This summer in Deeper, we completed a series called “On The Mountain” where we talked about one of the most impactful sermons of Jesus’ ministry, the Sermon on the Mount. One of the things that we learned during this series was the point behind the points that Jesus was making. With every phrase Jesus dissected and cut away at the religion of the Pharisees. While they were teachers of Jewish law, they had missed the point of everything, and in doing so they had missed their messiah. They made serving God about themselves, they were judgmental and harsh, they left no hope for people to truly love and serve God. Which is why they didn’t recognize God at all when He was right in front of them.
In the beginning of John’s gospel he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Later in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
The Pharisees believed and taught that serving God was more about what you were doing for God. How much you were giving. How perfect your life was and how you weren’t like other sinners. How you could earn your salvation. Except, this wasn’t Jesus’ message at all. Jesus taught repentance from sin, and grace from God our father. It meant that Jesus’ method was entirely different than the Pharisees. Jesus would reach out to those who were lost, not avoid them and look down on them. Look at when Jesus called Matthew in Matthew 9:9-13, "As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him. Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
We’re going to open up a brand new series that takes a look at the ministry of Jesus throughout the gospel of John. This series will touch on difficult questions, trusting God, letting go and allowing God to be God, healing, and many other things.
I want to start by looking at a passage of scripture found in John 3 which says, “There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
Let’s start by taking a look at who Nicodemus was, he was a religious leader, but really he was much more than that. He was one of the best examples of a teacher that the Pharisees had. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a 70 member council that was responsible for religious decisions and civil law. So basically, Nicodemus was a pretty big deal in the world of Jewish religion.
Now, let’s take a look some of the details of this meeting that the writer highlights. First, Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus after dark. Why would he do that? The fact that Nicodemus was speaking with Jesus at all would’ve broken the Pharisee’s establishment rules. Perhaps he just wanted an uninterrupted meeting with a man who he (and at least some other religious leaders) found interesting, or maybe it was because he wanted to meet with Jesus under the security of the night. We don’t know but we do know that this meeting was a risk for Nicodemus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
This sentence shows us a couple things. Nicodemus used the word “we”, which probably meant there were other religious establishment leaders that were favorable to Jesus. Between the lines, that means that Jesus’ ministry is causing problems, in a good way. I can’t help but imagine a smirk on Jesus’ face when he heard that word, knowing the effect that He was having on the religious “elite”. In fact Jesus’ response to Nicodemus represents the message that Jesus wished the religious leaders would embrace. The other thing to notice here is the way that Nicodemus addressed Jesus. “Rabbi, we all know that God has sent you to teach us”. While respectful, Nicodemus waited to talk with Jesus, teacher to teacher, rather than man to God.
“Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
This response from Jesus puzzled Nicodemus, but Jesus’ words are everything when it comes to who we are as believers today. Verse 5, Jesus says, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” The water represents water baptism, and repentance. John the Baptist would’ve come to the mind of Nicodemus in this moment because his ministry had taken the nation by storm preaching repentance. Jesus was echoing the teaching of John by saying that the only way to enter the Kingdom of God is by repentance, and regeneration. Essentially becoming a new person through the Holy Spirit.
Verses 10-15, Jesus highlights somethings that Nicodemus should’ve understood as the teacher of Israel, but was ignorant of. Jesus, spoke to Nicodemus not as an equal, but as God to man. Vs. 13, No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
Verse 14 references Numbers 21:4-9, 4 Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!” So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!
Jesus was painting the picture of his ministry and purpose on earth. The bronze snake in the wilderness represented salvation for the disobedient. If they would simply look at the replica of the snake on the pole, they would be healed. “So the Son of Man must be lifted up” it’s pretty obvious now that Jesus is referring to the cross and the salvation to the lost that Jesus would bring
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him."