Lesson 21: Nicodemus (continued)

John 3:1-21 (continued)

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A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. Welcome to Lesson #21. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night AND Jesus explained to Nicodemus how to ENTER the kingdom that was at hand, i.e. that kingdom that was approaching. But, Nicodemus CAME TO JESUS and so far as we know that cannot be said for any OTHER of the 70 members on the Jewish council. After Jesus had explained Nicodemus' question, this ruler of the Jews was in dismay: "How can these things be?" This Pharisee seemed to question the process that Jesus described of entering the kingdom, being born OF WATER and OF THE SPIRIT. "How can these things be?" Don't over look Jesus' words in v.8, "thou...CANST NOT1 TELL whence it cometh, and whether it goeth, SO IS every one that is born of the Spirit." You see, we don't have to understand a process for it to be true. How can a black cow eat yellow corn and green grass, drink clear water and give white milk? How can a chicken eat red grain and produce green feathers? We don't understand MANY processes. Jesus simply identified our part in actuating the spiritual change process. How does a human baby just suddenly start breathing immediately after birth? Jesus did not say the process had to be understood. V.8 says in effect, YOU DO NOT KNOW. But, we are told enough to identify our part in actuating that process: faith, repentance and baptism.
Now you must realize the rest of Jesus words here in John ch. 3, v.10-21 were said to Nicodemus, after Nicodemus got quiet, and under the circumstances described in the first 9 verses. Jesus said these things to Nicodemus to motivate the man to action. Then, these things were recorded by the apostle John to encourage and motivate you and me as well. At the beginning of the interview, Nicodemus had been most generous: "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God..." (v.2). So, later when he began to shake his head and say, "How can these things be?" Jesus asked a question (v.10), "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" Now, get the impact of v.11 jesus still speaking, "Verily, verily," i.e. Truly, "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness." A kind of mild rebuke! You see, Nicodemus DID NOT accept what Jesus had said about beginning life anew; although, Nicodemus had said conclusively at the beginning, that Jesus was from God and that his miracles proved that. You see, Nicodemus began to count the cost. Then notice Jesus' approach in v.12; another question: "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" And remember, Jesus above anyone else could have told Nicodemus of heavenly things. And that is the point of v.13-14-15. Jesus said, "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." That's like saying: Nicodemus, you can't find any body else that's been there! Did Nicodemus really accept those miracles (up in v.2) as conclusive evidence or did he not?
In v.14-15 Jesus foretold his own fate upon this old earth by making illusion to Number 21:4ff, when the Children of Israel were wandering around in the desert. It says there, "the people were much discouraged." The people spoke against Moses and complained about the water and the light bread; i.e. the manna that God gave them. They even suggested turning around and going back into Egypt. God send firey serpents into the camp. That got their attention real quick. Those Israelites had to make a life-or-death decision quickly. Nicodemus knew that story! If you know that story, you know it is a perfect likeness to the way Jesus was put on the cross three years later. Then in v.15, Jesus told Nicodemus the REASON he would be "lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life."
Now, I would call that presuasive preaching and teaching. You see, if Jesus was from God as Nicodemus had said; and if Jesus did the miracles that Nicodemus saw; and if Jesus was lifted up as Jesus, himself, said he would be; THEN, there is no way one can dispute his claim to be the Son of God. It's an inescapable conclusion! Jesus took Nicodemus by the hand and led this Pharisee to that climactic point of view. Will you, or won't you? Do you, or don't you? Jesus' words could slice between the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12). And Nicodemus was being carved up, spiritually speaking.
But, then, notice something here; Jesus didn't leave it there. V.16 is sometimes referred to as the golden text of the bible. It is (in content) a rephrasing of v.15. If you ever memorized one verse of the Bible; there's a pretty good chance it was this verse. And it is ironic, indeed, that this verse is used most commonly in the denominational world (memorized and put on bill-boards) to teach that: BAPTISM IS NOT NECESSARY TO SALVATION. Believe and receive, they say. Right in the face of what Jesus told Nicodemus only 8 or 9 verses up the page, "Ye must be born again." MUST BE? Do you think that conflicts with v.16 here? Spoken to the same man, Nocodemus; on that same night, in that same conversation? My friends, the problem is: too many who teach and preach faith-only-salvation using v.16, as Paul Harvey says, they haven’t heard the "rest of the story." But, you remember Jesus told Satan, "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." (Luke 4:4). In Jesus Christ, God gave us a great gift: "God so loved the world." That explains the actions of God in giving his Son, Jesus Christ to ransom us from our sins. Jesus DID NOT come to make it difficult for us. V.17 says, "God sent NOT his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." You see, Jesus' coming was not negative; it was positive. Jesus came and gave every ounce of energy, and every ounce of his blood, His very life; to get us prepared for the SAFE WAY OUT of this old life. Yet, the vast majority won't accept that gift. How discouraging this must be to Jesus. Yet, he gave that precious gift any way.
Now, we don't want to overlook the fact that Jesus in v.15 and the verses that follow: put strong emphasis upon believing, i.e. faith. He said, "whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." That golden text, v.16, emphasizes faith in Jesus again. But, v.18 is a contrast between those who believe ON HIM, and those who DO NOT believe on his name. He that believes on Jesus is not condemned. But, he that believeth NOT is condemned already. Now, that verse says, to be saved requires faith in Jesus Christ. But, to be lost NOTHING is required. Thus, faith in Jesus is the only way to escape condemnation. What does it mean to be condemned? You see, these verses very definitely have reference to the after life, judgment to be more specific. The last word in v.15 is "eternal life." The last word in v.16 is "everlasting life." The last word in v.17 is "saved." These words all make reference to the same thing. But, in contrast to these words the word "perish" is used in v.15 and v.16. "Condemn" and "Condemnation" is used in v.17-18-19.
You will recall that this writer, the apostle John, said in his prologue, John 1:12 that "as many as received him [i.e. Jesus], to them gave he power to become the sons of God..." And John (in that same verse) shows that "to...believe on his name" means exactly the same thing. Thus, faith is prerequisite to becoming a child of God. Then, in the next verse John made reference to a birth, being born of the will of God. Thus, as has been said before, John in his theological statement at the beginning of this book; told us what was in the rest of his book. And, it's true to form. Faith in Jesus as God's Son is necessary AND the new birth is necessary to salvation. That's what the book says. One cannot enter the kingdom any other way. That's what Jesus told Nicodemus. And Jesus didn't say ONE or the OTHER, take your choice. Jesus said BOTH were necessary! V.5 of ch. 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot ENTER INTO the kingdom of God." Down in v.I8, same night, same occasion, same discussion, Jesus said to the same man, "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already..." So, if Jesus didn't say that both faith and baptism are necessary, absolute requirements; then, I don't know how to read the book. It's like saying faith in Jesus as God's Son is a key that can open a door. And only those that have the key can open the door. Yet, one may have that key, called faith, and never open the door to salvation. Faith gives us the right and the license to open that door; but it doesn't open the door for us. We must exercise our right, use our key, and take the necessary steps to activate the spiritual birth process of entering God's kingdom. You must start life a-new, just as Jesus explained it to Nicodemus. A new life begins with a birthing process. Jesus told Nicodemus THAT PROCESS involved water and the Spirit.
You see, John didn't just put this story of Nicodemus here to take up space. John said in ch. 20:31, we've covered it before, "these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." That was John's motive in writing this. He couldn't have said it any plainer.
And you know from our previous study that John the Baptist preached about the coming kingdom. And you know that John baptized in the Jordan. You know that John emphasized repentance. John and Jesus were teaching the same thing. John was a great prophet, Jesus was the messiah. They both came from God; and both were teaching the same message of heaven. So, for us to learn the message of heaven; we must study these things.
Now, let me ask you a question! Why is a person condemned for doing nothing? Why does God require faith and action on our part to get into the kingdom and to receive salvation? Is that fair? Why is that? Well of course, God created us. We are God's creature! God could have require anything he chose. But, does God give us a reason for his requirements? The answer to that question is in v.19-20-21. You see, God made man a free moral agent. God loves us beyond our comprehension. But, true love carries with it a genuine respect for the other person. True love does not try to control the other person. True love is a genuine concern for their welfare. It's a commitment to help and persuade and encourage and promote their welfare. True love does not try to control or use the other person to simply accomplish your own desires and make them what you think they should be. True love permits the other person to be individualistic in spite of your convictions as to their welfare. Now, this is assuming the other person is mentally stable and capable of acting on their own. Thus you should not necessarily let an infant, dependent upon you, have their own way. But, you DO NOT have the right to simply use that infant to accomplish your own desires, your own appetite, and your own wants. If you love that infant, you will act and direct in behalf of their welfare, to the best of your ability. To do anything else is to act selfishly. God DOES NOT act selfishly in his love for you. Thus, his love is so perfect as to allow you to be a free moral agent. Yet, he persuades you, guides you, encourages you, and makes known to you his desire and concern for US. But, he does not force us in spiritual matters. You are left to make the final decision, take the action you choose; but, this necessarily requires that you take responsibility for your own decisions and your own actions. Thus, if you act selfishly in your own behalf, ignore the rights of others, and ignore God's love for you; you must accept the consequences of that action. It's just that simple. Thus, if God makes known to you the right way and the best way and the appropriate way and the way for your own best welfare; and you selfishly choose to ignore God's way; then God makes you responsible for that choice.
Now look at v.19. This is where condemnation comes into the picture. If men love darkness rather than light; it is because their deeds are evil. What is light? Light in this passage has reference to understanding the right way; taking into consideration God's love for us and responding accordingly. To act otherwise and selfishly is here described as loving darkness; i.e. to spurn God's way for the purpose of indulging in our own base pleasures and appetites. Whether Jesus' choice of words here had anything to do with the fact that this conversation took place after dark .and the nightfall was being used more or less as a visual aid, I do not know. You will recall that John in 1:7-8-9 personified Jesus as Light. Thus, THERE the word "Light" began with a capital letter. HERE, the word "light" simply means understanding; i.e. the understanding of spiritual things that came by Jesus. Therefore, to spurn and ignore the teachings of Jesus is to spurn and ignore Jesus. AND, to do so is evil in contrast to righteousness in Bible terminology. Can you see how Jesus was closing in on Nicodemus? You can't have your cake and eat it too. Nicodemus was choosing NOT to respond to the light and understanding made known through Jesus; i.e. how to enter the kingdom. Thus, Jesus in a very frank and straightforward way made known to Nicodemus the alternatives. Jesus did not try to embarrass Nicodemus or force his hand in any way. He simply made know the alternatives. There is a great lesson here by way of example for those who teach God's word.
Now, v.20-21 involve a Bible principle that occurs many places. It may be stated simply, YOU CAN'T RIDE THE FENCE. In Matt. 12:30 Jesus said it very plainly, "He that is not with me is against me." Either we are in the kingdom or we are out of the kingdom. You can't be halfway in and halfway out. Thus, to love something less (in KJV) is said to hate it. For example, Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel. He worked seven years for Rachel and was given Leah, Rachel's sister. So, Jacob worked another seven years for Rachel. Genesis 29:30 says "he loved...Rachel more than Leah.." But the next verses says, "When the Lord saw that Leah was hated..." Thus, to love less, in the KJV, is synonymous with the word "hate." V.20, "For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." Notice that Jesus did not apply or say these things in such a way as to try to personally embarrass Nicodemus. V.21, I trust you recognize, is the reverse statement of v.20. One verse is negative and the other verse is positive. Simply two sides of the same coin. If someone loves evil more than truth, they won't come to the light. On the other hand, if one loves the truth more than anything else; they will respond by coming to Jesus. I suppose we tend to think of bank robbers who hide behind a mask and cattle rustlers who load'em out by night. But there is a spiritual application here also. When we come to the light our deeds can be seen more clearly, simply because, we are in the light. John didn't describe Nicodemus' parting and departure that night. We're left to our own imagination. Until our next lesson, have a good day.

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