highest tribunal of the Jews, and to their abhorrence, it had to be operated in subjection to Rome. The high priest was the chairman of that council made up of seventy men. A ruler of the Jews was apparently just another way of referring to a council member. Council members usually had to be rich, have children, be elderly to some degree, and have good looks; i.e. no spots, scars, etc. Some were scribes, often called lawyers and most were prominent, educated men. So, this means that Nicodemus may have had an office over in the temple complex some place. Jesus referred to Nicodemus as a Master of Israel down in v.10, that simply means a teacher. He came to Jesus by night. Why? Well, of course, we don't know. It may be that he didn't want his colleagues to know. But, again, it may be that he simply wanted a private, uninterrupted interview with Jesus. It might be pointed out in this regard that Nicodemus did stick-up for Jesus publicly in John 7:50. But, before we try to analyze the conversation (here); let's try to get a simple mental image of this occasion. Nicodemus CAME TO Jesus. Can't you just smell the cool of the evening? Possibly they came face to face in the dim, soft glow of an olive oil lamp? Up in v.24, John pointed out that Jesus DID NOT commit himself to curiosity seekers. Thus, we are to conclude that Nicodemus was a sincere truth seeker. So, here comes Master Nicodemus! I consider it a privilege to sit in on this interview; even in this remote way that John provided us. So, pull up a chair and let's listen.
Notice how, Nicodemus began the conversation with that Hebrew word "Rabbi" that John has already explained up in John 1:38. Nicodemus was very complimentary; he acknowledged Jesus as a great teacher from God and confessed Jesus' miracles. But, it seems Jesus MAY HAVE snatched away the conversation and saved Nicodemus a lot of rambling preliminaries; by simply tossing this Pharisee the answer to his question before Nicodemus got around to asking the question (in v.3). So, unfortunately, you and I must reconstruct Nicodemus' question from the answer which Jesus gave. Thus, I believe it is apparent that Nicodemus had heard the message of John the Baptist: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And, Nicodemus was interested in getting in on the ground floor of that kingdom. And, he likely knew about John baptizing in the Jordan. Master, I believe you're from God, your miracles prove it; so, tell me about the kingdom. That's my concept of Nicodemus' inquiry. So, look at Jesus' reply. I'm paraphrasing: Nicodemus, YOU CAN'T GET IN, unless you're willing to start life all over again. THAT (in effect) IS what Jesus said in v.3. "Except a man be born again, you cannot SEE the kingdom." Now, that was a little blunt; but, the message was loud and clear. Nicodemus, there's your answer! Can't you just see Nicodemus1 bewildered look? But, Master how can an old man get such a re-birth? So, Jesus repeated his answer in v.5. But, this time Jesus added the words, "born of water and of the Spirit." Making it very plain that Jesus used the word "birth" in a figurative way. Thus, ruling out that entering into his mother's womb the second time, bit. Nicodemus, knew very well that Jesus was preaching the same message as John the Baptist. He had read the report of the priests and Levites (John 1:22); even if he had not heard John in person. The birth is OF water, Nicodemus, and we're talking about spiritual things. Then Jesus added down in v.7, DON'T BE SURPRISED that I said, YOU MUST BE born again. "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." Nicodemus, there's your answer! Now, we've talked about the Jewish concept of the kingdom before. And, don't forget you've got a KINGDOM WORKSHEET. The thing Nicodemus had so much difficulty with was NOT the figures of speech and what Jesus meant. It just didn't fit Nicodemus' thinking! He was looking for a physical kingdom, a king that wore purple and stood seven feet tall, laws and law enforcement. But, Jesus didn't beat around the bush. And his miracles proved, he was a prophet. His credentials were indisputable.
Now, don't forget Nicodemus was a Pharisee. And Nicodemus was proud to be a Pharisee. He was in the top ranks. He thought like a Pharisee. I was born a Jew, circumcised the 8th day. The promise was given to OUR FATHER, Abraham. What did John say to the Pharisees? "think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." (Matt. 3:9). When John preached that, he excommunicated the whole Jewish nation. Be born. AGAIN?? "How can these things be?" See that, down in v.9. Do you see WHY Jesus substituted that figure of BEING BORN AGAIN for baptism?? He sure got to the heart and crux of Nicodemus. You see, Jewish babies became Israelites by birth. A fleshly birth. So, Jesus focused in on the distinction between a fleshly birth and a spiritual birth down in v.6. Jesus drove that point home: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." They are NOT the same! Then look at Jesus' illustration in v.8. Being born of the Spirit effects an unseen change, i.e. THE NEW LIFE, by virtue of repentance and baptism, comes in a spiritual way. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whether it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit."
Jesus was saying in effect, Give up your citizenship in the old system? Start life a-new! It's what God wants. And Nicodemus was sure interested in that new kingdom business. But it was a tough choice! It always was and it still is. Jesus said, Nicodemus "Except a man be born again, he Cannot SEE the kingdom of God." (v.3) And, that was HARD to misunderstand.
Now, let's do a little perspective here and bring this lesson to an end. We'll have to continue the rest of the Nicodemus story in our next lesson. At this point, we have covered about half of those 21 verses that we read at the beginning. Remember, Nicodemus initiated this discussion; he came to Jesus. But, notice something, right here. The last comment of Nicodemus is recorded in v.9. "How can these things be?" A statement of bewilderment, less than half way down through our text. After that, Nicodemus got awfully quiet. And our text doesn't say whether Nicodemus obeyed or not. The fact that the text remains silent, raises my suspicion that Nicodemus did NOT obey. At least not at the time discussed here in John ch. 3. But, we learn later that he continued to respect Jesus, he tried to keep an open mind and Nicodemus was a good man. But, like so many people you MAY know; he had the desire but he was just too involved. The demands were just too high to bring the appropriate action of obedience in spiritual matters. V.10 thru 21 in this chapter are the remarks of Jesus given for Nicodemus1 consideration as Jesus expressed dismay that Nicodemus professed to be a teacher of Israel and yet he did NOT (and would NOT) apply the indisputable evidence consistently. Thus, we have in effect a sermon from Jesus for our benefit as well. I know you'll be anxious to get to that in our next lesson. But, right now, let's see what practical things we can glean from the first 9 verses (we've just covered) for our own benefit. First of all, this discussion has to do with the kingdom; and it has to do with ENTERING the kingdom (v.5). That's very clear! Thus, by way of review; the angel, Gabriel, told Mary (Luke 1:33), before Jesus was born, that Jesus would reign over a kingdom. A kingdom that would never end. Then John came preaching that the kingdom was approaching. In the verses we have just covered; Jesus discussed with Nicodemus the terms of entrance into that kingdom. It seems that Nicodemus did not like those terms; but, the point IS there ARE TERMS for entrance into God's kingdom. Now, don't over look this: Jesus said, "Except a man" do this. Jesus did not say this was exclusively for Nicodemus. You see, this applies to any man. And the word "man" is used here in the generic sense meaning one of mankind. Thus, this term includes both male and female. James Strong gives the Greek word as "THIS" meaning "any person." It's clear from v.5 that that entrance INTO THE KINGDOM involves being born of water and of the Spirit. My dictionary defines birth as "brought into life." Thus, to be BROUGHT INTO LIFE in the kingdom; the process IS OF water and OF the Spirit. Now, I ask you; exactly what does that mean? The answer is so obvious that I don't see how it could be questioned. But, this requirement for entrance into the kingdom, which prepares one for heaven, has been widely debated, and disputed, and twisted, and denied, and argued, and perverted, and almost everything else. You will recall, we have already talked about keeping every passage in context. A text out of context is a pretext. We're NOT interested in a pretext. What does the passage mean IN CONTEXT? It simply means to be baptized for remission of sins. Mark described John the Baptist thus: "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." (Mark 1:4). John, himself said he baptized with water, (Mark 1:8). Matthew said those who went out to John "were baptized...confessing their sins." (Matt. 3:6). And John's message was that the kingdom was coming, "It was at hand." Thus the WATER in this kingdom-entrance-requirement (that Jesus gave) was simply another way of saying baptism in water.
Then, what about the Spirit's part? Notice, first off, the word "Spirit" is capitalized (v.5); meaning of course, Holy Spirit. That spiritual, unseen aspect of entering the kingdom of God; thus, involves the Holy Spirit. Therefore, to be born, i.e. to be BROUGHT INTO LIFE in the kingdom of God; involves the Holy Spirit, i.e. the third person of the Godhead. We have talked about the Holy Spirit before. The Holy Spirit's part is not something that we can feel, or observe. His part is like the wind (v.8). It's there! Whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; we cannot tell. But, He (i.e.the Holy Spirit) takes care of the spiritual aspect of this life giving process. So, you don't have to worry about that. And Jesus said, "so is everyone that is born of the Spirit." (last words of v.8). Therefore the Spirit has a part in this process and WE have a part in this process. Our part has to do with faith, repentance and the water baptism aspect. The Spirit knows when I/we are sincere and when we have properly and adequately done our part; thus, we can depend upon our spiritual QUICKENING. In Col. 2:10, the apostle Paul (many years later) said to the Colossian brethren, "ye are complete in him" i.e. in Christ. Then, further down in the same sentence, Paul referred to those Christians as "Buried with HIM [i.e. Christ] in baptism." Now listen to the rest of it: "wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins...hath he QUICKENED together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses..." The word quickened means to make sensitive, i.e. brought to life; or in the words of John ch. 3, a birth, "born of the Spirit." (v.8). The entire N.T. is consistent.
Did you ever put a jig-saw puzzle together? Every piece had a place and every piece had to be turned in the right direction. That's another way of saying IN CONTEXT. Understanding the kingdom, entrance into that kingdom, and the requirements for entrance are somewhat like that. A picture is slowly developing. God's kingdom, also called the church, slowly develops in front of our eyes as we study the N.T. We are harvesting some vital links in God's plan in these passages. Don't try to move too fast! Study every verse and learn where it fits into the picture. Until our next lesson, when we get back to Jesus and Nicodemus, have a good day!